Will the territorial reform make the Greek minority leave the governing coalition?

Will the territorial reform make the Greek minority leave the governing coalition?

IBNA Special Report/In the past few days, debate on administrative and territorial reform has taken over Albanian politics. The opposition has entirely abandoned the process, by accusing the Socialist Party of wanting to hold reforms without a wide political consensus. On the other hand, the majority is divided and some parties inside of it, are openly rejecting these reforms.

What’s happening with the new division?

Based on the current territorial and administrative division, Albania has 12 districts (prefectures), 36 counties, 65 municipalities, 309 communes and 3020 villages. The government is aiming to take the number of municipalities to 61. Meanwhile, Association of Communes says that at least another 20 communes must be added. According to its study, in the case of Albania, the best territorial division would be the one with 80-100 local government units or 7-8 units for every district (prefecture).

Commission for the Territorial Reform approved the bill drafted by the government for the division of the country into 61 municipalities with 9 votes in favor and 1 against, which belonged to the MP of the Unity for Human Rights Party, Andrea Marto.

Mr. Marto says that for several villages in the south of the country, the criteria of the commission not to change the borders of the current communes, was not respected. “This led to all this confusion and it smears this reform which is so vital for the country”, declared Marto. The reaction came after it was decided for the village of Vagalat to join to Livadhja, Manza of Durres, Lunxheri and Odria of Gjirokaster.

Meddling in domestic affairs?

Unity for Human Rights Party (UHRP) is an important political force in the country, which tries to protect the rights of the Greek minority and their integrity in Albania.

Vangjel Dule, leader of this party, says that the talks within the majority have not been successful, as the main forces, SP and SMI do not withdraw from the new administrative and territorial division of the country.

Worried about this situation, especially about the new division that affects Himara, leader of the Unity for Human Rights Party, Vangjel Dule, traveled to Athens where he had a meeting with the Greek Foreign Minister, Evangelos Venizelos. The talks focused on the administrative and territorial reform in Albania.

Dule launched a lot of criticism against the majority which he belongs to: “This reform is a violent alienation of demographic ratios. A classic right of the minority is being violated here. A fundamental right is being violated by making a violent alienation of the demographic ratios in the territories inhabited by ethnic minorities”.

Vice speaker of parliament, Vangjel Dule further adds that with the responsibility of an EU candidate country, responsibility that stems from the EU communitary right, “to reflect all and to make maximum efforts in order to find a solution accepted by all”.

The head of UHRP says that this party is ready to engage in dialogue in order to find an optimal and European solution and not a medieval like solution, like he puts it.

“We cannot pretend a European reality with medieval mentalities of violating the citizens of the country, namely their ethnicity, religion, language and culture”, said Dule.

He says that the party that he leads will leave the coalition if the reform is made without its consensus.

“There cannot be an acceptable solution by UHRP when basic rights are violated”, says Dule.

Meanwhile, he reinforced his conviction that if the reform is approved, his party will no longer be part of the majority. “Majorities are temporary and they change. An administrative division has an impact in the fates of the country for longer periods. Such reform is not a reform of one or two terms of fluid cooperation which can be secured in parliament. As far as UHRP is concerned, if such reform with violations of the human rights of the Greek ethnic minority, is made a law, we will not leave, but we will be banned, along with the values that we represent”.

Bushati: The reform is necessary

Foreign Minister, Ditmir Bushati says that this reform is in the best interest of all the citizens, including the improvement of the functionality of local government.

“Administrative and territorial reforms aim to improve the functionality of local government and increase their capacities and financial resources, in the best interests of all the citizens and in respect of European principles and standards”, says Bushati.

Venizelos talks to Bushati

Greek Foreign Minister, Evangelos Venizelos had a telephone conversation with his Albanian counterpart, Ditmir Bushati in relation to the new territorial map which is expected to be voted in the last day of this parliamentary session, next Thursday. Venizelos has expressed his concern about the new territorial reform that Albania has carried out. His concern related to the claim for a transformation of the local and regional entity in important domains concerning the Greek national minority. In his conversation with his Albanian counterpart, Venizelos pointed out the sensitive nature of the territorial reforms and the need to push forward the pending issues between the two countries, without adding others.

The Albanian side reacted by refusing. Foreign Minister Bushati declared that this is a domestic issued of the country. Bushati says that he informed Mr. Venizelos that the reform was also consulted with a special parliamentary commission. “This is an internal issue, an important reform and a necessary one which has long been discussed in the parliament of Albania and by a special parliamentary committee”, said Bushati to his Greek counterpart.

Stopping on the issue of Himara, which was presented as a concern by Athens, Bushati’s answer was resolved: “Himara is one of the functional units of the country and it will be treated as all other units”.

Meanwhile, Venizelos reacted by saying: The solution must be done through European practices. Albania is now an EU candidate and it has extra obligations”.

The conversation between the two counterparts came several days after the letter that Venizelos addressed to Bushati and a number of diplomatic centers, where he stressed the importance of the reform and the fact that the Greek minority in Albania must not be affected.

The minority is concerned, a wave of meetings by UHRP

Greek minority is worried that their identity is being threatened.  Most of the concerns have come from the southern villages, mainly those in Saranda and Gjirokaster. Representatives of these areas say that they want to be part of Livadhja. They’re against the unification of Vranisht to Himara.

Deputy foreign minister against the reform

Alqi Pulaj comes from UHRP and he’s the deputy minister of Foreign Affairs in the cabinet of prime minister Edi Rama. In a meeting with the minority community in Dervica, where he spoke in Greek, Pulaj objected the territorial reform. “Up until 10 days ago, we were given assurances that the two criteria that were set would not be changed. International experts have also invested and this version is functional. If we will decide for more than 50 municipalities, the experts’ decision is 6 to 3 in favor of Vranisht outside Himara”, declared Pulaj. Meanwhile, he accused: “The division of the government is based on political and economic interests of MPs, politicians and government people”.

Tcham community launches accusations against Athens

Party for Justice, Integrity and Unity (PJIU) defends the rights of the Tcham community. This party is part of the opposition, but it became part of the approval of the reform, thus breaking the boycott launched by DP.

PJIU accuses Athens of meddling in a flagrant way. “Greece is once again intervening in the internal affairs of Albania”, says the secretary for Public Relations at PJIU, Ardit Bido. According to him, it would be national treason if Albania makes concessions toward Greece. “That’s the country that created sui generis prefectures, in order to make it impossible for minorities to have even a single local government unit. The threats with the criteria of Copenhagen, which Albania is fully complying, by establishing without being obliged, minority communes, from the country that doesn’t comply with any of these criteria, are ridiculous, painful and unacceptable. Every concession that would be made from Albania against this blackmail would be national treason”, says Bido.

Historian Xhufi goes back in time

Athens’ concerns for the new territorial reform in Albania, are considered as inappropriate. He says that interventions are being made in an area such as Himara, which according to him, is not a minority area and goes back in time to enforce this conviction. “Venizelos must be fully aware that it was his  grandfather was prime minister at a time when Albania was accepted in the League of Nations in 1921. This was accepted with one condition, to recognize the minorities and they’ve been recognized. Albania has presented the map of minorities, where the Greek and Montenegrin minorities were recognized. The Greek minority was determined to inhabit the villages that it currently occupies. A commission of the League of  Nations which has assessed the situation on field and Himara has not been part of the Greek minority in Albania. Nationality is an issue of facts and the fact is that Himara, based on self declarations of the residents of Himara, is an Albanian community and a community renowned for its wars for freedom and independence of the Albanian people”, says Xhufi.

Two former ministers criticize the lack of consults

Two former foreign ministers, Tritan Shehu and Aldo Bumci say that the reaction of the Greek side in relation to the territorial reform is right, because the majority has not consulted with the Greek minority and it has not taken its proposals and the proposals of the opposition for the new division of the territory under consideration.

Former Foreign Minister, Tritan Shehu said that this reform also affects the Greek minority. “This reform threatens many internal elements of the country, including the minorities. Thus, it damages the democratic climate and artificially causes problems”, said Shehu.

He adds: “This reform has caused and is causing problems, because it doesn’t take under consideration many important elements of the population such as cultural ethnic elements, territorial links, social issues, economic problems and it’s not even based on political consensus”.

Shehu says that it was the duty of the majority to consult with the minority in Albania. “Cooperation for a territorial reform in a democratic country which is an EU candidate country and which soon aims to launch negotiations with the EU, must fully take under consideration the demands of the minority. It’s the duty of the majority to respect first of all the minorities, when it votes such laws and territorial reforms. This is a European principle”, says Shehu.

The other former Foreign Minister, Aldo Bumci , who has also served as minister of Culture and minister of Justice, says that the reform doesn’t respect any criteria and adds: “This reform doesn’t serve to the economic development of the country, it doesn’t respect the great cultural heritage, local identities created throughout the centuries and the mountainous landscape of the country”.

Bumci suggests that local identities must be respected everywhere the same, in the south and the north, because they’re a great heritage of the country. “This territorial division doesn’t serve the interests of Albanian citizens, but the short terms of the government”, says Bumci.

The local government is also against

The Association of Communes objects the final version of the territorial reform, considering it an incomplete and damaging reform for the country. In its final stance, the association of local government ranks 12 reasons why the path that followed the government was not the right one. Association of Communes says that the government intentionally diverted from several good criteria. /ibna/

On the photo: On the streets of Himara, one often finds writings which claim that Himara belongs to Greece. These writings often become a cause of debates and violence between Albanian citizens of Albanian nationality and those of a Greek nationality