Bilingual signs spark fresh row between Albania and Greece

Bilingual signs spark fresh row between Albania and Greece
By Edison Kurani

A statement released by the political party that defends the rights of Tchams in Albania, where the government was criticized for allowing road signs in the Greek language in the south of Albania, was followed a few hours later by a police intervention which resulted in the removal of the signs.

What happened?

Based on Albanian legislation and the concessions made to ethnic minorities in Albania, in villages and certain areas in south of the country, the Greek minority has put up road signs in both the Greek and Albanian language.

Road signs were put up by local government alongside the road linking Qafë Muzina to Konispol via Saranda. This practice has been followed for years and so far, it had not turned into a political debate.

PDIU’s complaint

Party for Justice, Integration and Unity, which is currently part of the opposition coalition, politicized the presence of road signs in Greek and Albanian in southern villages.

This party criticized the government stating that it sympathizes with the concerns of the residents of these areas.

According to PDIU, “the presence of road signs in the Greek language in Saranda, Delvina, Konispol, Finiq and Dropull shows that the Albanian state has capitulated. This represents an unprecedented provocation of our nation”.

PDIU issued an ultimatum requesting that these road signs be removed: “If the Albanian government does not intervene at once, this shows that it is also involved in threatening the country’s sovereignty”, declared PDIU in a statement.

PDIU also issued a strong warning: “Albanians will react and in a few days, this scandal will be history”.

Government removes road signs

The government’s reaction following PDIU’s ultimatum was quick, as road signs were removed in many areas of the south of the country.

 

Albanian Road Authority said on Sunday (05.05.2019) that it had removed 35 road signs during the night. ARA said that road signs were not illegal, but according to this agency, “they did not meet Road Regulation standards and they were not approved by the Albanian Road Authority”.

ARA also noted that “35 signs alongside this route, did not meet regulation concerning road safety, as most of them obstructed warning signs”, ARA’s statement read.

ARA also said that these road signs “had an adverse effect on road safety and endangered road users”.

Signs, Greek language came first

 

It seems that the problem with these roads signs had to do with the fact that the Greek language was the primary language, while Albanian language was the secondary language.

This is also confirmed by ARA in its statement: “These road signs did not meet legal technical requirements in terms of the order that languages follow, the colour and the size of the font used on these signs”, ARA’s statement says.

This has also been pointed out by former rector of the University of Tirana and dean of the Albanian Language faculty, Prof. Dr. Shezai Rrokaj.

According to Rrokaj, the Albanian language should come first and Greek second: “Minority languages should be used locally and they cannot act as a primary language”.

Rrokaj says that “this is also sanctioned in the Council of Europe Frame Convention for the Protection of National Minorities ratified on 03.06.1999”.

Nevertheless, the new law on National Minorities was approved last year.

Mr. Rrokaj criticizes this law: “Protection of the rights of minorities, in this case the Greek minority, cannot be guaranteed at the detriment of the country’s official language which is used by the majority of the population. The law on National Minorities which was approved in Parliament almost a year ago, had many issues of this nature, which I have raised during the debates that were held about it. I had stressed, amongst others, the responsibilities that the Council of Ministers and other institutions would have in order for this law to be applied in the right way. This is an unprecedented case, whereby the law discriminates the language used by the majority of the population”, Mr. Rrokaj says.

Greece also has road signs in Albanian

Greek territories bordering Albania also have road signs in Albania, especially in areas close to Kapshtica and Kakavije. According to Mr. Rrokaj, this is not fair: “It’s not fair that there are also road signs in the Albanian language in areas such as Preveza, Igumenitsa, Filat, etc”, Mr. Rrokaj says.

Minority community reacts

 

Unity for Human Rights Party (PBDNJ) and Democratic Union for Greek Ethnic Minority (OMONIA) released a joint statement on Sunday, considering the removal of bilingual road signs as a “serious provocation made by Rama’s government”.

The statement also adds that these road signs had been recently put up by the municipality of Finiq “in compliance with the law and the Council of Europe Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities, which the Albanian Parliament has incorporated into Albanian law after ratifying it”.

The statement also says that although these road signs were put up by local government, it’s the responsibility of central government to do this under the legislation mentioned above.

According to PBDNJ and OMONIA, the government’s action to remove road signs by using police, shows that it has joined forces “with particular groups that hate the Greek Ethnic Minority, the Greek language with the aim of intimidating and removing members of the Greek ethnic minority from their lands”.

The statement regards this as interference in local self government and suggests that this act is abusive, because “instead of removing the road signs, the government should have simply made changes on them”.

The statement also considers police intervention without notifying the municipality as unacceptable.

PBDNJ and OMONIA maintain that the removal of these road signs has caused a financial damage to the municipality of Finiq, “which has funded the manufacturing and the instalment of these road signs in compliance with the regulation in force”.

Athens reacts

The incident has also provoked the reaction of Greek authorities. Athens has demanded that the Albanian legislation concerning bilingual road signs be applied.

As far as the removal of bilingual road signs in villages of Finiq is concerned, diplomatic sources inform that the Greek embassy to Tirana and the Greek Foreign Ministry have been contacting Albanian authorities and explained Greece’s position on this issue.

Debate between neighbouring countries breaks out once again. Why this negative energy?

Authorities say that there were several issues with the road signs that local government in the south of the country had put up. First, they obstructed warning signs. Secondly, the Albanian language was not above the Greek language and thirdly, there were orthographic mistakes. All of these issues could be easily fixed.

Even this time, an issue which could have been prevented through communication between local and central government, turned into a political debate and was followed by police intervention, giving rise to negative comments on social networks.  Could this be averted? Of course. But it wasn’t meant to happen even this time. This strengthens the idea that there are certain circles who are not interested on seeing excellent relations between Albania and Greece.

Time has come to leave this practice behind and push for better relations, which would interest both Albanians and Greeks! /IBNA/