By Klaudija Lutovska
Ethnic minorities in Albania — Macedonians, Greeks, Serbs, Montenegrins, Vlachs, Roma and Egyptians — announced they will pursue a lawsuit at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, following Albania’s Constitutional Court ruling last week to erase the category “nationality” in legal and civil registries.
The court determined that “nationality” is not necessary to include on the census forms to enumerate the population in Albania.
A particular bone of contention is erasing “nationality” in the official books documenting birth, including for already recognised minorities like the Greeks in the south of Albania and the Macedonians in the Mala Prespa area.
The Albanian court acted on the legal challenge issued by several local judges as well as the Red and Black Alliance, one of the main opponents of recording ethnicity and religious identity in the Albanian census that took place last October.
“Some artificial Greek minority is going to ask for special status, maybe for a percentage in parliament or government,” said Albania’s Higher Council of Justice deputy head Kreshnik Spahiu. The Council is chaired by President Bamir Topi to monitor the judiciary.
The minorities claim the government openly discriminates by making it unconstitutional for citizens to be of any other nationality than Albanian. Some already sent protest letters prior to deciding to challenge the court ruling in Strasbourg.
“The already recognised minority of Macedonians living in the Mala Prespa area can no longer declare themselves as such. We demand that the Albanian authorities allow the free expression of nationality for all Macedonians throughout Albania, not only in Mala Prespa,” Edmond Temelko, president of the Macedonian Alliance for European Integration, told SETimes.
“The Greeks who are recognised as a minority in the southern part of the country also can no longer declare themselves as Greeks. That is valid for the Serbs and Montenegrins as well, not to speak of the others which were not recognised as minorities to begin with,” Temelko added.
“The situation is very worrisome for us. Our politicians of all stripes, minority media, intellectuals and the country must not allow the realisation of this insidious plan of Tirana against us,” Greek resident Dimitris Doutsis told the newspaper Vouliarati.
The court’s decision comes just weeks after minorities voiced protest regarding the unfulfilled promises by Albanian politicians to record citizens’ ethnicity during the census.
Vangel Dule, representative of the Greek minority’s Party for Human Rights also condemned the international community representatives in Tirana for ignoring the minorities’ pleas for dialogue and co-operation.
“[T]he legal struggle on the issue of nationality will be continued in Strasbourg because the [constitutional court’s] decision is contrary to Article 20 of the constitution of the Republic of Albania,” Dule said at a recent meeting of all minorities’ representatives in Korca.
At the meeting, minorities’ representatives signed a joint declaration, saying they do not recognise the results of the October census. The headcount was rife with manipulations, abuse and was conducted without sufficient transparency, they said.
“The greater percentage of minority members responded positively to our call for a boycott and they are not enumerated. The law on the census [is] not to reveal the actual number of minorities, but to manipulate the statistics, which represents a continuation of the discriminatory policy of the totalitarian regime,” the declaration said.
“Article 20 of the census law stipulates a $1,000 fee for all who will declare themselves non-Albanian if they were not entered as such in the registers. With such actions, the Albanian state continues the policy inherited from the previous totalitarian system to artificially show it is ethnically homogenous and not a multi-ethnic country,” Temelko said.
The minorities appealled to the government to initiate a genuine dialogue to amend existing legislation and to respect their rights based on international standards.
At the beginning of October, Albanian Foreign Minister Edmond Haxhinasto met with his Macedonian counterpart Nikola Popovski, telling him the census results would mirror reality and that Macedonians and all minorities would be permitted to declare what they are.
“Careful implementation of the censuses is important for the process to be aligned with the international and European legal framework regarding the area of human rights,” Macedonian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Borce Stamov told SETimes.
What is needed to meet international standards, he said, is “full and consistent respect for the principle of self-identification and not misusing the provisions of domestic law”.