Relations between Albania and Greece remain a complicated riddle in Southeast Europe. Albanians and Greeks are neighbours with extensive historical, economic and social bonds, they partake the same Euro-Atlantic geopolitical sphere and largely agree about the broader macro-historical political agenda of the region: the establishment of healthy democracies, strong market economies and rule of law states, as well as the integration of the entire Balkans to the European Union and NATO. Moreover, the two countries, went beyond the severe separation of the Cold War through intensive interaction of all sorts from the early 1990s onwards. Such interaction increased the visibility of one country/nation to the other, but also brought to the fore old stereotypes and fears as well as new sources of disagreements and tensions. As a result, Albania and Greece find themselves in a paradoxical situation. The two societies and economies are highly interconnected, but diplomatic and political relations remain testing and in a near permanent state of volatility. Simultaneously, the increasingly hostile rhetoric manifest in electronic and social media, create a fertile ground for the two nations to potentially develop their identities in opposition to one another.
The Open Society Foundation of Albania teamed up with the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) in an effort to explore these factors by revisiting the sensitive and difficult relationship between Albania and Greece. The first step of this joint effort was to explore the societal base for mutual misperceptions and stereotypes. The aim was to understand the attitudes that the Albanian and Greek nations hold about each other and how these opinions may facilitate or obstruct the building of a closer partnership between the two countries. To that end, and as a first step in a broader effort at increasing mutual understanding, the research project aimed to delve deeper into public opinion attitudes in the two countries about bilateral relations and the various dimensions of this complex relationship.
The joint research project involved two parallel opinion polls conducted in Albania and Greece and implemented by Tirana-based Data Centrum Research Institute and polling agency and the Thessaloniki-based Public Opinion Research Unit of the University of Macedonia. For comparative purposes, the two sides worked with a common base of questions, while the structured questionnaires of the two surveys had only few and necessary differences. The Greek survey used a nationwide representative sample (n=1,128), following the multi-stage stratified sampling technique. Data collection was implemented with the use of Computer Assisted Telephone Interviews (CATI) between 13-20 December 2019. The Albanian survey was based on a nationwide representative sample (n=1,200), following the multi-stratified sampling technique. The mode of data collection was face to face, conducting door to door interviews and the fieldwork took place between 11-26 February 2020.
The findings of the analysis conducted by the partners involved in this project are presented in this report, which contains four parts and twelve sections. In Part I, entitled International Political and Security Context, the report reviews questions pertaining to international affairs of the two countries. More specifically, this part includes questions about the perceived best international friends of the two countries, their perceptions of foreign threat, their 10 opinions about neighbouring countries, and their opinions about European integration issues, including the prospect of Albania joining the EU.
Part II, entitled Bilateral Relations, includes questions about the overall assessment of bilateral relations between Albania and Greece, the main problems affecting these relations as they are perceived by respondents in the two surveys, and about attitudes towards Albanian migration in Greece.
Part III, entitled Personal Attitudes, Values and Stereotypes, includes questions about the personal attitudes of Albanians towards Greeks and Greeks towards Albanians, the spontaneous associations that respondents in each of the two surveys make about members of the other nation, and the personal values and attributes that respondents of each side associates with the members of the other nation.
Finally, Part IV, entitled Acquaintance and Knowledge, attempts to identify the extent to which respondents are familiar with members of the other nation as well as to assess whether they possess accurate knowledge about each other.
The two studies document the great distance that the two countries and the two societies have traveled in the direction of mutual understanding and the improvement of relations. The findings show that there is a climate of trust that is being built gradually, with slow but steady steps. Some issues that in the past separated the two societies (such as the issue of Albanian immigrants in Greece) are no longer a problem, but an opportunity and a bridge between the two peoples. Similarly, the Greek minority is a connecting link between the two societies. The strong negative feelings and stereotypes between the two peoples are in a process of retreat, although they survive to some extent. Overall, the Albanian side seems to have overcome the stereotypes faster and to have very positive perceptions of the Greek side. Greek society is following but at a slower pace, which shows that there are still strong prejudices that are kept alive in the media and public discourse. The dimension of European integration is particularly important, as both countries have a strongly western geopolitical orientation, Albania is determined to follow the path of EU membership and the Greek government is supportive of this endeavor.
At the same time, however, research also reveals areas that need attention, more analysis and policy action to further improve relations between the two sides. For example, the two societies have very different perceptions of the key problems that hinder the greater improvement of bilateral relations. The Albanian side focuses on the issue of maritime zones and the issues of the Chams population, while the Greek side is concerned about Albanian nationalism and emancipation. It is clear that the decision of the two governments to bring the issue of maritime zones to the International Court of Justice has the potential to remove a major problem from the bilateral agenda. But the Albanian side should do more to reassure Greek society of its intentions and good faith. On the issues of the Chams, both societies agree that it is an obstacle to improving relations but have diametrically opposed views on the nature of the problem and possible solutions.
Overall, the two surveys show positive trends and dynamics of significant improvement in political and social relations. But there are many problems that remain unresolved or potential challenges, both politically and socially. The political leaderships of the two countries should take the message of this research and plan policies and initiatives to further improve the climate and relations./ibna
Read “The survey”