A difficult relationship

The jeering that accompanied the playing of the Albanian national anthem before Wednesday’s soccer match was certainly a black mark, but not something completely unexpected. Similar behavior had greeted the Greek national squad’s visit to Tirana last year. A significant difference, though, is that official and semiofficial sources in Albania had cultivated that climate then, whereas in Greece efforts had been made to ease the situation and isolate the hotheads – without, it must be added, any great success. The difference between the two cases is significant because the root of the problem lies in the unique and difficult relationship between Greeks and Albanians. History has played a part in this. But aside from the anti-Greek sentiment caused by Albanian nationalism and the Northern Epirus issue, there are contemporary issues which revive traditional stereotypes and prejudices. And here it is worth remembering the touching way in which the Greeks first welcomed the exhausted Albanians in the first wave of illegal immigration. But the social fallout from the massive, uncontrolled wave of immigration had social consequences. First, there was a climate of insecurity; second, Greek laborers lost out to cheaper competition. The argument that the Albanians did the work the Greeks would not touch is valid only up to a point. It was almost impossible to avoid a climate of xenophobia, especially with regard to the Albanian immigrants. In their efforts to exorcise racism, some shapers of public opinion essentially denied reality. Given that the lower strata of the local population are most exposed to pressure from immigrants, turning a blind eye to it leaves a political vacuum which favors the extreme right. The Greek state is the chief culprit, as it still lacks a comprehensive immigration policy, which is a prerequisite for easing the problem.