A diplomatic spat has erupted between Athens and Tirana over a decision by local authorities in the Albanian town of Himara to demolish the homes of 19 ethnic Greek families in the predominantly ethnic Greek seaside holiday resort.
The Albanian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday summoned the Greek ambassador in Tirana to give explanations over a statement by Athens on Sunday calling for a freeze on the demolition plans.
“We are following with great concern developments in Himara (Albania), where 19 families belonging to the Greek National Minority received notices according to which they have a deadline of five days to evacuate their homes, which are intended to be demolished,” Greece’s Foreign Ministry said in its statement on Sunday.
“It is unacceptable that Mayor [Gjergi] Gorοs, while executing a government policy, put his signature on notices for imminent demolition of residences, which were then handed to the owners on the very day of our National Day,” the ministry said in reference to the notices being delivered on October 28, a national holiday in Greece marking the country’s entry into World War II.
“The Albanian authorities must proceed immediately, on one hand, to the cancellation of the demolition order and, on the other hand, to meaningful consultations with the owners concerning Himara’s redevelopment plans,” the statement said.
Responding to the missive, the Foreign Ministry in Tirana said that “Albania is not making any discriminations in regards to the principles of the rule of law.”
“The legal procedures being employed by the Municipality of Himara, which are centered on the town’s transformation into a European tourism destination, are transparent and in accordance with current laws,” it added.
The Greek Foreign Ministry also warned its neighbor that: “The protection of property rights, and in particular of minority rights, is an integral part of the five conditions set by the European Union in order to start negotiations for the accession of Albania to the EU. Therefore, if Albania sincerely wishes to join the European Union, it should demonstrate in practice that it functions according to the principles of the rule of law, protecting the rights of all its residents regardless of their nationality and origin, against abuses and illegal acts.”
The warning prompted a terse retort from Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who wrote on a post on his personal Facebook page that while Himara holds “the Greek language as a common tongue, this does not make it absolutely a Greek province.”
In his post, Rama published an engraving depicting Athens in 1670, and said:
“This engraving… reminds us, among others, that if the Acropolis still stands for the glory of humanity and civilization, this is thanks to the vision of the Albanian Archbishop of Athens Gjergj Dushmani, who in 1686 negotiated with Francesco Morosini of the Venetian fleet not to bombard the city … Such a story of a city that was once, according to the evidence and historians, mainly Albanian-speaking does not make it absolutely an Albanian city. Likewise, even though Himara experienced the Greek archipelago and the Greek language as the ‘common tongue’ of the East through maritime exchanges and a close and fruitful coexistence, this does not make it absolutely a Greek province.”