Omonia under pressure

The Albanian government has once again set out to restrict the turnout for the ethnic Greek KEAD-Omonia party at Sunday’s municipal elections. It insists on this policy despite the fact that KEAD-Omonia is part of the ruling coalition led by the Socialists. And in closed societies like Albania, including its southern part that contains an ethnic Greek minority, blackmail and threats rarely fail to take effect. The crucial question is whether the Socialists will try to bring back the massive vote-rigging that plagued the 2000 elections. Back then, the Council of Europe had condemned the fraud, while the chairman of the US congressional Foreign Affairs Committee, Benjamin Gilman, asked for a repeat vote in Himare. Vassilis Bolanos is again running for that municipality. Albania’s Democratic party vowed to back the KEAD-Omonia candidate, and warned the government against any vote manipulation. For years, the Socialist party – in a mixture of old-style nationalism and partisan self-interest – has used all means to establish political control in the area known to Greeks as Northern Epirus. Given the small size of the Democratic party, KEAD-Omonia is the only serious challenge to the Socialists. All this has met with the apathy of the Simitis government, which keeps treating the issue of the Greek minority as just another problem in Greek-Albanian relations. Its stance is nationally unacceptable and politically myopic. KEAD-Omonia’s moderate demeanor has helped to dampen secessionist ambitions within the ethnic Greek minority, making it a factor of stability. It is worth noting that KEAD’s position regarding the problems of Albania is the most substantial one, which makes the party an essential player on the local political scene. Its influence outweighs its electoral percentage. In fact, no other party can withstand the pressure of the two-party system.