Hundreds of Albanian migrants -- returning to Greece from holidays -- were denied entry at the Greek border yesterday after a dispute erupted between Albania and the Greek Orthodox Church, the Balkan Insight website reports today (August 22, 2013).
The tension rose on August 16 after bailiffs -- backed by a security company -- evicted Orthodox clerics from a culture center in the town of Permet on the border with Greece, which they have used as a church for more than a decade. The clergy claim it was built on the grounds of a former church, which was destroyed when Albania's former Communist regime outlawed religion in 1967.
"A security company paid by someone desecrated the Orthodox Church," Greek Orthodox Church head Archbishop Janullatos said in a statement. "Are we in 2013, when we want to integrate into Europe, or in 1967, when the Communist Party thought that it could eradicate religion from the heart of Albanians?" he inquired.
Albania -- the poorest country in Europe -- is reluctant to antagonize Greece openly. Greece is the host to Albania's largest emigrant community in Europe, and their remittances are a lifeline for Albania's weak economy. Although Greece broadly supports Albania's goal of eventual EU (European Union) membership, it routinely uses Albanian immigrants in Greece as pawns when the going gets tough.