Don’t think you’ll ever be a Greek

Alexandros is an ethnic Greek from Sarande, Albania, a Greek in his heart and on record. A biology graduate of Tirana University – and no one should be in a hurry to laugh at that – with the change of regime in Albania he headed for Greece, like hundreds of thousands of his compatriots. He first settled in Katerini, but later moved to Thessaloniki, where he started working as a photojournalist. His many assignments for Kathimerini included covering the fighting in Kosovo and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Yugoslavia (FYROM), and vendettas in the villages of northern Albania. He had a way with people, even under difficult circumstances, and that made him irreplaceable on these assignments. He used to tell me about the injustices meted out to his compatriots by the Greek state. «How is it that Albanians can have two Greek passports, but we who are ethnic Greeks have a hard time getting a six-month residence permit?» he would ask. I tried to explain Athens’s policy of trying to preserve Hellenism in Albania, but what was the use? For 17 years he has been fighting to get a residence permit and since 2000 his passport application has been gathering dust in an Interior Ministry file. We tried to help him by phoning around the civil services and were passed from pillar to post. Officials claimed to know nothing about it, even though his file is complete and his papers are in order. This week we asked him to stand by to be ready to leave for Kosovo, and he turned up at our office in a rage. He was holding his residence permit renewal, which he had obtained after queuing for hours at the aliens bureau, and found that it referred to him as being of «Albanian nationality,» even though all the previous permits had registered him as being of «Greek nationality,» as did his birth certificate from the Albanian authorities. After 17 years in Greece, Alexandros has not only failed to obtain a permanent residence permit and Greek passport, but now he no longer has his Greek nationality. «I can’t take it anymore. Since the country hasn’t been able to understand me after all these years, I’m leaving. I’m going back to try and make a new start there. Perhaps if I had a few thousand euros, things would be different,» he said. «I don’t want Greek nationality anymore.» It took you nearly two decades to realize, Alexandros, that you’ll NEVER be a Greek!