LET US REACH AN AGREEMENT WITH THE GREEKS!
Anyone who examines without prejudice the problem of Greek-Albanian relations is quite naturally surprised at the continued failure of these two countries to reach an amicable understanding. It would seem natural for them to do so, bound as they are by ties of common psychology and common custom. Yet a fundamental difference of opinion continues to divide them; a divergence which centers about the region which the Greeks, the evident purpose of creating a fictitious legal and ethnic claim, insist upon calling “Northern Epirus”, but which Albanians justly consider to be an integral part of southern Albania.
This disagreement dates from 1912. At that time, well-intentioned persons in both countries as well as abroad studied the problem of the Greek-Albanian frontier and strove for a solution satisfactory to both parties; as a result, the Conference of Ambassadors meeting in London in 1913, divided Epirus in two. The southern portion, with a population predominantly Greek, was assigned to Greece; the northern section, with a purely Albanian population, was assigned to the new free state of Albania.
An accord between the two peoples, desired by all reasonable persons, seemed to have been made possible by this solution, which was in fact highly advantageous to the Greeks. But the efforts of men of good will have unfortunately since been vitiated by the bigotry of the Greeks in claiming as their own nationals all persons who worship in the Greek Orthodox faith. This confusion of ethnic and religious allegiances, most often deliberate although sometimes merely misguided has sown suspicion among Albanians of all attempts at a reproaching of the two peoples. Repeated and inopportune efforts of the Greeks to claim a purely Albanian area have poisoned the atmosphere and made impossible any logical consideration of the merits of this controversy, which therefore continues to exists to the detriment of both parties.
The events of recent years have nevertheless forced many Albanians and Greeks, with the interests of their respective countries at heart, to hope that the time for a solution is at last at hand.
If such solution is ever to be reached, the question must considered factually, abandoning the chauvinistic and romantic attitudes of the past. In southern Epirus, when it was occupied by the Greeks in 1912-1913, there remained about 60,000 persons, either Moslem or Orthodox, who spoke the Albanian language: whereas in southern Albanian (or “Northern Epirus”) there have never at any time been more than 35,000 members of the Greek Orthodox Church who spoke Greek. (To day, only the Greek nationalist bands of General Zervas, or General Hoxha’s Albanian Communist partisans, can tell as to what extent these members have been diminished). The rest of the Orthodox in Albania are an integral part of the Albanian nation its own children by blood, tradition, language and sentiment. They are people who, for more than a century, have contributed to the Albanian homeland innumerable scholars, writers, poets, soldiers, and statesmen, a fact which leaves non doubt as to their patriotism or the ties which bind them indissolubly to the Albanian cause.
Another fact – and one which should be obvious – is that the Albanian people, weak in numbers and therefore without great strength, would not want to entertain large numbers of foreigners in its midst, especially if these foreigners formed such a strong and compact minority as to endanger the safety and very existence of the whole country.
If a basis is to be created for accord between Greece and Albania, the irrefutable facts cited above will first have to be admitted by both sides. But that is not all. It will next be necessary for a large part of the Greek press, which continues to spread falsehoods concerning the imaginary irredentism of the Orthodox Albanians, to mend its ways.
We are well aware how difficult of attainment these conditions are.
The Greek press, including semi-official organs of the government, continues to call for the liberation of the “Greek brothers of Norther Epirus”; politicians continue to seek personal popularity in exhorting their constituents against the Albanians as “sworn enemies of the Greek people and its aspirations”; the Orthodox clergy adds its voice, in preaching a crusade against “those malefactors, responsible for all the ills which afflict Greece!”
We fully realize that for a few Greeks or Albanians to make the voice of reason be heard over this clamor of hatred and indignation, raised by forty years of malignant propaganda, will indeed be difficult.
The present political situation in Albania, and the blows struck by our country against Greece; the prejudicial propaganda conducted by irresponsible men in Greece in their effort to inflame Greek patriotism by creating the myth of the “liberation of our brother Greeks in Northern Epirus”, these factors make it difficult for the duelers of Greece to take a position which could make possible an accord with Albania. Such a position, though logical, is bound to be unpopular.
Nevertheless, the recent history of Greece proves that the firm will of statesmen can impose itself (as happened in the Greco-Turkish accord) upon the passions of the irresponsible, and make possible a policy of friendly and fruitful cooperation.
We are not trying to tell the rulers of Greece how to run their own affairs. We are merely raising the question of what advantage it would be to Greece to incorporate within its borders the parts of Albania which it now claims. A few thousand square kilometers of land, would not profit them, economically, politically or even strategically! On the other hand, such an amputation would be a mortal blow to Albania, and we are unable to believe that the disappearance of this nation would be in the Greek interest. It would only mean a more direct contact with the Slavs to the north, whose continued pressure on the frontiers of Greece might well cause her much discomfort in the future.
We believe therefore that the friendship of a free and healthy Albania should be preferred by the Greeks to an extension of their frontiers. Rather than seeking to deal a death blow to Albania, the Greeks should seek to strengthen it as a rampart against dangers from their northern neighbors.
Albanian patriots, at home and abroad, who truly have the interests of their country at heart, desire the friendship of Greece. They have never asked, more as a condition of their own friendship, than a little understanding of their vital interests and a sane judgment on matters of common interest.
We therefore dare to hope that in the future the Greeks will, by their own words and actions, join us in trying to create that atmosphere of mutual confidence and friendship, hitherto lacking, which is so necessary to the interest of both the Greek and Albanian peoples.