They seem a strange coupling, Albania and Greece.
One is Western, a member of NATO, a consumer society where the counterculture thrives. The other, isolated and xenophobic, for 16 years counted only China as a friend and ally.
Yet, much to the astonishment of Western officials, Albania, the tiny odd-man-out in Europe, has recently a number of recent overtunes to Greece.
Within the past two months, the two countries have signed an agreement for a direct air link between their capitals, popular Greek singer Marinella has completed a whirlwind Albanian tour, and Albanian Ambassador Lik Seite and his seven-man staff have elevated Athens to one of three capitals from which Albinian officials have attacked the Peking government.
"It's obviously clear now that Albania's relations with China have deteriorated," one Eastern European diplomat said. "And this has influenced both internal and external developments, including a definite improvement in Alabania's relations with Yugoslavia and Greece. Perhaps we can anticipate further openings to Italy and France . . . These things are designed to lead to something, but, with the Albanians, you never know where."
Greek Foreign Office officials are moving cautiously in their dealings with Iirana, "walking on eggshells," according to one account.
"After a period of such incredible isolation, no one expects Albania to now open her doors. Thus, even a window is significant," one Western official said. "But you'vegot to be acutely aware of their sensitivity and xenophobia, be overly cautious not to offend. Otherwise, they'll put in the shutters and be completely out in the cold again."
The problem with Greece is particularly sensitive, as it was only in 1971, when diplomatic relations were established, that the two countries buried their differences and, in effect, ended their 1914 Balkan war.
The sharing of common borders, the commercial items Albania sorely needs, and the fact that Greece belongs to none of the political alighments at which Albania has hurled revolutionary abuse were all factors, according to diplomatic officials, in Albania's taking the initiative with Greece.
"Ironically," said one Eastern European official, "it was initially at China's behest." The Chinese, he explained; "encouraged Tirana to strengthen relations to provide Peking with a Balkan listening post in Greece. Conversely, the Greek response had the blessings of NATO and the United States. Greece opened the door to Albania for Western nations, and Albania opened Athens for the Chinese.
Albania is also highly fearful of Russian interference in Yugoslavia after Tito's death. But this was not a consideration in her establishing relations with Athens. Her fear of Russia is not as great as her paranoia about NATO and the United States."
Despite tentative steps in the early 1970's relations between Greece and Albania began to flower only this year.
Within the next few weeks, direct flights will be inaugurated between Tirana and Athens, Albania's first air link with the West. In October, Albania, will send its 18-man State Song-and-Dance Ensemble to give 12 performances in Greece.
Discussions on exchange visits of ministers of foreign affairs have been suspended until after Greece's November elections, but negotiations continue on reopening the mountainous frontier dividing the countries, which has been sealed for 30 years.
"Economically, both countries can benefit," one Balkan diplomat said. "And future emphasis will be on the trade sector - not on investment or tourism, but on the exchange of goods. There will also be openings in sports and culture, more exchanges of artistic groups.
"What is important politically, however," he continued, "is that there are no terribly serious problems separating the two countries today. The Greek minority in southern Albania is of concern to Athens. The Albanians are worried about American and NATO bases on their southern frontier. But both governments are acting with a great deal of sobriety, and neither of these question is going to be raised."
For diplomatic officials, the most significant development in Marinella's tour was that she was permitted to sing in southern Albanian cities before members of the country Greek minority - 250,00 to 300,00 Greeks who found themselves within Albanian borders when new lines were drawn following World War II.
It was also the first time that a Western ensemble had toured the xenophobic Communist state.
"We were wined, dined, swept off our feet," said Marinella, 29. "Members of the audience included ministers and mayors. The six performances were packed."
Greek Ambassador Stathis Mitsopoulos had warned the group that beards and long hair were unheard of that dress must be impeccable and demur.
There was only one flap during the eight-day visit.
The agreement was the Marinella would sing only Greek songs.
When she broke into American rock music at one performance, she was politely rebuked by the sponsoring organization - the Albanian Committee for Cultural and Friendly relations with the Outside World.