*Greek Extremism Spills into Albania: Neo-Nazi Party Incites Violence/
*Albanian American Organization Chameria writes to Suzane Johnson-Cook, Ambassador At Large of the International Religious Freedom, at the U.S Department of State/
Dear Ms. Johnson-Cook:/
As you may recall, we met in a seminar organized jointly with the United Macedonian Diaspora about the rise of extremism in Greece last October in D.C. We really appreciate your attention to these important issues of Albanians and religious freedoms in Greece.
As representatives of AAOC and American citizens we are concerned about the recent unpleasant events occurring between Albania and its neighbor, Greece. 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.
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 deficit especially towards its minorities. Golden Dawn, a Greek neo-Nazi political party, which denies the Holocaust ever occurred, has risen in popularity, given 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.
In three separate incidents, two weeks ago, last week, and today, 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. Today Golden Dawn attempted to enter Albania and called for war, while shouting anti-Albanian ethnic slurs.
Last October you heard testimonies from European Union member-state 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 as 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.
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, Yanoulatos (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.” Clearly, Greek society is plagued by unemployment and severe economic woes and does not want to get in a situation where far right groups encouraged by inside government elements take advantage of the political vacuum created in Albania after peaceful and uneventful June 23rd elections.
While many property claims remain unresolved in Albania, past International 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. Subsequently this unclear legal status creates conditions which are being exploited by Greek chauvinist circles. 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.
Therefore, as proud American citizens of Albanian descent are very concerned and ask this great Democratic country to work through US diplomacy to calm Greek and Albanian relations for sustainable peace in the Balkans. Our organization will supply you with an updated report, if needed. We are confident that your team will work for a just solution to this issue.
Ms. Elizabeth Huse Neil
Foreign Service Officer
EUR Team Leader, International Religious Freedom
Mr. Gilbert Galanxhi
Albanian Ambassador in the United States