Albanian-Greek Relations: A Tragedy in the Making

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Tensions have risen between Athens and Tirana as PM Edi Rama stated that Athens owes a lot to the Albanian-speaking population which had lived there for ages, such as the rescue of the Acropolis by Archbishop Gjergj Dushmani. Rama’s statements have immediately caused a reaction from  Greek media calling them provocative and  motivated by nationalistic rhetoric and unproven arguments. They have also claimed that  Archbishop Dushmani was in fact Greek. The fight has spread onto social Media as well, with a lot of hate speech being exchanged by both sides.

The whole story has arisen after the demarche of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding the demolition of nineteen houses in Himara owned by members of the Greek speaking population living there. The MFA of Greece is focusing only on the cases of these people and does not mention that the plans of the Albanian government include thousands of demolitions along the country, in an attempt to reconstruct the chaotic urbanization that took place after the 90s, a fact which the Greek government does not care to mention in its demarche. This is not the first time  the Greek government has tried to “impose” what Albania “shall” do in order to keep its neighbor satisfied, and is repeatedly asking for more rights to be given to the Greek minority living in Albania.

Greece has often adopted an attitude towards its relationship with Albania that is characterized by principles of Realpolitik – the most recent case being the Declaration of Greek Foreign Affairs Minister Kotzias that Greece has more saying in the international arena than Albania. These declarations  remind us of the famous quote from the Melian Dialogue by Thucydides, “Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” Obviously Greece, according to Mr. Kotzias statements, does not perceive Albania as an equal.

Relations between Albania and Greece have many times produced tragedies that even Aeschylus, Sophocles, or Shakespeare would envy. The two countries share many stories of calamities and disasters. Such a story is that of the Hormova village in Southern Albania.

The first accounts of Hormova and Greece are recorded during the Greek War of Independence in 1821, when many Albanian have fought alongside their Greek comrades against the Ottoman yoke, their common enemy. It was at that time that another Albanian ‘indeed’ saved Acropolis; Konstantin Hormoviti, born in Hormova, (known as Lagoumitzis from the Greek word λαγούμι meaning burrow) became famous for his successful operations during the siege of Messolonghi, and the siege of the Acropolis (1826–27), where he countermined the Ottoman besiegers. It was precisely during the siege of Acropolis that he successfully dug tunnels and eventually sabotaged the plans of the Ottomans to explode Parthenon. Further facts on Hormoviti’s actions during the Greek War of Independence can be found in General Makriyannis’ Memoirs (a famous Greek military officer, politician and author). These documents provide a projection of some “inconvenient” truths which  could clearly not be falsified by any Albanian.

The saga between Hormova and Greece continues again on April 29, 1914, when groups of Greek militia massacred 220 of Hormova’s male population within the spaces of the Shën Mari (St. Mary) Monastery. Hormova was only one of the many villages that had the tragic fate to be victims of Greek nationalism at that time. Several villages in the provinces of Korça, Tepelenë, and Gjirokastra in southern Albania  have faced a similar fate to that of Hormova. However, the case of Hormova is noteworthy not only because of the massacre that was committed, but also because of where it took place. The Greek militia gathered with the pretext of discussion the adult male population of Hormova inside the monastery of Shën Mari. The people might have thought that the Greek wanted to thank the population of the village for their contribution during the Greek War of Independence. No one would have ever guessed that Christian Greeks would ever proceed to such a macabre act into what they might considered a “holy” place. What led them to break every sacramental order? One thing that we can learn from this tragedy is probably the most obvious one: good actions of the past will never be recognized by your neighbors.

Many people in Greece will contest the arguments that the Albanians who fought during the Greek war of Independence were real Albanians; according to them, those Albanians were literally transubstantiated and had come closer to  Greek values. But what are  Greek values at the end of the day? Do they emanate from Christianity, from Homer, maybe the ‘Greek salad’? Or do they come from the “thousand dead sweating at the wheels”, as Odysseus Elytis would write in the Axion Esti; maybe from those who died in the name of absurdity, like the victims of Hormova?

People are not aware of these facts as they are not written in the textbooks of both countries, since people have been carefully silencing it in the name of reconciliation and good neighborship. But how can there be good neighborship when one of the parties still has   expansionist aspirations towards the other? Greece is still keeping in force a 1940 law that declares a state of war towards Albania; no matter how many times the Albanian Government has asked Greece to declare the war to be over. The law allows Greece to keep aspirations towards southern Albania and has caused many  diplomatic spats between the two countries, culminating in 1968 when the two countries came to the edge of war.

Leaders from both sides are adding to the tragedy of cacophony with their lesser thoughts. Instead of promoting our common heritage and culture, they want to divide us as much as possible, turn us to foreigners, no matter how close we have been with each other. They reach exaltation only by political shenanigans and cacophony, whereas what we need are the sounds of a Dionysiac feast.

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