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Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs Giorgos Katrougalos’ interview for the newspaper “Ta Nea” with journalist A. Ravanos (3 November 2018)
JOURNALIST: Will the recent death by police fire of the Greek national negatively impact Greek-Albanian relations, and what developments does this lead to?
G. KATROUGALOS: I would like to hope that the recent tragic death will not hinder the positive trajectory of Greek-Albanian relations. Unfortunately, on 28 October, we expected things to go differently; to witness, in Bularat, during a large celebration, our fallen soldiers on the Albanian front being honoured, finding peace after having been recently buried. There were Greek flags everywhere, hundreds of Greeks were there, together with the Minister of Culture, Ms. Zorba. Unfortunately, instead of this peaceful image, we were left with a bitter taste as a result of the death of our national. From the beginning, we clarified our priorities: to shed ample light on the case; to protect the rights of our Greek brothers; finally, with respect, and without making any concessions with regard to the first two priorities, to protect our bilateral relations.
We did not stop at hoping for these things. We proceeded with the necessary demarches, and we continue to closely monitor developments, with the implicit respect for Justice. It is a positive thing that our request was accepted, for a Greek police officer to be present in Albania when the related investigations are conducted, and we are also awaiting that the human request by the family be fulfilled, that the remains be returned. With regard to how the investigation will be proceed, I do not wish to prejudge anything.
We must be extremely careful, though, on both sides of the border, clearly not only on the level of government authorities. Banners such as the one raised at Partizan’s field about the “dead Greek bastard” or the front page of the well-known “newspaper” claiming that “we are thirsty for Albanian blood,” albeit that this originates and is expressed by few people, it nonetheless poisons the climate between the two nations. And clearly, the extremism of the former fuels the extremism and intolerance of the rest.
JOURNALIST: Minister, with its stance, is the Albanian leadership helping for good neighbourly relations to exist?
G. KATROUGALOS: As we have sought to do with all the countries in the region, we have worked systematically with Albania to resolve our bilateral issues, and we are very close to fully resolving them. The Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the diplomatic authorities of both countries have consistently worked towards this goal, at least recently. I hope that we will continue, in the same atmosphere, in the future as well, with the obvious condition of showing reciprocal respect, refraining from making provocative statements, and not prejudging, as regards this tragic incident, the decisions of the justice system.
JOURNALIST: Since much is being heard, how connected is the Greek State with the Northern Epirotes who live in Albania?
G. KATROUGALOS: Systematically and over the long-term, one of the constants of our foreign policy is the protection of our nationals everywhere, and especially wherever we have historical minorities with an age-old presence, such as in Northern Epirus. A few days ago, I personally received the newly elected President of Omonoia at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and we spoke together in an especially warm atmosphere. Protecting the rights of this minority represents one of the goals we have set with our partners as a criterion for Albania's European perspective. In this context, we are awaiting, from the authorities of the neighbouring country, the establishment of regulatory acts for full implementation of the recent law on the protection of minorities.
JOURNALIST: With regard to the major recent political issue, what does the Constitutional Revision represent for SYRIZA?
G. KATROUGALOS: The first revision proposal of the Left already represents a significant historical event. Revision represents the pinnacle of our progressive reform work, with two main objectives: first, for the client state of the post Junta period to be structurally reformed, towards its democratization through strengthening of the Parliament and introduction of institutional balances that are not the property of the elite, but which will be activated through popular participation; and second, to strengthen the protection of personal and political freedoms and social rights, as well as the mechanisms of the social state, as a levee in the attack against these by neoliberalism.
JOURNALIST: With your proposal for the election of President, is the country not held hostage? Isn’t a six-month electoral process extreme?
G. KATROUGALOS: All political parties seek, and rightfully so, for the election of the President of the Republic to be separated from the dissolution of Parliament. On the other hand, we must maintain the symbolic unifying role of the President of the Republic in the Constitution. This second priority is not permitted if the latter can only be elected by a ruling majority. According to the old formula, the constitutional legislator sought to “force” the parties to reach a consensus with the threat of elections. This did not work. We therefore feel that the process we are proposing represents such an incentive, if the required majority of three-fifths is not reached, for it to be repeated every month until a majority of three-fifths is reached, or until a six-month period has elapsed from the beginning of the election process, at which point automatic election will take place. Precisely because six months is “extreme,” as your question phrases it, we feel that the parties will avoid this by selecting candidates who can garner a political consensus from the start.
JOURNALIST: Following the proposal for revision, what is the relationship, at this point, between the Government and the Church?
G. KATROUGALOS: The relationship between the State and the Church is at last as dictated by modern republics, as well as the Bible: "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's". The religious neutrality of the State is expressly protected, while the Orthodox religion continues to be recognised, for historical and factual reasons, as our country’s dominant religion.
JOURNALIST: Did your fear complete failure? Is this why you hesitated in abolishing Article 3 of the Constitution?
G. KATROUGALOS: On the contrary. We have proven, on many levels, that we do not lack courage. But we are also a mature power which exhibits prudence. Completely abolishing Article 3 would not have a different legislative effect than the amendment we are proposing, while it would create the danger of a war of symbolism and not substance. Beyond the obvious respect for the Church, we do not wish, under any circumstances, for there to be political expression on the part of the religious arena in Greece, as had existed during the period when the indication of religion on national identity cards was being abolished.