ATHENS – It’s been 83 years since Greece declared war on Albania, the occupying Italian army there using sites to fire shells at Greek soldiers who pushed them out – at a cost of 8,000 of them killed – and now new battles have erupted, politically.
Greece and Albania are still technically at war despite having signed a Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation, Good Neighborliness and Security in 1996 and being allies in NATO.
There are areas of contention worsening relations with Albania, whose Prime Minister Edi Rama has been accused by critics of being near authoritarian and trying to stifle media freedom and keeping a tight hold on the country.
Those include a disagreement on the delimitation of maritime zones, Greece’s 1940 Law of War with Albania, and the property rights of the Greek minority in Albania, said the German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) in a review.
The Greek Foreign Ministry said while the government agreed in 1987 to rescind the declaration of war that it hasn’t been ratified in the 35 years since, creating problems over Greek properties that were taken and their rights.
But it’s the case of Fredi Beleri, an ethnic Greek elected Mayor of the seaside town of Himara, that looks to be a tourist hot spot coming because of its setting and far cheaper than Greece and rivals, that has soured relations.
Greece said it will block any accession hopes of Albanian getting into the European Union over Beleri’s continued detention and trial on charges of buying votes, which he said were fabricated so that associates of Rama could gain control of development in the town. He’s not been allowed to take office.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, while in Albania for a meeting of EU officials, pointed to the dilemma diplomatically and said he couldn’t influence Albania’s courts but since has taken a harder stance and put up a roadblock.
“Many properties on the Ionian coast belong to ethnic Greeks, who live in the tourist villages of Himara,” Skerdian Dhuli, a lawyer there, told DW. “For a number of reasons – above all corruption in the public institutions that deal with properties – local owners cannot invest in their properties.”
Neither can ethnic Albanian local property owners who aren’t allowed to invest in the tourism sector even on their own land, leaving other areas ripe for businessmen, including those with ties to the government.
“Local property owners “have no access to the National Council of the Territory, which is run by Prime Minister Rama and has the legal authority to issue development permits for the Albanian coast, based on the Law on Strategic Investments,” Dhuli told the news site, calling it a way “to rob and alienate the local owners’ properties.”
Dhuli said there is official data on about 4,000 “overlapping properties” in Himara co-owned by people who have no real rights to them but are “strategic investors, determined by the government, who invest in the properties of the local, real owners in Himara.
He said Beleri, the opposition candidate in Himara where there’s a sizeable ethnic Greek population, “promised to change this situation” and was slapped with what the Mayor-elect said were dubious allegations to prevent it.
Greece said his detention is politically motivated and “expects Albania to take concrete and immediate measures to allow Mr. Beleri to take the mayoral oath and to respect his right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence.”
Now Albania’s EU hopes are on hold, other media reports indicating that Rama is holding firm in the apparent belief the United States will make Greece back down, wanting expansion and influence in the Balkans.