By John Hodgson
The Tirana newspaper Korrieri on 21 March stated that “explosive debate and discussion has broken out everywhere” in Albania over the “Klodi case.” The furore was sparked off by an emotional declaration on television by Klodian Çela from Lezhë, an inmate of the Big Brother house on the Top Channel reality TV programme, who announced that he is homosexual and called for understanding from everybody, especially his mother.
On 11 March demonstrators on the streets of Lezhë protested, “Lezha is clean – we have no homosexuals” and demanded Klodi’s removal from the Big Brother house.
The case has prompted intense discussion in the national media. Human rights activist Kristi Pinderi, interviewed in Korrieri on 21 March, said:
“Whether we like it or not, an important chapter in the history of human rights in Albania will be linked to Klodi’s name. We don’t understand this right now, because of prejudice and decades and centuries of repression, but we are living through some days, weeks and months and no doubt years in which this history will be written.”Asked why Albania is traditionally “allergic” to homosexuality, Pinderi said that “Albania is less allergic to homosexuality than ill-informed about it. This is because Albania is ill-informed about sexuality in general.” Pinderi goes on to say that “We know perfectly well” that homosexual men and women are present throughout Albanian society, and have achieved distinction in every possible field.
Asked what Klodi has gained and what he has lost by his dramatic coming-out on television, Pinderi replied:
“He has lost nothing. He has gained the right to live in freedom, which is something that the four-million-odd Albanians counted in the last national census have been unable to do. The problem is not now with Klodi, because he has solved his ‘problem’ himself. The question is now whether we four million Albanians will solve this ‘problem’ and the many other ‘problems’ of our identity and integrity. Will all the rest of us be able to become as free as he is?”Korrieri also carried an interview with a 48-year-old gay man from Tirana called Erion, who describes the life of Albanian homosexuals out of the media spotlight. Erion’s experience spans two eras, the communist past and the last 20 years of a democratic society:
"Before the 90s, under the communist regime, it was totally terrifying even to think of yourself saying, ‘I am homosexual’, because this earned not just moral disapproval but punishment under the law. You could be sentenced to seven to ten years. You had to keep it secret."Erion saved himself from the communist prisons, but has not saved himself from secrecy, fear, and the discrimination he still encounters in post-communist Albanian society.
"I would never have thought that 20 years later homosexuals would still be living in secret, still scared. Some are liable even to suicide. In the last year there have been three suicides because people have been outlawed by society and their families. This shows clearly what the situation in Albania is like," he said.So Erion keeps his homosexuality secret. He has to conceal his sexuality from society and from his family, although he does not feel guilty about it. However, one change has arrived for Albanian homosexuals, these ‘blameless sinners’.
"Discrimination against homosexuals in Tirana is neither sophisticated nor secret. It is open in public places and at work, and it is vicious. I have been present when homosexuals have been abused in public places, beaten up in the most bestial fashion. The police not only do not protect homosexuals but beat them up themselves."
The Law Against Discrimination comes into effect this month. The Law has come as an initiative of civil society and has been drawn up with the cooperation of international experts. For Erion, it is a positive step, but not enough to stop discrimination and to change the homophobia of Albanian society.
"The law was approved just to keep in line with our international partners and to fulfil the conditions for EU entry. I don’t think this law will be enforced, because society is aggressive, and not even the authorities themselves feel persuaded of the need to protect the rights of homosexuals.”However, Erion has no intention of moving abroad.
“I want to make a contribution here in Albania, so that real changes for the protection of homosexuals come about, not just legal ones. I hope that if we talk again in a few years time, I won’t be able to believe the things I have told you, because we deserve our place in society.”Meanwhile, despite the protests in Klodi’s home town, television viewers throughout Albania voted on 20 March to keep Klodi in the Big Brother house, to the “deep despair” of one contributor to Korrieri’s online message board.
“Even though they had the chance to remove from the house the self-proclaimed homosexual Klodi, they did not do this… They voted to kick out a fine and healthy young man because he was young and got excited and said he would cut off homosexuals’ heads on a table.”