Census stirs Balkan melting pot

Thu Oct 20, 2011 6:29am EDT
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By Benet Koleka

SHENGJERGJ, Albania (Reuters) - Stela Mustafaj pressed her finger to an official document charting her family tree as far back as 1875.

There, in black and white, her grandfather and other relatives, all bearing distinctly Muslim Albanian names, were listed as born in Greece.

"It's surefire proof we are Greeks," Mustafaj, 65, told Reuters in the village of Shengjergj in Albania's eastern Korce region.

"My father's name was Dionysus, but they renamed him Dervish," she said.

"I knew where my roots were but the (communist) system tried to change it. We're not trying to sell out our country or buy into another, we're just exercising our right to say who we are."

Statements like Mustafaj's are causing waves in Albania, where for the first time since communism was toppled in 1990 residents are being asked to specify their ethnicity in a national census.

In Shengjergj, a village of shiny new villas built with money earned in Greece, more than half of the 180 families told census officials that, despite their Muslim Albanian names, they are Greek.

Many complain the interviewers simply ignored them, while nationalists accuse them of trying to gain special minority benefits, or worse, aiming to sow ethnic strife.   Continued...