by John Hodgson
According to the Tirana newspaper Shekulli, 400 people, mainly young men, took to the streets in the northern town of Lezhë on 11 March, protesting “Lezhë is clean – we have no homosexuals.” This was the second demonstration in the town against “the Klodi case”, after an emotional declaration on television by Klodian Çela, from Lezhë, an inmate of the Big Brother house on the Top Channel reality TV programme, that he is homosexual and calling for understanding from everybody, especially his mother.
The protesters in Lezhë demonstrated in the town’s main square, shouting “Klodi out, out,” and insisted that if he is not removed from the Big Brother house, they will step up their protests and continue them in Tirana. According to Shekulli, the protesters “felt compelled to defend the honour of their town and its long-standing traditions.”
Their slogans included, “Lezhë does not deserve the stain of homosexuality” and “Klodi has tarred the civilized reputation of Lezhë.” One demonstrator was quoted as saying that if a condition for Albania’s entrance to the EU is a law permitting homosexuality, he would rather the country did not join the EU at all.
The Tirana-based Alliance Against LGBT Discrimination has responded with a media statement describing the protests as a “witch hunt”, and finding them “laughable but above all saddening.” The Alliance states that the protesters “would do better to think how they will be educated, how they will find work, and how they will grow up healthy in a society whose backwardness leads to such savagery and discrimination.”
In its statement, the Alliance points out that:
“Many of the young people we have seen on the streets of Lezhë will have lived in fear on the streets of Italy or Greece, marginalised, discriminated, without money or dignity. Unfortunately, many of these young men end up performing sexual services for money and become prostitutes.The Alliance reminds the police of Lezhë that such protests are illegal under the Albanian Constitution and the Law for Protection Against Discrimination, which penalizes behaviour that incites violence and hatred.
When they return to Albania, they try to avoid talking about such things which put them in a tough psychological position.”
The “Klodi case” has stimulated vigorous discussion in the Albanian media. Writing in Korrieri on 15 March, the distinguished writer Fatos Lubonja, a long-term political prisoner under the former communist regime, comments that the protests in Lezhë illustrate “the dismal state of 21st century Albanian society”. According to Lubonja, such protests are a symptom of “a deeply frustrated society”
“These people’s choice of a victim as the target of violence is a symptom of the violence, brutality, and ignorance to which they themselves have been subjected. It has rightly been asked why these young men are not protesting against their crushing poverty, the ecological devastation their region is suffering, and the like. It is precisely because they are not protesting about these things, because they do not know how to do so, that they are protesting against the homosexual Klodi.”Lubonja states that lifting the legal sanctions against homosexuality or approving homosexual marriage are not enough if Albania is to join 21st century Europe.
“This requires investment in education to lift people out of the ignorance and spiritual and cultural wretchedness in which they are steeped.”In the newspaper Panorama, Blendi Kajsiu writes that Albanian culture in the past was much more accepting of homosexuality, and blames Albania’s nationalist version of communism for instilling homophobia into Albanian society.
“Nationalism in itself has historically been a highly masculine or masculinist doctrine. In the case of Albania’s national communism, this is clear from the pictures and statues of socialist realism, which stress raw muscle power in men, and even in women. In this context, homosexuality was conceived as a lack of masculinity, and the feminization of the male, that is the very opposite of the national-communist ideal of socialist realism.”Not all commentators have condemned the protesters. Also in Panorama, Edmond Arizaj states:
“I am heterosexual and I don’t like homosexuals. If they are free to express their preferences. I think I have this freedom too. Or perhaps it’s not yet time for us to talk about the rights of heterosexuals, even conservative ones.”