What do Arvanites think of Albanians

The renamed eagles of Athens

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Friday afternoon in Aigaleo, a working-class district in Athens: the sun shines strongly on the asphalt on this hot October day, passing cars stir up the dust from the dirty streets. Jorgos carefully pulls down the shops of his Peripteros - a small kiosk, a widespread institution in Greek cities - to protect his shop from dirt. A regular customer comes by and asks if Jorgos has his favorite Karelia cigarettes back in stock. Meanwhile, two Albanians have gathered next to his periptero and are talking frantically with each other with a lot of gestures. Their talkativeness and the carefree way they behave shows that they do not come from this neighborhood. The customer with the cigarettes looks at the group briefly and then turns to Jorgos: "Albanians!", He says in a contemptuous tone. Jorgos doesn't really want to answer, he has lived through this situation in Athens too often. Finally he gives himself a jerk. He smiles and answers in perfect Greek: "I'm actually an Albanian too." The customer scrutinizes Jorgos conscientiously and is astonished that he did not recognize his real origin much earlier. As if out of spite, the customer replies that nothing could have indicated his parentage. Jorgos is proud of the fact that this is so.

The public image of the Albanian

Living as an Albanian in Greece is not just about adapting. The change that one makes is much more far-reaching and even affects the personality, the family and the outward appearance of everyone. One avoids all characteristics that give the Greeks the opportunity to classify individuals in the "Albanian" category. Jorgos is actually called Blerim * and has been living in Greece for about twenty years as an Albanian "refugjat", as they call themselves here. Being Albanians in Greece means, above all, wanting to be called Jorgos or Kostas or feeling compelled to do so. Above all, nothing to attract attention that would lead the Greek population to think that they are Albanians. One associates too much with the image of the Albanian refugee, the uneducated and supposedly dangerous immigrant. After all, Albander comes from a country where time and development have more or less stood still - this image is still very much stuck in the minds of many Greeks.

The mass exodus and its consequences

Greece's capital Athens has been the first port of call for many migrants since the fall of communism in Albania twenty years ago. The mass arrival of the Albanians during the 1990s was an unpredictable event with which the Greeks were initially completely overwhelmed. In addition, immigration was illegal from the start. The historical and, above all, the geographical proximity of the two countries made Greece one of their preferred emigration destinations for the Albanians. This development has led to the fact that the Albanians are not only the largest, but for many reasons also the most stigmatized minority in Greece today. According to official figures, Greece has taken in around one million Albanians, who are an integral part of the current economic system. The immigrants from back then are no longer the poor laborers or refugees from the 1990s. Many of them are considered to be excellently integrated, a large number of them have graduated from school in Greece and speak the language at least as well as their Greek fellow citizens.

However, the price for this integration was very high. The anti-Albanian climate that still prevails in Greece forces many people from Albania (Albanian: Shqipƫria, or "the land of eagles") to live as discreetly as possible. In constant fear of repression or expulsion. In the stories of many Albanians from their early days in Greece, a high degree of powerlessness comes to light: You accepted every conceivable job, endured every contempt without being able to react, because you already have too much time and effort for living in your new home had invested. Quite a few lived completely on the fringes of society, at the mercy of the Greek authorities who decided on the expensive two-year residence permit.

Blerim becomes Jorgos

Similar to Jorgos alias Blerim, an overwhelming number of Albanians who have lived in the Hellenic Republic for a long time use a different first name. Many have found that to live in Greece it is essential to adopt a Christian Greek name. Most of the Greek employers prefer to hire Voriopirots, i.e. Albanian Greeks from the north. The reasons for this lie in the mainly Muslim origin of the Albanians, which is often an obstacle in public life or when looking for work in Greece. The name change thus also has a religious component, which often ends with the conversion of Muslim Albanians to Orthodox Christianity. In order to use their Greek first name in official documents, many in Albania also have it certified by a registry office. When dealing with the authorities, Albanians save a lot of time-consuming administrative effort. This completes the transformation from Albanian to (not entirely) equivalent Greek - obtaining citizenship is almost impossible. What this means for the Albanian identity in Greece can hardly be estimated.

Quite a few who no longer want to endure racism and discrimination by the Greek state apparatus have taken the current economic crisis as an opportunity to return home. Jorgos wants to stay. He says he has spent too much time here and that little about him is still Albanian. Only when he sometimes hears other people speaking Albanian is he reminded of his origins. But that also happens less and less. (Armand Feka from Athens, October 13, 2010, daStandard.at)