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Current issues of the Greek National Minority in Albania

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Current issues of the Greek National Minority in Albania

The Greek National Minority in Albania is a crucial component of the Greco-Albanian relations. This article aims to describe its current issues, highlighting the most significant incidents that recently took place in Northern Epirus.

The Greek national minority

In 1921, Albania entered the League of Nations. After that, Ilias Vrioni, the Albanian representative in Geneva, promised that his country would respect the rights of every minority, especially the Greeks who lived in Northern Epirus. Vrioni’s promises were accompanied by the signing of the Declaration of the Minority’s Protection (October 1921), which provided extended educational and ecclesiastical freedoms to the Greek-speaking population living in the villages around Korce and Argyrokastro. [i]

In the following years, the number of members of the recognized Greek national minority increased, and some statistics reported that in the decade of 1990, there were approximately 200.000 Greeks in Northern Epirus. Those people found solidarity in their small local communities, differentiative themselves from the Albanians because of their distinct language and religious practice. [ii]   


Incidents of violence 

From recognizing the Greek National Minority (1921) until our days, Tirana faced the Northern Epirots as separatists. 

Indeed, the Northern Epirots never hid that they felt Greeks, but that is not enough to justify the numerous prosecutions against them. For example, the appearance of an unknown propeller aircraft on the Albanian coastline (August 1994) allowed Albania to appeal to the United Nations against Greece and to terrorize the local population.[iii]

In this context, in 1995, the Human Rights Watch called Tirana to “Assure that all minority members are granted equal rights without discrimination”, as well as to “Investigate allegations of police abuse and improper treatment of all Albanians in detention, and particularly of members of the Greek minority”.[iv]

Two recent incidents of violence showed the tension that continues to occur in Northern Epirus; in 2010, the 37-year-old Greek Aristotelis Goumas was killed in Himara when a car repeatedly hit his motorbike. Some hours before, Goumas had a short fight with three Albanians in his store because they demanded that he had to stop speaking Greek. According to the witnesses, in the previous days, gangs of Albanians from the northern part of the country had arrived in the region, terrorizing and threatening the locals. So, Goumas’ murder could not be considered an isolated incident. [v]

Eight years later, on 28 October 2018, the Greek Konstantinos Katsifas argued with Albanian policemen in Vouliarates. After that, he was armed with two AK-47 rifles and ensconced himself in the nearby mountains. Soon after, members of the Albanian Special Forces moved there and fatally shouted at him. As in what happened with Goumas’ case, the locals demonstrated in the streets while the Albanian authorities declared that Katsifas committed suicide – something that the coroners never confirmed. [vi]  

The two killings prove that, despite Tirana’s promises, the situation of the Greek National Minority has not significantly changed since the fall of the communist regime. On the contrary, several Northern Epirots are afraid to speak their native language or elect their preferred candidates. Inevitably, the frequent violation of their rights forces them to migrate.

Migration, financial hardships, and political suppression

The migration of the members of the Greek national minority is not new: during the 1990s, thousands of migrants from Albania moved to Greece. Among them, there were also several Northern Epirots, and in this way, their motherland lost many of its younger and most energetic members. In this way, the economic hardships proved worse than state abuses and led to the expatriation of thousands of Northern Epirots. [vii] 

Recently, rapid tourist development has taken place in Albania. In this process, the Albanian Riviera has a key role, attracting thousands of tourists. The fact that this area includes villages with Greek populations like Dhermi, Palasa, Qeparo, and the town of Himara causes further disputes between the government and the locals. The Greeks who live in Northern Epirus especially, accuse Tirana of arrogating their properties and ceding them to its favoured people afterwards. There are also a few voices who connect this fact with the recent imprisonment of the elected mayor of Himara, Freddy Belleri.[viii]  

Belleri’s case is also a sign that the Albanian government does not want to let the members of the Greek National Minority freely elect their representatives. It is also noteworthy that, even before Edi Rama came into power, several Albanian politicians threatened the Northern Epirots. In this context, the local police do not control the political violence and do not sufficiently protect the Greeks of Albania from extremist gangs. 


It is questionable whether there is any chance for cooperation between the Albanian government and the Greek national minority.

However, if Tirana desires to join NATO and the European Union, it must appease Athens, and friendly behaviour toward the Northern Epirots could be considered a good start. 

In this process, incidents like Belleri’s case isolate Albania and cause its relations with Greece to deteriorate. The Albanian government has to control the extremists who very often terrorize the Greek villages (Goumas’ murder was a result of this situation) and punish them exemplary. The respect of minorities is vital for every Western democratic country, so Tirana must follow this path to secure its position among this group of states. 


[i] UN, R1654/41/13617/9835, “Protection of Minorities in Albania”, 21-6-1921.

[ii] See: Kondis, Vasilis. 1994. Evesthites Isorropies. Ellada ke Albania ston 20o eona [Delicate Balances. Greece and Albania in 20th century], Thessaloniki: Paratiritis.

[iii] The Albanian foreign minister Boutros Ghali sent the following message to the United Nations:

“I would like to draw your attention to the deep concern of the Albanian government in connection with a new Greek provocative act in the interior of the border between Albania and Greece. – At 06.07 hours a.m., on 21 August, 1994, a Greek propeller aircraft which had taken off from the Corfu, violated the air space of the Republic of Albania and, before departing, dropped leaflets, imprinted with the Greek flag, which called for the overthrow of the existing order in-Albania” (UN, S-1086-0040-0005-00001 UC, Boutros Boutros Ghali to United Nations, 24 August 1994).

[iv] “Albania: the Greek Minority”, Human Rights Watch, February 1995, Vol. 7, No. 4 (D)., https://www.hrw.org/legacy/summaries/s.albania952.html. Retrieved on 16-11-2023.

[v] Antonopoulos, Paul. 2023. “10 years ago Goumas was brutally murdered by Albanian nationalists in Himarra”, Greek City Times, 13-8-2020, https://greekcitytimes.com/2020/08/13/10-years-ago-goumas-was-brutally-murdered/. Retrieved on 15-11-2023.

[vi] “Five years ago – The report of Katsifas’ murder: “The Albanian police kills Greek in Northern Epirus!”, Proto Thema, 28-10-2023, https://en.protothema.gr/the-albanian-police-kills-greek-in-northern-epirus-photos/. Retrieved on 15-11-2023. 

[vii] UN, S-1086-0007-0005-00001 C, Meeting with Prime Minister Constantin Mitsotakis (Greece), 12 November 1992.

[viii] “Freddy Belleri’s brother: there is an issue of democracy in Albania”, Reporter, 15-8-2023, https://www.reporter.gr/Eidhseis/Politikh/574939-Aderfos-Frenth-Mpelerh-Yparchei-thema-dhmokratias-sthn-Albania. Retrieved on 16-11-2023.




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