The Unofficial View of Tirana (102)


Kristi Pinderi (Pro LGBT), then opposition leader now PM Edi Rama, and Xheni Karaj (Aleanca LGBT) in better times (2013)

by Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei

Another year, another International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), another article that takes stock of the progress regarding LGBT rights in Albania. Spoiler alert: It ain’t pretty.

When last year I wrote an essay that criticized the publicity around Albania’s “first gay marriage,” which had nothing to do with Albania and actually took place in the UK Embassy under UK law, as well as the US-style fundraisers with which the some LGBT organizations were whoring themselves out to the expat community, I received quite a bit of flack from representatives of those organizations (which themselves are sometimes as straight as a pointy stick – let’s refer to them as “allies”). Not in public of course, but in private, by email. The message, apart from the personal attacks, was more or less: why do you go public with your criticism, keep it internal. As if having a healthy, public debate about the strategies and ideas behind LGBT emancipation is something our “opponents” shouldn’t see – as if it were a sign of weakness.

Unfortunately, this may turn out to be once again one of my stupid idealisms, because some of the events around this year’s IDAHO show even more clearly the complete capitulation of the Albanian LGBT movement to Occidental, imperialist, donor-bred “activism” – a term that in this context I only wish to employ with as many ironic quote marks as possible. So here it goes.

Invitation by the Center for Openness and Dialogue for IDAHO

Exhibit A

On May 12th, I received an email from the Center for Openness and Dialogue (COD), PM Edi Rama’s private office gallery and all-round propaganda space (here is a thorough analysis). The email invited me to an activity concerning IDAHO, featuring a screening of the documentary SkaNdal, and the celebration of this year’s “LGBT Allies of the Year.” For the occasion some designer had turned to COD logo into a rainbow-colored barcode, while making sure that the logos of the LGBT organizations hosting the event were not included. The question we should ask is why on earth would the LGBT movement desire to organize any event in a space that is clearly designed as a personal promotion vehicle of Rama and his government.

Just to get this straight: 1) Edi Rama promised to pass the partnership law as part of his election campaign in 2013; 2) said law was personally blocked by former Minister of Justice Nasip Naço; 3) former Minister of Social Welfare and Youth and current Mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj still claimed it was passed; 4) the law was never discussed again; 5) all other amendments to the Criminal Code, Asylum Law, or Labor Law were never even considered; 6) overall, any other concrete support from the government as regards LGBT rights has been about zero.

Then let’s look at the actual moral stature of Edi Rama’s government, his party, and his allies. Just a random selection from last week: Mayor Elvis Rroshi of Kavajë is currently under investigation for “forgetting” his criminal past in Germany; Mayor Shukri Xhelili of Peshkopi is accused of seeking sexual favors in return for work; Director of Transport in Saranda Klemend Balili appears to be a major drugs baron with close ties to the government; Mayor Erion Veliaj of Tirana is destroying the protected natural monument of the Lake Park while claiming that not a single tree was cut, while employing local thugs to beat up protestors (he got elected on a platform promising not to cut a single tree); and cherry on the cake MP and influential businessman Koço Kokëdhima, “coordinator of southern Albania” for PS and a major support of the government has his mandate removed by the Constitutional Court owing to conflicts of interest – i.e. dozens of tenders that his companies received while he was in parliament (and all government-allied media remained silent).

There is only one proper word to describe the choice of the representatives of the LGBT movement to host one of their IDAHO events in the COD: pinkwashing. In a pathetic attempt to “regain” the favors of a thoroughly (morally) corrupt government they seek cover between the strong legs of the tough guys, reaching up to lick their balls. Newsflash: they won’t give a damn and will use your event to show all foreigners that are too stupid to read the Albanian fine print how progressive and gay-friendly they are. You are giving Edi something he does not deserve – a veil of decency!

Exhibit B

A beautifully produced promotion video featuring a “lesbian family.” Following the best tradition of viral video, the big reveal of two women sharing a lovely kiss + cute little boy only happens at the end, begging the unsuspected interweb user to click “share.” First off, and contrary to the press release, it is not a “lesbian family.” These are actors, playing a lesbian family. But again we have to ask ourselves: what or whom does this promo video serve? Are we in Albania really at the point where we can address questions of adoption? Are we so desperate that we are now appealing to conservative, white, middle-class notions of “family”? Let it be clear: there is no legal framework in Albania whatsoever that allows any queer couple to be legally recognized. Discrimination at schools and in the workplace is widely spread. Homophobia and transphobia are openly practiced in the media without any problem. The extant anti-discrimination legal framework only exists in words and litigation is exceedingly rare. I mean, how can we expect online hate speech to be prosecuted, when most probably every single politician I mentioned under exhibit A will walk away with little or no prison time?

In response to this desperate state of injustice, the LGBT movement attunes its message to a contextless other. Look, beautiful shots of happy queer families: two parents of course, not just one or more than two, let alone intergenerational or interracial parenting, shared parenting, childless families, disabled parents, queer children, or any other unacceptable deviance from what in the end is a totally heteronormative family, with enough money to spend their free time reading in the park and dance in the grass. Did I already tell you that now that the EU has sold out thousands of Syrian refugees to a neo-Ottoman dictatorship, Albanians are the largest immigrant group in the Netherlands? Definitely not because they spend their time reading in the grass…

All of this begs the question: if above promo video neither represents the actual economical and social situation of LGBT people in Albania, nor fights for the shared history and values of the LGBT movement, that is to radically redefine notions of relation, family, intimacy, sexuality, gender, and affect, why does it exist? Why did any queer person want to produce such a monstrosity? The answer by now should be obvious: it shows that Albanian LGBT activists have conformed to “international” modes of publicity, to “international” discourses of emancipation – all of which include appealing to what is conservative in society, to be only “minimally” divergent where maximum divergence should be our aim! To stand with those who resist power instead of pandering to its fickleness and moral bankruptcy; to stand with those who refuse to conform themselves instead of creating an acceptable social fantasy image. And unfortunately we only have to follow the money to understand why the opposite happened. Lamtumirë levizja LGBT!

About the Author:


Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei is a philologist, director of project bureau for the arts and humanities The Department of Eagles, and runs multilingual publishing house Uitgeverij. For Berfrois he writes a regular series on the state and concept of Albania, where he lives and works most of the time.