OPINION

Ballot manipulation

The violent acts and vote-rigging that the Albanian government organized in order to tamper with election results in the southern Himare region to the expense of Greek minority candidate Vassilis Bolanos this time overstepped the mark. Members of the government-appointed electoral committee in the village of Drymades did not hesitate to sign an official document that stated that the votes cast in favor of the winning ruling party candidate were five times the turnout – and all this before the eyes of international observers. The fact that the rerun was held after complaints of violence and fraud in the first round of local elections demonstrates that everything had been orchestrated by the Albanian government and was not merely a sign of the lack of democratic culture in our neighboring country. Fatos Nano’s administration may dislike the vote by the Albanian state’s citizens living in the Himare municipality because it demonstrates the predominance of an ethnic Greek element in that part of the country – something that does not sit well with Tirana which has refused to recognize this obvious fact. But unhappy as the Albanian government may be with the preference of its citizens, it must respect it. Otherwise, it automatically places Albania outside the framework of democratic states, and the country must be prepared to pay the price of its exclusion from the community and the organizations of civilized states. Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou was right in saying, «The European Commission, which has the responsibility for negotiating a stabilization and association pact with Albania, must take note of these incidents and be strict in its evaluation of Albanian behavior.» Also the New Democracy opposition rightly pointed out that the stance of Tirana «betrays a mentality and a demeanor that are a complete stranger to European ideas of democratic values and procedures.» The European Union must make it clear to the Albanian leadership that it cannot aspire to membership as long as its government resorts to electoral tactics reminiscent of totalitarian regimes. Furthermore, it should be noted that Greece’s ties with Albania are already fragile, as part of Greek society is filled with anti-Albanian prejudice. Albanian politicians must realize that by breaching the fundamental rights of the Greek minority they serve a fierce blow to Greek-Albanian relations while strengthening the hand of those circles that seek to undermine healthy understanding between the two nations.