Results of Albanian census stir tensions in the region

Results of Albanian census stir tensions in the region

The 2023 census in Albania not only showed alarming demographic data but stirred a fresh round of tensions with the Balkan nation’s neighbors. 

Figures published late last week showed that the country’s population shrank by 14% in 12 years from approximately 2.8 million to around 2.4 million. 

Representatives of minority groups living in Albania heavily criticized the results regarding the ethnic identity of citizens. The data drew reactions in Greece and North Macedonia, who consider that their minorities are undercounted. The director of the Albanian Institute of Statistics (INSTAT) rejected accusations of manipulation.

The census reported that, ethnically, there were about 23,500 Greeks, some 2,300 North Macedonians, as well as 2,500 Vlachs and 7,000 Bulgarians living in Albania, among other minorities. The ethnic identity of roughly 150,000 citizens is not known. 

The Democratic Union of the Greek Minority, Omonoia, vehemently opposes the census results, arguing that the government did not produce “a reliable and acceptable result” regarding the number of Greeks and Orthodox Christians in Albania.

Greek Foreign Minister George Gerapetritis expressed Greece’s reservations regarding the process.

“The first results highlight serious issues related to the census process, which call into question the results themselves,” he said on Wednesday.

Coupled with the imprisonment of the elected Greek mayor of Himare, Fredi Beleri, a recently elected MEP with Greece’s ruling New Democracy, this will further sour Athens-Tirana relations, while Albania’s path to the EU could also be affected. 

The number of the Greek minority of North Macedonia was halved, dropping from roughly 5,500 to 2,300.

Initially, INSTAT used the adjective “North Macedonian” to refer to the country’s minority in Albania. This prompted the reaction of North Macedonia’s new foreign minister, Timco Mucunski, who addressed this issue with his Albanian counterpart at the Dubrovnik Forum. The adjective was later changed to “Macedonian.”

A political party representing the minority of North Macedonians in Albania, MAEI, disputes the census results, arguing that their minority living in Albania exceeds 100,000, “mainly concentrated in Mala Prespa, Golloborda and Gora.”

This comes in comparison to the number of Bulgarians that has risen to around 7,000. This minority was not present at all in previous Albanian censuses, as it was only recognized in 2017, following a recommendation by the European Parliament “to enshrine in law” the rights of Bulgarians living “in the Prespa, Golloborda and Gora regions.”

MAEI claims that Bulgarian representatives visited these regions during the census in order to encourage residents “to declare themselves as Bulgarians in exchange for a Bulgarian passport.” Neither Albania nor North Macedonia are members of the EU.

After the census results were released, the Bulgarian ambassador to Tirana called Albania “the friendliest country for Bulgaria” in the region. 

Vasil Sterjovski, the president of MAEI, announced that the representatives of the minorities in Albania are “preparing a joint declaration,” with which they will “demand a new census.” 

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