By Edvin Bodari
When the Greek state was conceived in 1830 it was comprised of four ethnic groups: the Greeks, the Albanians, the Turks and the Vlach. Later, with a number of expansionist wars that served to fulfill the plans of the Megali-idea (The grand idea: a notion where extreme Greek nationalism and religious intolerance are intertwined, another large group was added, the Slays. Thus the country that: called itself Greece had a Greek population that did not surpass thirty per cent of the total local population. This changed in 1922 when the migrations from Asia Minor added one million and three hundred thousand Greek refugees for a total of four million inhabitants.
Now, after 150 years, Greece claims to be the most homogeneous country in the Balkans with only two percent of-its population declaring that they do not belong to its dominant Hellenic-orthodox group. How did Greece achieve this unparalleled homogeneity which the other Balkan countries have strived to imitate without results? They achieved this by way of annihilation of linguistic, cultural and religious identities. (National identities had not been created in the rest of the Balkans, or they were being created without the support of a central state and as such they did not pose any threat) They imposed the Greek language as the only official language of the state and the church, they instituted coercion practices, social and economical boycott and rejection of all those unique identities. Through the confusion of the time, they resorted even to ethnic cleansing in those areas where their assimilation methods would not succeed. In 1945 the Greek army, under general N. Zervas, expelled to Albania thirty-five thousand Chains, Moslem Albanians, from Southern Epirus in Northwestern Greece.
One of the most successfully assimilated groups is the Arvanitas, .Albanians that had moved through out Greece during the 13th and 14th centuries. However, considering that perhaps the Arvanitas were the largest non-Greek group and settled in compact units before the urbanization of the Greek society, and since Greece is bordered to the North by Albania, the Greek system has always doubted as to whether it had fully accomplished its, goal of assimilation with regard to this ethnic group.. This uncertainty increased in. the beginning of the 1990s with the tide of Albanian immigrants to Greece.
The old generation of Arvanitas began to bring out their lost Language and along with it suppressed feelings. They started remembering lullabies, songs of their youth, ballads of valorous men who fought and defeated the Turks ‘under their leader Gjerg} Kastrioti (Scanderbeg), who was their source of pride in the Albanian ancestry.
During these developments, instinctively, the Greek governance reactivated all its national resources to protect the Greek ethnicity. From 1993 on the image of the Albanian immigrant was demonized and as a result he suffered such a terror that makes one think of the pogroms against the Jews Greek “democracy” which the Greeks have already claimed as their invention like all achievements of the ancient Hellenic civilization, was violating the most basic human right, that of protecting and respecting human dignity.
This anti-Albanian hysteria Was successfully propagated through the masses and served well to achieve two objectives:
On one hand to create distance and hostility on the part of the Arvanitas towards the newly arrives Albanians. They should not be identified again with a condemned and castaway ethnic group.
And on the other hand it fueled a belief among the immigrants themselves that being an Albanian is dishonorable and that they themselves deserve what was happening to them by virtue of being Albanian.
The torch of anti-Albanian propaganda was carried out and is still being carried out by Greek mass media, which on these occasions display a cultivated unity of purpose, through which the image of the Albanian was successfully created: a poor, wretched, ignorant and especially criminal human being. These media outlets have zealously supported the ethnocentrism of the Greek elite that is in accordance with and serves the creation of a homogenous society – meaning, it has a profile that is established upon a dominant ethnic, cultural and religious Greek model and as a result a society more amenable to a chauvinistic posture.
Thus the Albanians who live in the Greek society, having become victims to this propaganda, try to avoid any kind of connection with Albania. At the same time they try to purge themselves from all distinguishable Albanian traits so that they are not identified with the cultivated demon of a xenophobic society, the Greek society. At the same time the Albanian emigrants ha been victims of an institutionalized racism that has denied them the most basic of human rights known by all international conventions. Infringements and abuses from state organs especially the Greek police have been and are a daily phenomenon. This is in sharp contrast with the behavior of these same organs towards Albanian citizens who “declare” that they are not of Albanian nationality but fellow countrymen” (a word that in Greek is the same as “homogenous”) from Vorio Epirus.
According to Greek sources there are over one hundred and fifty thou-. sand Albanian citizens who have, a document that proves that they are from Northern Epirus That document immediately guarantees them a much broader set of rights (free medical care, more ease for “vorioepiriote” students in Greek Universities, travel opportunities in Europe etc.) and the “hope” that in the near future they will acquire Greek citizenship.
This social pictures completed with the work of the ‘Greek educational system that makes sure that all. citizens are imbued with the tenets of Greek culture. No aspect of the Greek educational system has changed since the beginning of the state when it adapted the myth of the three thousand years of continuity and the position of the historian Paparigopoulos, who was not only a grecocentrist but also campaigned with fervor for the ideas of Panhellenism. As a consequence, every immigrant child attending Greek schools, at any level, is subjected to a process of indoctrination with the idea of the superiority and the uniqueness of the Greek culture and race.
Comparing the Greek economic achievements with those of the neighboring countries, thus exploiting its neighbor’s misfortune with their communist experience, further enhances this campaign, Albania and the other countries of the Balkans who went through some fifty years of communism, for the time being, cannot face to this Greek challenge. With this economic disadvantage the Albanian immigrant is further inclined to succumb to the successful assimilation campaign of Greek propaganda.
While the “democratic” Greek state complain in every international forum that Albania is abusing the Greek minority and that the country does not comply with present day visions of a civil society, the Greeks themselves are forcefully assimilating the Albanian immigrant and doing so with impunity. As they expect that most of the Albanian immigrants will settle permanently in Greece, the Greek government is bent on assimilating completely the Albanian immigrants thus violating the principal value of a civil society that requires that Greece accept the Albanians with their own culture, whatever the differences, instead of the current policy of forcing the ethnic Greek credo upon the new immigrants.
The assimilation of the Albanians in Greece is a desperate and hopeless situation, as it follows in the footsteps of the Arvanitas and therefore the Albanian intellectuals, wherever they are, should be aware of the situation. This democracy,that even
the USA offers as an example to be imitated by the other,Balkan countries, has reached the level of perfection in the art of hypocrisy. Nothing exists that cannot be proven.
However, Greece is facing a dilemma. On one hand it cannot ignore the Albanian immigrants, since eventually it will be obligated to give them wider recognition, and the other hand, when this happens, Greece will not be known only for the repression of religious freedom but also for. the repression. of. ethnic minorities. (Greece comes first, far ahead of the second country. so ranked,, with regard to the cases presented at the European court for human rights for the repression of minority religions that are not members of the Orthodox Church in Greece).
Then. everyone will discover what is hidden behind the curtain of make believe that claims the temple of a civilization emerging from the grave,. namely that the temple is a corpse without. any signs of revival.
(Translated from Albanian by S.Protopapa).
Note: The original was published in
Illyria June 1, 2001. The author is
a 3rd year student, majoring in
International and European studies.
University of Social and Political
Sciences, Pandios, Athens,.Greece.