Albanian Daily News
Opposition leader demands rights for Albanian minority in Greece

Albanian Economic Tribune - Jan 18, 2000

TIRANA - The leader of the opposition Democratic Party, on a tour of southern Albania, demanded on Saturday more rights for the ethnic Albanian Cham minority in Greece, saying the relations between the two neighbouring countries may suffer if mutual problems were not solved.

Berisha demanded more cultural rights for the Albanians living in Greece and the solution of the property issue of the Cham population, expelled from their territories in northern Greece at the end of World War 2.

Albanian historians claim that about 300,000 ethnic Albanians were forcefully expelled from Greece’s northern region of Chameria to neighbouring Albania during the civil war in Greece at the end of World War 2. The then Greek authorities approved a law sanctioning the expropriation of Chams, citing the collaboration of several leaders of their community with occupying German forces as a main reason for the decision.

The law is still in force in Greece, and several associations representing the Cham population in Albania are wooing for support for their cause. They are even working on legal procedures to sue the Greek government at the European Court of Human Rights.

Ex-president Berisha said in a rally with party supporters in the southernmost town of Saranda that Greek authorities should open an Albanian language school in the northern town of Filat (Filiates).

"The Greek government should open Albanian schools in Filat, as well as recognise and respect the Albanian minority," said Berisha, apparently referring to ethnic Albanians still living in northern Greece.

He said that without the solution of the Cham properties’ issue the relations between the two countries will notice only "artificial developments". Berisha vowed that the solution of the Cham issue will be a main condition for better relations with the neighbouring country when his party comes to power.

"The Greek government should return all the properties to the Cams, or, without resolving the issue, the relations with Greece will know only artificial developments," said Berisha.

The ex-president said that when his party was in power several years ago the government signed a Treaty of Friendship with Greece. "But, it (Greece) did not implement it."

"Albanians there (Greece) are treated as second class citizens," he said.

The controversial Cham issue has been dormant in recent years and none of the post-war Albanian governments, including the Communists, ventured to try and make it a key issue in the relations with the southern neighbour.

However, the issue cropped up during a recent visit of Albanian Premier Ilir Meta to Greece, though it was not on the agenda of talks with his Greek counterpart Costas Simitis.

Simitis, answering questions from journalists at a joint press conference following the official talks, said that the Greek government considered the Cham issue as "a closed chapter". The Greek Premier’s statement prompted Meta’s reaction with a statement for home consumption for Albanian journalists covering his visit. He said that Albania expected the Greek government to solve the issue of the Cham properties "according to the European conventions Greece abides by."

A senior right-wing leader suggested Albania should ask the International Human Rights Court to give a solution to the Cam issue unless an agreement was reached with Greece. The chairman of the Foreign Parliamentary Committee, Sabri Godo, a Republican, urged Albanian authorities to work out with Greece a solution to the issue.

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