Greeks of Albania

Location: South in the districts of Korce and Gjirokaster
Population: Officially 50,000: probably 200,000
% of population: 2%-7.5%
Religion: Eastern Orthodox Christian
Language: Greek

The Greeks are the largest minority in Albania and predominantly live in the southern regions of the country. The minority’s identity derives mainly from its adherence to the Greek Orthodox Church and the use of the Greek language and names. The post-war communist government has attempted to eradicate religious practices; it has forbidden the use of “foreign” and religious names; and reportedly it has discouraged the use of the Greek language in public places. There are also allegations that the authorities have moved Albanians into Greek majority areas and moved Greeks out thus dispersing the Greek community. Albania is a highly centralized state and the Albanian Party of Labour (the Communist Party) is the sole authorised political party and rigorously controls political, cultural and economic life. Many of the above measures are also applied to the entire Albanian population and as such are not explicitly aimed at the Greek or other minorities.

Although no recent statistics for ethnic minorities have been published in Albania, the Greek minority is officially recognized by the authorities. Greek language schools have existed in Albania since the sixteenth century. In 1922 the Albanian government reported that 36 Greek schools existed in southern Albania. The number of such schools today is unknown. If a village is comprised of Greek minority residents then the village may obtain a Greek language school and other privileges. However minority status is reportedly granted only to wholly Greek villages and once two or three Albanian families arrive, the village loses that status and some reports indicate that there has been a decrease in the number of Greek schools in recent years. Greek children attending Greek language schools are taught in Greek during the first four years, subsequent Greek instruction being only as a foreign language.

Religion was officially attacked after World War II when the communists took power and in 1967 Albania was officially proclaimed “the first atheist state in the world” and all forms of organized religious activity were banned. Some 630 major Orthodox Churches were razed to the ground and an equal number converted to other uses.

In 1975 the government ordered name-changes for “citizens who have inappropriate names and offensive surnames from a political, ideological, and moral standpoint”. According to refugees this order did not affect Muslim names although Greeks with religious names were reportedly obliged to change them. Decree No 225, also in 1975, ordered changing geographical place names with religious connotations, and this decree was also apparently applied to some non-religious Greek town names as well.

Although there is no direct evidence of legal prohibitions against the use of Greek in public many refugees have reported de facto restrictions in certain settings. A non-Greek escapee said that in his village none of the minorities, Macedonian, Italian or Greek, were allowed to speak their own languages outside their homes. Some schools allegedly forbid children to speak Greek to each other and Greeks in internal exile, a widely used punishment, are reported to be forbidden to speak Greek outside their homes. Further reported restrictions on the use of Greek are when visiting prisoners in Albanian prisons and during military service.

Enver Hoxha who effectively ruled the country since the end of 1944, died in April 1985. His successor, Ramiz Alia, may be easing the government’s harsh policies. For example visitors in 1988 report extensive restoration of churches and mosques as cultural relics and tourist sites. Albania has also opened its borders to allow Greek nationals to visit relatives in Albania and some Albanians are now allowed to travel to Greece. Numbers have increased steadily: in 1984, 87 Albanians travelled to Greece; in 1985, 301; and in 1986, 535. In 1985, 1,265 Greeks travelled to Albania and in 1987 the figure was over 6,000. Cultural exchanges are also occurring between the two countries.