Leading Article: The Greeks should know better

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IN THE Balkans, paranoia rules. The Serbs might reasonably claim to be its leading practitioners: they continue to portray themselves as victims rather than the most active aggressors in the Bosnian war. But farther south, the Greeks and Albanians are putting up a good showing in the paranoid stakes. The Greeks have long refused to allow the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia to adopt that name on becoming independent, on the ground that it implies territorial pretensions to the Greek province of Macedonia. They also fear the emergence to their north of a Greater Albania that takes in the Serbian province of Kosovo, with its two million ethnic Albanians, and western Macedonia. As for the impoverished Albanians, they suspect the Serbs and Greeks would like to carve up their country between them.

If these fears are added to those fanned by the conflict in former Yugoslavia, there are the makings of a wider Balkan war. So it it behoves governments within the region not to act provocatively: especially if, like Greece, they belong to a grouping of mature democracies such as the European Community. It is therefore all the more startling to find (as we report today) the Greek Prime Minister, Constantine Mitsotakis, addressing to the Albanian government no fewer than six imperious demands, at least three of which are unquestionably provocative.

No doubt it was unwise of the Albanian government last month to expel a Greek Orthodox clergyman from southern Albania, where he was accused of inciting the ethnic Greek population to campaign for unification. But the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Church is, for historical reasons, in Istanbul, not in Athens. It is for the Patriarch in Turkey's old capital, not the (secular) Greek government to argue for the archimandrite's reinstatement. The Greek government had already responded to the Albanian move by very publicly expelling tens of thousands of illegal Albanian immigrants from Greece.

Even more inflammatory are Mr Mitsotakis's demands that Greeks who left Albania in 1944 should have their property restored to them; and that Albanians who wish to call themselves Greek should be allowed to do so. Throughout his statement, furthermore, Mr Mitsotakis referred to the southern region of Albania where the ethnic Greeks live as 'Northern Epirus'. It is not surprising that Albania's President reckoned these demands concealed 'very dangerous pretensions'.

Mr Mitsotakis accused the Albanian government of double standards in demanding full rights for ethnic Albanians in Kosovo while oppressing ethnic Greeks within Albania. While the Albanians may well tend to regard ethnic Greeks with suspicion, there is little evidence of active discrimination against them. The reality is that poverty in Albania is so acute that few of its people of whatever ethnic origin are able to enjoy the most minimal amenities of a free society. By comparison, the Greeks are privileged. Instead of throwing fuel on regional flames, they should show understanding for neighbours who suffered so terribly in the Communist era.