SPECIAL Report/The “hot spots” of the “icy” meetings of Venizelos in Tirana. The Law of War and the State of Peace, two different things? Why did the Albanian government hesitate to clearly mention the notion of the “Tcham issue”? Strong reactions by the Tcham party.
By Edison Kurani
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Greece, Mr. Evangelos Venizelos arrived on an official visit on Monday to Albania, where, as he claimed, he isn’t here to engage in intensive talks with Albanian state authorities and main political forces, but to prepare the visit of the President of Greece, Carolios Papulias to Albania.
Mr. Venizelo’s visit was anticipated by a lot of media attention in Albania. Three were the arguments that were announced to be as the hot points in the talks between Tirana and Athens: The request of Albania for the war law that exists with Albania since 1940 to be lifted; the recognition of the rights of the Tcham issue and the return of their properties and the division of sea borders which after it was endorsed by Berisha’s government, it was overthrown by the Constitutional Court, making the process start from the beginning between the two countries.
Mr. Venizelos has talked a lot about these three issues with Albanian authorities and certainly, two of them were the demands of Tirana authorities and the third one that of the sea border, the main demand of Athens.
During the meetings held by Mr. Venizelos on Monday, talks also focused on Kosovo, as Greece doesn’t recognize Kosovo as a state, but it recognizes the passport of the Republic of Kosovo.
Mr. Venizelos met with the President of Republic, Bujar Nishani, speaker of parliament, Ilir Meta, prime minister Edi Rama, Foreign Minister, Ditmir Bushati and leader of the Democratic Party, Lulzim Basha.
During the afternoon, Mr. Venizelos had a meeting with the Unity for Human Rights Party, a political force which defends the rights of the Greek minority in Albania.
What caught the attention was the fact that the meetings were held without the presence of media and media appearances were only limited at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Meanwhile, the prime minister and speaker of parliament only released a short declaration without issuing any details about their talks.
Is the government afraid of mentioning the “Tcham issue”?
Albanian authorities have been cautious in their declarations, by not mentioning Tchameri, Tcham or Tcham issue. This notion was not mentioned neither in the press statement released by the President, nor the prime minister, nor the speaker of parliament and Foreign Ministry.
This notion would not have been mentioned at all if it wasn’t for a journalist who addressed a question on the Tcham issue. The question was concrete: “For both ministers. Have you discussed the Tcham issue given that a resolution has been recently voted and has been published on the official bulletin?”
Even here, Mr. Bushati’s declaration was evasive. He didn’t mention it, but said “what is known as the Tcham issue”. Mr. Bushati said: “As far as we’re concerned, what is known as the Tcham issue is part of our diplomatic file with Greece”.
Meanwhile, the Greek Foreign Minister, Evangelos Venizelos claimed not to know anything: “I have no knowledge about the issue of the publication (resolution)”.
The opposition is clear about the Tcham issue
It’s clear that in all these meetings, it’s been the Albanian opposition which explicitely demanded for the Tcham issue to receive a real solution. Leader of the opposition, Lulzim Basha, in the meeting with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Greece, Mr. Evangelos Venizellos, raised the issue of the abrogation of the war law, as an important issue not only due to the perception, but also the problems that relate to the conservativen seizure of the properties of Albanian citizens, in particulary the Tcham’s.
Mr. Basha also demanded a committment to resolve the problem of toponyms which has caused problems for Albanian citizens who were born in Greece to cross the border. The press statement released by Mr. Basha didn’t provide any description or citation on the declarations of Mr. Venizellos in this meeting.
The War Law and State of Peace, dy different things?
More direct in the demands of Albania toward Greece was the President of the Republic of Albania, Bujar Nishani. “In circumstances when our two countries are NATO members, while they have good neighborly relations and share a treaty of friendship and cooperation, it’s necessary for the Greek parliament to lift the war law and to recognize the denied right of properties in the neighboring country for Albanian citizens”, was Nishani’s demand.
The answer that he received from the head of Greek diplomacy Venizelos was: “Greece has announced the state of peace with Albania with the 1987 decision of the Council of Ministers and Albanian citizens can address to Greek courts or European courts on the issues of properties”.
This way, Mr. Venizelos has wanted to ‘kill’ two birds with one stone: He has turned down Tirana’s claim that the War Law is still in power and has turned down the requests of Tcham organizations for their right to be recognized in a collective way and for their properties to be returned to them. Mr. Venizelos has been very determined in his declaration: “Whoever believes that one’s rights are threatened by Greek laws, since 1986, they can address to the International Court of Strasbourg personally”.
Meanwhile, as far as the positioning of Athens about the lifting of the war law is concerned, Mr. Venizellos offered a longer answer for the media: “Greece is not afraid of anything. What I declared and referred to is a decision of the Greek Council of Ministers of 1987 in overcoming past historical obstacles and to put relations between the two countries, Albania and Greece, in the path of peace ad collaboration between the two countries which are NATO members. There exists an alliance and obligation for aid and the issue of defense. OSCE, where both of our countries are members, is based on the principle of not changing borders and relations of friendship, collaboration and stability between member countries”.
This was the point where the issue of Tcham properties rose: “Whoever believes that one’s interests are threatened by Greek laws, since 1986 one has the right to address to the International Court of Strasbourg to claim his right, but one must do this personally. We’re ready to take the spirit of the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation forward, to sign the Memorandum that relates to the efforts needed by Albania to become EU member and all other topics that we discussed”, said Venizelos a few hours before facing president Papulias in Athens to report on the result of the visit to Albania.
Strong reactions by the Tchams
Party for Justice, Integration and Unity (PJIU), an opposition political force that defends the rights of Tchams, reacted on Monday by saying that the apprach offered by Venizellos for the solution of the property issue in an individual way is not fair.
“The issue of tens of thousands of foreign citizens in the territory of another state cannot be an individual issue. It must be treated in a collective way and not individually like it was suggested by Venizellos”.
For PJIU, the Tcham issue is not only an issue of properties. “It’s part of a framework of violated rights, including the right to live. Greece must accept the existence of this issue”.
The issue of Greek minority is made for the first time a secondary issue
For the first time after 22 years of political pluralism in Albania, Greek authorities have made the issue of the Greek minority rights in Albania as a secondary issue of the agenda. This time, top of the agenda was the division of sea borders.
In his declarations, the only expression used by Mr. Venizellos on Greek rights was this: “Both sides realize how important is to respect the rights of this minority according to the Albanian Constitution and international right. Both countries realize as to how much they can help in respecting these rights”.
And to talk so little for an issue which for over two decades in a row has been the focus of the talks and press statements is seen by several analysts as either a lack of problems by the minority or a reflection of the crisis that has engulfed Greece, something that obliges it to be less active on this issue which has been considered as a priority before.
Several analysts go even further. They believe that the topic of the day for Athens is the division of sea borders and without resoliving this, Greek authorities cannot be focused on other issues. In fact, this was seen during the visit that Mr. Venizellos has had in Tirana. In all the declarations that were issued, it was long talked about the sea pact, demanding for this issue to be resolved as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, according to the head of Unity for Human Rights Party, Vangjel Dule, during the meeting that he had with Mr. Venizellos, the issue of the minority has been discussed by him and other officials of the party that he leads.
“We discussed about the status of the rights of the members of the Greek ethnic minority in Albania. We stressed to Mr. Venizellos the efforts for the improvement of legislation in order to re dimension the rights of the minorities alongside the integrating rythms of our country in the EU. There’s a lot to do in order to harmonize the rights of Europeans with the rights of minorities”, declared Mr. Dule for the media after the meeting in a hotel in the center of Tirana.
The issue of the Sea Pact must be resolved based on the international right on seas.
With all Albanian officials, Mr. Venizellos has expressed the demand to resolve the issue of the division of sea borders between the two countries. With the president, the head of the Greek diplomacy demanded for the issue of the Sea Pact between Greece and Albania to be solved based on the international law on sea. The president was in favor to resume talks on the Sea Pact, based on the spirit of understanding and in respect of the ruling of the Albanian Constitutional Court.
For Mr. Bushati, Copenhagen criteria are a clear guideline for all EU member countries and those that aspire to become members. “Therefore the Albanian government”, said Mr. Bushati, “must decide as to how we will move forward in order to solve this issue, which is important for Albania, for Greece, for the joint projects in the region and beyond. My answer is direct. We want to address all issues, those that are considered as historical issues and those which have been created, with courage and political will based on the legislation of respective countries, principles of international right in the domain of seas and the best experiences, because our future is the European Union, the European family”, concluded Bushati, sounding as if he accepted the demand of Greece to fulfill its desire on the sea pact.
Venizellos talks about “a Mediterranean year”
What does the Mediterranean year mean? Mr. Venizellos has responded to this: “We will have a common policy for the sea, in the first and second half of the presidency of our countries. The sea and Mediterranean dimension of the EU has a significant importance and in this framework, the European Commission released the results of a very important study over the importance that sea areas and the implementation of the sea right for these areas and our countries have about all European countries. Both Greece and Italy, which will preside EU during 2014, are bound by a sea agreement for the delimitation of exclusive areas and continental shellfit since 1977. Those principles and objectives that we implement consist on the implementation of the sea national law in the form that it exists and is implemented today. We would like to act with Albania like we have acted with all EU countries on this issue, because Albania will soon become an EU member”. In this aspect, Mr. Venizellos added: “Both of our countries, Albania and Greece and the economies of our countries are entirely linked with each other. The progress of the Greek economy has an impact over the Albanian economy”. Here he stressed that, “although in the recent years, Greece has suffered the economic crisis, it continues to be one of the 30 most powerful economies of the world”, adding that “economic and investment policies of Greece have been more and more present in Albania”.
Mr. Venizellos has also explained as to why the sea pact is needed: “You know that Greece is the first foreign investor in terms of direct investments in Albania and we want to continue in a stable economic and political environment. On the other hand, Albanian community in Greece, Albanians that work in Greece and their families, want to have a higher living standard and to benefit all the rights in the framework of European standards”.
When he was asked more directly by the media as to how Athens will treat the issue of sea borders, he gave this answer: “The joint basis of the Mediterranean year which is comprised of the presidencies of Greece and Italy in the EU, is the integrated sea policy which has Mediterranean as epicenter. European Commission has published an important study which shows that the implementation of international sea law and the delimitation of exclusive areas and of Continental Shellfit, has an economic importance for all EU countries and also for Mediterranean countries. All EU countries accept international sea law and respective Convention of UNO over the implementation of the sea international law. It’s clear that the criteria of Copenhagen are valid even for the EU candidate member countries”. This way, Mr. Venizellos has given a clear message to the Albanian state: The acceptance of the sea pact with Greece is obligatory if we aspire to be part of EU”.
Italian example which according to Venizellos is valid for Albania
“There’s a European practice and an example for this is the case of Italy and Greece. We have delimited our continental shellfit since 1977 and during my last visit to Rome, we agreed to expand this even in other sea areas, for example, in sea economic exclusive areas, as well as in the Mediterranean, in Adriatic, in the Ionian sea. There’s no difference in size between the delimitation of the exclusive economic area and continental shelffit. Delimitation of one of them implies the delimitation of the other. Therefore, there exists a European practice, a Greek-Italian example and we’re sure that in the same spirit, we will also move here to Albania, because we have accepted the same rules and principles”, said Mr. Venizellos.
Even the cemeteries of Greek soldiers part of the talks
Venizellos has announced yesterday an achievement of his government: “I’m happy that we decided for the Bilateral Commission to gather on the issue of military cemeteries. I’m also happy because there will be a reactivation of all joint commissions to discuss all those issues that link us and which are in our best interest”, said Mr. Venizellos.
The news announced by Venizellos was also confirmed by Bushati: “To us, no issue that was presented by the Greek side including the reactivation of the commission for the cemeteries of the Greek soldiers, is a taboo, because to us, international law, the legislation where we have adhered, is an instrument which must be interpreted and used in accordance with the developments and daily realities, as the best remedy which would heal the wounds of the past and which would open a new chapter from which there are no losers”.