The tug of war over Beleri

The tug of war over Beleri

As anticipated, the recent meeting between Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his Albanian counterpart Edi Rama on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Vilnius did not yield any significant progress regarding the case of ethnic Greek mayor-elect Fredi Beleri in Himare, southern Albania. Beleri has been detained in an Albanian prison since his arrest shortly before the local elections in the country.

The Greek prime minister requested Beleri’s immediate release. Rama distanced himself from the matter, responding that it falls within the jurisdiction of the judiciary and he cannot compromise the independence of the country’s legal system.

As a consequence, the minority mayor will remain in custody until the judicial authorities conclude their investigations, for which no definitive date has been provided.

How far can Athens diplomatically push if the Albanian side insists on maintaining an “independent” judiciary?

However, time is running out for Beleri to assume his position as mayor. If he fails to attend three municipal council meetings or does not appear within a calendar quarter, new elections will be called. Given that Rama is likely to take action to further undermine Beleri, his chances are slim.

During the Vilnius meeting, it appears that Mitsotakis exerted pressure on Rama by warning him of (or, perhaps, threatening him with) potential Greek objections to Albania’s path to EU membership on the grounds of its adherence to the rule of law.

Yet, how far can Athens diplomatically push if the Albanian side insists on maintaining an “independent” judiciary? Europeans and Americans seem relatively unconcerned about the events in Himare, as is evident in the lack of reactions.

The US ambassador to Tirana, who is usually outspoken on matters related to the rule of law, chose to remain silent and go on vacation on the day of Beleri’s arrest. The EU diplomatic missions displayed a similar stance.

Without international pressure, Rama believes he has the upper hand in this dispute with Athens and is unlikely to yield, at least in the near future.

He will by no means accept defeat on an issue that he himself initiated and intentionally emphasized – and the Greek side is aware of this. Nonetheless, Greece cannot back down either and possesses formidable leverage. It seems that resolving the impasse will take time and will likely be left to the judiciary.

Perhaps it will mirror the “trial of the five” that occurred in 1994, involving the conviction of five leaders from Albania’s ethnic Greek community on espionage charges in a political show trial. This event brought Greek-Albanian relations to the brink of rupture. At the time, efforts were made to ease tensions, and a few months later, the Supreme Court set the five leaders free.

If a similar scenario unfolds, Beleri may regain his freedom. However, it is probable that he will lose his mayoral position, which might have been Rama’s objective from the outset.

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