A Greek foreign ministry official has warned that plans to demolish the homes of Greek families in the Albanian coastal city of Himare will affect Tirana's progress towards European Union membership.
EU leaders are expected to decide later this month whether to start accession negotiations with Albania, which was granted candidate status in June 2014. However, progress could be stymied if the growing dispute between Tirana and Athens is not resolved.
The local authorities in Himare issued an order on October 28 for 19 ethnic Greek families to vacate their homes within five days as they were scheduled for demolition as part of the town's redevelopment plan. The plan is aimed at making Himare, which is populated mostly by ethnic Greeks, a more attractive tourist destination.
The Albanian ambassador in Athens, Dashnor Dervishi, was summoned to the Greek foreign ministry following the demolition order. The ministry's political affairs director Petros Mavroidis told Dervishi it was unacceptable that only the houses of Greek minority families would to be demolished, Albanian Daily News reported, citing Greek media.
“Greece does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, does not pose a threat to anyone, but it won’t tolerate such provocations,” Mavroidis was quoted as saying during the meeting with Dervishi.
According to Mavroidis, Albania must respect international law and conventions regarding the rights of the Greek minority.
In a statement on October 30, the Greek foreign ministry asked the Albanian authorities to cancel plans to demolish the buildings, and consult landowners on their plans to revamp the town.
The Albanian foreign ministry described the Greek statement as having a “threatening tone” and “shallow knowledge” of the situation, adding that it was better suited for political consumption in Greece, Top Channel reported on October 31.
Greek foreign ministry officials also expressed concerns over the tone used by Prime Minister Edi Rama in a status posted on his Facebook page on October 31 after the diplomatic spat.
Rama claimed in the post that Athens was "more or less an Albanian city" in the middle ages, and that the Acropolis was saved thanks to the intervention of an Albanian citizen named Gjerg Dushmanit, who convinced a Venetian general not to bomb the city back in 1686.
According to the Greek foreign ministry, the post “evokes outdated concepts” and is a “false perception of history”.
In a statement on November 1, the ministry said that Albanian officials were not in a position to claim that minority rights are respected in Albania while at the same time they are violating them in practice, undermining the country’s EU accession path.
“The demolition order relates exclusively to people of Greek origin. This is a methodically planned effort that leads to the conclusion of the existence of a scheme for deliberately breaching the rights of the Greek minority,” the ministry said in a notice.
The plan to revamp the centre of Himara, which was presented to the public last year, sparked many negative reactions among residents, and some have demonstrated against the planned demolition of 19 homes in the city.
In general, diplomatic relations between the two countries are good due to the strong presence of Albanian emigrants working in Greece and the presence of Greek communities in Albania. The two countries are also jointly participating in a major gas project for the construction of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) to transport gas from Azerbaijan to Europe via Greece and Albania.