Athens, November 20, 2015/ Independent Balkan News Agency
By Alexia Tasouli
The agreement on EEZ remains an important objective in the agenda of the countries says the Ambassador of Albania in Athens. In the exclusive interview he gave in IBNA Mr.Dervishi talks about bilateral issues Albania and Greece, regarding the delimitation of the maritime boundary, the greek minority as well as the refugee crisis.
Albania is a strategic partner for Greece, a strategic friend and a strategic neighbor. How do you see the future of our relations as Albania is getting prepared to join EU?
Albania and Greece are two neighboring countries in Southeast Europe, with borders crossing land, water and air space, closely related with one another through their history and traditions. Their people have always lived and traveled on both sides of the border. Consequently, from the political and geostrategic standpoint, our two countries are strategic partners, with vital ties.
As the two oldest people of ancient and modern history in our region, at times, for reasons that have not always depended on us, our countries belonged to different political and military blocks or alliances. Despite this, our people have never lost their identity, they have coexisted in a natural way. Fortunately, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the cold war, both countries became part of the same political and military block, i.e., the Euro-Atlantic Alliance. Moreover, with the extension of the power grid and the construction of highways crossing our borders, Albania and Greece have finally become part of the same European security system.
Although Albania has an EU membership candidate status, de facto it is an integral part of the European family, both for its geographical position and the European vocation of the Albanian people.
The European Commission Report of 2015, the most important document of the EU “enlargement package,” assesses the annual reforms in Albania, within the regional context, based on a methodology applied for the first time. The report appraises Albania’s foreign policy compliance with the EU, its active role in the region, its robust relationship with neighboring countries and its constructive role in the “Berlin Process”. Along these lines, the Report is in itself a roadmap for steps to be taken by the Albanian institutions and policy-makers, with the aim of providing support to start the EU membership negotiations process.
In this context, we also appreciate the unreserved and unconditional support of Greece, as a neighboring country and geostrategic partner, which is an insightful voice in EU assessment and an effective contributor in providing concrete experiences, also based on the joint Memorandum signed in the summer of this year, during the visit of Greek Foreign Minister Kotzias in Tirana.
One of the pending issues is that of the agreement of 2009, on the maritime border which was overturned by the Albanian constitutional court. Should we expect any developments in the future?
The agreement on the delimitation of the maritime boundary and EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) in the Ionian Sea is in the interest of both our countries. As such, it has been and remains an important objective in our common agenda. Efforts made in this direction led to the preparation of that draft, which was signed by both our foreign ministers in 2009, but failed to finalize a definitive agreement, for reasons that are already known.
In the same way as Greece, Albania is very interested in reaching this agreement. We are making every effort to find terms that will make its signature possible. Our proposals for its renegotiation have been submitted and they are in full compliance with our common interests, the international maritime conventions and the European Union standards. In this context, meetings and consultations on a diplomatic and expert level are underway. We are aware that these processes need time. In this regard, Greece has a valuable experience with other countries washed by the same seas since it is a country with a long maritime border, from the Adriatic and the Mediterranean Seas, to the Aegean Sea.
I avail myself of this opportunity to point out that, Albania is as interested as Greece in achieving an agreement on the Ionian Sea, as well as signing the laws and by-laws on the formal recognition of the existing land and freshwater borders.
Is the Greek minority in Albania a bridge of friendship or is it more of a source of tension between the two countries?
Minorities are a known phenomenon for countries in our region. Their existence is special and complex because they are citizens of the country they live in and, and at the same time they rightfully maintain natural spiritual and cultural ties, share the same traditions, language, religion etc., with the ethnicity they belong to. All these are regulated by the respective legislation of each country, adhering to the international conventions and institutions that monitor compliance.
Their application in everyday life becomes more complex. Depending on the economic, social and political development, differences in living standards from one country to the other, etc., leave the issue of minorities open. When neighbors have the political will and convey positive and constructive messages, they become powerful bridges of cooperation and understanding. When the realities I mentioned above are recognized and the same standards of care for the minorities outside and inside borders are maintained, minorities always remain an important factor in the relations the between the neighboring countries.
The Greek minority is one of the most vital, emancipated and integrated minorities in the Albanian society. They intertwine the common history of our two peoples. The Albanian history and the events that brought about great revolutionary changes uphold the names of Greek minority heroes that fought for and contributed to Albania and Albanian heroes that fought for and contributed to Greece.
Even today, the Greek minority in Albania, are a model of emancipation for the rest of the country. Their representatives work at the highest institutions in Albania, the Government, Parliament, in educational, cultural, and other institutions.
Refugee crisis has deeply affected Balkan countries although the refugees do not prefer to cross Albania. Your country, though, has a long history of mass emigration to EU countries so I would like to know how do you see the way European Union is dealing with it.
The refugee issue has transcended the modest possibilities of our countries. Albania has no external borders with the EU to be a host country. Its mountainous terrain and weak infrastructure make it difficult to use it as a transit country.
However, our government which is part of the international forums addressing the refugee crisis, has expressed its readiness to respond to any request that would come from Brussels, and it is taking measures to improve its infrastructure now that winter is approaching and weather conditions are expected to deteriorate.
We haven’t seen any progress regarding the agreement for the Greek soldiers who were killed in 1940 and their bodies are in the Albanian soil.
A host of foreign armies have used the Albanian territory as transit and as a battleground, not mentioning the occupying armies.
Cemeteries or memorials of those fallen on our land have been build, and the will of their respective countries to bring their remains home, has been observed.
This process with Greece was somewhat delayed due to the “frozen” relations” until 1971 (the establishment of diplomatic relations).
After the democratic changes in our country, although Greece continues to maintain the law of war with Albania, in 2009 the two countries signed the Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Greece and the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Albania on finding, exhuming, identifying and burial of Greek soldiers fallen in Albania during the Greek-Italian War of 1940-1941 and the construction of their cemetery on the territory of the Republic of Albania. A joint Commission has been set up to manage this process, which is headed by Deputy Chief of Staff of the Albanian Army. Following the construction of two cemeteries, while remains were being exhumed and collected, some unpleasant events took place that deviated the process politically as well as morally.
The agreement provides that in such cases the joint committee has to convene to resolve disputes. In February of this year, the Albanian Government has formally requested the Greek Government to do so, to pave the way to this humane process, in respect to the fallen. In the recent month, there is a positive response from the Greek Government for the meeting between the two commissions.