The Himarriotan Society of America has issued a press release regarding a conflict that has emerged between Greek-Americans with roots in Himara, and ethnic Greeks who live in that Albanian town regarding the former’s initiatives regarding property rights in their homeland. The complete text of the release follows:
“Best Chance for Greeks in Albania To Get Their Lands Back Comes Under Fire”
A new property law that Albania is preparing to enact to replace the maze of measures now in force is creating a clear division between Greek groups in Himara, the town at the center of land protests, and Himara immigrants in the US, who not only support the proposed legislation but had their experts play a key role in drafting it.
The Himara groups in Albania claim that the new legislation does not solve any existing problems but actually adds many new ones.
“That’s not true,” says Rev. Kosmas Karavelas, president of the Himarriotan Society of America (HSA) based in Washington. “The new law gives the people of Himara and all ethnic Greeks in Albania the best chance since the fall of communism 30 years ago to register their properties and get clear title to them.”
He says experts engaged by the Society – including attorney Simos C. Dimas, whose family comes from Himara, his colleague Jay Creutz, and a local team of property law specialists – have spent two years working with Albanian authorities to draft the new law and consulted extensively with European and American experts as well as ethnic Greek leaders during the process.
“The new law provides rightful owners with the chance to finally register their properties after 30 years of chaos,” says Mr. Dimas, “and it gives property certainty to citizens, owners, and investors.”
“Without the ability to hold clear title to property, there will be no investment in the region…Without investment and the jobs it will create, the region will wither and die. The new law is our best hope for the future of Himara and all of the other Greek communities in the area,” he states.
“No law is perfect, but this legislation offers everyone with claims to property a fair process to secure title to it,” says Ms. Creutz, the other expert who helped forge the new law. “We know the problems first hand, having tried to register properties for an HSA Pilot Group of 9 families. Only 21 of 120 properties were legally eligible to be registered under the existing laws, but with the new Law all of them can be registered. Groups opposing the law may mean well but they are harming the best interests of their own people,” Ms. Creutz added.
To dramatize how misguided the criticism from the Himara groups is, Ms. Creutz and Mr. Dimas have prepared a point by point rebuttal to each of their complaints. The exchange follows. (Rebuttal from the Himarriotan Society of America in italics)
Statement on New Albanian Property Law
Translated from the original Greek published on himara.gr February 22, 2020
We understand that a new bill will be put to the vote in early March to complete the procedures for registering property and issuing property titles without the necessary public consultation with the affected ownership groups and civil society.
Untrue. Full public consultation as required under Albanian law was conducted, along with extensive consultation with international bodies and experts – the EU, the US, the experts and all stakeholders except Greece and the politicians who signed this manifesto support this new Law. The property certainty this Law will provide is essential for attracting investors, reviving the economy and providing a means of livelihood so that people from Himara will be able to stay in their ancestral homeland.
After studying the bill with the input of prominent legal experts, the following conclusions can be drawn for the Himara region:
- The bill does not solve any problems, on the contrary it adds many new ones.
Untrue. After 30 years there can be no perfect solution – but this new law is far better than the current laws: the new Law provides rightful owners with a chance to finally register their titles after 30 years, and it gives property certainty to citizens, owners, and investors. Without investment and the jobs it will create, this region will die – this new Law is our best hope for the future of Himara.
- The procedure for registering, distributing property and legalizing property is daunting and will result in no one completing it.
Untrue. The new process is simpler, faster, and easier for rightful owners than the current laws – the fees for AMTP registration have been eliminated, the required documents that must be submitted by owners are reduced to almost nothing, and unless there are conflicting claims land will be registered in less than 90 days from when the application is submitted. Already hundreds of owners have come forward to submit their registration requests to the Cadastral Agency.
- The bill seeks to limit as much private land as possible so that the state owns most of the land, while it is well known that the state in Himara area did not even have a land plot before 1945.
Untrue. The purpose of the bill is to register all the private ownership so that the rightful owners can enjoy their property rights. We cannot rewrite the history of the last 30 years, or the 45 years before that – all we can do is start from where we are and try to solve the problems facing us today in the best way possible. The reality today is that owners cannot register their property crooks have stolen property from rightful owners, and no serious person or company is willing to invest.
- The bill only refers to agricultural land and as the World Bank confirms, in Himara it accounts for only 17 to 25% of total land. The remaining 75% are left out, unknown by what purpose.
Untrue. This bill provides for registration of AMTPs for pasture, forest, and agricultural land.
- The bill does not finalize non-registered property titles. Instead, it puts them in a lengthy ‘gray’ process of filing claims but not finalized property titles, as it allows the Land Registry to raise multiple long-standing obstacles to the legality of property titles or the application of land titles.
Untrue. AMTPs are registered right away – unless there is a conflicting claim by someone else to the same property, or unless they appear fraudulent, in which case the courts must make a decision on the validity. In such cases, the property is registered in the Cadaster, but cannot be bought or sold until the court has ruled. The Greek government’s lawyer has advocated for a process where nothing is ever registered and everything is sent to the courts, but that is not what the new Law says.
- In the end, the bill allows for the serving of local interest interests through the Land Office’s wide discretion to adjust the size of private land on the basis of land maps drawn up by the Office itself.
Misleading and Untrue. Everyone knows there must be adjustments of the old maps and property descriptions when they are placed into a modern, accurate satellite-generated map. The new Law does not change this. The Law provides new benefits for rightful owners: 1) the SCA draws up maps in cases where the owner does not have a map or does not know the location of his property, 2) AMTP holders can register up to 20% more than is listed on their AMTP if their family owned more originally, and
3) anyone who is unhappy with the SCA decisions has two new ways to appeal.
- It takes the local government out of the equation as it removes all responsibilities, thus paving the way for uncontrolled management of our property directly by the state.
Misleading and Untrue. The local government has been the source of most of the corruption, fraud, and inability to register titles. This removes them from the process and puts the job in the hands of professionals, and it provides for mechanisms to appeal any decision they take.
All in all, the bill lays the groundwork for de facto expropriation of land, as it does not ensure that unregistered titles will not be distributed by government agencies to “investors” or third parties, with no hope of compensation for the rightful owners.
Untrue. Properties which are being reviewed due to conflicts or possible fraud are still registered under the name(s) of the person claiming the land. The property cannot be sold or expropriated until the courts have decided. This new Law is the only way for rightful owners to register their properties so that they can received proper compensation from investor or the government if they are expropriated.
Once this law is passed, in combination with the laws on strategic investors, the super fund and the expropriations, it will constitute the graveyard of the people of Himara, thus completing the plan for the expropriation of our assets.
Untrue. This Law makes it possible for rightful owners to register their properties, and to take their properties back from the crooks and special interests who have tried to steal them. Rightful owners will receive full compensation for their properties if they are ever expropriated.
Those who agree with the form that this bill appears to be taking do not serve the interests of the Himara region or the Himara people who are living there in their ancestral homeland.
Untrue. The people who will benefit the most from this new Law are the people who are still living in the Himara area. Those with AMTPs will finally be able to register them, and those with “titles in use” or pending applications for AMTPs will finally get their property titles so they too can register them. Until there is property certainty, there will be no investment in the area and therefore no jobs. This new law is the cornerstone for reviving the economy and providing a means of livelihood so that people from Himara will be able to stay in their ancestral homeland.
On the basis of the foregoing, the signatories declare our complete opposition to the draft law submitted without taking into account the views of the local owners. We call on the Albanian political leadership and civil society to protect us from the attempted expropriation of our property which is our main means of survival. We also call on Greece and international organizations to stand with us in this rightful request.
Untrue. The actual local owners support this Law – and so do AMTP holders everywhere who have been unable to register their properties up until now. The opponents of this Law are just using this issue for political gain. They are the ones exploiting the people.
In conclusion…we call on the people of Himara from Palasa to Nivitsa to stand by us …
Omonia Party of Himarra
Himarriotan Society of Himara
New York Association of Himarriottans
North Epirotan Federation of America (NEFA)
Northern Epirus Association of Samos
Republic of Himara
Omonia Party, Himare Branch
Businessmen Association of Himara
Association for the Protection of Greek-owned Property
Himarriotan Society of Tirana
Himara for Himariotans Association