A dangerous game

Albania’s political leadership should know by now that it can only gain from maintaining good relations with Greece. In an attempt to dissolve past stereotypes, Athens has turned a blind eye to human rights violations and provocations against the ethnic Greek minority. But this cannot go on. Tirana must realize that Greece’s political will is not enough to maintain a good mood. Albanian politicians’ protestations of friendliness must be accompanied by deeds. The systematic human rights violations are confirmed by repeated reports from international organizations and the US State Department. In the 2000 local elections, the ruling Socialist party indulged in an orgy of violence and vote-rigging, thus preventing the election of Vassilis Bolanos, the ethnic Greek KEAD-Omonia party candidate in Himare. They tried to do the same thing in the latest polls but the presence of international monitors and the more assertive stance of the Democratic party helped contain violence and ballot manipulation. Still, there are signs that the establishment is trying to cancel Bolanos’s win via the central election committee. Himare is a heavily symbolic town, as Tirana insists on not recognizing its citizens as part of the ethnic Greek minority. The chauvinist frenzy by the Albanian press over the fact that five or six hot-tempered individuals waved Greek flags is indicative of the situation. The problem is not confined only to Himare. The Socialists have embarked on a campaign to eliminate KEAD, despite the fact that it is the only minority party with a European orientation and no aspirations to secession. KEAD not only withstood the pressure but increased its strength. Despite the fraudulent acts and the fact that only a small number of ethnic Greeks went to the ballots, the party won over 3 percent across Albania, becoming the third autonomous party.