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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    THU, 09 OCT 1997 12:06:48 GMT

    'Unequal Rights' for Albanians in the Southern Balkans

    Panayote Dimitras, Mariana Lenkova AIM Athens, 6 October 1997,

    Human, and especially minority, rights are supposed to, and should, be universal and inalienable. However, this does not mean that all these rights should also be universally applicable in the same way. On the contrary, many need to be pursued in different ways, depending on the specificity of the prevailing conditions and circumstances. What is a legitimate pursue in one country may justifiably be considered as excessive if not extremist in another.

    A characteristic example of this is the situation of the some six million "Albanians" in the Balkans. For all these people, Albanian language (in its various forms) is the only unifying element. Otherwise, they differ in ethnic identity and/or religious orientation. They all have acquired some rights, while striving for other. However, the rights they rightly claim in each case are different, because the historical, social and political context differs for each sub-group of them. Ethnic Albanians of Albania

    The total population of Albania is 3.4 million people (1992). On the face of it, at least the ethnic Albanians (over 90% of the citizens) there should be the people with the best accommodated needs and the least number of concerns, because they have their nation-state and have achieved self-determination. In reality though, the country's human rights record has been historically tarnished by the worst form of dictatorship during Hoxha. Moreover, in the past few years they have been the ones subjected to the newly "democratic" experiments of Berisha's authoritarianism.

    With all this in mind, maybe it is not surprising that police in Albania have been mistreating ethnic Albanians more than police in Macedonia have mistreated that country's ethnic Albanians. All this comes to suggest that the lack of democratic traditions and stable economic growth as we have recently witnessed brought forth disaster. The new government is promising in its determination to strive for democracy. Still, one should keep in mind that the same warm feelings were invested in Berisha a few years ago. The mere fact that a Socialist MP shot at a colleague from the Democratic Party in the Parliament is suggestive enough of the fragile state of affairs. The most urgent thing which the new government has to do is to overcome this unstable equilibrium which may break down at any moment making people feel insecure and aggressive towards law and order. The principal means to provide people with security and self-respect is naturally by offering them social and economic stability, but especially by fully respecting human rights.

    Non-Ethnic Albanians of Albania

    In Albania live also an estimated at least quarter of a million non-ethnic Albanians. The Greek minority, usually considered as the largest, consists of some 150,000 people. Other minorities which live in the country are: Vlachs, Macedonians, Serbs, Montenegrins and Roma. It should be stressed that despite its grave problems, Albania has been treating its minorities in a less intolerant way than most of the other Balkan neighbors: it is safe to state that most violations of the human rights of non-ethnic Albanians have resulted from the fact that they simply lived in Albania rather than that they belonged to some minority. In Albania, all minorities are recognized either de jure or de facto, but historically they have had fewer educational rights than Albanians in former Yugoslavia used to have. While Albanians in Serbia and Macedonia strive for university education, minorities in Albania have at most the opportunity for an eight-year primary school education in their mother tongue; and they do not ask for more. Like elsewhere, precisely because of such lack of appropriate education, minorities in Albania have had difficulties in organizing themselves politically and in claiming, as they have a right to, the recognition and respect of their rights in Albanian society.

    Another aspect of the problem concerns the Orthodox Church of Albania, to which belongs the largest number of non- ethnic Albanians. Although there are not many instances of religious intolerance in that country, the Orthodox Church, because of the ethnic belonging of most of its followers, has been seen as suspect and has been treated in a hostile way, while the restitution of its property still remains a problematic issue. Moreover, this church, like all the other "traditional churches" in the country, does not have any legal status which makes it vulnerable in case "the political wind" changes direction.

    Albanians of Kosova

    In Kosova, where most ethnic Albanians outside Albania live, they comprise more than 90% of the overall nearly two million strong population. The region, between 1974- 1989 had an autonomous status, a fact which makes the international community support a return to that status quo ante. Having acquired the experience and the sense of liberty provided by years of autonomy, the suppression and loss of that political liberty progressively led the Albanians of Kosova to develop a stronger sense of self- determination and made all more difficult their coexistence with the Serbian authorities. The successful operation of a parallel state with all its institutions since 1989 has enhanced the credibility of the demand for a separate political entity, though few favor internationally the calls for independence supported by the vast majority of Kosova Albanians. On the other hand, however, Serbs will not let go easily of Kosova, because they consider it "the cradle of Serbianism." The latter may not be historically inaccurate, but one should take into consideration the present state of affairs, and the fact that the greater part of the Kosova population is Albanian. After all, Kosova is as much the "cradle" of Serbianism as Ohrid is of Bulgarianism, or Constantinopole (Istanbul) of Hellenism. Every Balkan people can claim a "cradle of nationhood" somewhere outside its borders but these historical references do not legitimize modern times territorial claims.

    Albanians of Macedonia

    In this country of some two million people, Albanians comprise the most numerous minority of some half a million people. Like their Kosova "brothers", they used to have a large spectrum of rights in the years of old Yugoslavia. Until the late 1980s they were living in a rather tolerant society by communist standards and had their own schools and Pedagogical Academy and were able to send their children to the Albanian university in Prishtina. They lost the higher education possibilities in the final years of "ailing" Yugoslavia, and the new Macedonian government was not able to meet their needs promptly. Nowadays their rights are guaranteed by the Constitution, but practice shows that things are not that perfect in reality. The recent trial in the predominantly Albanian town of Gostivar showed that in its essence the "Albanian issue" is quite complex and "thorny." Here Albanians' only wish is for equal rights in the Macedonian society, combined with the right to have education in their language. Their demand for higher education sounds reasonable, but the experience of the Tetova university lacks credibility. Albanians in Macedonia have a traditional Islamic structure of life, which makes them different from the secularist Albanians in Albania, and the not so religious Albanians in Kosova. Although here the questions of autonomy and secession do not exist, Albanians are accused of trying to make a "Kosova scenario" in Macedonia, which would destabilize the whole region: more specifically, they are charged with efforts to set up "paralle institutions" which are considered in Macedonia as destabilizing and extremist unlike in Kosova where they are appreciated and admired.

    Ethnic and non-ethnic Albanian Immigrants in Greece

    Immigrants from Albania in Greece are estimated at 300,000 people: most are ethnic Albanians, while a large number are ethnic Greeks. The biggest problem which these people face is the fact that most of them are illegal. That is why they are extremely vulnerable and oftentimes they are treated like slaves. The amount of Albanophobia in the media and its impact on public opinion are alarming. The climate of intolerance and aversion which are built cannot help the integration of these immigrants, who strive for legalization and decent rights similar to those provided to immigrants in other EU countries. They do not have schools and cultural centers in which to educate their children in their mother tongue, so that when eventually they go back to Albania, they would have equal chances with their compatriots.

    Arvanites (Arberor) of Greece

    It is interesting that very often Albanophobia in Greece is observed among members of a group, who speak a form of Albanian but do not identify themselves with the Albanian ethnicity. The estimated 200,000 Arvanites are Orthodox Christians established for centuries in Greece. Nowadays they are one of the strongest proponents of Greek nationalism and Orthodox fundamentalism (Old-Calendarism) and they have an aversion to anything which would relate them to the "Shqiptar" nation. They have been assimilated so completely that their language has been led to oblivion. Many people in Albania, as well as in the diaspora, claim that the Arvanites are actually members of an Albanian minority in Greece. However, this will not bring anything more than keeping Arvanites on the defensive and destroying their specificity. After all, they want to be considered nationally, if not ethnically, Greek and they have the right to do so. They should be encouraged to preserve their language, but it is again up to them to decide. Arvanites have the right to "forget" their language, as much as Kosova Albanians have the right to strive for autonomy.


    One important aspect of human rights is respect for the "other." "Otherness" is abundant even in the supposedly homogeneous group of Albanians: they all speak some form of Albanian, but they different identities. The degree of religious affiliation, cultural aims and political demands of the various Albanian groups lead to different human rights claims that are considered acceptable internationally. Albanians in Albania strive for more democracy; they want autonomy if not independence in Kosova; they will be satisfied with constitutive equality in Macedonia; while the large immigrant community in Greece demands no more than a decent immigrant status, in a country where another "Albanian" immigrant community of many centuries ago, the Arvanites, expect the world to respect their adherence to Greek nationalism.

    Human rights are undoubtedly universal. But their application should be very "particularistic." As in the case of the various "Albanian" communities, people with apparent cultural similarities have indeed the right to ask for very different, sometimes even opposite, things. The right to self-determination can indeed mean independence for some or assimilation for others. Religious freedom too is compatible with dominantly modernist secular or traditional religious cultures. The world is indeed full of such "Albanian" examples.