Chicago, IL – September 3, 2013: The Albanian American Organization Chameria sends letter to State Department’s Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, Dr. Suzan Cook.
Concerned about the recent hostile events occurring between Albania and Greece, representatives of AAOC, wrote to Dr. Suzan Denise Johnson Cook, the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. The cause of their reaction are the recent Golden Dawn incidents which indicate Greek extremism potentially spilling into Albania.
AAOC’s Secretary General Sali Bollati expressed that it is widely known that Albania is the most tolerant country in the world known for its religious coexistence. In the middle ages, the Albanian national hero, George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, fought for 25 years against the Ottoman Empire to protect the European civilization. Similarly, Mother Teresa, an Albanian Catholic nun with her humanitarian services is considered the Mother of the World.
Moreover the AAOC letter states “Quite the opposite situation is found in neighboring Greece, which does neither legally recognize, nor respect its ethnic minorities. The same can be said about different religious groups which are not Orthodox Christian. Known as the cradle of democracy, Greece has seen a significant democratic shortfall especially towards its minorities. Golden Dawn, a Greek neo-Nazi political party, which denies the Holocaust ever occurred, has risen in popularity, particularly with the deepening economic crisis in the country. This right wing extremist group has secured many seats in the Greek parliament while increased anti-Semitic and xenophobic rhetoric and violent incidents are seen throughout the country. Greece is home to Macedonian and Turkish minorities, with sizeable Albanian, Roma and migrant populations and religious communities such as Catholics and Jews.
Greek fascist circles like Golden Dawn, are trying to influence Greek government policy calling for the deterioration of relations between the two neighboring states. Recently Golden Dawn members, (some supported by elements of Greek secret police) have been holding illegal demonstrations and inciting cross-border violence between Albania and Greece. Here it is worth emphasizing one very important fact: in 1940, when Albania was occupied by fascist Italy, Greece declared war on Albania. Today, after 73 years, this law is still in effect by Greece, keeping in mind that both Albania and Greece are NATO members.”In three separate incidents, two weeks ago, last week, and yesterday, several Greek Neo-Nazi party – Golden Dawn members and Greek Government officials have been protesting a court decision by the Albanian Constitutional Court, regarding the use of a property formerly owned by the Albanian Church in the Albanian town of Permet where a civic building has been erected since the 1950’s. Permet is a small town in southern Albania which is home of the Albanian national Poet Naim Frasheri, of Bektashi faith. The town has no ethnic minorities and its Muslim and Christian population has been living in peace for centuries. AAOC further reports “…yesterday Golden Dawn attempted to enter Albania and called for war, while shouting anti-Albanian ethnic slurs. Two weeks ago, the Greek government lodged a demarche over the Permeti incident where Orthodox priests urged by the Archbishop of the Albanian Autocephalous Church, Yannoulatos (a Greek citizen) created tensions southern Albania. Both the Greek government and Golden Dawn have been issuing political statements against Albania for matters that pertain to Albanian citizens in Albanian territory.” Albania’s outgoing Prime Minister Sali Berisha condemned Greece’s official complaint as “unacceptable and unreasonable interference in Albania’s internal affairs.”
Noting that Greek society is plagued by unemployment and severe economic woes, AAOC’s president Endri Merxhushi commented, “No one wants to see a situation where far right groups encouraged by inside Greek government elements take advantage of the political vacuum created in Albania, after its peaceful and uneventful June 23rd elections.” Cautioning about this dangerous precedent where both Albania and Greece are not carefully weighing the potential for further exacerbation of the religious harmony in the region. “Subsequently this unclear legal status creates conditions which are being exploited by Greek chauvinist circles in a dangerous fashion. We strongly believe that the Greek government and the Greek Archbishop should not meddle into the affairs of a sovereign country which has its own independent church for over 90 years.“ While many property claims remain unresolved in Albania, past International Religious Freedom reports state that the Albanian government continues to address claims from religious groups regarding the return or restitution of property seized during the former communist era. Moreover, in the past 23 years there have been no incidents or reports of abuses of religious freedom by the Albanian government. AAOC conclude their letter stating that as proud American citizens of Albanian descent they are very concerned and request from the US, a great democratic country to work through US diplomacy to calm Greek and Albanian relations for sustainable peace in the Balkans.