Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Stavros Markos (Journalist, Member of the World Security Network Foundation -Southeast Europe Office)
Ioannis Michaletos(RIEAS Junior Analyst and Coordinator of the World Security Network Foundation – Southeast Europe Office)
Copyright: Stavros Markos on line (
In January 1991, the Patriarchate of Constantinople appointed the then Bishop Anastasios to enter Albania as the “Patriarchal Exarches" with the mandate to unite the Albanian Orthodox people irrespectively of their ethnic origin and re- establish the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania. The Orthodox Church in Albania had been decimated after forty years of the most severe persecution. Before the overthrow of the Communist yoke, the numbers of the Orthodox clergy had diminished from 440 in the 1940’s to just 22 in 1990. Once again, the opportunity to revive a Church that was tittering on the brink of collapse was confronted by the Bishop Anastasios.
But the Albanian nationalism including a large number of Albanian parliamentarians, in 1992, wanted to have under their control the activity of the Albanian Orthodox Autocephalous Church, claiming to the Albanian people (Muslims in general in their faith) slogans, such as, “His Beatitude Janulatos must leave Albania, because he is a Greek citizen and not an Albanian one”. This particular protest was heard loudly even inside the Orthodox Church of Tirana, during the religious ceremony of Archbishop Janullatos 16 years ago, and constituted a precursor of what was about to follow thereafter.
In 1994, the President of Albania Sali Berisha urged the Albanian people to vote a referendum for the New Constitution of the Country. Along the new draft, there was the request of an article of the constitution that obliged the Archbishop of Albania to become an Albanian citizen. Finally, the result of the referendum was a definite NO, and Berisha’s government had to postpone its plans at for the time being.
After the collapse of the Pyramidal Schemes and the Civil War that erupted in 1997, Albania proceeded for the second time to a popular referendum for Constitution, under the strong observation of the International Community organizations, OSCE and EU. The aftermath of it found Albania obliged to respect the religion’s independence and to adhere to the Laic State structures, meaning that the religions must be separated from the state and its administrative control.
During this period until now, the activity of Orthodox Church particularly of the Archbishop Janulatos, is confronted periodically by a multitude of incidents from Albanian nationalistic circles both from Diaspora (not of Orthodox religion), placing as a priority to the national strategy and demagogy of “Greater Albania” an ultimatum to Archbishop Janullatos that according to them “must leave Albania and resign from the Orthodox Church of Albania”. Albanian press often rallies against Archbishop Janullatos and continues its demagogues with apostrophes such as: “It is negative to have as a head of the Albanian orthodoxy a Greek citizen, who serves the Greek nationalistic strategy of Northern Epirus, converting the Albanian orthodoxy to Hellenic orthodoxy, and has nominated three high clerics from Greek origin in the general council of Albanian Orthodox church”.
In simple terms the Albanian media in most respects wants to divide the Orthodox faithful of the country that number some 20%, and turn the Albanians against the Greeks. For the time being hundreds of Byzantine churches in Northern Epirus (Southern Albania) has been violated from vandals and bandits, whilst 20% of the population is Christian Orthodox and feels distressed by the incidents and the state’s tolerance to that.
The Orthodox church of Albania has large land Superficies and proprieties particularly in the southern Albania territory, but until now the Albanian authorities, refuses to formally acknowledge it. Incidents with the local administrations and the Albanian tribunals has been often supported from the Albanian Service Secret against the Orthodox community and Church, as it has been reported from the Freedom House and Religious State Department Reports Human Rights of the World from 2003 until the last report.
Meanwhile in 2005, Archbishop Janullatos, was elected as the President of Churches World Council, which is a precedent to get to know the Albanian state across the world, while the Albanian nationalism raises the voice again against his eminence and in particular organizations active in the Albanian Diaspora in the USA. The AANC (Albanian American National Council) states that Archbishop Anastas Janulatos is a “person Non Grata” and he must leave the Albanian territory as soon as possible, because “he is forming the Hellenisation of southern Albania”.
Albania press continues to publish propaganda against the Orthodox Church, and even churches and monasteries particularly of Byzantine period, have been attacked and violated by Albanian criminals groups. At this point it is interesting to note that all of these attacks has not been reported in the Greek press, despite the fact that they are internationally know nowadays due to relevant internet publications either in English or in Greek.
On 10 June 2007, the Albanian authority, on occasion of the historic visit of the US President George Bush in Tirana, the name of Archbishop Janulatos was replaced by another person “Uncounted for by the Orthodox Church” while the heads of all religious denominations arranged a visit with the President. In simple words the Albanian government sabotaged a meeting of Anastasios with the American President in order to downgrade his status in the Albanian society.
This scandal was a clear cut provocation against the orthodox community of Albania, but was deviated and changed by the status protocol of President Bush from his staff during his visit in Albania. The absolutely silence of Albanian press about this scandal, conducted personally by the Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha and other national personalities reveals a strategic plan of the whole Albanian nationalism, to create a large front against Archbishop Janulatos and the Orthodox Church of Albania, which begins from the Albanian Diaspora and ends to the domestic Albanian politics in Tirana, including the government and the opposition.
This is the reason why the Albanian authorities do not give the Albanian citizenship to Archbishop of Albania Anastasios Janulatos, despite the fact that he is extremely popular not only from the orthodox of Albania and particularly from Greeks who live in Albania; but also from orthodox followers around the world. There has never been a decision described as “good faith” one from the Albanian authorities to honor the benefice of Archbishop Anastas Janulatos, whilst at the time; the Albanian nationalism is preparing the last battle against his eminence and orthodoxy.
The Association “Chameria” a Muslim community which habituates in Albania, escaped from Northern Greece in 1944 as “collaborationist with axes fascist forces” has demonstrated near the Greek borders in Southern Albania, demanding and protesting to Athens for their “home land rights” lost in Greece. Organized under the political background of the whole Albanian nationalist spectrum including the government, the representatives of the demonstration pressed the Archbishop Janullatos “to hold a special High Mass to honor the chams victim from Greek genocide of 1944”, but the response of Orthodox Synod Church was against: ‘We make High Mass for every soldier who died for the honor of his country and not under the recommendation from other religions communities”. Despite the fact that this incident might be classified as a ridicule one, it also provides a broad picture on the difficulties laying ahead not just for the Greek minority in Albania but also for potential perils involving the Greek state over the coming years.
Even though, the Albanian nationalism is raising in infinitum the battle against the spiritual leader of the Albanian orthodox community announcing as a victory of “greater Albania”, the end of the influence of Archbishop Anastas Janullatos to the Albanian orthodox mission. An aggravation of the situation between religions has begun in Albania and the Greek Ethnic Minority organization of Albania, known as “Omonia” calls to the Albanian government to have under observation any efforts of “Chameria`s Association” and its paramilitary instrument: “We are very disturbed about ulterior developments of Chameria Community protest to Greek Borders, considering as a provocation of the Albanian irredentism against our mother country, Greece, which compost a precedent to romp the existence of many communities which live in harmony in Southern Albania” said in the press statement the representative of “Omonia”.
A few days ago, in a village of the Greek ethnic community in the Argirocastro Region; stamped slogans under the name of UCC have appeared, and this is considered from the Greek population as a new provocation against the Greek minority. On April 2007, a paramilitary ethnic nationalist group known as UCC has claimed on a video their military actions and objectives against the Greek State in the Epirus Region. According to Research Terrorism Center in Washington, UCC is a known terrorist group with its first military action in Himara Region (Southern Albanian, Greek population) on 2003, killing a person, while in Northern Greece there has been an explosion in an electric station which links Italy and Greece in Egoumenitsa. The combination of Albanian nationalistic plans for a Greater Albania along with the abundance of smuggled weaponry and paramilitary personnel is an alarming indicator for the security forces of the region and in particular Greece’s in order to avoid any potential crisis.