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Joint statements of Foreign Minister Kotzias and the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Albania, Ditmir Bushati, following their meeting in Tirana (6 June 2016)
D. BUSHATI: Hello to everyone. I would like to thank my friend Nikos Kotzias for visiting Tirana today, together with his team.
As you know, we have met many times, in Tirana, in Athens, in Thessaloniki or in Brussels, as well as in international fora of which Albania and Greece are both members. We have been working together for nearly a year to deal with certain pending issues between the two countries. Issues stemming from the Second World War, issues of practical interest to the citizens of our two countries, as well as issues that we consider to be of decisive importance with regard to the common European future. Because it is well known that we have a strategic partnership interest in moving ahead and working together.
Of late, my friend Nikos and I have been exchanging certain ideas and we have been making an effort to move ahead to a joint programme for resolving the bilateral issues pending between Albania and Greece. Apart from our efforts to create a joint programme, I am happy to say that we agreed on a joint mechanism for the manner in which we will deal with these issues, which have now been prioritized by us and by our respective teams.
A mechanism that will meet at frequent intervals. It will be intensive, on all the issues included in our effort towards a joint package or a joint programme. There is no question of the prioritization of these issues alone sufficing. The issues are well known. We have stated them publicly to the news media, in our communication, in our communication with the parliamentary organs. All of our actions are now focused on how to find a solution on these issues.
Personally, when I compare the proposals of my friend Mr. Kotzias with those I have presented, I see that there are many common points and that there is a great dynamic for dealing with these issues. What’s more, there is a shared will on the part of the respective governments for us to move ahead.
Together with the mechanism for consultations on the manner in which these issues will be dealt with, today we also agreed on a roadmap, because it is important for the range of issues – which is broad, of a varying nature and often interdependent – to be accompanied by a clear roadmap, to be agreed on various levels, so that we can start to see the first results in this direction.
I very much appreciate the interest of the news media in meetings on such a level. This means that people are impatient for a solution rather than just a ranking of the issues on the part of the two governments. I also appreciate the work of the respective teams that have helped us reach this moment, which, I must say, wasn’t easy, given that our relations are thousands of years old, complex. But I want to reiterate that it is a relationship of great potential.
Thanking my friend Minister Nikos Kotzias once again, I want to say that meetings like this will be more intensive from now on, until we find solutions on all of the issues, because we are neighbours and we have no other alternative.
N. KOTZIAS: I thank my friend Ditmir and the Foreign Ministry of Albania for the hospitality and the good will with which we are discussing and dealing with the problems.
Unfortunately, it is not seen as self-evident, in our time, to seek solutions when there are problems. There are some who consider seeking solutions to a problem to be a problem. I must respond to you that problems exist for us to resolve them and to move on. That is our shared philosophy;that we have to solve the existing problems and undertake the major projects of the future.
We have great duties before us, to our peoples and to the whole region; duties to the stability and security of the whole region. We have major networks to create, we have energy development to carry out, and we need to develop our cultural and educational cooperation and many other issues that my colleague Ditmir and I discussed.
The solutions to these problems that exist will need to be promoted in a creative manner, through a culture of dialogue and consensus; that is, in a European manner. Because the people who think problems are not to be resolved think that the European path is without Europe. The European path requires European methods and European understanding.
This is why the proposal made by Ditmir for a Roadmap and a timeframe is a proposal that is based on the tools of the EU itself. We have to lift the heavy weight of the European course of the Western Balkans, and this is why we have to resolve the problems we bring with us from the past and contribute to the European course of these states, and first of all the European course of Albania.
Greece is one of the oldest members of the EU. It has great experience and know-how, and it will always be at Albania’s side to provide whatever is needed on its course.
In this context, I had the pleasure of Minister Bushati’s accepting my invitation for us to hold a second meeting in Thessaloniki, in October, of the four states, and of his accepting my proposal for our holding, in September, the meeting of six European states and six Arab states, and also for our working together on a regular basis.
Again, I thank Ditmir for the open horizons he has, for the different views we have and that we always discuss openly, based on the culture of democratic dialogue.
I thank all of you who are here, and I thank the Albanian government for its hospitality.
JOURNALIST (Thimi Samarxhiu, TOP CHANNEL): One question for each minister. Mr. Bushati, the Cham issue has been under discussion in Albania for some time now, while Greece does not recognize it. Was there at least a discussion, during your joint meeting, of the Cham issue, which was foreseen as being in your package?
D. BUSHATI: Thank you for the question. I think I was clear when I referred to the complexity of the relations between the two countries, the list of issues and a kind of categorization which I have carried out in the past into three “chapters/baskets”. I also believe that the differing opinions I have with Mr. Kotzias on some of these issues are respected. However, there is no doubt, with regard to our side, that the Cham issue is part of the chapter or “basket” stemming from the Second World War.
We are neighbouring countries, and in a way it is natural – including because of the fact that the Balkan and Mediterranean people are characterized as hot-blooded – for us to have different readings of this matter, as well as of other matters. I believe that realistic handling would moderate the nationalist tones and restore justice. But I believe that it is the right moment for me to be clear and direct with public opinion in both countries: that there is no talk of territorial claims. Albania has no kinds of claims on Greece; it is a country that has signed the Helsinki Final Act.
Albania accepts and respects Greece as a decent neighbour. Albania is grateful for the support that Greece has offered over time, as in the process of accession to the Euroatlantic institutions, like now, with the process of European integration. But our approach, when we refer to this issue, concerns respect for the freedom and the fundamental rights of this Cham population and their descendants, who in reality were Albanians of Epirus, with Greek passports and citizenship.
There is talk of a process whereby every obstacle in the nature of discrimination should be removed regarding this group as well. We are a country that aims to create a society founded on justice, and by this we are certainly not referring to collective responsibilities, collective condemnations for any reason, but to individual calm and a respect for the right to property, freedom of movement, etc.
In this process of research, discussions, dialogue, regardless of the difficulties and biases that exist, we believe that it is possible to emulate best practices, such as the latest Franco-German practices, to pay homage to the victims of the First World War through various actions, like monuments or other symbols. That is, we are in the midst of this type of discussion, this type of process, where naturally the principles of good neighbourliness, of respect for the territorial integrity of our neighbour, are in effect above all else.
JOURNALIST (Thimi Samarxhiu, TOP CHANNEL): Mr. Minister, in the last meeting you had with Minister Bushati, you mentioned that the War Law is just a formality. Why hasn’t it been withdrawn so far, and when are you thinking of rescinding this law? Have you undertaken any specific initiatives?
N. KOTZIAS: Let me start with the second question, about the state of war. Greece believes that the declaration of the Ministerial Council of 1987, to the effect that we are not at war, is in effect. Moreover, the Friendship Agreement of 1996, which is an agreement between two countries that are friendly, is also in effect. Albania’s accession to NATO and its European accession perspective make us not just friends, but partners. If there are doubts on the other side as to whether or not we are at war, this will be a subject of a discussion that will take place, and I think we will both find a satisfactory response to this question.
Now, regarding the “Cham” issue, which you asked Mr. Bushati about in your first question, it is well known that there is quite a large group of Chams who are Albanian and live in Albania. I wish this group prosperity and hope it benefits from Albania’s accession to the European Union. There are also some, the old Chams, Christians who were Islamized in 1611, who are today Greek citizens. There were also Chams who collaborated with the German conqueror, who created ‘committees’ for controlling and looting the property of the rest of the population in areas of Epirus, and who were condemned by the Greek courts based on Greek and international law, and who, in contrast with other collaborators in Europe, fled the country and were not executed. I think we need to be careful: When we talk about the Chams, we do not mean any group of Albanian citizens, and we certainly don’t mean Albania.
I say this because there are some who want to associate anyone who collaborated with German Nazism with some group of Albanian citizens who always lived in Albania and never lived in Greece, and then to also identify them with all of Albania. In this sense we say that, for us, there is no problem with the way it is handled by our neighbour. We have a different approach, and everything is well known from the point of view of history.
JOURNALIST (Nikos Meletis – ERT): Mr. Bushati, I would like a clarification, first of all. By the statement you made earlier, do you mean that there were some Chams who really were involved in war crimes and collaboration with the Nazis? As you clarified that the responsibilities are not collective.
But my question has to do with the delimitation of maritime zones – whether Albania intends to agree to a new delimitation of the maritime zones by December, so that such pending matters do not present an obstacle to Albania’s accession course. And the second question concerns the properties of the Greek Minority. We constantly learn of and hear allegations of seizure of thousands of acres of Greek property, mainly in the minority area of Himara. What measures do you intend to take to protect this basic possession of the Albanian citizens who are members of the Greek Minority?
D. BUSHATI: I’ll start with the last, regarding the Greek Minority, which is a minority much respected here in Albania and is also a minority that is not just a bridge of cooperation between Albania and Greece, but also has a major contribution to the democratic institutions and developments in the country. Albania is a party to the Council of Europe Framework Treaty for the Protection of National Minorities, and in all the reports and observations the CoE makes in this direction, there is recognition of the work done by the Albanian authorities with regard to respect for the freedoms and rights of minorities – and as I have often said in meeting with various partners and with associations that represent the minorities here in Albania, with my friend Nikos, we are open to moving even further ahead with respect in the sector of minorities, and we are also open to looking at advanced models, both here in the region and in the rest of Europe.
Regarding the case of properties, we talked today, too, with the Greek Minister, Mr. Kotzias, about the possibilities, which perhaps we have not made good use of, between Albania and Greece. As for the Friendship Agreement, in it is article 15, of which the Greek Minority here in Albania, as well as the journalists, are well aware, and which includes the setting up of committees between Albania and Greece; committees of experts on the cases of the property of citizens of both countries or property of a state nature. We can say that we have not taken advantage of this potential – which existed in the agreement – as we should have in order to avoid all of those cases where there is abuse or obstacles, internal obstacles, legislative or administrative, in the respective states. We ask the Greek side to respect property rights in some cases, and we are also open to sitting down to discuss all those cases that have to do with property rights that may certainly affect the Greek Minority in Albania.
To your question on the difficulty that existed with delimitation of the maritime zones, or in the “case of the sea,” as we say here in Albania, the facts are clear with regard to the negotiation process as well as decision-making on the part of Albania’s Constitutional Court. There are proposals from both sides, following a long – more than two-year – process of talks on how we will learn from the mistakes the Albanian side has made in this process, and we ourselves have learned lessons from the decisions that the Constitutional Court has taken. It has been stated clearly that the territorial integrity of Albania has been impacted, which is something I have said many times and will continue to stress as long as I am a minister. I don’t want to put on a show, as happens in Parliament, but I would like to say that we are determined to move ahead with the Greek side for a solution based on the European spirit and the rules of international law. I have said many times – including to the news media in Greece and Albania – that, for both Albania and Greece, it is a matter of strategic interest that we find a solution.
With Italy, for a time, during the Cold War and when we had this distinction between East and West, it took seven years to find a joint solution, while the geographical layout of Albania and Italy is suitable and there aren’t a lot of questions or more complications. In the case of Greece and Albania, it took a year and a half, with three rounds of negotiations, which were afterwards rejected by the Constitutional Court. This shows a lack of seriousness on the part of the Albanian side, and I represent a government and a political force that is a part of the government that does not want to make such a mistake; a mistake that not only bears on the country’s territorial integrity, but also creates problems it is difficult to remedy with neighbours.
Regarding the comment you made on my statement concerning the case of Epirus, I believe I was clear with regard to the absence of territorial claims and with regard to the clear human rights dimension, which should indicate precisely our point of view in this case.
N. KOTZIAS: I would like to make a comment; International agreements are based on international law and produce international commitments. Thank you.
JOURNALIST (Klementina Cenkollari, Ora News): Mr. Bushati, what is your comment on yesterday’s announcement from the Greek Foreign Ministry, which preceded Foreign Minister Kotzias’ visit and appears to have been a warning of a Greek veto of Albania’s accession to the EU? Thank you.
D. BUSHATI: Allow me to disappoint you, but I didn’t take it that way. I didn’t take it that way for specific reasons, not just because of what my friend Mr. Kotzias said correctly and generously, but also because of the fact that I do not believe it is the desire, will, privilege or interest of Greece to implement a policy of conditions on Albania, which in reality Greece has never implemented, even in the most difficult days in Greek-Albanian relations.
Just as I do not believe it is to the benefit of Albania and the Albanians living in the region to have tense relations with Greece, or relations determined by sentiment rather than logic. I have said this and I will continue to say it, regardless of the institution I am representing; that relations with Greece are strategic relations and relations with a great dynamic that we have to capitalize on in the best possible manner.
I certainly appreciate the Greek Foreign Ministry’s announcement, because it reminds us yet again of the issues of rule of law, of justice reforms, of respect for judicial decisions. We are at the peak or the final phase of the proceedings for the completion of the justice reforms, and from that point of view I have taken it as further encouragement for a successful completion of this process, so that Albania, too, can take the next step in the process of European integration.
It is also a clear indicator that our neighbouring country respects judicial decisions, and obviously this matter also shows in the respect for Albania’s position by the Greek side with regard to the Constitutional Court’s ruling on what we call the “issue of maritime boundaries,” as the issue is once again being tabled so we can reach a more just agreement that will be based more on international law and certainly on Constitutional law. Thank you.
JOURNALIST (Sofia Aravopoulou, Athens News Agency): Mr. Bushati, you talked about the good relations you want to have with Greece as a strategic partner, but don’t you think that the persistence with which the Albanian leadership has raised the “Cham issue” of late is unfavorable for dialogue, perhaps tripping Albania up on its European path?
D. BUSHATI: The journalist asked me about the announcement from the Greek Foreign Ministry that preceded the visit here, and I referred to this announcement, taking as a positive example the stance at the press conference, neither for reasons of pressure nor to create non-existent situations; it was just an effort at a reading of an announcement in a specific context.
Regarding the question that was asked again on the Cham issue, I want to assure you that, on our part, there is no obstacle we raise to Greece. It is a sincere dialogue, not easy, between two neighbours who have stood and will continue to stand together in difficult and good times. But, with all due respect for multiplicity of views and freedom of information, it is difficult for me to understand the relationship between the resolution of one issue, which in my judgement is dictated by fundamental freedoms, human rights and the means of international law, which, as you know, has clear rules and methodology, and, as my friend Mr. Kotzias put it so eloquently, representing a veteran EU country. There is a process that is guided by very clear rules and principles.
This is why, with all due respect for the question you asked, when it comes from a Greek journalist, this question does not leave a pleasant taste – when it is known that Greece is a country that supports the accession processes, the country that offered the Thessaloniki agenda to all of the countries of the Western Balkans, the fruits of which, for our part, we have started to taste all together. And I think that the process of Western Balkan reconciliation also started in Thessaloniki.
It is a country that has its glorious history within the EU, but also bias, due to various crises. For this reason, who more than Greece is in favor of the process of European integration of the countries of the Western Balkans? In my humble reading, and that of the Albanian Foreign Ministry staff, all of the moves made by Mr. Kotzias, as well as the work we did with his predecessor, Mr. Venizelos, have shown a firm, long-term line on the part of your country with regard to the region’s European integration. And I take this opportunity to thank the Greek government and the Greek people for this very firm stance.
N. KOTZIAS: I thank my colleague Ditmir very much, because he clarified, in his way, that I have not made such statements, even in their positive interpretation. It is a view undersigned by “Foreign Ministry circles.”
The only statements I have made regarding Albania are that we want it in the EU, that we will help as much as we can and as much as Albania wants – and nothing else. I think that – if you will allow me, I say this as an academic – the statement of the Foreign Ministry is one thing, the Foreign Minister’s statement is another and “Ministry circles say” is yet another. There is a very different gravity and authority. Thank you very much.