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Greece Launches Protest Over Arrest of Ethnic Greek in Albania

Greece Albania
Greeks in southern Albania gathered to welcome PM Mitsotakis during his visit in December 2022. Credit: Press Office of the Greek PM

Greece launched a formal protest with Albania on Friday following the arrest of an ethnic Greek politician in Himara, located in southern Albania.

Fredi Beleri, a Greek minority candidate running for mayor in Himara, was arrested on charges of vote-buying on Thursday evening and later temporarily released.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Friday that he had reached out to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen regarding his detention.

Taking to social media, Mitsotakis emphasized the firm stance of Greece and the EU, stating, “Albania needs to understand that Greece and the EU will not accept any compromises on the rule of law and the protection of the rights of the ethnic Greek minority.”

Fredi Beleri on the campaign trail in southern Albania. Credit: Facebook/Fredi Beleri

The Greek minority organizations, Omonia and the Greek Minority Unity for Human Rights Party (known as KEAD in Greece) have strongly condemned what they perceive as an unprecedented attack targeting the ethnic Greek community in Albania.

A video of his arrest was uploaded on Facebook:

Ethnic Greek faced criticism from Albania PM

Beleri, who also serves as the president of the local branch of Omonia, is running as a candidate in the municipal elections in Himara with the backing of both KEAD and Omonia, as well as the opposition coalition led by the Democratic Party, headed by former prime minister Sali Berisha, and the left-wing Freedom Party, led by former president Ilir Meta.

Throughout his campaign, Beleri has faced severe criticism from Prime Minister Edi Rama and a segment of the media. Just hours prior to his arrest, Rama reportedly made statements on television suggesting that he would personally address the situation with Beleri following the elections.

The Greek minority in Albania is concentrated in the south of the country, along the border with Greece, an area referred to by Greeks as “Northern Epirus”. The largest concentration is in the districts of Sarande, Gjirokaster, Delvine and in Himara.

Albania says that Greeks in the country number around 20,000, although the Greek minority organizations dispute this, claiming that their numbers are much higher.

Tensions between ethnic Greeks and Albanians spill over

Occasionally tensions boil over and create a crisis in bilateral relations between Tirana and Athens.

The most serious incident occurred in October 2018, when ethnic Greek Konstantinos Katsifas, was shot and killed by Albanian security forces in the village of Burat (Vouliarates). Local Greeks maintained that Katsifas was executed.

According to the Albanian police, Katsifas, dressed in combat gear and carrying a Kalashnikov assault rifle, fired at police officers. This incident followed a brawl related to the celebration of the “Oxi Day” anniversary in the village.

Human rights in Albania are being violated by the Government, which has targeted the Greek population via police and secret service, according to Human Rights Watch.

Greek communities have been targeted by development projects and had their homes demolished in alleged ethnic targeting of Greeks from Southern Albania. Also, according to Amnesty International, there have been cases of mistreatment of members of the Greek minority by the authorities.

Also, the ethnic Greek minority have complained about the government’s unwillingness to recognize ethnic Greek towns outside communist-era “minority zones,” to utilize Greek in official documents and on public signs in ethnic Greek areas or to include more ethnic Greeks in public administration.

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