Reflections of an Albanian in Greece

Montenegro and the Army of Yugoslavia: Closing of the Circle

Laura Loli

SUN, 02 APL 2000

Athens, March 31, 2000 - Some ten years ago, thousands of Albanians, suffering under the extremely tense political and financial situation in Albania, decided to leave their country and look for a better life in foreign lands. One of the first choices of these people was Greece. To some extent, this decision was provoked by the measures on the part of Greece to facilitate the entrance at least of the Albanians of Greek origin.

Most of the people who entered Greece and other neighboring countries --using legal and illegal ways-- were from the northern rural areas of Albania. Notably, even though nearly 75% of the entire Albanian population is still rural, the northern rural areas have remained less developed than the urban ones. That is why the number of people willing to leave the Albanian North was impressive.

Former prisoners and other criminals, who had not been integrated into the Albanian society, were also among the new emigrants. Their notoriety was well known in Albania, and was to remain so in their new countries of settlement as well.

Interestingly, the initial emigration euphoria did not affect the Albanian intellectuals. In their majority, these people remained in Albania, expecting to be able to use their valuable knowledge in starting a new life in the partially developed, yet promising, Albanian capitalist system.

With time, however, many of these intellectuals lost their faith and realized that a radical improvement of the situation in Albania was untenable. They no longer trusted the 'successful' Albanian politicians, who had promised to deliver a better future. That is why, just as the Jews had followed Moses in search of the 'Promised Land,' these Albanians followed the consuls of the foreign embassies in search of a promising future in the neighboring countries.

Keeping in mind the characteristics of the above-mentioned groups of emigrants, it is not that surprising that, from the very beginning, many Greeks were suspicious and not very friendly to the Albanians. Unfortunately, this image did not change much as time passed. No matter how much some Albanian emigrants tried to separate themselves from the group of the 'notorious' Albanians, the stereotypes the Greeks had for anybody from Albania --be they of Greek origin or not-- remained stable.

There were abundant stories about Albanian ex-prisoners and other 'notorious' Albanians. These stories usually revolved around the unscrupulous way in which such people tried to enrich themselves with something that their 'host' Europeans, and especially the Greeks, had earned through hard working all their life

Even though the group of the law-abiding Albanian emigrants is much larger, their efforts to get settled in Greece and live in peace and quiet were made futile by prejudice and misunderstanding. The situation was made even more painful, since the majority of the Greek population refused to distinguish between the two groups within the same emigrant community. This failure on the part of the Greeks, which most probably was based on their lack of desire to change their set perceptions, led the Greeks to increase their dislike for the Albanians, reaching a state of indiscriminate 'Albanophobia.'

Such insolent attitude is not 'reserved' for emigrants only. It is the typical way in which all Albanians are treated, be it students, businesspersons or tourists. This observation is unfortunate, especially when one keeps in mind that the Greek society has failed to do what the other European countries with Albanian emigrants have done, namely to distinguish between the criminal Albanian elements and the honest emigrants.

The 'bulletproof' shield of stereotypes worn by the Greek population cannot be penetrated even by evidence of the high educational level demonstrated by some Albanians in Greece. The mere fact that they have an Albanian background puts them in an unfavorable position. Thus, they have to pass daily 'tests' in order to prove their worthiness to the Greeks. Unfortunately, even when they do pass those 'tests' successfully, the Greek 'instructors' are still not satisfied.

A good illustration of this paradoxical behavior could be found in the case of a twenty-year-old man who lives in Greece with his parents, representatives of the Albanian intelligentsia. This young man used to work and study at an OAED [unemployment agency] school in Lamia, in the department of car technology. In the three years of his studies, he had a commendable record - outstanding grades, excellent behavior and good relations with all students, both with Albanian emigrants and with Greek students. In his last year of studies, the young man had to move to another class due to administrative reshuffling.

He did not feel at ease in his new class not only because he did not know anybody there, but also because the overall educational level of the students was very low. On top of all this, in that class there was one student, whom everybody respected and looked up to, due to his 'leadership' role in causing problems and intimidating others. One day, that very student was especially vocal in demanding that the class instructor cancel the class if the Albanian student does not put on the required uniform. Despite the fact that the requirement is for the uniform to be put on after the first two hours, the instructor obeyed to his student's 'orders.' The Albanian student was able to borrow the uniform of the instructor, but even that did not placate his noisy classmate.

Even though the Greek student's requirement was satisfied, he decided to take the administration of the class into his own hands and ordered the Albanian student to leave the class. The two then exchanged some harsh words, while the instructor was looking on helplessly. This short story did not finish with that, though. The Albanian student was ambushed by the Greek student's gang after the class ended and was beaten by four of them in order to make him understand the rules of the game.

What is particularly important in this incident is that despite the fact that the school staff heard about the intentions of the Greek student while he was still in class, nobody took any proactive initiative, in order to prevent the incident. Moreover, the school's director refused to transfer the beaten student to another class after he petitioned the director and reasoned his request with specific evidence. He was told by the school's director that he had to "go back to the same class and learn how to live with difficult people, just as I did years ago when I was in Germany."

All this was of no use to the abused student, who said that it was impossible for him to go back to the same class where one student and his gang were able to sabotage the class. This situation was even more intolerable, since it was obvious that the school staff was aware of the recurrent incidents provoked by the same noisy student. The official response of the school's director was that it was up to the Albanian student alone to decide whether to stay or leave school.

Following the above incident, several NGOs contacted the OAED leadership. They also joined the beaten student's family at their meeting with the school's director. At that meeting, the director completely changed his attitude, confessing that "there are several students in that school with fascist ideas; the good student has been assaulted only because he comes from another country (despite the fact that he comes from the Greek minority-populated South of Albania). The gang of students could not accept the fact that the student before them was actually intellectually superior to them, even though he came from an Albanian background."

In one word, the whole story was attributed to 'infantile jealousy.' And this story forced the 'foreign' student to transfer far away to an Athens school just two months before his graduation...

The 'Good Albanian, Bad Albanian' story has no end. Yet, the logical conclusion of all this is clear. For some Greeks it is bad enough to see a notorious law offender from Albania. What they regretfully give the impression to consider even worse, however, is for them to see somebody who is intellectually distinguished and educated and also comes from Albania.

So, what kind of human existence would be acceptable to those people? Moreover, what would be acceptable to the coming generation of Greeks, who look up to their parents as models of humane and fair behavior? One should not forget that the young people's behavior tomorrow has its roots in their attitude today.

Original article