Greeks now hold Albanians in high esteem, but politics confuses matters again

2024-06-24 20:19:31Pikëpamje SHKRUAR NGA REDAKSIA VOX
Greeks now hold Albanians in high esteem, but politics confuses matters again

By Ronald Meinardus - Kathimerini

It is hard to imagine everyday life in Greece without them. People of Albanian origin perform the most essential jobs for many daily services, especially in skilled professions. Of course, their relationship with the majority of the Greek population has experienced its ups and downs. But the times when immigrants from the neighboring country on the Adriatic were seen as dangerous competition and often faced racial discrimination are now a thing of the past.

Today it can be said that the widespread anti-Albanian feeling of the 1990s, when hundreds of thousands of people flocked across the southern border, in search of a better future after the collapse of Albanian communism, has disappeared.

Today, immigrants from Albania constitute the largest group of foreigners in Greece, with almost 2/3 of registered foreigners coming from Albania. But even though they are the largest group of immigrant origin, Greek Albanians are less visible, having adapted and integrated like no other national group in recent years and decades, so much so that one could describe this as assimilation.

"The change that many immigrants undergo even affects their personality and appearance," noted an Austrian daily newspaper in a 2014 article titled "Greece's Hidden Albanians." If the author were to write today about the Albanian community in Greece, he could title the story "The much-loved Albanians of Greece". This opinion is also supported by a public opinion poll recently published in Athens, and conducted by the Market Research Unit at the University of Macedonia, in collaboration with the ELIAMEP expert group on behalf of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

The survey explored the attitudes of Greeks towards bilateral relations, and their views on Albanians who have made Greece their home. The results are surprisingly positive. Almost 78 percent of them say that the people who came from Albania are making a positive contribution to the economic development of their country.

Even higher is the number of those (80 percent), who believe that the children of Albanian immigrants who grew up in Greece and went to school there, are fully integrated into Greek society. "Their children are like us, today there are no more differences" - says Professor Joanis Armakolas from ELIAMEP.

Among other things, he appreciates the exceptional qualities of many students of Albanian origin in the faculty where he teaches. While reports of xenophobia and intolerance towards foreigners have become commonplace in Europe, the statistics coming out of Greece stand out.

Armakolas also talks about a "Greco-European success story". These findings are worth mentioning and highlighting, as they contrast with Greek perceptions of political relations between Athens and Tirana. Professor Armakolas describes this as a "paradox", because while the attitudes of Greeks towards Albanian immigrants are improving, the assessments of political relations with our northern neighbor are significantly worse. Thus, only one in five Greeks (20 percent) have a positive opinion of the neighboring country, while 40 percent have a negative view.

Also, the survey shows that the majority of Greeks have bad opinions about North Macedonia, while Bulgaria and Serbia enjoy the highest ratings in this questionnaire. The case of the imprisoned mayor of Himara, Fredi Beleri, has caused new tensions recently.

The government of Athens placed the Albanian politician of Greek origin on its list for the European Parliament elections held at the beginning of this month, attracting the attention of the media, but also further straining bilateral relations.

One of the intriguing results of the survey is that a significant majority of the Greeks asked do not share this negative assessment. Two thirds (66 percent) say that there are more important issues in Greek-Albanian relations than the case of the imprisoned mayor.

"The societies are ready for the improvement of relations. Policy should take this into account. Greek and Albanian societies are ahead of politics", concludes Armakolas.

* Dr. Ronald Meinardus, researcher at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP).