Special Report/Is Himara being used to divert attention from “Tahiri Scandal”?

Special Report/Is Himara being used to divert attention from “Tahiri Scandal”?

By Edison Kurani/Independent Balkan News Agency & Albanian Free Press

In Albania, the National Inspectorate for the Protection of the Territory (IKMT) has issued an eviction notice for the residents of Himara at the beginning of the week, asking them to vacate their homes in five days, because the authorities will demolish constructions which are affected by the urban requalification project.

In the official letter sent to the 19 families occupying these buildings and businesses, IKMT says  that these buildings fall in the territories where urban interventions will take place and that in five days time, the demolition of will start.

Residents are against the project.

Meanwhile, IKMT’s letter dates on 18 October, a day the so called “Tahiri Scandal” broke out in Albania.

Albanian media is widely commenting this double development. Some say that the new aggravation of relations between Albania and Greece comes as an attempt to divert attention from the drug scandal and the suspicions cast by the Italian justice system.

“At the culmination of a government crisis which has engulfed the majority following the surveillance scandal, where former Interior minister, Saimir Tahiri is mentioned, PM Edi Rama has made a tactical move on Wednesday, with the aim of diverting attention”, the Albanian press comments on this development.

These 19 families of the minority community in Himara have received an order issued by IKMT, demanding them to empty their homes in five days. According to a decision of the Council of Ministers, these homes are part of the urban requalification of Himara.

Residents of Himara, which are part of the Greek minority, protested several days ago when ministers Damian Gjiknuri and Mirela Kumbaro went there to hold negotiations.

After the meeting that they had with Gjiknuri, who is an MP of this constituency, the latter assured the residents of the area that the talks will continue until a joint agreement is reached to compensate residents in case their homes are demolished.

But suddenly, while the residents were waiting to continue the talks with the government, they have received a notice of IKMT, demanding them to vacate their homes within five days.

This is clearly an open and unnecessary provocation, if it hasn’t been well-thought.

What makes IKMT’s decision more suspicious is the fact that contrary to what the government decision no. 145 dating 22.02.2017 states for the demolition of 21 buildings, two buildings have been exempted from this decision.

One of the buildings belongs to the Goro family, a relative of the mayor of Himara, Gjergji Goro and the other building belongs to the Zoto family, which belongs to the sister of the chairman of the SP in Himara.

This increases suspicions that IKMT’s decision is an open provocation from the government’s propaganda office, which is trying to divert attention from the “Affair of the Year”, in which the socialist MP, Saimir Tahiri is a suspect.

Meanwhile, some people think that by targeting the properties of the Greek minority community and encouraging them to protest, the Greek government will intervene and the attention will be diverted from the scandals of Tirana to the problems in Himara.

And this tactic is often used by Albanian politicians when they are in power.

“To act this way means washing away the scum of the drugs of Albania in the coasts of Himara.

The plan is simple: They target the homes of the residents of Himara, who will protest, as they have done so far. This will cause the Greek government to intervene. During the demolition of homes, there can be violent clashes and this amplifies the media effect of the intervention. If Greece places its veto for the issue of EU integration, then we blame the Greeks for the failure of negotiations and not the government’s drugs and corruption”, comments an intellectual of the area of Himara.

The Greek government too sees this as an attempt to divert attention from the suspected government scandal

The Greek Foreign Ministry has also reacted on Thursday about the sudden decision of Albanian authorities to go ahead with the demolition of the homes of the Greek Ethnic Minority in Himara.

“The apparent link between organized crime and the political scene in Albania –as indicated by the recent arrest of the head of a drug trafficking ring who happens to be a relative of someone who, until recently, was a top Minister in the Rama government– raises concerns”, the ministry says.

“Equally concerning is the fact that the Albanian government continues to promote measures for the demolition of property belonging to members of the Greek National Minority, within the framework of its policy to uproot the historical presence of Hellenism in the region of Himara. Yesterday’s decision of the Albanian authorities confirms that the recently passed law on minorities is a step backwards for the main minority in Albania. There are many who interpret it as an act aimed at distracting Albanian public opinion from the major political issue that has arisen with drug trafficking. We hope this is not the case”, the Greek Foreign Ministry’s statement concludes.

Residents of Himara are suffering the lack of ownership titles

IBNA’s and Albanian Free Press’ correspondent in Himara reported after many testimonies collected from the residents of the area, that they are risking to lose their homes undeservedly and in violation of the law.

The resident said that some of them live in homes which they have inherited for 200 years.

They also have lands inherited from the same period. But, unfortunately, the majority of these properties have no ownership title. And they are not to blame for this. Many years ago, the Property Register Office in Delvina, where the documents relating to the properties of Himara were, was entirely burned.

This led to many properties to remain without a certificate.

According to residents, this situation is being exploited by central and local authorities in the country. They are implementing a master plan which doesn’t require compensation of many families who may be affected by the new urban planning, as they have no property titles.

Hector, 48 years of age from Himara comments the situation as follows: “If we refer to the ones who have built in the past 27 years, then that’s fine. They have built on state owned lands. But to consider us illegal, us, who have been in these lands for the past 200 years and have inherited them generation after generation and have no certificates, for which we are not to blame as the offices were burned, it’s absurd and unacceptable”.

Vasili, another man from Himara, around 63 years of age, is desperate in this situation. He warns that the state must be careful because what is happening may precipitate.

“We have been in these lands for centuries. They are ours. They can forget about evicting us and building here in our lands”.

Political parties and associations join forces for Himara

Several parties and organizations came out with a joint stance in the recent hours, to criticize the fact that an agreement was reached and that it was ignored. The statement holds the signature of the Democratic Party of Himara, Unity for Human Rights Party, OMONIA, Alliance for the Protection of Properties, History and Culture of Himara, “The Coast” Association, Himarioton Society of America, Himarioton Unity Athens, Himarioton Community Tirana.

This is the first time that so many political and social organizations unite under a cause in protection of the rights of the minorities.

These political and social organizations are surprised about the fact that on 6 October 2017, there were talks between the government and the owners and that it was agreed that before any action was taken, a work group would be set up for a final registration of properties in Himara.

Also, as far as urban requalification is concerned, it was agreed that the general urban plan should be reviewed in order to make changes in consultation with the residents of Himara and then to be passed on for approval to the National Territory Council.

“Given that these are not respected by the government and municipality, we, representatives of the residents of Himara, ask the Prime Minister to stop all illegal and anti-constitutional act of the Mayor of Himara”, the statement says. These political and social groups announced that they would also hold a protest on 23 October in the center of Himara.


The first aggravation at the end of summer

Greek diplomacy issues a direct warning for Tirana, while saying that Albanian authorities are more interested on violating the rights of a minority rather than be committed for the integration of the country in the European Union.

The spokesman of the Greek Foreign Ministry, Alexandros Gennimatas issued a reaction on August 31, by answering to the journalists’ question in relation to the decision of local authorities in Himara to occupy the lands and destroy several properties belonging to the residents, as part of a new urban planning which was approved by Himara Municipality Council.

“It seems that Albanian authorities are more interested on violating the rights of the Greek minority, rather than the country’s European path”, Mr. Gennimatas declared.