Himara Protests against Urban Renewal Demolitions

Earlier this week, the inhabitants of Himara belonging to the Greek minority protested against the demolition of their property in the of the construction of the central square approved by the government.

Nikollaq Neranxi, one of the organizers of the protest, declared that “the national and local government have decided to finally destroy Himara”:

They are working not only not to return [our properties] to us but also to oust us from our lands in the name of some fantasy projects.

Alfred Bejleri, local head of the Omonia party, threatened that if the properties are not returned to the owners from Himara, Greece and Cyprus will vote against the opening of accession negotiations between Albania and the EU:

Let’s not forget that we have two votes in the European Union and we will use them well against Albania. Greece and Cyprus are on our side, protecting our rights, and will be an obstacle for Albania so that it won’t become an EU member.

Also the Greek ambassador to Albania was present at the protest.

PDIU leader Shpëtim Idrizi, whose party claims to represent the Cham minority of Greek Albanians, immediately responded to the protest. Idrizi demanded that the Albanian government strip anyone who calls for the obstruction of Albania’s EU membership of their citizenship.

This is not the first time that the inhabitants of Himara take to the streets to protect their property.

Already on August 15, 2016, they had raised their voice against the plan and both Omonia and the PBDNj of Vangjel Dule, together with civil society organizations, published a petition asking for “the cancellation of all urban development initiatives and the donation of community land to any local or foreign pseudo-investor.”

On October 30, the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a statement regarding the expropriations in Himara:

The Albanian authorities must proceed immediately, on one hand, to the cancellation of the demolition order and, on the other hand, to meaningful consultations with the owners concerning Himara’s redevelopment plans.

Echoing statements made repeatedly by the European Commission, the Greek Foreign Ministry also reminded Albania that

The protection of property rights, and in particular of minority rights, is an integral part of the five conditions set by the European Union in order to start negotiations for the accession of Albania to the EU.

The Albanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had earlier declared that:

Ongoing efforts to instrumentalize any individual or collective dissatisfaction aim at distorting reality and hindering the excellent coexistence between the Albanian population and Greek minority, which enjoys full rights, based on the national legislation as well as on international norms and conventions.

In November 2016, the Greek minority in Himara protested against the destruction of 19 buildings in the context of the city’s masterplan, which envisioned a boulevard on that location. The boulevard is constructed by Fusha shpk, a company close to Prime Minister Edi Rama and recipient of several dubious tenders.

Prime Minister Edi Rama escalated the tensions with Greece by claiming that Athens had Albanian roots. This in turn led to questions in European Parliament by MEP Dimitrios Papadimoulis, which led to EU High Representative Federica Mogherini warning Prime Minister Rama that:

EU representatives, in their statements, but also through direct contacts with political leaders, are perpetually warning that any form of provocative rhetoric, internally or externally, should be avoided.