Mitsotakis Demands Albania Respect Ethnic Greeks Rights

FILE - New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis talks at ND's 12th Congress, in Athens, Dec. 14, 2018. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Yorgos Kontarinis)

ATHENS – After the death of a Greek man shot in a conflict with police, and rising tensions between the countries, Greece’s major opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis urged Albania to respect the rights of the Greek minority there.

In a veiled warning, Mitsotakis said Albania should remember it wants to join the European Union and will be weighed partially on the way it handles the rights of minorities, with Greece being able to otherwise veto Albania’s accession hopes.

“The message we send today to the neighboring country – with whom we always strive to have very good neighborly relations and respect – is unequivocal: Albania’s path toward the European Union and the European institutions is intrinsically linked to respect for the rights of the ethnic Greek minority,” Mitsotakis said. “This is something we will not back down on,” he said, according to Kathimerini.

He made his comments during a presentation of traditional Christmas songs at the party’s Athens headquarters by the Omonia Association of Albanian Greeks with Greece’s government earlier angered over the confiscation and demolition of houses of ethnic Greeks in the Himara area so developers could use the area for tourism projects.

He earlier had condemned Albania’s action and said he had sent a letter to the European Commission chief in charge of enlargement and opening accession talks, Johannes Hahn, to protest the “unacceptable” decision by Rama.

“The decision constitutes a direct violation of the Greek national minority’s human rights, and contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights,” Mitsotakis said.

Prime Minister Edi Rama, who had backed the police in the incident that led to the death of Konstantinos Katsifas, had planned to meet Greek Premier and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras in a bid to cool down simmering relations but then ordered the seizure of the properties.

The confiscated properties were swiftly sold off, partly to help tourism development in the area, upsetting the Greek Foreign Ministry – with the resignation of Nikos Kotzias, it is now headed by Tsipras technically – which said the confiscations were a violation of the European Convention of Human Rights and previous court rulings.

“Such actions are not consistent with the declared European aspirations of Albania and are contrary to its relevant obligations,” the statement said, noting that Albania wants to the join the European Union.

The Omonoia organization, which is representing the ethnic Greeks in the region, said that it would move to protect the rights and interests of the minority by using all legal means.

“Both the decision and the relevant proposed bill of law amount to a flagrant violation of human rights, including the rights of ownership of the Greek indigenous national minority in Albania. Such actions are not consistent with the declared European aspirations of Albania and are contrary to its relevant obligations,” the Greek response said.

“We call upon the government of Albania to rescind this decision and reconsider the law, ensuring that ownership deeds be immediately granted to all lawful owners without exception,” it added.

The number of ethnic Greeks in Albania was above 24,200 in the 2011 census, representing less than 1 percent of the total population.