The ethnic Greek mayor of the Albanian southern town of Himara has come under harsh criticism after asking Greece not to ratify a key deal seen as a vital step in Albania’s EU bid.
According to a memo leaked to the local media, the mayor, Vasil Bollano, who is also the head of the Greek minority organisation Omonia, asks the Greek parliament not to ratify Albania’s Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the European Union.
Bollano who confirmed the authenticity of the memo, also asks for a series of other requests, among them the recognition of all of southern Albania as Greek minority land.
Bollano also asks that the Albanian constitution should be changed to recognise this as a minority region.
At the end of 2007, Bollano added fuel to the fire by ordering the destruction of Albanian-language signs on the highway linking the port of Vlora with the southern town of Saranda because they were also not written in Greek.
This has prompted prosecutors to open a case against the mayor for abuse of power and destruction of public property.
Tirana has also turned down his demands for special status, arguing that the size of the local Greek community is too small for the area to warrant it. At the same time, Tirana treads carefully with the mayor on account of its powerful neighbour to the south, which is an EU member.
However, the government’s softly-softly approach has angered some Albanians who feel Tirana has been too soft on Bollano. They have been infuriated by his warnings that if the authorities make any moves against him, Albania’s EU aspirations will be compromised.
That Greece is host to Albania’s largest emigrant community in Europe, and that their remittances are a lifeline for its weak economy, especially in the south, is another factor in the equation. Although Athens broadly supports Albania’s goal of eventual EU and NATO membership, it has shown it is ready to use the fate of the almost countless Albanian immigrants in Greece as a pawn when the going gets tough.