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FACTDROP: Crisis-Hit Greece Cuts Lifeline to Minority in Albania
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3/14/2013

Crisis-Hit Greece Cuts Lifeline to Minority in Albania

81-year-old Vasili worries about making ends meet after loosing his pension

Πηγή: Balkan Insight
March 13 2013

Athens’ decision to scrap pensions for the Greek minority in Albania has left the community worried about its future wellbeing. 

For more than a decade, financial allowances paid by Greece to older members of the Greek minority in the Dropull region of southern Albania have provided an important economic boost.

Nearly 18,000 members of the Greek minority in Albania received a €330 per month pension from Athens, costing Greece €71.2 million a year.

In an area that has seen massive outward migration over the past two decades, pensions several times higher than those paid by the Albanian state helped rebuild houses and boost consumption in the local economy.

However, with its finances in tatters, Athens has been forced to cut the pensions as part of the IMF- and EU-imposed austerity drive.

The move has left many elderly people without an important economic prop.

According to last year’s census, the Greek minority accounts for 0.87 per cent of Albania’s population of 2.8 million, mainly concentrated in the region of Gjirokastra, Saranda and Himara.

While Greek minority politicians remain hopeful that the aid will be restored, albeit at a lower rate, locals are concerned about what the future holds.

Marianki, a 76-year-old grandmother from Dervican, in the upper Dropulli area, says she has not received her pension from last month and is already thinking of the difficult choices she will have to make.

“What should I do first, go to the doctor or spend money for food?” she asked. “It’s very difficult to live on the pension I get from the Albanian state, which is only €60.”

Vasili, an 81-year-old, says that he also has not received last month’s Greek state pension.

“The pensions have been a great help for us old folk living here, and for those who moved across the border with their children,” he said.

“I understand the economic crisis that Greece is suffering, but it is hard to make ends meet on the €100 I receive from the Albanian state,” Vasili added.

 
Jorgo Militi | Photo by : Telnis Skuqi
Jorgo Militi, a former journalist for the now defunct Greek minority newspaper, Lajko Vima, says the Greek pensions were vital for the local economy.

“A lot of houses in Dervican were revamped through the pensions, people spent more, and the whole region’s economy benefited from them,” he said.

Acknowledging that the cuts will be painful, Militi says most people understand the crisis that Greece is facing, and hold no resentment toward Athens.

“If Greece overcomes the crisis, I believe it will open its hand again,” he said. “No matter how we sometime see it from afar, Greece is a generous state and nation,” he added.

Dhimitri Maluqi, head of the commune of Upper Dropull, says that the local economy will feel the burden of the pension cuts.

“This is revenue that will now disappear from every Greek minority family and the impact will be undeniable,” he said.

Mayor Maluqi, who is also the head of the Greek minority organization Omonia for the Gjirokastra area, however, remains hopeful that something may change.

“We have had contacts with the Greek government and we believe that something will be done,” he said.

“However, Greece is suffering a severe economic crisis, so that even if the pensions are restored, they will surely be smaller,” he added.

Despite their positive impact on the local economy, the Greek state pensions have always been controversial in Albania.

For decades, Greece maintained a territorial claim to southern Albania, which it calls Northern Epirus.

As a result, Greek moves to foster economic and cultural connections to the region have always been eyed with suspicion in Albania.

Many Albanians see the pensions as forming part of a wider agenda, aimed at building up a large community in southern Albania that identifies primarily with Greece.

Albania's Minister of Labor, Spiro Ksera
They also believe that many people only declared themselves of Greek nationality in order to benefit from Athens’ generosity.

However, Spiro Ksera, Albania’s Minister of Labor and Equal Opportunities and an MP for the Dervican area, says the pensions should be viewed like the remittances that Albanian emigrants send home to their families.

“The MPs from the Epirus area in the Greek parliament are drafting a new law, and are looking at all the possibilities under the conditions that Greece is now in, to restore the subsidies,” he noted.

“Through this aid the Greek minority has invested more money [in Albania], which has ultimately helped their integration into the wider community,” he added.

Ksera said misconceptions in Albania about the pensions from Greece stemmed from a lack of knowledge about the community and its values.

“People should come here and see their hospitality, and realize the positive contribution that the Greek minority has made in strengthening the Albanian state,” he continued.

“Nationalist who cry foul for reasons of political expedience cannot break the bond created between the two communities.”

Militi, the journalist, agrees, arguing that the minority has served to act as an important bridge between Albania and Greece.

“Like every bridge, the stronger it is, the better the bond between the two nations,” he concluded.


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