ATHENS – In an emotional atmosphere and showered with warm applause, the Mayor of Athens and President of the Balkan Cities Network B40, Kostas Bakoyannis, addressed the large demonstration in the Albanian city of Himara demanding the release from prison of Fredi Beleri, who was recently elected its mayor. The protest on the city’s main pedestrian street was organized by the Greek community organization ‘Omonia’, Beleri belonging to Albania’s Greek minority.
Bakoyannis called for the immediate release of Beleri, so that he can take the oath of office and assume his duties. Also speaking at the event was the mayor of Thessaloniki, Konstantinos Zervas, as well as – via a recorded message – Vice-President of the European Commission, Margaritis Schinas.
Beleri, who has been held by Albanian authorities since May, sent his own message of optimism and victory from prison, expressing gratitude for the tangible support he has received: “Justice always prevails, sometimes slowly and sometimes swiftly, but ultimately it prevails. Our faith leads us. Our faith and our struggle for our rights. For the right to live and prosper in our ancestral land. For the right to our language, our property, our national identity.”
As three months have passed since the arrest and detention of Beleri on charges of attempting to buy votes, the Albanian judicial authorities continue to detain him without setting a trial date or even formally charging him. The Greek community’s leadership believes his ongoing detention is part of a strategy to allow the electoral law deadlines to expire, preventing him from being sworn in as mayor, forcing new elections.
In his speech, Schinas said, “I call on our neighbors and friends, the Albanians, once again not to continue with tactics… that are not in the best interest of the European ambitions of the Albanian people… What is happening to Fredi is profoundly anti-European… I am confident that even at this eleventh hour, Fredi will be able to assume his duties as the mayor of Heimarra, and no other option can be accepted by the EU.”
The Mayor of Thessaloniki, Konstantinos Zervas, among other things, said, “the people of Macedonia stand by you. We will fight this battle together.”
Bakoyannis began his speech by acknowledging the warm reception upon his arrival, with people shouting his name and chanting “Greece – Greece,” referring to them as “brothers in language and patriots in spirit.
Characterizing his presence in Himara as “a tribute to freedom, an offering to democracy,” he added: “As the Mayor of Athens and as the President of the B40 network, which consists of dozens of municipalities from 11 Balkan countries, I convey this message: Democracy is not imprisoned. The voice of citizens cannot be silenced. The mandate of the people cannot be tampered with. Himara has a mayor, plain and simple. He has a name and a surname: Fredi Beleri. Fredi Beleri deserves a fair trial.”
He also declared that the “Municipal Council of the Municipality of Athens, the capital of Greece and the center of Hellenism, with unanimous decision, stands with you, representing all Athenians, beyond parties and ideologies.”
The Mayor of Athens also stressed that, “we want to welcome Albania to the European family. And to live together in our great European home. However, this home has strong foundations: democracy, justice, the rule of law, and political rights. These are our principles and values. And they are non-negotiable.”
Omonoia – Himara declared in a statement: “It is our great honor and joy that in this effort, the Mayor of Athens, Kostas Bakoyannis, will participate with his presence… We also want to thank all the municipalities for their support and tangible assistance. They fill us with strength and optimism. We will never forget it.”