From: Blendi Fevziu
Dear Minister, Ignorance Is Not a Virtue!

Honorable Minister of Defense,

I am in awe of a series of news items, according to which you request maximum punishment for seven recruits of the Greek army with Albanian origin. Their mistake apparently is posing for a picture with crossed hands, a symbolic gesture that visually illustrates the eagle in our flag.

According to daily newspaper Kathimerini you have declared:

Events like this shouldn’t be permitted in the armed forces. Whoever doesn’t feel Greek, can leave Greece and return home.

I am personally not acquainted with Greek laws, but I firmly believe that civilization is led by universal rules that dictate laws applied in democratic countries. While I believe that the noise of nationalistic shenanigans has deafened the language of reason, I will bring, for my part, a few arguments against your declaration.

First of all, the crossed hand gesture is not a symbol of a big and united Albania. This symbol is neither nationalistic nor belligerent. It is a symbol that visually illustrates the double-headed eagle, the bird identified with the Albanians for many centuries, a symbol that existed before Albania was either big or small.

Second, the eagle is not related to your perception of “big and united Albania.” In the beginning of the twentieth century, a united Albania represented the effort to unite four vilajets of the Ottoman Empire, in which the majority of the population was Albanian. From that time on this term would be unheard of, were it not for a group of ignorant Greek and Serbian writers repeating it so often in their articles. These so-called journalists do not reflect reality but rather spread paranoia that has fueled the fear in our region. The eagle that is in our flag had been a symbol of Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeg, a Christian warrior who to this day a symbol of our nation.

Third, the seven recruits of Albanian origin, and all the others that have posed photographs with this symbol, are strongly tied to it. They are Greek citizens of Albanian origin. They were born and raised in Greece, but they have ancestors, too. Whether they can speak fluently and correctly in their mother tongue or not, they have the right to express and identify with their country of origin.

Do not forget that identifying with one’s place of origin is a common thing around the world. You can watch TV where soccer players, athletes, and famous boxers represent a country different from their country of origin, and still display its symbols. They do this proudly and they receive rounds of applause from the country they are representing.

There are many African-Americans in the United States that carry symbols of their places of origin where their ancestors came from two hundred years ago. In times when those places didn’t exist and didn’t have symbols. People should always be proud of their roots, and a person with no roots is like a person who has lost his memory. In the EU, many immigrant families are allowed to wear garments and practice rules of life inherited from their countries of origin. This depicts a civilized society that accommodates multi-culturality.

Since we are talking about the defense system, in the United States, the world’s biggest and most regulated army, recruiters are allowed to carry their symbols hanging on their necks or bodies. They are also allowed to converse in their respective languages. In 2004, when we reached the airport of Mosul together with former president Alfred Moisiu and an American general, we were approached by an Albanian marine from the 101st regiment. He greeted us and showed his force using an impeccable Albanian. He was an immigrant from Albania who was following a career in the American army and who felt proud for his country of origin.

In Albania, Albanian citizens with Greek origin do not hide or get persecuted because of their place of origin. They freely carry national and state symbols of Greece, displaying them on houses and roads. Every time, they proudly declare their country of origin, and no one has harassed them or threatened them to return where they came from. This would be considered mad.

Fourth point. Those seven young recruits have not posed with a symbol of a country that is an enemy to Greece. This is a symbol of a neighboring country. Greece has signed a Treaty of Friendship with Albania since 1996, a noble and important document signed by both countries. This symbol belongs to Albania, which is part of NATO and in case of danger, according to the rules of this organization, it will be allied with Greece.

Fifth, they are young people who live in the world of internet and social media. They posed because they felt like it, certainly not knowing that an instagram picture would be interpreted as a declaration of war or serving as a platform of Big Albania. Get serious, your Honorable, your alarming tone is laughable.

And last but not least, is your exclamation: ” Whoever doesn’t feel Greek, can leave and return home.” Your Honorable, those young people are Greek citizens. They can feel Greek or Albanian. There is not a country in the world who limits its citizens based on their feelings. The limits are drawn only by the power of law and according to my knowledge there is no law that prohibits its citizens to pose with any crossed hand gesture.

I will tell you one more thing before I finish. The parents of the young recruits immigrated to Greece for a better life. They were people in need who were terrorized by a dictatorial regime and extreme poverty. Greece welcomed them and for this we are grateful. But they are not slaves and you should not dare to treat them as such. They are people with dignity, who have built with their hands countless things in Greece. They have worked while missing their families they left behind in Albania; they have sacrificed, saved, paid their taxes and brought prosperity to your country. They are part of the successes and failures of your country so do not treat them as second-class citizens. They are proud for what they have achieved with their work, oftentimes feeling in a less favorable position than the natives, like it always happens in the life of an immigrant. They are now part of Greece and proudly so. Do you know why? Because they haven’t evaded tax payments, they haven’t issued fake bank statements, they haven’t had any benefits from the EU, but they have made many sacrifices. They haven’t raised their voices when they were dismissed from their jobs, but they have humbly looked for another job, so they can send their children to school, those children that today you want to cast off because they took a picture flashing their nation’s symbol. But they are, without a doubt, the best part of Greece, the part that has sacrificed more than the ones who were born and raised there.

And lastly, it seems that ignorance has become a virtue in many places in the Balkans, but I wish that it doesn’t become a mark in your work, your Honorable…