Albania is a mixed situation for gay and lesbian citizens. On one hand, in February 2010, the Parliament of Albania unanimously approved an all inclusive anti-discrimination law which bans discrimination in on the grounds of various characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender identity. However, on the negative side, according to BalkanInsight.com, “…ingrained attitudes among the public leave Albanian gays and lesbians on the fringes of society. They face intolerance, physical and psychological violence – often from the police – and discrimination in the workplace.”
The result is frustrating and risky for LGBT citizens who want to move ahead to a progressive “Gay Life in Albania” of better human rights but are caught in retrograde religious (Muslim and Catholic) opinions and resistant old traditions. Add to these the ever-present hostility of neo-Nazi extremists who fight any effort of gay Europeans to display Pride in public. The new new Albanian anti-discrimination legislation is intended for joining the European Union, whose members are required to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. This received a big welcome gesture from humanists but angered the homophobes. So Albania is making strides to emerge into the 21st century while most people are rural poor who know little more than their own potato gardens.
Compiled by Richard Ammon
Albania is a parliamentary democracy with a emerging economy. The Albanian capital, Tirana, is home to more than 450,000 of the country’s 3,200,000 people. It remains a poor country by Western European standards. Its GDP per capita stood at 28 percent of the EU average in 2010.
More recently, there are signs of economic growth and increasing investments from foreign investors. Intermittant power cuts have been reduced to the degree that Albania now exports energy. Agriculture is the most important industry, employing more than half of the labor force and generating more than 20% of GDP. Albania’s major agriculture products are wheat, corn, tobacco, figs and olives. Tourism is increasingly becoming a significant contributor to Albania’s GDP with more visitors arriving every year.
Albania is a homogeneous country ethnically with only small minorities. The largest majority of the population is Albanian and religiously Muslim (70%), while Orthodox Christians are second with 20% and Roman Catholics consisting of only 10%. Historically, Albania has never had a state religion either as a republic or as a kingdom. The socialist regime that controlled Albania after World War II suppressed religious observance to the point where Albania was known as the world’s first atheist state. Since the fall of Yugoslavia as a single country in 1992 religious freedom has re-emerged in Albania. Participation in religious rituals now ranges from 25% to 40%, although verification is difficult to determine.
Current issues concerning human rights in Albania include domestic violence, isolated cases of torture, and police brutality, the general condition of prisons, human and sex trafficking and gay rights. The end of communism has contributed to Albania being a country of origin and country of transit for persons, primarily women and children, trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
LGBT Life in Albania
Albania decriminalized homosexuality in 1995. Since 2001, the age of consent is equal for everyone, at 14, regardless of gender and/or sexual orientation, since. The country is one of a very few countries in Europe which explicitly bans discrimination on the grounds of gender identity as well as sexual orientation. However, traditional homophobic attitudes force Albanian gays and lesbians into secrecy and toward the fringes of society. Intolerance, physical and psychological abuse and discrimination are common in the workplace, despite the presence of protective statutes.
(1) A gay traveler in Albania posted this comment on the Lonely Planet Gay Thorn Tree forum: “Albania is overwhelmingly Islam so being gay is not exactly an open and accepted thing. However the majority of Albanians I met said that Nationality is the first religion of Albania then that is followed by Islam. Basically there are not a lot of practicing Muslims. This is just what I experienced. Albanians were the most helpful and kind people I met in all of eastern Europe. But don’t expect openness yet in this area of sexuality.”
(2) According to Gay Pride Index, in Albania a gay Pride march is legal, but not socially possible because Albanian society is very intolerant of homosexuality. There was no gay pride march in Tirana, the capital city of Albania, in 2010.
In 2012, another attempt has been made to hold a gay Pride march and festival in the capital city. If it happens it will a first. Opposition is strong from conservatives and religious leaders, as expected. But the Prime MInister has condemned these homophobic attitudes and statements saying, “They were “unacceptable” and “an excess.”
(3) On the website Gays Without Borders this report was posted in 2007 but is still valid in 2012: ‘Homosexuals Face Little Choice But to Leave Albania or Put Up With Deep-rooted Homophobia’.
It was written by Ben Andoni in Tirana:
“Could I tell my mother that I am gay? She is nearly eighty-years-old now. I would never want to cause her such trauma at this stage in her life. My father – when he was alive – asked me, but I could not admit it to him either,” recalls the man in his forties, too afraid to give his name, too self-conscious, constantly looking over his shoulder. (image right: “I’m gay and can be anyone; son, brother, father, grandson, friend, your colleague; I can view them”)
Getting in touch with Gjerji, as he wants to be called, was not an easy task. A form of underground credibility must be established through a network of intermediaries. Repeated cases in the past have taught the homosexual community that, in a traditional society like Albania, going public with their sexual orientation means losing their jobs, risking threats and possible rejection by their families.
“From what we know, the data that we have, there is a community of nearly 3,500 in Tirana alone,” says Genci Terpo, a lawyer with the Albanian Human Rights Group, AHRG.
Though the Albanian Parliament legalized homosexual relationships in 1995, more than a decade later, gays and lesbians are still heavily stigmatized, and a majority of them are choosing to leave, amidst fears that if their sexual orientation is discovered, their safety will be endangered.
[In February 2010, the Parliament of Albania unanimously approved an all inclusive anti-discrimination law which bans discrimination in on the grounds of various characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender identity… “But attitudes toward homosexuality have not changed much, and they have to protect themselves.”]
Terpo continued, “It’s not that now, in 2007 [or 2012], there is any real difference to what we have seen before. They continue to be subjected to discrimination in all walks of life, and that includes state institutions,” he adds.
In the past the majority of homosexuals leaving the country tended to pass through the illegal smuggling routes that were such a familiar feature of the Balkans during the 1990s. Now a growing number is turning to human rights organizations, like AHRG.
“Our biggest problem is identifying ourselves and the possibility of having a shared space where we can meet without fear. There are gay and lesbian clubs all over the world, even in Arab countries which are historically more traditional than ours, and yet here we live in fear” says S.L., a member of the Albanian Gay and Lesbian Association, ALGA.
S.L. says he has good reason for such fear. “We were sitting in a park when two police vans pulled over. The officers got out of the van and dragged us away. One of the drivers came over to me and kicked me repeatedly, his boot hitting my stomach. When I begged him to stop, he just shouted ‘Shut up you faggot’, and continued kicking me”, adds S.L., recalling the incident.
ALGA and AHGR have been trying to bring to the public’s attention the treatment of homosexuals in Albania. In addition to its publicity work, AHGR also provides legal representation, free of charge, for ALGA members in case of arrest or mistreatment.
The first case registered by ALGA was in 2002, when one of its members was granted asylum in the Netherlands through the assistance of AHRG, after being subjected to repeated psychological and physical violence from police officers.
Human rights reports on Albania concede that ingrained attitudes among the public leave Albanian gays and lesbians on the fringes of society. According to AHRG, Albanian homosexuals face “intolerance, physical and psychological violence – often from the police – and discrimination in the workplace.”
(end of Gays Without Borders report 2007)
Personal Responses to this Report
(1) A young lesbian posted this lament: “I’m 16 years old and gay. It’s difficult to be openly gay in Albania, in Tirana it’s a paradise being gay compared to the other cities of the country. This closeness makes me feel bad and lonely and I’ve just come out to my family but I want to be open about my sexuality even with other people.”
(2) A emigre from Albania wrote this: “I come from Tirana and I have left my home country 7 years a go since I was 15 years of age. The local community police officers do not support LGBT any any way nor in court. Instead they beat them up and if they are out the will not be able to work, nor have friends nor be able to go to the shop without being through a stone or called and pushed aside.
“When I was 15 one of the guys who I can not name found out that I was gay and he tried to raped me twice with another guy. I do not know why but I have been very lucky to get out of Tirana. If my family know that I am gay first my brothers would try and kill me and I know I will no longer have a family . I would loose my beautiful sisters and my mum due to my brothers. I get so tired and I feel so hopeless that there absolutely nothing to support us.”
(3) A respondent from Kosovo said this: “This reality in Albania really upsets me. I have a number of gay friends, and each time I visit my country Kosovo, all of my friends think it is strange to associate with gays and lesbians. My fiancee, he is also Albanian, and after a year I have convinced him that no one can choose who they love. In my opinion, as an Albanian, I think the only way these countries can even move forward is by accepting the new world, modernity, and others, otherwise we will be stuck behind. I also blame the old generations for not accepting their own children, whereas the new continues the pattern with maybe a small percentage that can really be considered a group of individuals who embrace modernity and inter link it with tradition. I hope it all changes one day.”
(1) Pink Embassy
LGBT PRO Albania Believes that:
All human beings are born equal in dignity and rights. LGBT Community rights are human rights. Each individual, regardless sexual orientation or gender identity must be equal in chances and opportunities to guarantee the quality of life. These chances must be the same with the chances the society offers to any of its members. Homophobia may be fought and won through informative work and positive examples.
Pink Embassy aims to strengthen the position of gay community living there. Actually, this organization is focused on two main areas: Advocacy and lobbying to ensure respect for the rights of the LGBT community through information and education campaigns, monitoring violations of human rights of members of the LGBT and the reaction against anyone who violates or endangers those rights, impact on government and policy-making to build effective mechanisms in favor of the LGBT community.
They seek to create favorable conditions to facilitate visibility and mobilize the LGBT community through organizing social events, panel discussions, setting up of “mentor” and “peer support” and activities that empower the communities to become spokesman and protector of their rights.
All actions of PINK Embassy seek to improve the attitude and behavior of government and Albanian society towards individuals and LGBT issues, as well as full integration of the community in social, economic, political and social situation in Albania.
Legal action: In December 2010, the Deputy Commission for Labour, Social Affairs and Health, Tritan Shehu, declared that “homosexuality should be treated by medical staff as hormonal disorder, as well as psychological”. The LGBT organizations filed a collective complaint with the Commissioner for Protection from Discrimination. The Commissioner reviewed the declarations and, after a lengthy delay, on 30 September 2011 reprimanded Mr. Shehu in a letter to Parliament: “Mr. Shehu should avoid discriminatory remarks in the future, which cause an atmosphere of tension and unfriendliness towards the LGBT [Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender] community in Albania.”
The Commissioner further recommended that Parliament should grant “all guaranties so that the thoughts, opinions and remarks of the LGBT community are heard, evaluated and taken into consideration, when they are directly involved on specific topics, in order to help the community to enjoy fully its rights and freedoms.”
(2) Alliance Against Discrimination of LGBT (Aleanca kunder diskriminimit te personave lgbt; founded May 2009)
Gay-Straight Alliance Against Discrimination
Gay-Straight Alliance Against Discrimination is an Albanian non-governmental organization that envisions a free, open and equal Albanian society that embraces diversity and is inclusive of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. To achieve this vision, Aleanca strives to support and empower a visible and inclusive lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community while increasing public understanding, education, and awareness of issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Aleanca began in April of 2009 when a group of activists started a Facebook group.In less than a month, the Facebook group had over 500 members, almost all of whom were Albanian. These online group participants are people who are living both inside and outside Albania, are gay and straight, many of whom may never come to a formal meeting of the organization, but all of whom support the idea of an Albania where all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, can live freely.
Even before becoming registered as a legal non-governmental organization, the volunteer activists of Aleanca began working on programs and activities. Aleanca’s first collaborative events were the activities surrounding the International Day Against Homophobia 2009. In cooperation with the Dutch Embassy, the American Embassy, the Albanian Human Rights Group, the Albanian Helsinki Committee, and the Children’s Rights Center of Albania, Aleanca helped organize a panel discussion with the American Ambassador at Tirana University, co-sponsored the distribution of 30,000 free postcards in three Albanian cities (Tirana, Vlore, and Shkodra), did (anonymous) radio and newspaper interviews, and designed and displayed 150 posters in the central area of Tirana.
Aleanca was registered as an Albanian non-governmental organization in November, 2009. Aleanca’s ongoing programs revolve around a three-pronged approach of building and empowering community, public education and advocacy, and creating visibility for lesbian,gay, bisexual, and transgender issues.
Activities of Aleanca have included regular lectures on sexual orientation and gender identity in university classrooms and at human rights events; frequent and well-attended social events designed to build community; public education and visibility activities; and discussion groups where community members can discuss issues related to being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender in Albania.
Given the importance of media in shaping public opinion and perception, Aleanca has participated in a variety of print, radio and television interviews and discussions, while also recognizing the need for individual Albanians who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender to decide their personal level of comfort with disclosing their identities. Aleanca also regularly engages in political conversation surrounding issues of sexual orientation and gender identity in Albania through press releases on timely issues. Aleanca has been covered in both the national and international media.
Also see this You Tube video about homophobia in Albania.
Some Albanian Gay History
Albanian pederasty was a custom reported by Western travelers in the 19th century. Among these was Johann Georg von Hahn, also known as ‘the father of Albanian studies’. According to these reports it was common and socially accepted for young men between sixteen and twenty-four to court boys from about twelve to fifteen.
In the literature, the lover, or erastes, is called ashik (after the Arabic ishq, “passionate love”) and the beloved, or eromenos, dyllber (after the Turkish dilber, “beautiful”). A grown man usually married at the age of twenty four or twenty five, and then mostly, but not always, gave up boy-love. The practice was curtailed by the imposition of communism in 1944.
While most prevalent among the Muslims, pederastic relationships were reportedly also found among the Christians, and there was even a special ceremony performed by a priest in church to celebrate them, called ‘vellameria’ (from the Albanian vella, “brother” and marr, “to accept”), analogous to the Greek adelphopoiia (“brother making”). Jealousy was a frequent phenomenon, and sometimes men would even commit murder because of a boy.
According to Naecke, “The Skipetars (North Albanians) entertain for handsome youths a quite enthusiastic love. Their passion and jealousy is so strong that even to-day sometimes a case of suicide on that account will occur. . . . Further, it is quite true that the brotherhood unions were blessed by the priests, the two partners sharing the Eucharist immediately after.”
Travelers to the country, among whom the French historian Frederick Francis Guillaume (the Baron de Vaudoncourt) and George Gordon (Lord Byron) also mention Ali Pasha’s interest in this type of love, describing his seraglio of handsome youths, from which he drew not only his lovers but also his most trusted assistants, such as the Greek Athanasi Vaya, who became his right hand man as well as a capable general in his own right.
Pedophilia, a Controversial Tradition
Some observers cast the practice in a negative light. Francis Pouqueville, Napoleon’s consul general in Albania between 1805 and 1815, blames the Albanians for being “no less dissolute in this regard than the other inhabitants of modern Greece, without seeming to have any idea of the enormity of the crime.”
Others presented it as surprisingly positive, especially in light of the cultural values of the educated European audience of the period, for which publication was intended. The following passage is reported by Hahn as the actual language used to him by a Geg Albanian (Geg is one of the two major varieties of Albanian language; the other one is Tosk
“The lover’s feeling for the boy is pure as sunshine. It places the beloved on the same pedestal as a saint. It is the highest and most exalted passion of which the human breast is capable. The sight of a beautiful youth awakens astonishment in the lover, and opens the door of his heart to the delight which the contemplation of this loveliness affords. Love takes possession of him so completely that all his thought and feeling goes out in it.
“If he finds himself in the presence of the beloved, he rests absorbed in gazing on him. Absent, he thinks of nought but him. If the beloved unexpectedly appears, he falls into confusion, changes color, turns alternately pale and red. His heart beats faster and impedes his breathing. He has ears and eyes only for the beloved. He shuns touching him with the hand, kisses him only on the forehead, sings his praise in verse, a woman’s never.
“Lord Byron, who in the course of his travels encountered this aspect of Albanian culture, may have been influenced by it when he included several stanzas alluding to pederastic love in his narrative poem, ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’. Upon publication, however, the relevant stanzas were edited out to obscure any pederastic references. The original, an Albanian song found after stanza 72 of Canto II, contained this:
“I ask not the pleasures that riches supply,
My Sabre shall win what the feeble must buy;
Shall win the young minions with long-flowing hair,
And many a maid from her mother shall tear.
I love the fair face of the maid, and the youth,
Their caresses shall lull us, their voices shall soothe;
Let them bring from their chambers their many-toned lyres,
And sing us a song on the fall of their Sires.”
Gay resources for Albania
-Gay-Straight Alliance Against Discrimination: www.gayalbania.org
-Gay Pride Index-Europe: http://www.gayprideindex.org/Europe/Albania.html
-Pink Embassy: http://www.pinkembassy.al/en/lgbt-albania
-Gay Albania Society: http://www.politicalforum.com/russia-eastern-europe/229603-gay-albanian-society-formed-albania.html
-Political Forum.com: http://www.politicalforum.com/russia-eastern-europe/229603-gay-albanian-society-formed-albania.html
-Gay Albania Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Albanian-GAY-Club-Community-Komuniteti-GAY-i-Shqipetareve/96891540406
Albania Gay Boyz: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Albanian-Gay-Boyz/130583270330720
-Gay Albania: http://www.gay.al/index.php/sq/gayzeta/893-visiting-albania
-Gays Without Borders: http://gayswithoutborders.wordpress.com/2007/12/05/homophobia-in-albania/
-Gay Albanians Topix: http://www.topix.com/forum/world/albania/TFNK23LB2CM195PTG/p16
Also see: GlobalGayz Albania News & Reports