31 / 5 / 2013

The Unofficial View of Tirana (63)


Mother Albania, Queen Christina, and curator Ulf Petersson!

As I promised yesterday to do a write-up of all the IDAHO events in the past weeks surrounding the International Day Against Homophobia (May 17), I thought this morning that I’d better do it today, now that the memories are still semifresh and I’m not washed away but yet another series of events. Let’s consider our starting position. According to the ILGA Rainbow Europe Map 2012, Albania was on the same level as Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and France (sic!) when it comes to legal protection and equality of the LGBT community, a Balkans average so to say. We opened the first exhibition about the LGBT community “Kukafshehti” in an indy gallery and far away from the center and held the first annual Gay Ride, which was flushed down in pouring rain and smoke bombs and fireworks thrown at thoroughly soaked activists. A member of the government had declared on television that we should be beaten with rubber sticks.

How different was this year! Aleanca LGBT had teamed up with The Unstraight Museum from Sweden to curate an exhibition in the National Historical Museum, at the central Sk√ęnderbeg Square, facing our beloved national hero on his high horse. The exhibition “Art. 1″ consisted of several exhibits provided by different Swedish museum, surrounding the centerpiece with objects and stories from the Albanian LGBT community, as well as prints from the previous “Kukafshehti” exhibition. When first conceived we hardly thought it possible to enter such a state institution with an exhibition on the lives and loves of the community, but in the end we were met with hospitality, a great (though initially hesitant) staff, and we managed to hang three huge banners featuring the Swedish “Queer Queen” Christina smoking a pipe immediately below Mother Albania holding her rifle. The Albanian LGBT community had entered the state! The two-weeks exhibition was accompanied by film screenings of “Parada” and “How To Survive a Plague,” panel discussions on the relation between art, media, and the LGBT community, lesbianism and feminism, and the role of art institutions in representing “minor” histories. An enormous amount of visitors came to see the exhibition and attended the panels.

Moreover the Second Annual Gay Ride, which became basically our Albanian take on the pride events that are held around the world, turned out to be a great success, without smoke bombs, and many participants from the community as well as straight allies. Excuse my jubilant tone, but it is quite something when you’re able to pull off biking around on the main boulevard of Tirana, escorted by the police, with people applauding on the sidewalk and massive (and positive!) media coverage in a Balkan country‚Ķ

The same period was also marked by advances in politics and the legal system. Apart from the meetings with many leading politicians (including PM Sali Berisha and opposition leader Edi Rama), the Albanian parliament unanimously passed one of the most progressive anti-discrimination legislation in the world, proposed by the National Ombudsman, Igli Totozani.
So, what are the “tangible” results of all of this? Well, according to ILGA, Albania has become the second best (legally speaking) LGBT-friendly country in the Balkans after Croatia. Nevertheless the popular lags behind, with the country at the same being¬†the most homophobic in Europe. It should be noted however that the latter study is based on self-reporting and did not include Serbia, Bosnia, or Macedonia — not that that’s an excuse, but just to put it in perspective. Yes, people still scream “pederast” and “bythqir√ę” now and then when I walk on the street, and yes a lot of LGBT youths commit suicide because of the intense homophobia that is still present outside the fashionable center of Tirana. But at least we’re moving!

Ok ok and people did throw smoke bombs at us, but only after the Gay Ride…

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