MON, 25 SEP 2000 20:20:01 GMT
AIM Athens, September 26, 2000
It appears that the "electoral contribution" of the Albanian immigrants in Greece to these municipal elections in Albania will be insignificant - unlike the previous elections in which their participation was conspicuous. In any case, even the protagonists of the elections, the politicians themselves, don't seem to be particularly concerned with the emigrant vote.
Many Albania immigrants capitalized on their legalization papers ("green card" or "confirmation of green card") and a few days off work - mostly in August - to go to Albania this year, causing a real explosion in the number of buses on the Athens-Tirana-Athens route. But now, on the eve of the elections, there doesn't seem to be the increased movement that would betray some interest on the part of immigrants to participate in the 1 October voting.
The reasons appear to be varied and numerous. A primary reason may be that these are municipal elections, not parliamentary, and therefore not so crucial. Despite the fact that everyone knows who the winner will be (if a winner exists!), barring the unexpected, these elections ensure his victory in next year's parliamentary elections.
On the other hand, although numerous immigrants hold legalization papers, there are many who are illegal (estimated to be more than 1/3 of the Albanians in Greece) and nothing in the world would make them attempt such an adventure. They know that the border has become nearly impenetrable and that the price of crossing the border through some ploy or a visa has reached astronomical heights. But even those who are legal are not willing to hazard any trip because, if nothing else, the heavy cost it demands would burden the immigrants' already precarious finances.
In addition, the riots of 1997, the worse in the history of the Albanian state seem to have affected the way in which immigrants see their present and future. Dritan is 35 years old, with a degree in philology. In Greece he works as a gardener. Although Dritan has a green card, his wife, who was unable to obtain the required social security coupons, is registered as a protected family member on his green card. Now, however, even though she has found both a job and coupons, she is unable to work because the law prohibits it. Consequently, she is condemned to remain permanently unemployed and recorded on her husband's green card (as long as he fulfills the terms of legality)! "Why should I go to vote? Until 1997 I had some hope of returning to Albania... After the riots that hope died... Maybe I have to prepare myself that I'm never going to go back...But in Greece I have absolutely no security that I'll be able to stay for years to come..." Gezim shares the same general opinion as Dritan. "It was the politicians who made me emmigrate in 1997... So, should I go and vote now?" he asks rhetorically.
Although Mimoza, a domestic worker, has been here illegally for three years, she wouldn't go to vote even if she were legal. "Have they solved any of the problems facing emigrants in all these years? Of course not ... Whoever comes out on top will steal and vice versa, while the emigrants have to manage on the own, totally forgotten and unprotected... A simple stamp on some document is all my sister wanted from the Albanian Embassy, and they made her pay 15,000 drachma. 15,000 for one stamp... from an emigrant who sweats blood for every drachma she makes!"
Toli has other worries. He hasn't done his military service and is afraid they'll give him trouble on the Albanian side of the border. His friend Alban says that he doesn't want to mess with the Greek police at the border - many times they find some justification or other to send you back - and that "if anyone goes to vote, it's the people who are 50 years old and older. I think that very few people our age (30 years old) - not to say none - will go.
Violetta is 43 years old; she is legal and cleans for a living. "In the "pyramids" my husband and I lost everything we'd saved over six years of illegal labor and severe deprivation. A total of 5 million drachma." When I ask her if she intends to go to vote, she laughs bitterly. "One guy told us he'd make us rich and happy and we were naive enough to vote for him ... And we saw what happened to us ... Another told us that he'd give us back our money ... We voted for him, too ... We never saw a single coin. Enough's enough."
Another very important factor discouraging immigrants from going to vote is the fear that riots may break out on the eve or immediately following the elections. These fears are suitably nourished by the already existing tense situation. This fear is not shared by Agron, who says that he'll go to vote because he wants a better future for his country. In the end, however, he reveals to me that his father is a party member and "my family's ties to the party are very strong."
At any rate, the overwhelming majority of those we asked, even though they have no clear political preference, hope Mr. Berisha will lose. First because they consider him responsible for the "disappearance" of money though the "pyramids" which was condoned as expedient for they're voting for him in 1996. Second because he will create problems for Greek-Albanian relations, and thus the "sweep-up operations" (as occurred in the past) would become even more indiscriminate and relentless.