The Unofficial View of Tirana (79)


Third Annual Tirana Gay Ride, May 17, 2014. Photo by Mersina Xhemajli and Pellumb Mukaj.

by Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei

This Saturday, in the streaming rain, the Albanian LGBT community successfully held several events to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Like in 2012 and 2013, there was the Tirana Gay Ride, a “pride on bikes,” which this year for the first time passed without any incident, and even included some of the activists getting off their bikes and unrolling a large LGBT flag in front of the Albanian Parliament. Police was present all the way, and a counter-protest announced by the Muslim Community and the extreme-right Aleanca Kuqezi party (whose Facebook page abounds in homophobic hate speech, see also previous posts) was prohibited. So this time, no smoke bombs but rather people cheering from the side of the road and honking their car horns!

Third Annual Tirana Gay Ride, May 17, 2014. Photo by Mersina Xhemajli and Pellumb Mukaj.

Although I couldn’t be there myself this year, I spent the entire morning of the 17th hunched over my laptop, following several Albanian live news channels to see how things were going. It coulnd’t have been more beautiful (except for the weather). Here is a video from the Ride:

The evening of IDAHOT was marked by the premiere of SkaNdal(“Scandal,” but also, “There’s no stopping”), an hour-long documentary by Elton Baxhaku and Eriona Cami on the Albanian LGBT movement, which was attended by Minister of Social Affairs Erion Veliaj, Minister of Culture Mirela Kumbaro, ambassadors, and of course many members of the community. The 130 seats of the cinema were quickly filled and some 70 onlookers watched the entire film standing or sitting on the stairs. This is the trailer:

Although typically vague in his language, Veliaj promised soon to introduce new legislation in Parliament that would allow same-sex couples to sign partnership contracts, which would be a major advancement in terms the protection of the rights of the LGBT community and in conformity with Recommendation CM(2010)/5 of the Council of Europe and recent verdicts from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. As I worked on this legislation myself last year I would really like to see it pass, but in general I’ve grown more sceptical about the practical value of the Human Rights discourse in the new phase that Albanian LGBT activism seems to have arrived at.

This scepticism is partly inspired by my experience during last weekend, which, as said, I did not spend in Tirana but as a special rapporteur to a conference organized by the Council of Europe on hate speech in Budapest. (What follows here are just some notes, neither rigorous nor well-formed.) With young activists exchanging their views on combating homophobic and transphobic hate speech in an enormous variety of contexts and countries, it often seemed to me that “Human Rights” remained the only conceptual framework which claims a universality among these wide varying discourses, although frankly, as such it provided a very poor set of universals that couldn’t exhaust the multiplicity of alliances, traditions, cultures, and local realities that activists face day in day out. This becomes specifically poignant when discussing a discursive act such as hate speech, in which questions of ignorance, knowledge, and violence intermingle.

There have been several thinkers who have actively questioned the fundamental problem of the universality of universal human rights, but I would like to move in a different direction. If indeed we arrive at a stage, and I think we are slowly approaching such a stage in Albania, at which human rights for the LGBT community may no longer be fundamentally threatened, we move from a strategy that operates on the level of bare existence (acknowledging the presence of the minority group in the political) to the level of governmentality (changing small elements in the juridical framework, implementation policies, balancing the rights of different social groups, managing populations, etc.). This is indeed a moment where fundamental human rights are no longer at stake (or at least, they are in the background) and questions of knowledge, health, and security abound. And as long as bodies such as the Council of Europe, but especially individual activist communities, do not develop their own concepts, any “advanced struggle” for human rights will fall prey to a rhetoric of market-economical considerations. The “No Hate Speech” movement is I think a prime example of this, because it no longer addresses a fundamental human right – in spite of the rather forced attempt to gloss being anti hate speech as being pro freedom of expression – but rather a very difficult interplay of knowledge and speech acts that is often difficult to register. As an integration process becomes more advanced, as is visible in the LGBT movement when it shifts from emphasizing physical integrity and presence to combating certain discoursive gestures, the question shifts from “What Do We Want?” (Equality, Marriage, etc.) to “How Do We Want?” And for that question, neither international recommendation nor conferences solely aimed at “action” can offer a framework.

Third Annual Tirana Gay Ride, May 17, 2014. Photo by Mersina Xhemajli and Pellumb Mukaj.

About the Author:

Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei is a Dutch philosopher, writer and conceptual artist.