From the official rhetoric of the Albanian-Greek relations, it would be easy to miss some important dimensions of both sides’ real perceptions about each other. Sashenka Lleshaj, who co-authored a recent report (PDF) on the subject, looks between the lines.
Although it is not news that mutual stereotypes are a modus operandi in Balkan citizens’ everyday life, and one expects interesting findings, surveys about neighbouring countries can still surprise researchers already equipped with high expectations about surprises. This was also visible in a recent joined survey conducted by the Albanian Institute for International Studies in Albania and ELIAMEP in Greece which aimed at measuring current citizens’ perceptions about the Albanian-Greek relations.
First, findings about citizens of both countries’ perception of threat were interesting. While the majority of citizens in both cases thought that no country was a threat to their countries, 18.5% of Albanians indicated Greece as the top threat to their country followed by Serbia with 17.2%. This castling between Serbia and Greece compared to previous surveys on EU perceptions is largely due to these last years’ nationalist rhetoric of Albanian political parties, such as the Black and White Alliance, which has been largely targeting Greece and its stances toward Albania and Albanians in building its political grounds.
On the other hand, Greek citizens’ concerns go beyond the Balkans and surprising is the fact that 23% of Greek citizens perceive Germany as the second most threatening country after the traditional top threat – Turkey. In their case, the deep economic crisis and harsh German stances to EU help for the Greek economy can explain much of these results.
Second, an interesting trend throughout the survey is the perception of citizens of both countries that in the Albanian-Greek economic, political and social relations their country’s benefits have been lower compared to the other country. This was especially visible in answers concerning countries’ benefits from bilateral trade, the contribution of Albanian migrants to the Greek economy, the benefits from Greek investments in Albania, etc. In the same way, Greeks believe that their country’s contribution to their neighbour’s path towards the European Union has been higher than Albanians think (58% of Greek respondents think the Greek government has supported Albania’s EU membership, while 46% of Albanians think the contrary happened).
In addition to these survey findings, media have also made sure that issues related to bilateral relations are sensationalised for public consumption. The most recent case that promoted much discussion in Albania and Greece was the death of an Albanian prisoner in Greece after reported tortures. Pictures went viral in both Greece and Albania accompanied by a renewed wave of hate speech in Albania and many questions about the respect of human rights in Greece.
While Albania is waiting to be granted EU candidate status in June and Greece has officially declared its support for the country’s membership ─ especially now that Greece is holding the presidency of the Council ─ this last survey showed that much distrust is present among the citizens of both countries. Although in recent years some bilateral issues have come to the surface (from the delimitation of maritime borders, to the rights of the Greek minority in Albania, the status of the Albanian migrants in Greece and the influence of Greece in the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania) this survey called time on some negative stereotypes and misperceptions that continue to be nested among Greek and Albanian citizens.