Balkanic Paradoxes and International Law: The Bilateral Relationship between Greece and Albania

Balkanic Paradoxes and International Law: The Bilateral Relationship between Greece and Albania

Fatjon Kaja, Staff Member

This past week Albania and Greece announced that they have decided to reboot their diplomatic relations.[1] At this rate, even Sisyphus might pity them, as the two countries have not been able to agree about almost anything that they fundamentally disagree.[2] So a reboot was necessary, just as necessary as the numerous reboots that have happened just in the last five years. If someone asked you to point out the elephant in the room, you wouldn’t know which one to point. Irredentist fears, haunting past, and domestic agendas coupled with twisted national interests are just a few of the hurdles that need to be addressed in order to have a successful cooperation between the two countries.

To say the least, Albania and Greece have an inconsistent relationship that defies international law. For example, the two countries are technically at war with each other. This stems from a statute passed in Greece since World War II, which technically abrogates NATO’s treaty that both countries have signed and pledged to respect as NATO members.[3] The two countries have also signed a Treaty of Cooperation, which in spite of the technical state of war, allows for the two countries to have normal diplomatic relationship, if it can be called normal.[4]

As the Treaty of Cooperation is up for renew, ghosts of the past haunt present negotiations. Albanians believe that the law affords Greece legal protection from legal suits in Greek civil courts from the Chams, ethnic Albanians in Greece that were pushed away from the Ionnania region that they insist to be homeland of Chameria.[5] Chams have been very active in their claims; their political party dedicated specifically to their cause has been gaining support in Albanian politics, ranking 4th nationally, despite the fact that it was created in 2011. The idea of Chameria scares Greece, who still refuses to recognize the independence of Kosovo, where Albanians unilaterally declared independence.[6] On the other hand, Greece has been vocal in defense of Greek minorities in Albania, insisting that if Albania sees its future in the EU, then it needs to respect Greek minorities more. Last month, Albania passed a new law on minorities in the country, receiving criticism from the Greek government that the law did not do enough; Albanian leaders stated that they would be willing to imitate the Greek law of minorities if Greece gave them a copy, hinting implicitly to the unfair treatment that about 1 million Albanians living in Greece condemn the Greek government.

Yet, last week, the two governments had a conciliatory and cordial meeting in Cyprus of all places.[7] The two governments agreed that the first priority towards the normalization of diplomatic relationships would have to be a new maritime agreement. A similar agreement was reached back in 2009, but the Constitutional Court of Albania found the agreement unconstitutional in 2010, upon litigation by Albanian civil society.[8] This time around it seems the parties have agreed to mediation from third parties.

While such efforts are laudable, the truth remains that the relationship will most likely become more contentious as the bargaining power between the two countries becomes more equal. Historically, Greece has had the upper hand in negotiations (EU & NATO member, largest FDI investor in Albania, larger economy),[9] but the rapid development of Albania from its communist past (NATO member since 2009, EU Candidate since 2014), as well as, Greece’s decay due to its failed economy, forecasts further clashes between the two nations.


[1] Tasos Kokkinidis, Greece and Albania take “Step Forward” During Ministers’ talks, Greek Reporter (Nov. 13, 2017)

[2] Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays (1965) (Camus famously ends the essay stating “One must imagine Sisyphus happy” even if he has to start anew at the same task).

[3] Fatjona Mejdini, Albania, Greece Agree to End Forgotten ‘War’, Balkan Insight (Mar. 22, 2016)

[4] Fatjona Mejdini, Albanian, Greek FMs Head to Crete to Solve Disputes, Balkan Insight (Nov. 10, 2017)

[5] Mejdini, Supra note 3

[6] Christoph Hasselbach, Kosovo question still divides EU, Deutsche Welle (Aug. 09, 2012)

[7] Mejdini, Supra note 4

[8] Mejdini, Supra note 3

[9] World Bank Gross Domestic Product 2016, ; see also Bureau of Economics and Business Affairs, Investment Climate statements for 2017: Albania, U.S. Department of State (2017)