After Albania backed away from a plan to seize the homes of ethnic Greeks in the Himara region, the government said it would remove bilingual signs from ethnic Greek villages in the area of Finiki.
That drew fire from Greece’s new Foreign Minister Giorgos Katrougalos who said legal action would be taken to protect ethnic Greeks in Albania with tensions remaining taut between the countries.
He added that one of the criteria for Albania’s accession to the European Union, “which Greece supports,” is the protection of minority rights, warning that Greece’s neighbor could be blocked from hopes of entering the bloc unless it backed off.
Major opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leading big in polls over the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA with elections coming this year, said as much in March when he indicated Albania would be blocked by a Greek veto if it moved against ethnic Greeks.
Mitsotakis said he wanted to send a “clear message to the Albanian government,” emphasizing that “it is not possible to start the process of Albania’s EU accession when there is absolutely no respect for the rights of the Greek ethnic minority,” and concluded by saying that “this is not an issue that concerns only Greece, it concerns Europe, it concerns the European acquis, it concerns the European rule of law.”
In February, Greece and Albania said they would reopen talks to set maritime borders in the Ionian Sea off both coasts but said there will not be any negotiations about the land borders, citing a 1996 agreement that stipulated the boundaries.
“The two countries are not discussing their borders, as those have been determined by international agreements and no negotiation is taking place over them,” sources that weren’t identified told the state-run Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA-MPA).
Speaking during an interview with Albania’s Vizion Plus TV, Prime Minister Edi Rama appeared to suggest that Athens and Tirana were in talks over potential border changes.
“What is it that we are discussing with Greece today? The border. What did Kosovo and Montenegro discuss and achieve? The border. Why is it that the border between Kosovo and Serbia should not be discussed? It will surely be discussed [whether] you like it or not. A (border) demarcation process will take place in this case, too,” he was quoted as saying.
That came as after Albania’s Prime Minister said Greece should built a monument to Albanian Chams expelled from the Epirus region in World War II, that community said Greece should apologize for what it called a genocide against them and let them return.
The push came as Greece and Albania were trying to build better relations after Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama said his country has no territorial claims in Greece but that it wanted recognition for the Chams and what happened to them.
Talks between the countries have included the borders and a State of War law still active in Greece since Italy used Albania in an attempted invasion of Greece in WWII before the Greek Army pushed the Italians out rapidly, leading Germany to lead a successful invasion and then occupation.