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AHI Statement in Response to the State Department’s Publication of False and Misleading Census Data for the Greek Minority in Albania
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: GEORGIA ECONOMOU
July 26, 2004—No.51 (202) 785-8430

AHI Statement in Response to the State Department’s Publication of False and Misleading Census Data for the Greek Minority in Albania

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The American Hellenic Institute denounces the State Department’s publication of inaccurate and misleading data which trivializes the significant Greek community in Albania, that nation’s largest minority.

The recently released July 2004 Background Note for Albania, prepared by the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs of the State Department, misrepresents the ethnic Greek population of Albania as 1.17 percent of the total population. The actual percentage of the Greek minority, as reported by numerous international authorities, is considerably higher. According to the Library of Congress Country Studies latest report on Albania (April 1992), the Greek minority constitutes 8 percent of the population. Similarly, the CIA World Fact Book (1992) records the Greek minority at 8 percent of the total population. Another international organization, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation, estimates the Greek minority in Albania to be 280,000 people of a total population of approximately 3,200,000, or roughly 8.75 percent of the population.

The gross disparity between the figures reported by these major international organizations and the State Department’s Background Note—the latter of which relies on the official Albanian census data for numbers—is due to Albania’s refusal to permit citizens to list their ethnicity on Albania’s official national census, most recently conducted in 2001. Albania’s purposeful failure to collect ethnicity data has been condemned internationally; nevertheless, Albania has refused to compile accurate statistics.

Quite tellingly, the deficiencies in the data collection relied upon by the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs have been exposed by another bureau within the State Department itself, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. In the Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Albania, released by the Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor on February 25, 2004, the following explanation of the unreliability of the Albanian census data appears:

"The Greeks are the largest ethnic minority. . . .However, according to the Minority Affairs Office, no recent official statistics existed regarding the size of the various ethnic communities. The Government census of 2001 did not ask respondents to identify themselves by ethnicity. . . .The Government conducted a survey during the year to determine the sizes of various ethnic minorities. The survey, which relied upon sampling based on U.N. standards, provided criteria for claims of affiliation with a particular ethnic group; however, the results of the survey were not published by year’s end."

Accordingly, since the State Department itself acknowledges that Albania’s official census data is unreliable, it is especially disappointing that the reported figure in the July 2004 Background Note is precisely the figure reported by Albania, the erroneous 1.17 percent.

Similarly, the European Union has criticized Albania’s failure to adequately recognize its minority groups and protect minority rights. In its Stabilisation and Association Report 2004 on Albania, the European Union indicted Albania for failing to "meet requirements regarding the accurate evaluation of the size of minorities in Albania." Furthermore, in § 2.2.2 on "Minority rights and refugees," the EU report states that "a government report outlining with precision the size of each national minority in Albania remains overdue," and concludes that "Albania should be more ambitious and strive to ensure adequate protection of minority rights throughout the whole Albanian territory in conformity with the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention on the protection of National Minorities." In the 2002 version of the same report, the EU concluded that "Albania should rapidly gather accurate statistics on the number of national and cultural minority members actually living in Albania." The EU’s admonishments notwithstanding, Albania has not yet undertaken this effort.

In response to the State Department’s publication of its Background Note on Albania, President of the Panepirotic Federation Peter Silis observed the following: "We know that Albanian authorities will do anything to avoid fair treatment for ethnic Greeks, but for the State Department to allow itself to be manipulated by Tirana so blatantly is unbelievable." Mr. Silis reiterated that the most reliable sources of information are the major international organizations. He added, "If the State Department is going to quote the Albanian government’s estimate of 1.17 percent, it has an obligation in the interest of fairness to also provide the 10 percent estimate of minority leaders, and it has an obligation in the interest of truth to call on Albania to conduct a census to measure minorities in the country, as the European Union has done."

By its failure to remain objective, the State Department not only submitted to improper pressure from Albania, but worse, it endorsed the Albanian government’s discriminatory practice of denying the rights—and the very existence of—an important segment of its citizenry. Albania has, through the exercise of state-sponsored intimidation, sought to render voiceless and identity-less an estimated 8 –10 percent of its population, and the State Department has placed its imprimatur on that undemocratic behavior. AHI strongly condemns the actions of the State Department, and, in accordance with democratic norms and values, calls upon the State Department to remove the blatantly false and politically-biased 1.17 census figure from its July 2004 Background Note on Albania report. In the best interests of the United States, the State Department should call for the recognition of ethnic minorities in Albania and for the protection of their basic human rights.

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A copy of the July 2004 Background Note for Albania is available on the State Department Web site at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3235.htm. For additional information, please contact Vivian Basdekis at (202) 785-8430 or at vivian@ahiworld.org. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our Web site at http://www.ahiworld.org.