GREEK HELSINKI MONITOR & 
MINORITY RIGHTS GROUP - GREECE

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OSCE 2000 HUMAN DIMENSION IMPLEMENTATION MEETING
INTERVENTION

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PRESS RELEASE

GREEK HELSINKI MONITOR & 
MINORITY RIGHTS GROUP - GREECE


STATEMENT ON ALBANIA AND GREECE

AT THE 2000 OSCE IMPLEMENTATION MEETING

 

17 October 2000

 

FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS: 

THE HIMARA (ALBANIA) MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS (OCTOBER 2000)

 

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STATEMENT ON ALBANIA AND GREECE

AT THE 2000 OSCE IMPLEMENTATION MEETING

 

17 October 2000

 

FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS: 

THE HIMARA (ALBANIA) MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS (OCTOBER 2000)

Greek 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."

 

As 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.

 

As 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.

 

This 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:

 

"Instead 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."

 

In 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.

 

The 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.

 

Our 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.

 

Most 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.

 

The 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.

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