Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group – Greece have for years
worked on human rights and in particular on minority rights in
Southeast Europe. Today, they deplore the conditions under which
municipal elections, and in particular their second round, were held
in the Albanian municipality of Himara, on 1 and 15 October 2000.
International observers, including from the OSCE ODIHR, are reported
today to have confirmed many irregularities and to have also
registered a fact well known to experienced minority rights advocates:
the Himara region has a Greek minority that is denied the rights the
Albanian state grants to Greek minority members elsewhere, in the
officially recognized "minority zones."
a result of the refusal to recognize the presence of ethnic Greeks in
Himara and to consequently operate minority classes in the schools,
despite the existence of sufficient demand, this year’s municipal
elections have apparently acquired the character of an implicit
referendum on the issue. Because the issue is perceived as a
"sensitive national issue", if not a taboo, in Albania, all
but one of the country’s political parties coalesced in the second
round behind the socialist candidate opposing a candidate of the
mainly Greek minority Human Rights Party.
the observer noted, it was an "unusual coalition" given that
the country’s two major parties were at each other’s throats
everywhere else in Albania. In fact the opposition "Democratic
Party" even boycotted the second round to protest against alleged
unfairness of the first round for which they held responsible the
socialists. But they allied with them in Himara. On the other hand
this odd coalition’s opponent, the Human Rights Party is a partner
in the socialist-led government.
did not prevent the socialists from joining the opposition in
unprecedented in recent years "hellenophobic hate speech"
through election day, according to ODIHR observers. Today, even ODIHR
has reportedly become a target of hate speech. Socialist Party leader
Fatos Nano for example branded the Greek minority party "Human
Rights criminals." The result of the formation of what was
repeatedly called "Alliance for the Nation" was -to quote
Albanian weekly "Klan" (14/10/00)- that:
of a normal election procedure in a town of the Albanian South, we
are now faced with a historic battle …in which, in an irrational
way, the electoral result will be interpreted in terms of the
origins and the ancient tradition of this town: if the socialist
candidate wins it will be an Albanian town, if the Human Rights
Party wins, it will be a Greek town."
such circumstances almost everywhere election irregularities would
have been unavoidable. There are widespread allegations, some already
documented, of harassment of Greek voters, and of use of unnecessary
police violence: an Associated Press photo showing uniform and plain
clothes policemen with rifles and guns pushing unarmed civilians in
front of an election center is telling. Moreover, Human Rights Party
and Greek Parliament representatives claim there were incidents of
violence against party representatives in polling places as well as
and ballot stuffing. At the same time, allegations, some documented,
were made of inappropriate conduct of some minority members and
members of parliament from Greece, well known hardliners of the
nationalist opposition New Democracy party. We welcome the Greek
government’s condemnation of such practices.
election climate and the irregularities have created a dangerous
spiral, rather reminiscent of the 1994 "Omonoia trial"
crisis between Albania and Greece. Inter alia, in Greece, leading
opposition politicians and many others called yesterday for
"reprisal" expulsions of Albanian immigrants from Greece.
NGOs therefore appeal today to the OSCE ODIHR to help publish a
detailed report on this election, confirming or refuting as many
allegations as possible. This is the only way nationalist circles in
both countries will be devoid of arguments. Should such a request be
granted, all those making allegations should document them and submit
them to ODIHR. If such a review finds it necessary, a rerun of the
election need be called for. We hope the Albanian authorities will
cooperate in such an effort.
importantly, though, we appeal to the "good offices" of the
OSCE HCNM, a knowledgeable expert on the situation in Albania and
Greece. We request that, in cooperation with the Albanian authorities,
he addresses the issue of the –inadmissible by international and now
also Albanian standards– territorial restrictions on the recognition
of minorities in Albania and advise the Albanian government how to
abolish such practices and apply instead uniformly the standards now
part of Albanian legal order.
sooner this is done, the better it will be. In 2001, there are
scheduled a national census and a parliamentary election in Albania.
The country’s democratic transition cannot afford either one to be
challenged as unfair by any side.