It is rare in the diplomatic practice that one day before his visit to a neighboring country, the Foreign Minister himself and concretely, Nikos Kotzias, instructs the Greek Foreign Ministry to issue a harsh declaration in which he criticizes the prime minister of the host country. In the diplomatic interpretation, this means that Kotzias had nothing new to present in his talks with the Albanian counterpart, or he hopes that, with the new Greek threat on Albania’s European integration, Tirana would give up the request to discuss unsolved issues between the two countries. It has to be said that with his statement on June 5, the senior guest from Athens created an inappropriate climate for talks in Tirana on June 6-7, when the climate constitutes the first factor of a successful visit.
For the sake of truth, it has to be said that Tirana was more tolerant with the Greek Foreign Minister in two protocol elements. It created him the possibility to hold a meeting with Prime Minister Edi Rama, which was not offered by the Greek party to the Albanian Foreign Minister, Ditmir Bushati during his visit to Athens in March this year, when the Greek Prime Minister, although he was in Athens, didn’t receive the Albanian Minister.
The second element of the Albanian tolerance is related to the inclusion in the official protocol of the meeting of the Foreign Greek Minister with the Greek Archbishop of the Orthodox Church of Albania, Anastasios Yannoulatos, which confirms the official protectionism of Greece on the Orthodox Church of Albania. Every diplomat is clear that if the Archbishop of the Orthodox Church of Albania was Albanian, no Greek minister or prime minister would go to meet with him. Even the fact that no minister or prime minister of other Orthodox states seeks meetings with the Greek Archbishop in Tirana when they visit Albania shows that they respect the state line of secularity of diplomacy.
The second factor of the failure of the visit of the Greek Foreign Minister is the lack of flexibility, which is required in diplomatic talks. Those diplomats, who have followed even the first visit of Kotzias to Tirana in July last year, noticed not only the lack of new Greek propositions, but even the same solid line of stance of the Greek diplomacy in unsolved, historical and current problems between the two states. The head of Greek diplomacy didn’t bring any new element to Tirana and naturally his empty-handed arrival would reduce his visit to a chronological fact.
Two are the fundamental open issues between the two states, which require solution and which were showed by the publicly declared problem by the two foreign ministers in the joint press conference. The first one is the issue of war law. It is pitiful that the Greek foreign minister tried to bluff with terminology and declare that for Greece the war state with Albania doesn’t exist. This stance appears as a deformation of the problem, because no one in Albania, no government or foreign minister has spoken about ‘war state’ between Albania and Greece.
The open issue is the existence of the absurd war law with Albania of 1940, which is still kept into force by Greece. This law, which was applied against Italy and Albania at the time when the fascist Italy attacked Greece from the territory of the occupied Albania, was removed for Italy few years after the second world war. Meantime, Athens still keeps it in force for Albania even today, with huge negative effects on property rights of Albanians in Greece. It is absurd that a war law exists between two NATO member states, which according to article 5 of the founding treaty of NATO, should fight by the side of each-other if they are attacked by a third party.
Albania insists on the abrogation of the law by Athens and it doesn’t agree with the Greek excuse that this law is not important. As even Prime Minister Edi Rama declared in the Congress of the Party for Justice, Integration and Unity on June 4, if the war law is not important why is it not removed. The current Greek government, as its predecessors, has no will to remove it. Diplomacy les by Kotzias is not moving for the removal of this absurdity that hampers bilateral relations, plays with terms, and instead of speaking about ‘war laws’ speaks about ‘war state’.
Edi Rama openly said that it is a condition of Albania to take the relation with Greece to a new phase.
The other open issue that expects a solution is the Cham issue, for which Athens continues the old interpretation of 1944 that it is a population that has collaborated with fascism and hides their deportation by force from their lands and homes in Greece. The Cham issue is like the issue of Tatars of Crimea, who were exiled by Stalin with the collective accusation for cooperation with Nazism and were forcedly deported to the hinterlands of Uzbekistan.
But Russia reflected after Gorbachev came to power, and retrieved the accusations of the collective guilt of Tatars and allowed them to return to Crimea. Greece has still not found its Gorbachev and continues with the old accusations of collective guilt of Cham population for collaboration with Nazism. Naturally, Albania where the large Cham community deported by Greece and their successors are staying, rightfully seeks to go back to their lands and houses and retrieval of the accusation of collective guilt.
The poor results of the visit of the head of Greek diplomacy to Albania cannot be covered by the strained attempt to tell the public that both parties have agreed to draft or create a joint mechanism to solve problems. Kotzias brought this idea in his visit to Tirana last summer, when he presented as a new finding the so-called package of the joint solution of problems. In fact, it is a diplomatic dysfunctional artifice because open issues between the two states have different geneses, different dynamics, different implications and effects, and do not depend on each- other. It is worth reminding here that even in 2004 both governments agreed to create a joint commission as a mechanism or organ that would examine all the open issues between the two countries. The commission never met in 12 years.
If any explanation has to be required for the stagnation in relations between the two countries I think it lies in the traditional conservatism of Greek diplomacy and more concretely of its foreign minister. His vision on relations with neighbor countries and on the Balkans seems archaic and not updated with the new changes and parameters of power in the region, which are not those of 15 or 20 years ago.
Nikos Kotzias is trying to keep relations and formula that are far from equality relations and reciprocal interest with neighbors. Therefore, relations between Albania and Greece are standing still on unsolved issues. Nikos Kotzias may organize formats of foreign and interior ministers of three neighboring countries on an overcome topic like that of refugees, but it is not understood why the fourth neighbor, Turkey, should be excluded. He may organize meetings ‘six Balkan states with six Arab states’ but these are diplomatic imitations beyond possibilities and realities.
Nikos Kotzias came to Tirana empty-handed and returned to Athens empty-handed. To speak in realistic terms, Albanian- Greek relations will be able to enter the path of solution of issues when Greek diplomacy will give up the syndrome of regional ambition. Greece lost the chance in 1999, with the failure of its economic program on the Balkans. The time train doesn’t pass twice in the same station.