So, this riot was to happen at some point, so it happened this year:
A senior Albanian official is under fire after reportedly saying that gay-rights activists should be beaten if they hold a gay-pride parade in Albania.
Activists on March 23 announced plans to hold such an event on May 17 to mark the International Day Against Homophobia.
The move prompted Deputy Defense Minister Ekrem Spahiu, who leads a small royalist party, to say: “My only commentary on this gay parade is that they should be beaten with truncheons.”
Human rights ombudsman Igli Totozani urged Spahiu to apologize promptly for his remarks, reminding the deputy minister that inciting violence and hatred is a crime in Albania.
The gay-rights organization Pink Embassy said it plans to take Spahiu to court.
Albania passed a law barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in 2010.
I will attempt a reconstruction of this clusterfuck, which includes no less than three gay rights organizations, several small political splinter parties, the international media, and some pathetic attempts at spindoctoring.
On March 17, the director of PINK Embassy/LGBT Pro Albania announced the following event on his Facebook Group:
PER HERE TE PARE NE SHQIPERI AMBASADA PINK DO ORGANIZOJE PARADEN E FLAMURIT LGBT! MOS HUMB RASTIN TE NDJEHESH KRENAR!
[For the first time in Albania, PINK Embassy will organize an LGBT Flag Parade! Don't miss the opportunity to feel proud!]
According to the event description of this “Festivali i diversitetit” (Festival of Diversity),
This May 17, 2012, PINK Embassy will ‘occupy’ on of the main squares of Tirana to celebrate the International Day against Homophobia en to raise the LGBT flag as a sign of respect toward the whole LGBT community in Albania. […]
PINK Embassy, together with all our partners, societies, institutions, and the community, will be from the morning of May 17 until midnight on one of the main squares in the center of the capital, to celebrate the diversity of society and to sensibilize the institutions, families, and society about their duty to respect the rights of any gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transsexual person, wherever they are.
One of the more interesting events during this day will be the parade of LGBT flag and its delivery close to the office of the Albanian Prime-Minister, as a request that the Albanian government do more in the direction of respecting, safeguarding, and promoting of the rights of the LGBT community all around Albania.
The reactions to this announcement from within the community were mixed. Not only had PINK Embassy failed to discuss the proposal with the other “partners,” many Albanian gays and lesbians, who may be out to their friends and colleagues, but not necessarily to their families as well, felt that the massive media event that this would become would make them particularly vulnerable. Yet others spoke of a “necessary sacrifice.” It should be noted that the invitation itself nowhere suggests a “gay pride parade.” Whether this semantic imbroglio was formulated on purpose or by accident is not the issue here (although it might be symptomatic of Hazizaj’s rather clamorous way of writing), the media jumped on it and on March 21 Gazeta TEMA announced rather sensationally: “Also a gay parade in Tirana.”
They are known by the name “Gay Pride” and are manifestations of persons with a different sexual preference. In our region, such manifestations have usually ended in with violent clashes. But in Albania something as this has never been tried. PINK Embassy says that it plans to organize something similar in Tirana for May 17, but without announcing it as Gay Parade.
So far for journalistic morality. On the news blog Fresk Fare Hazizaj was quoted that the LGBT flag would wave next to the Albanian flag in this 100th year of Albanian independence, and that he would present the flag to PM Sali Berisha. Perhaps he imagined that Berisha would come out on his balcony overlooking the boulevard and wave to the happy crowd of Albanian gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders?
In any case, Hazizaj happily addressed the confusion in a large interview for Gazeta MAPO, published on March 23.
On the International Day Against Homophobia, on May 17, PINK Embassy has planned to organize a festival of diversity, which in the media has been erroneously called “gay parade,” what will this activity consist of?
Actually, as a person who himself comes from the world of news and journalism, I know that the media sometimes transgress the borders of news and start to make the news themselves. […] It is possible that the desire of the media to have, in Albania just like in any other place in Europe, a gay pride, has been greater than the possibilities and power of the LGBT community in the country to organize one. Certainly the time has to come that also Albania will have a Tirana PRIDE, but I think that to realize that we will still need some time.
When I read this I was at least slightly surprised. If indeed he knows the world of the media and journalism so well, couldn’t he in the first place guess that putting the words “pride” “LGBT flag” and “parade” in one and the same press release might suggest “gay pride parade”? And in any case, how is a “parade of the LGBT flag” different from a “gay pride parade”? Perhaps, “parade of the LGBT-flag” = “gay pride parade” – “half naked muscular boys dancing to cheap trance”? Like beer without alcohol or coffee without caffeine?
Whatever his fantasies, the whole joke acquired a slightly more serious character later that day, when, asked for a comment about the upcoming Gay Pride in Albania, the Deputy Minister of Defense (and leader of the Royalist Party — did we still have one and what is he doing in the government?!?!) Ekrem Spahiu stated the following in Gazeta Shqiptare:
We are an Albanian conservative party and value the Albanian heritage as an important value for a nation. I don’t have any other comment, only that they be beaten with sticks. Sticks [hu] is a dialectal word, but I believe it is understood, it’s also called a rubber stick.
A riot! Yes, we have a riot. The news quickly spread across the Albanian interweb, and the other two gay rights’ organizations, that had initial intention to join in on the gay-flag-parade-masturbation-fantasy where faced with outright incitement to violence by a prominent government official. So after a consultation with the National Ombudsman and the Anti-Discrimination Commissary, Xheni Karaj from Aleanca Kundër Diskriminimit LGBT and Kristi Pinderaj from Pro LGBT Albania started legal proceedings against Spahiu.
Realizing the extent of the media event later in the evening, he was however quick to release a statement of his own, calling for Berisha to distance himself from his Deputy Minister of Defense, while screaming on his Facebook page: “SOT KOMUNITETI KA QENE YLL FARE NE REAGIMIN KUNDER DEKLARATES SE EKREM SPAHISE. ” (Today the community has been a total star in its reaction against the declaration of Ekrem Spahiu). Berisha, of course, could not give a flying fuck, but the damage had already been done. On Saturday the PLL, Spahiu’s party, went on to support the statements of its leader (surprising!), keywords: “curse,” “deviation,” and so on, and they were joined on Sunday by two other marginal groups of which I never fathomed the existence, the Christian-Democrat Party of Nard Ndoka, and the Republican Party of Arjan Madhi. Panorama:
One cannot impose on our society any norm in the name of human or individual rights and freedoms. The majority of civilized people, and with a democracy of many years (sic!) still keep such type of practices isolated. In this context, we do not have any reason why we would go into a new dimension of a conflictual debate, and unfortunately we currently have much more other major issues, in the interest of democracy and the development of society.
Meanwhile, both pro and anti-gay parade Facebook groups have been installed (I even found out that the Muslim guys from the bookshop where I take my coffees started an anti-LGBT Facebook group… do they even know how many gays and lesbians visit their place?!), the news is spreading across the internet, and even Ricky Martin is called in to join the parade (now that’s what I call inventing news!).
At the same time, there are many voices in support of the LGBT community, voices that of course get completely ignored within an international context. For example, an op-ed article in Respublica denounces the PLL declaration as rude, vulgar, canonic (referring to traditional Albanian kanun law), and fascist. AMA News:
Today’s reaction of the PLL which tries to represent as heroical the shameful act of a deputy minister that seeks to beat people, puts shame on the shoulders of Albania in front of the whole civilized international world with which we want to integrate.
So what is won and what is lost? Well, no gay pride parade will happen, and all members of the LGBT community will now think twice before gathering on “central square in Tirana” (really, how many options do you have? two?). Moreover, all three gay organizations are working their asses off to do damage control, write press releases, start legal proceedings, talk with their funders, and so on. A waste of energy that should have been directed to truly organizing something for the community, something that does not consist of festivals for institutions, fundraising opportunities, and empty symbolic gestures to politicians that couldn’t care less. But who knows, maybe some will learn that the drive to be first will make you the last (oh! the moralism…).
It seems I was mistaken about the commitment of our prime minster. Sali Berisha:
“The reaction of Ekrem Spahiu was not very ‘royal’. We are a party of tolerance and have proven that. It was an exaggeration, it cannot be said that people should not express themselves. A different sexual orientation is as ancient as antiquity itself and exists truly independently from religious beliefs. Tirana is a city of tolerance, a place of freedoms and guarantees, this is our aim. No party may say who has a platform and who doesn’t.
Whether he said this to please his European headmasters or because he really felt this was the right thing to say is mainly beside the point. His words are followed by a large, and largely conservatively inclined part of the population, so this statement definitely had a positive impact. Also considering the fact that in surrounding countries the political situation is less “tolerant” (but how I hate that word!). Also, fully cited the “Public Statement in Support of LGBT Rights in Albania” and further down the criminal charges pressed to Ekrem Spahiu. As the hate crime article in the Albanian code has hardly ever been used, I’ll be curious about the outcome.
We would like to express our concern related to the public statements on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual (LGBT) persons in Albania issued during the last days by the Deputy Minister of Defense, Mr. Ekrem Spahiu, as well as by the representatives of several political parties.
We strongly condemn Mr. Spahiu’s statement, as it entails language that incites hate against LGBTs. We would like to remind Mr. Spahiu that members of the LGBT community are Albanian citizens like everyone else and enjoy full rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Albania and the respective laws, as well as by the international obligations that the Albanian state is committed to. More concretely, the article 18 of the Constitutions guarantees the equality of all citizens before the law.
LGBT people are honorable members of the communities where they live and work and enjoy the right to be respected like every other Albanian citizen, in particular by people in power and that serve in elected or appointed public positions. They are our sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, friends, cousins, or colleagues. Their private life is theirs to manage and under no circumstance can it be used as a pretext for them to be discriminated against, let alone threatened with physical violence. Mr. Spahiu’s statement is unacceptable, especially because it is issued by a public official, whose mandate is to respect all legal obligations stipulated by the state that is in turn supported by taxpayers, some of which are LGBT people. The obligations of a public official encompass the obligation to protect all citizens from discrimination, despite their sexual orientation, gender, race, ethnicity, religious and political beliefs, as clearly laid out by the law “On Protection from Discrimination”.
Mr. Sahiu’s statement, as well as that by several political parties, goes clearly against the obligations that Albania has undertaken as part of the integration process in the European Union (EU). Protection of human rights, that includes the rights of LGBT people, is a corner stone of the EU integration process and a clear commitment made by the political class and the entire Albanian society.
Lastly, we fully support the initiative of the organizations that represent LGBTs in Albania who demand the dismissal of Mr. Spahia. Moreover, we congratulate the People’s Advocate, Mr. Igli Totozani, for his stand in support of LGBT rights, including his call for Mr. Spahiu to offer a public apology to the LGBT community, as well as the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, Mrs. Irma Baraku that is currently investigating the situation created because of Mr. Spahiu’s statement.
- Vjollca Meçaj, Albanian Helsinki Committee
- Sevim Arbana, the association “Useful to Albanian Women”
- Iris Luarasi, the Counseling Center for Women and Girls
- Arbër Mazniku, AGENDA Institute
- Milva Ekonomi, AGENDA Institute
- Juliana Hoxha, Partners Albania
- Kozara Kati, Albanian Human Rights Center
- Monika Kocaqi, women’s association “Refleksione”
- Brikena Puka, Psychological Social Support Center “Vatra”
- Ened Mato, the association “The Program of Socially Stimulating Alternatives”, Ecovolis – Your Bicycle!
- Remzi Lani, Albanian Media Institute
- Holta Koçi, Community Assistance in Albania
- Adrian Kati, The Albanian Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and Trauma
- Niko Mihali, CIOFF Albanian International Section
- Youth Center – Vlora
- Gledis Gjipali, European Movement in Albania
- Rasim Gjoka, The Foundation for Conflict Resolution and Mitigation of Disagreements
- Vasil Muka, Education for an Open Society
- The Foundation “Open Society for Albania” – Soros Foundation
- Elira Zaka, The Center for Parliamentary Studies
- Ida Kostaj, Small Business Foundation
- Rifat Demalija, the organization “Free Youth Initiative”
- Eda Noçka, the Center “Albanian Institute for Legal and Territorial Studies” (A.L.T.R.I)
- 24. Blerta Cani, the Albanian Foundation for the Rights of Disabled People
- Adriatik Hasantari, Roma Active Albania
- Plejada Gugashi, Olof Palme International Center
- Shega Murati, the association “Children’s Voice Calling”
- Liljana Çela, the Counseling Center for Women and Girls, Berat
- Lefteri Kosova, Women’s Center, Berat
- The Center for Children’s Rights in Albania
- Shkëlqim Hajno, the Jonian Agency for Environment, Media, and Information
- Vera Istrefaj, The Center for Counseling and Social Support to Women
- The Association of Greek Minority Artists, Gjirokastër
- Aurela Anastasi, the Center for Civic Legal Initiatives
- Teuta Mustafa Hoxha, The Institute for Environmental Management and Integration
- Mirela Arqimandriti, the Center for Gender Alliance for Development
- Marjana Biba, Orphans Association, Durrës branch
- Andi Kananaj, Res Publica Center
- Elona Gjebrea, Albanian Family Planning Association
- Delina Fico, women’s rights activist
- Valdet Sala, civil society expert
- Elira Sakiqi, expert at the World Bank
- Ariana Haxhiu, management and capacity development expert
- Florent Qosja, human rights activist
- Ines Xhelili, women’s rights activist
- Suela Thanasi, citizen
- Dorata Hyseni, citizen
- Adela Halo, citizen
- Bledina Bushi, staff at the UNDP Albania, Durrës office
- Alba Çela, EU integration expert
- Blerina Mataj, children rights expert
- Ada Shima, women’s rights activist
Two important initiatives have been undertaken by the civil society in defense of LGBT rights in Albania.
First, a group of more than 48 Human Rights organizations and activist signed a joint letter in support of LGBT cause, condemning the unacceptable statement of the vice Minister for Defence Mr. Ekrem Spahiu in which support the activists in their request for the resignation of the senior official. It must be said that such a massive support from the civil society in Albania gives a strong dose of courage to all LGBT movement, but also encourages all those hidden members of the LGBT community who feel intimidated, threatened and endangered by irresponsible statements like that of Mr.. Ekrem Spahiu and of other statements followed by the “homophobic world of politics.”
Secondly, “Aleanca LGBT ” and “Pro LGBT” (United Pro LGBT Cause) made today a criminal charge in the Prosecution of Tirana District Court against Mr. Ekrem Spahiu. This will be an important test especially in understanding how much is valued in the world of law the Article 226 of the Criminal Code in the Republic of Albania.
Third, the activists for the rights of the LGBT community welcome the public declaration of the Prime Minister Mr. Sali Berisha made today in the meeting of the Democratic Parliamentary Group, and are looking forward for concrete steps from the government in fighting against injustice and in the process of promoting the Human Rights. We welcome the energetic and quick reaction of the People’s Advocate Mr. Igli Totozani; we welcome the willingness of the Anti- Discrimination Commissioner Miss. Irma Baraku whom we expect to treat the issue into details according to the law. Meanwhile we are paying attention to an official stance of the opposition and especially of the Socialist Party and we are still waiting that this left -wing party makes a public declaration for this issue.
Please find attached the declaration of the civil society and the criminal charge.
On Behalf of ‘’ALEANCA LGBT’’ and ‘’PRO LGBT’’
Xheni Karaj, Aleanca LGBT
Kristi Pinderi, PRO LGBT