On Albanian Identity in the 21st Century

Image created for free using the Wordcloud Generator on Monekeylearn.

Happy Independence Day fellow Albanians (and friends).

This is a different kind of post – in the sense that it is not just my opinions. Although to be transparent, it is still based on my interpretations of varying opinions.

Earlier this month, I polled my fellow Instagram friends on what it means “to be Albanian” to them.

The poll was anonymous – of course, and very simple. I asked a few demographic questions; age group, gender identity, and location (diaspora or not). These questions were followed by an open-form question; “What does it mean to you “to be Albanian” to you?”

I kept the poll simple because I did not want to influence people’s answers – but again, to be very transparent, I did have an agenda with this post. I’ll get to that at the end.

I got 22 responses – thank you!! – which varied from very positive to overly negative. The word cloud you see at the beginning of the post was generated from the text that was submitted. As you can see, there were some repeated themes; culture, language and, tradition being three of the most common ones.

So what was my agenda? And why am I posting on identity today, on this most joyous of days?

As always, I like to inspire debate, not malicious debate, but conversation. It is how we make progress after all. But in addition, as an archaeologist, I have been thinking a lot about identity in the past, which has in turn caused me to think a lot about it in the present. “Identity” is notoriously difficult to define, past or present. How do you determine someone’s identity in prehistory? Do you look at their clothing? Or what remains of it – usually pins, buttons, and other inorganic materials. Their burial – flexed, extended created, fancy tomb? The origin of their grave goods – exotic Baltic amber anyone? Now we have aDNA, but does DNA = identity? It’s not all that simple. What if the lines of evidence don’t add up? What if someone is “non-local” based on their DNA signature, but wearing local clothing, buried in a local style? This happens quite often in the record.

Language came up many times as an important marker of identity in my poll. I don’t disagree, it definitely plays a role. But I am writing this post right now in English. Am I “English?” Whatever that may mean. I have Canadian citizenship, am I more Canadian than I am Albanian? If someone asks me what I am, I am more likely to say Albanian than Canadian. I was born in Albania. I speak Albanian.  I eat Albanian food. My culture is Albanian – but my passport is Canadian. Complicated, isn’t it?

Many people who responded to my form commented on this. Other members of the diaspora have faced similar internal conflicts. Not entirely Albanian anymore, but still not entirely “local” to wherever they are. Foreigners in their new country, are sometimes associated with negative connotations. I’m sure you’ve seen the news coverage of Suella Braverman’s discriminatory comments regarding Albanian asylum seekers at the house of commons earlier this month.

“If Labour were in charge they would be allowing all the Albanian criminals to come to this country, they would be allowing all the small boats to come to the UK, they would open our borders and totally undermine the trust of the British people in controlling our sovereignty.”

The ironies in this statement are many. Braverman is the daughter of immigrants herself. And the British, with their colonial empire, fearing strangers arriving on boats and threatening their sovereignty, I’m sorry I can’t help but find this comical. But maybe this is a post for another time. Back to the concept of Albanian identity, righto?

As an anthropologist, I understand the importance of the concept. How it can bring people together and how it can pit them against each other.  Braverman’s comments above provide a good example of how a group’s identity can be villainized. The point I want to make here is that identity, like any other socially created, is agreed upon and contested. Often based on opposition; I am this because I am not that. I am For example; Albanian because I am not Italian. Sometimes (oftentimes) they can value-laden; Albanian immigrants are criminals because they all work for the coke mafic. Right, Suella?

But what is for sure – in my humble opinion – is there is no one way to define identity. And by relation, no one prescribed way to belong to a group, culture, or identity. Ah – there it is, her agenda! She wants us all to be friends, hold hands and sing Xhamadani Via Via.

While that would be fun – no.

I would like for us, especially the younger population, to broaden our understanding of what it means to be Albanian. To challenge it, to expand it. As think as we make our way in our new countries and back home, it is important to realize that we are both similar and different. But these differences shouldn’t pit us against each other (and other people for that matter). My experience as a member of the diaspora is not the same as an Albanian living in Northern Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosove or Albania. It’s not even the same as another member of the diaspora living elsewhere, in Germany for example.  And this came out in the responses I got from my Instagram friends. However brief, every single person that responded had a different life story – and perspective. They held different identities (genders, citizenship) and came from different age groups. Yet they also all identified as Albanian.

Holding an Albanian identity does not preclude us from holding many others. One is not more or less Albanian because they speak the langue or not, because they are from Albania or not, or because they hold progressive thoughts (gasp) which are not traditionally “Albanian.” A good example of this in our culture is pushback towards queer rights because they go against the traditional Albanian family. But family, my friends, like identity, is what you make it.

As our tiny nation turns 110 years old and we forge our way into democracy and better days (hopefully) it is worthwhile reflecting, I think, on what it means to be Albanian, and broadening up what is traditionally a narrow definition of acceptable Albanian identity and society.

Yes, there are typos.

Peace, love and liberty.

SHQIPE ——————————————————–

Mbi identitetin shqiptar në shekullin e 21.

Gëzuar Ditën e Pavarësisë shqipes (dhe miq tan).

Ky është një lloj tjetër postimi – në kuptimin që nuk janë vetëm opinionet e mia. Edhe pse për të qenë transparent, ajo bazohet ende në interpretimet e mia të opinioneve të ndryshme.

Në fillim të këtij muaji, anketova shokët e mi në Instagram se çfarë do të thotë “të jesh shqiptar” për ta.

Formulari ishte anonim – sigurisht, dhe shumë i thjeshtë. Bëra disa pyetje demografike; grupmosha, identiteti gjinor dhe vendndodhja (diasporë ose jo). Këto pyetje u pasuan nga një pyetje në formë të hapur; “Çfarë do të thotë për ty “të jesh shqiptar”?

Unë e mbajta formularin të thjeshtë sepse nuk doja të ndikoja në përgjigjet e njerëzve – por përsëri, për të qenë shumë transparent, kisha një axhendë me këtë postim. Do të arrij tek kjo në fund.

Kam marrë 22 përgjigje – faleminderit!! – të cilat varionin nga shumë pozitive në tepër negative. Fjala re që shihni në fillim të postimit u krijua nga teksti që u dërgua. Siç mund ta shihni, kishte disa tema të përsëritura; kultura, gjuha dhe tradita janë tre nga më të zakonshmet.

Pra, c’far eshte axhenda ime? Dhe pse po postoj mbi identitetin sot, në këtë ditë më të gëzueshme?

Si gjithmonë, më pëlqen të frymëzoj debat, jo debat keqdashës, por bisedë. Kjo është mënyra se si ne përparojmë në fund të fundit. Por përveç kësaj, si arkeologe, kam menduar shumë për identitetin në të kaluarën, gjë që më ka bërë të mendoj shumë për të në të tashmen. “Identiteti” është jashtëzakonisht i vështirë për t’u përcaktuar, në të kaluarën apo të tashmen. Si e përcaktoni identitetin e dikujt në parahistori? I shikoni veshjet e tyre? Ose çfarë mbetet prej tij – zakonisht kunjat, butonat dhe materialet e tjera inorganike. Varrimi i tyre – varr i përkulur, i zgjeruar i krijuar, i zbukuruar? Origjina e sendeve të tyre të varreve – qelibar ekzotik baltik dikush? Tani kemi  aDNA, por a është aDNA-ja identitet? Nuk është gjithçka kaq e thjeshtë. Po nëse linjat e provave nuk mblidhen? Po sikur dikush të jetë “jo vendas” bazuar në nënshkrimin e ADN-së, por të veshur me veshje lokale, të varrosur në një stil lokal? Kjo ndodh mjaft shpesh në procesverbal.

Gjuha doli shumë herë si një shënues i rëndësishëm identiteti në sondazhin tim. Nuk jam dakord, sigurisht që luan një rol. Por unë po e shkruaj këtë postim tani në anglisht. A jam unë “anglez?” Çfarëdo që të thotë kjo. Unë kam nënshtetësi kanadeze, a jam më shumë kanadez se shqiptar? Nëse dikush më pyet se çfarë jam, kam më shumë gjasa të them shqip sesa kanadez. Unë kam lindur në Shqipëri. Unë flas shqip. Unë ha ushqim shqiptar. Kultura ime është shqiptare – por pasaporta ime është kanadeze. E komplikuar, apo jo?

Shumë njerëz që iu përgjigjën formularit tim e komentuan këtë. Anëtarë të tjerë të diasporës që janë përballur me konflikte të ngjashme të brendshme. Jo më tërësisht shqiptare, por ende jo tërësisht “lokale” kudo që janë. I huaj në vendin e tyre të ri, ndonjëherë i lidhur me konotacione negative. Jam i sigurt që e keni parë mbulimin e lajmeve të komenteve diskriminuese të Suella Braverman në lidhje me azilkërkuesit shqiptarë në shtëpinë e përbashkët në fillim të këtij muaji.

“Nëse laburistët do të ishin në krye, ata do të lejonin të gjithë kriminelët shqiptarë të vinin në këtë vend, do të lejonin të gjitha varkat e vogla të vinin në Britaninë e Madhe, do të hapnin kufijtë tanë dhe do të minonin totalisht besimin e popullit britanik në kontrollin. sovranitetin tonë.”

Ironitë në këtë deklaratë janë të shumta. Braverman është vetë vajza e emigrantëve. Dhe britanikët, me perandorinë e tyre koloniale, duke pasur frikë nga të huajt që vijnë me varka dhe kërcënojnë sovranitetin e tyre, më vjen keq që nuk mund të mos e gjej këtë komike. Por ndoshta ky është një postim për një herë tjetër. Kthehu tek koncepti i identitetit shqiptar, apo jo?

Si antropolog, e kuptoj rëndësinë e konceptit. Si mund t’i bashkojë njerëzit dhe si mund t’i vërë ata kundër njëri-tjetrit. Komentet e Braverman më sipër ofrojnë një shembull të mirë se si identiteti i një grupi mund të keqtrajtohet. Pika që dua të them këtu është se identiteti, si çdo tjetër i krijuar shoqërisht, është dakord dhe kontestohet. Shpesh i bazuar në kundërshtim; Unë jam ky sepse nuk jam ai. Unë jam Për shembull; Shqiptar sepse nuk jam italian. Ndonjëherë (shpesh) ato mund të ngarkohen me vlerë; Emigrantët shqiptarë janë kriminelë sepse të gjithë punojnë për mafien e koksit. A po jo, Suella?

Por ajo që është e sigurt – sipas mendimit tim modest – është se nuk ka asnjë mënyrë për të përcaktuar identitetin. Dhe sipas lidhjes, askush nuk ka përshkruar mënyrën për t’i përkitur një grupi, kulture ose identiteti. Ah – ja ku është, axhenda e saj! Ajo dëshiron që ne të gjithë të jemi miq, të mbajmë duart se bashku edhe të këndojmë Xhamadani Via Via.

Ndërsa kjo do të ishte shume fun – jo.

Do të dëshiroja që ne, veçanërisht popullata e re, të zgjerojmë të kuptuarit tonë se çfarë do të thotë të jesh shqiptar. Për ta sfiduar, për ta zgjeruar. Ndërsa mendojmë ndërsa bëjmë rrugën tonë në vendet tona të reja dhe në shtëpi, është e rëndësishme të kuptojmë se jemi të dy të ngjashëm dhe të ndryshëm. Por këto dallime nuk duhet të na vënë përballë njëri-tjetrit (dhe njerëzit e tjerë për këtë çështje). Përvoja ime si pjesëtar i diasporës nuk është e njëjtë me një shqiptar që jeton në Maqedoninë e Veriut, Mal të Zi, Kosovë apo Shqipëri. Nuk është as e njëjtë me një tjetër anëtar të diasporës që jeton diku tjetër, për shembull në Gjermani. Dhe kjo doli në përgjigjet që mora nga miqtë e mi në Instagram. Sado i shkurtër, çdo person i vetëm që u përgjigj kishte një histori të ndryshme jete – dhe perspektivë. Ata mbanin identitete të ndryshme (gjini, shtetësi) dhe vinin nga grupmosha të ndryshme. Megjithatë, të gjithë u identifikuan si shqiptarë.

Mbajtja e një identiteti shqiptar nuk na pengon të mbajmë shumë të tjerë. Askush nuk është pak a shumë shqiptar sepse flasin ose jo gjuhën, sepse janë nga Shqipëria ose jo, ose sepse mbajnë mendime përparimtare (gasp!) që tradicionalisht nuk janë “shqiptare”. Një shembull i mirë i kësaj në kulturën tonë është shtytja ndaj të drejtave queer sepse ato shkojnë kundër familjes tradicionale shqiptare. Por familja, miqtë e mi, si identiteti, është ajo që ju krijoni.

Po, e di qe ka gabime shtypi.

Paqe, dashuri dhe liri.

 

a page out of the diary of an Albanian archaeologist

I’m back, sort of.

I have not been that great with keeping my blog up. But this time – it has been intentional.

I needed to unplug, so I did. I spent time off my social media apps, cleaned out my accounts and spent time in the present, with those around me. And it was – is – amazing.

Another school year has started (grade 23 and counting bb), and as usual I find myself reflecting on where I am, where I was and where I want to be. So I thought it would be good to write those thoughts out and share them, just in case they may be useful to someone else.

For the first time in my graduate school degree, I feel at peace, super content, and dare I say, happy?

So, what brought me here?

Well, I hit rock bottom first. When I started grad school, back in my masters’ days at Mississippi State, I was naïve and misinformed. This led me to push myself too hard, to confuse my values and pursue foolish goals. I was convinced that the only thing that mattered was academic excellence – yes I drank the Kool-Aid. That I could only “make my mark” if I worked super hard. That I didn’t have time for family, friends, or hobbies. That these things were superfluous. I want to laugh and cry at the same time when I think back to how wrong I was. Five years of this mentality later, and I was stressed, depressed, anxious and burnt out. I came close to quitting, the program, academia, life.  

And then I had a wake-up call. I’m not going to go into the specifics – it doesn’t matter for the purpose of this blog. The point is life shook me to my core and made me question what the fuck I was doing. I  realized that what I had considered to be important and integral to who I was were actually not. That they didn’t make me happy and that my core values, those that made me, me (and happy) were drastically different.  I found that I am actually quite a simple person, that I don’t need the lights and glamor of academia, and in fact, academia as it was presented to me is really smoke and mirrors. An elitist institution built by centuries old systems of oppression, on the backs and labor of the unnamed and underpaid.

So I started therapy and got tested for anxiety, depression and learning disabilities. It turned out that I had depression, anxiety and ADHD, killer combo amirght? I started meds and unplugged. I started to spend more time in the present doing things that mattered to me. And to my surprise, I started enjoying things again, even my research. Life started to feel fulfilling again.

I’m not trying to sell Prozac and therapy to ya’ll. Taking care of yourself looks differently for everyone. But what I do want you to consider is to stop and think about what is causing your unhappiness, stress and anxiety. And then consider what your values are and what you’re doing with your time. Are you spending your time doing things that make you unhappy? In doing this, are you working towards living your values?

If not, then something has to give.

I remember in the thick of my depression I viewed everything that wasn’t “work” as a waste of time, including sleep and cooking food for myself. Making myself food —subsistence—  was a waste of time. I would forget to eat, push off eating and then get so hungry that I would be lightheaded. And then I would wonder why I couldn’t think and why my brain was foggy all the time.

I would set unrealistic deadlines and goals for myself and become defeated when I didn’t meet them. To make up for failures, I limited my free time. I would allow myself only so much social time, for example, an hour to have coffee with a friend or to work out. And if I went over that allotted time that I thought was appropriate I would get uncomfortable and anxious.

I am also not here to just rain on academia. Fucked up as I think it is, clearly I haven’t left and I intend to finish my PhD. And who knows, maybe I will even apply for an academic job one day (if any university will ever take me that is— hi future potential employer googling me for a job search, I’ll be great at the job, promise). I do believe that our chances of making things better around us begins by  working on being better on the inside. And maybe I am being overly optimistic now, I am medicated after all. But seeing the rising leading figures in our field, I am hopeful things will change in time. People who lead by example, who care about real community collaboration, ethical practices, and doing archaeology  (and anthropology) with a purpose.

But coming back to the present, what the past two years have taught me is that I am more than my job. Archaeology, as much as I love it, does not define me. And my capacity to do good for my field is limited by my ability to take care of myself. I am no good to anyone if I don’t get out of bed.

So dear friends, I will leave you with this. You are not your job. You are so much more. Love what you do, but love yourself more. Spend time doing things that make you happy. Work, of course, but make time for rest and joy as well. Take care of yourself, you only have one body. Take care of those around you, they need you and you need them. There will always be more work to do, work will be there. Time won’t.

Love, peace and prosperity.

Yes, yes, there are typos.

EDIT

After a quick re-read there is a small clarification I want to add. This post is obviously an oversimplification. I don’t mean to make it seem that my life now perfect, that I never have anxiety, stress or bad days. Quite the opposite actually, I do. And often. But I am just a lot better at dealing with things now. I make more conscious choices based on my priorities.

So, in conclusion, no one has it figured it out, definitely not me. But sometimes all it takes is a little shift in perspective, a re-evaluation of what is important to you, a paradigm shift if you will, to see a new way of doing things that makes you happier.

You don’t own me – The deeply rooted misogyny in Albanian culture

Trigger warning – this article talks about abuse, and femicide and has some strong language.

I am a little lost for words to be honest. And if you know me at all, this is surprising because I always have an opinion…on everything. But this time, I am a little bit stunned? Or dazed? Or dumbfounded Maybe those aren’t the right words. Who knows, maybe it’s the meds. Or the COVID I had last month. Maybe it’s everything in combination.

But primarily, I think the reason for this is that what I am writing about today has hit a little too close to home.

Or, my hometown, to be exact.

I’ve been working up in Shkodra for the past month and have not kept up with the news. About a week or so I heard about a traumatizing event that had been recorded and shared in my hometown of Librazhd from a colleague.

The video exposes, and I mean literally exposes, a young woman, who had been caught cheating on her husband by her in-laws. In the video, her nude body is exposed, and several male family members are called by the in-laws into the bedroom to “bear witness.” The young woman is physically and verbally assaulted by her in-laws who throw objects at her and call her degrading names.

So, where to begin…

I have heard many people; women as well as men, say that it was her fault for being a “whore.”

This stings beyond words. Albanian culture is patriarchal, this is not a surprise, but what is disappointing, no, disheartening, is when misogyny rears its ugly head in our women. I know that internalized misogyny complicated thing and that this hatred of women in women comes from being oppressed for so long. I get it, but we are on the same team for fucks sake. Liberation for women, all women, black, indigenous, trans, LGBTQIA+ women, and gasp, even liberation for that with “loose morals” means liberation for all.

But the bottom line, for me at least, is that I don’t fucking care if she is in the wrong. I don’t care if she is immoral. Frankly, it is not for me or you, or your neighbor’s cat to judge what is and isn’t moral. But since we are going to go there, in my humble opinion, filming someone in the nude, without their consent, verbally and physically abusing them IS immoral.

One of my biggest annoyances in our culture is this obsession with morality we have, a one-sided obsession might I add because when men cheat it’s all very high hush and we look the other way. But if a woman cheats, or god forbid has a relationship that doesn’t end in marriage, she is ruined forever.

I have also heard the argument that things are not “that bad” for women in Albania and more. And that it is all in my or our ( by our I mean us crazy feminists) head(s).

This makes my blood boil, especially when it comes from young men. Very few things annoy me more than a man mansplaining the safety of Albanian women, to an Albanian woman……Like when was the last time you were scared to go home because it was dark shoku? Or worried that you might get harassed on the bus because of your outfit? Or got catcalled for crossing the street, covered head to ow might I add? Or unsafe because you didn’t give someone your number when they hit on you at the café or bar. In 2022, worldwide, and especially in Albania, women still can’t do “normal activities” like go to the fucking grocery store without worrying about being harassed or being harassed.

Just the other day when I was driving outside Librazhd, a little boy, no more than 10, yelled at me:

“Why don’t you start smoking too while you’re at it”

I kid you not.

Maybe I will kid, maybe I will. But that is beside the point.

We have a problem in our society, my fellow Shqiptres, we have a hatred of women that is rooted deep within our core and taught to our children from the moment they are born.

From a young age, we tell our girls to be quiet, to be polite. To not be seen or heard. To Be good, to not rock the boat. We call her a stranger in her parent’s home, raised to go serve another family.

We send her to live with her in-laws, a slave in her new home, and to bear sons for her husband.

If her husband has a temper, it’s her fault. She should know how to calm him, or maybe she shouldn’t be that stupid in the first place and learn to be a better wife.

If her husband beats her, well, he’s her husband, he can do that. It’s his job to discipline her.

If her husband cheats on her, well, men will be men. She needs to turn the other cheek and keep the family together. It would be shameful for her to tear her family apart for a little mistake. Shameful for her.

We raise our boys to be manly men, to show no emotion, and to be waited upon. By their mothers, by their sisters, and by their wives. His wife is his property. She cooks, she cleans, she provides for children, and above all, she obeys. And if she fails in these tasks, aka. dishonors her husband, historically, according to the Kanun, a man has the right to kill his wife. In fact, as part of the dowry, the father of the bride can also give a bullet to the husband. In other words, the right to end her life if he sees fit. If a husband does kill his wife for dishonor, then her family cannot take revenge.

This primeval sense of “morality” that we cling to is shameful.

The way we treat and value women, like property, in our society, is shameful.

I know many of you will say that what I am saying here is an oversimplification and I am missing a lot of nuances. I am aware. But the point here is not to explore the nuance but to address the issue. An issue that is costing our women their lives. The reality is that this misogynistic mentality still exists in our country, and what happened in Librazhd this month is not an isolated incident. Femicide in Albania is an ever-growing problem. In 2021, 20 women were killed by patriarchal violence in Albania. [1]And things are not looking good for 2022.

Misogyny (among other things) has reigned unchecked in our culture for far too long. And it needs to change. We need to educate our children, support our women and find ways to make meaningful change at the local level in our communities. Above all, we need to learn that we do not, and cannot own our women. They are people, not objects, for fucks sake.

I don’t have answers, but I am so tired of this bullshit.

So consider this a plea.

We have to be better my fellow Albanians.

Peace, love, and equity.

And yes, I know there are typos. Forgive my small woman mind.

_________________

Shqipe

Ti nuk më zotëron mua – Mizogjinia e rrënjosur thellë në kulturën shqiptare

Paralajmërim për shkaktimin – ky artikull flet për abuzimin dhe femicidin

Jam pak e humbur për fjalë të jem e sinqertë. Dhe nëse më njihni, kjo është për t’u habitur sepse gjithmonë kam një mendim…për gjithçka. Por këtë herë, jam pak e habitur? Apo e trullosur? Ndoshta këto nuk janë fjalët e duhura. Kush e di, ndoshta janë ilaçet. Ose COVID që pata muajin e kaluar. Ndoshta është gjithçka në kombinim. Por në radhë të parë, mendoj se arsyeja për këtë është se ajo për të cilën po shkruaj sot ka rënë paksa shumë afër shtëpisë. Ose, vendlindja ime, për të qenë të saktë.

Unë kame qene duke punuar në Shkodër për muajin e fundit dhe nuk jam mbajtur me lajmet. Rreth një javë kam dëgjuar për një ngjarje traumatizuese që ishte regjistruar dhe treguar në qytetin tim të lindjes në Librazhd nga një koleg.

Videoja ekspozon, dhe dua të them fjalë për fjalë ekspozon, një grua të re, e cila ishte kapur duke tradhtuar burrin e saj nga vjehërrit. Në video, trupi i saj nudo ekspozohet dhe disa anëtarë meshkuj të familjes thirren nga vjehrri në dhomën e gjumit për të “dëshmuar”. E reja është sulmuar fizikisht dhe verbalisht nga vjehërrit e saj të cilët i hedhin sende dhe i thërrasin me emra poshtërues. Pra, ku të fillojme… Kam dëgjuar shumë njerëz; gratë dhe burrat, thonë se ishte faji i saj për të qenë një “kurvë”.

Kjo thumbon përtej fjalëve. Kultura shqiptare është patriarkale, kjo nuk është çudi, por ajo që është zhgënjyese, jo, dëshpëruese është kur mizogjinia ngre kokën e saj të shëmtuar te femrat tona. E di që mizogjinia e brendshme e ka ndërlikuar dhe se kjo urrejtje ndaj grave tek gratë vjen nga shtypja për kaq shumë kohë. E kuptoj, por ne jemi në të njëjtin ekip për hir të dreqit. Çlirimi për gratë, të gjitha gratë, të zeza, indigjene, trans, gratë LGBTQI+ dhe gulçim, madje çlirimi për atë me “moral të lirshëm” do të thotë çlirim për të gjithë.

Një nga bezdisjet e mia më të mëdha në kulturën tonë është ky obsesion me moralin që kemi, mund të shtoj një obsesion të njëanshëm, sepse kur burrat mashtrojnë, gjithçka është shumë e lartë dhe ne shikojmë nga ana tjetër. Por nëse një grua tradhton, ose Zoti na ruajt ka një marrëdhënie që nuk përfundon në martesë, ajo shkatërrohet përgjithmonë. Kam dëgjuar edhe argumentin se gjërat nuk janë “aq keq” për gratë në Shqipëri dhe jo vetëm. Dhe se kjo është e gjitha në kokën(at) time ose tonën (me fjalët tona neve feministet e çmendura).

Kjo më bën të zihet gjaku, sidomos kur vjen nga të rinjtë. Shume pak gjera me bezdisin me shume se nje mashkull qe shpjegonje sigurine e femrave shqiptare…Kur ishte hera e fundit qe keni pasur frike te shkoni ne shtepi sepse ishte erresire shoku? Apo jeni të shqetësuar se mund të ngacmoheni në autobus për shkak të veshjes suaj? Në vitin 2022, në botë, dhe veçanërisht në Shqipëri, gratë ende nuk mund të bëjnë “aktivitete normale” si të shkojnë në dyqane pa u shqetësuar se mos ngacmohen apo ngacmohen. Pikërisht një ditë më parë kur kisha dale me makine jashtë Librazhdit, një djalë i vogël, jo më shumë se 10 vjeç, më bërtiti: “Pse nuk filloni të pini duhan” Ne kemi një problem në shoqërinë tonë, bashkëqytetarët e mi shqiptarë, kemi një urrejtje ndaj grave, e cila është e rrënjosur thellë në thelbin tonë dhe u mësohet fëmijëve tanë që nga momenti i lindjes.

Që në moshë të re, ne u themi vajzave tona të jenë të qeta, të jenë të sjellshme. Për të mos u parë apo dëgjuar. Të jene te mira, të mos tundin varkën. Ne e quajmë atë një të huaj në shtëpinë e prindërve të saj, e rritur për t’i shërbyer një familjeje tjetër. Ne e dërgojmë të jetojë me vjehrrit e saj, skllave në shtëpinë e saj të re dhe të lindë djem për burrin e saj.

Nëse burri e saj ka një temperament, është faji e saj. Ajo duhet të dijë si ta qetësojë atë, ose ndoshta ajo nuk duhet të jetë aq budallaqe në radhë të parë dhe të mësojë të jetë një grua më e mirë. Nëse burri e saj e rreh atë, ai është burri i saj, ai mund ta bëjë këtë. Është detyra e tij ta disiplinojë atë. Nëse burri e saj e tradhton atë, mirë, burrat do të jenë burra. Ajo duhet të kthejë faqen tjetër dhe të mbajë familjen të bashkuar.

Do të ishte e turpshme që ajo të copëtonte familjen e saj për një gabim të vogël. E turpshme për të. Ne i rrisim djemtë tanë të jenë burra burrërorë, të mos shfaqin asnjë emocion dhe të presin. Nga nënat e tyre, nga motrat dhe nga gratë e tyre. Gruaja e tij është pronë e tij. Ajo gatuan, pastron, siguron për fëmijët dhe mbi të gjitha bindet. Dhe nëse ajo dështon në këto detyra, aka. çnderon burrin e saj, historikisht, sipas Kanunit, burri ka të drejtë të vrasë gruan e tij. Në fakt, si pjesë e pajës, babai i nuses mund t’i japë edhe një plumb burrit. Me fjalë të tjera, e drejta për t’i dhënë fund jetës së saj nëse ai e sheh të arsyeshme. Nëse një burrë vret gruan e tij për çnderim, atëherë familja e saj nuk mund të hakmerret.

Kjo ndjenjë primare e “moralit” të cilës ne i përmbahemi është e turpshme. Mënyra se si ne i trajtojmë dhe vlerësojmë gratë, si pronën, në shoqërinë tonë, është e turpshme. E di që shumë prej jush do të thonë se kjo që po them këtu është një thjeshtim i tepërt dhe më mungojnë shumë nuanca. Unë jam i vetëdijshëm. Por çështja këtu nuk është të eksplorojmë nuancat, por të trajtojmë çështjen. Një çështje që po i kushton jetën grave tona. Realiteti është se ky mentalitet mizogjen ekziston ende në vendin tonë dhe ajo që ndodhi në Librazhd këtë muaj nuk është një incident i izoluar. Femicidet në Shqipëri janë një problem gjithnjë në rritje. Në vitin 2021, 20 gra u vranë nga dhuna patriarkale në Shqipëri. Dhe gjërat nuk po duken mirë për vitin 2022.

Mizogjinia (ndër të tjera) ka mbretëruar e pakontrolluar në kulturën tonë për një kohë të gjatë. Dhe duhet të ndryshojë. Ne duhet të edukojmë fëmijët tanë, të mbështesim gratë tona dhe të gjejmë mënyra për të bërë ndryshime domethënëse në nivel lokal në komunitetet tona. Nuk kam përgjigje, por jam lodhur shumë nga këto budallallëqe. Pra, konsiderojeni këtë një lutje. Ne duhet të jemi më të mirë shqiptarët e mi.

Paqe, dashuri dhe barazi. Dhe po, e di që ka gabime shtypi. Faleni mendjen time të vogël, se grua jam.

“Professionalism” in academia.

Hi, it’s been a while.

I have been on a bit of a social media hiatus – nothing super drastic of course… I  still need a dose of memes every now and then.

But for the sake of my mental health, I have decided to unplug a little. It’s been really good for me actually.

However, something was brought to my attention that I couldn’t let be, especially given where I am personally on my journey to cultivating a better mental health space for myself.

A Twitter acquaintance (@timgill – who if you don’t follow on Twitter already.. you really should.. enough said) tagged me and a few other Albanian academics in an article by Balkan Insight relating to a new viral TicTok challenge called the #ProfaChallenge. The trend is in response to the unwarranted negative feedback that teacher, Lulzim Paci, from the town of Vushtrri, received on social media after he posted several videos of himself dancing valle (a traditional Albanian folk dance).

The criticism ranged from family members to politicians, who called the clips “improper and degenerate acts.”

The criticism sparked Valon Canhasi, the founder of a social media agency based in Prishtina, to make a video reply, where he posted a clip of himself dancing valle. Since the first post by Valon, several Albanians have participated in the challenge, from teachers to politicians to famous actresses and singers.

I am not famous nor am I officially a “professor/teacher.” I am just your regular, friendly, neighborhood Albanian archaeologist. But this story broke my heart a little, maybe because it hit so close to home for issues that I have been trying to deal with myself.

I don’t want this to be a sob story about myself…I am working on my issues; seeing a therapist and taking my meds. Something I highly recommend to everyone but especially my fellow Albanians who are struggling with mental health issues. Taboo as the subject is for us.

My mental health has degraded because of the perceived notions of what is considered “professional” and “successful” in academia. During my first years in school, way back in the days of undergrad, I worked non-stop, barely had a social life, sacrificed my mental, physical and emotional health, sacrificed relationships with those who were close to me, all for the glory of being a successful and “professional” academic. Was it worth it…Um, NO. My anxiety got so bad while trying to finish my master’s at Mississippi State that I started becoming physically ill – I lost 20 pounds in a month.

Still, I never blamed the system or my perceived notion of what it meant to be a successful, professional academic, but myself. I was not working hard enough, I was not smart, well-spoken, dedicated enough. And if I wanted to succeed, I had to cut out all unnecessary silly distractions, like hobbies and naps. Terrible, right? I know better now. Naps are supreme, and I won’t listen to anyone that says otherwise.

What do you think of when you see these two words; Professional academic?

An old British guy with white hair, wearing a tweed suit and thick tortoiseshell glasses? Maybe he has a large mahogany bookcase behind him?

Maybe you see a serious-looking middle-aged white woman, with medium-length straight hair, speckled with some grey. She’s got glasses, of course, maybe cat-eyed, for a little pizazz. She’s wearing a well-ironed button-down shirt with tailored trousers. Deff not wearing heels, though. High heels are not professional, they are for the club. Red lipstick? Also no.

That’s what I imagined when I was younger. These seemingly benign words, “professional academic” are anything but. The images they conjure are the product of very deep, systemic and insidious social phenomena. They are the product of all the “isms” and “ias:” racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, classism, homophobia etc.

I won’t get too deeply into this because there are many more educated and informed people who have explored these phenomena their whole lives. But I will pose a question to you. Ask yourself this, why is the accepted range of behavior for a professional academic (or professional anything, say, a teacher for example) mirror so closely straight, heteronormative, white, male characteristics (largely)?

Why are academics stripped of their humanity? They are serious, they are older, they are aloof, they work hard and are smarter than everyone else. They are diligent, regimented, able-bodied, clear-minded, and sometimes mean, but they are so smart and so much better than the rest of us, so they can be mean. They do not spend time with their families (they don’t have time), have interests outside of academia (as if they would waste their precious time on something as pointless as painting),  be silly or goofy, dress “sexy” (gasp), post bikini pictures (unprofessional), or god forbid, stray away from heteronormative monogamous relationships (double, triple gasp, quelle horror).

I am exaggerating here and being sarcastic (just to be clear). But I hope it gets my point across.

What people do with their time outside of their job is not a reflection of how good or bad they are in their career (obviously, there are exceptions like, for example, running an underground meth lab a la Breaking Bad…We can all agree, this is a no-no). But hobbies, free time, personal lives? Nobody’s business but yours.

As always, you do not have to agree with me. But I hope I made you question some of your assumptions about what it means to be a “professional” anything. So here are some closing thoughts: humans are complex, multi-dimensional creatures. We carry multiple intersecting, identities, which layer and overlap and make each one of us uniquely us. One identity does not cancel out the others we carry. And for the love of god, a profession is not an identity. Or if it is important for you, please know that you are more than your job!

So for my Albanian community, our Albanian identity does not preclude us from carrying others. You can be Albanian… and gay (gasp gasp)!! For my academic friends, being an academic does not mean you cannot be human. You can be a “respectable academic” and have a life outside of academia that is diverse and fulfilling to you. Where you pursue passions, hobbies (such as folk dance) and meaningful, enriching relationships with loved ones.

Lulzim, if you ever come across my strange little blog, keep on dancing. And to everyone who is reading this; be silly, have fun, spend time with your friends and family, doing things you love, read a book, hidhe vallen (dance). Be yourself. You’re allowed.

Although, you don’t need me to tell you so.

Peace, love and valle popullore.

You can read the Balkan insight article here: https://balkaninsight.com/2022/02/01/kosovo-albanians-join-video-campaign-to-support-folk-dancing-teacher/

Yes, I know there are typos.

Reflections on the virtual semester – Fall 2020.

Well, folks, we did it. We survived the COVID virtual semester. I guess.

I hope this post finds you well. I hope it finds you rested and in good company, whether it is family, friends, or your own. I hope you are taking some time off and taking care of yourself.

I meant to be better about posting and such. But, you know, COVID.

I recorded a voice note back in October in lieu of writing because I was tired but I wanted to get some thoughts out. So, I have transcribed it here because as messy as this is, I think there is an important message. So, bear with me and lets’ see where this takes us:

October 21st, 1:00 AM

I’m exhausted and my brain feels like it’s underwater. But I had some thoughts, and I wanted to remember them. I definitely don’t have the capacity to type or look at my computer now so I thought a voice note might be the way to go.

I am tired. I am zoomed out, polled out, emailed out. I literally cannot look at an email without feeling a sense of deep dread in the pit of my stomach anymore.

Actually, when my phone goes off and I see a new email notification my anxiety peaks – I feel a twang in my stomach. I don’t want to open it. Because I just don’t want to have to read all of it. I don’t want to respond to it. And very likely, I will have to read it all and respond, because it’s not a spam email. How I miss the day of spam emails from Sephora or Groupon.

I’ve been thinking more and more about the state of the semester and the state of my mental health, and that of my colleagues, and somethings gotta give. This is not right. And I don’t know what the answer is, but this is not it.

Today the county that my university is in has declared a stay in place order for our undergrads because our COVID numbers are spiking. So, COVID is running rampant in my university, yet we are marching full steam ahead towards finals. This semester has been wild. I don’t think another word describes this semester better than will. Well, I can think of a few but let’s stick with wild. 

It blows my mind how our response to a global pandemic is a semester that is running at lightning speed with an exponentially increased workload for our students, and our GSI’s. And our professors and faculty, and everyone really, but I really feel like the brunt is falling on the students – the undergrads and graduates. And I don’t mean to take away from the faculty and professors who are working so hard, to discount their labor and their time. But honestly, as a GSI and a graduate student, personally, I am one unfortunate event away from a mental breakdown. Or maybe I am there already. I am talking to my phone at 1 AM.

So let’s just kind of, and reflect on the state of things, and look at all the things that are wrong here, shall we?

First, there is the fact that our university is prioritizing money over us, to put it simply it has been made clear many times that our lives, mental health, and well being are not worth more than the all mighty dollar. Great feeling.

So here we are, pretending like everything is ok. Working from our rooms or dorms or wherever we may be. And the ironic thing is that instead of having a slower pace semester as one might assume if you’re going to go through with classes in a global pandemic, we have done the opposite.

As a result, my students are anxious. They are exhausted. They are confused. They are terrified. My students have had COVID! They email me asking for an extension on their assignment because they have COVID. That’s the first thing that pops into their mind when they find out they have COVID.

Like, kid – I am so sorry that this is your train of thought right now. That you have a virus that is killing people. And we have programmed you to worry about your stupid grade so that you email me at 7 pm on a Friday asking for an extension when you should be resting. This is what we have done for our students. And we are doing this to ourselves too because I was just talking to my roommate the other day and honestly both of us were thinking, if we were to get it – get COVID – our first thought in our minds would be “oh my god, how am I going to get through the semester.” That is how we have been programmed by this commercial, consumeristic, capitalistic system. Where we prioritize our classes, our “education” over our health. And that’s really fucked up, to be honest. And I don’t want to blame us really, I blame this system for this, fully.

We have created this system where it’s like a zero-sum game where you either play by the rules or you forfeit. And for many of us, we have invested way too much of our time, energy, and labor into our program to forfeit now. I’ve been in this game for over 8 years now, I can’t quit, I’ve invested pretty much my whole adult life into this – so there is no going back for me. I mean never say never.. but still.

End of transcription.

I did say it would be a mess, but I hope you were able to follow my train of thought, muddled as it was. My point is – this semester was terrible for my mental health, and from my observations, that of my peers and my students. So I don’t think I am over arching when I say this was likely the case for many many others. I am not blind to the fact that it is a privilege to be able to attend school, safely, online from my home. And that many people had to risk their lives daily to go to work to keep the rest of us afloat – I understand that. I merely wanted to reflect on how the academic year progressed and see if there is room for improvement as we move froward – and there is always room for improvement, my friend.

I acknowledge that most universities were laxer in terms of grading and deadlines to accommodate students struggling with COVID or COVID related issues. And I acknowledge that how accommodating individual faculty members are is really up to them, and there is not much the admin can do to ensure that everyone plays by the new COVID rules. I was lucky that my professors were understanding – but I know this was not the case for everyone.

I know that many countries are now rolling out the vaccine but the vaccine is not a miracle cure. It will take time to get enough people vaccinated for us to have some sort of immunity. We still have to be careful about social distancing in the meantime – virtual school may our reality for longer than we want to even think about. And if that is the case, we need to learn from this semester. Because to be very frank, I don’t think I can handle another semester like this.

It is so easy to over book and overextend yourself in a Zoom semester. To agree to another meeting because you don’t really have to go anywhere, anyways. To attend another seminar because its free or because you have a 40 min gap in your schedule. To eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in front of a Zoom lecture. Or to forget to eat all together.

I am not going to sit here holding my breath that all the change needed will come top-down. What I can change however, is how I approach next semester personally. So if you have some advice for setting healthy boundaries and managing virtual learning, please do send them my way! In the meantime, I think the number one thing I will be prioritizing in 2021 is valuing myself and my time more. I was terrible a doing this past semester, and my mental health suffered it greatly.

This does not mean that my approach to 2021 will be avoidance – to check out. I will of course, still put 100 % into everything I do. I will try to be the best student, GSI, colleague, and accomplice I can be. But I will also try to be the best sister, daughter, and friend. And to do any of these things, I need to be a good caretaker of myself – mentally, physically, and emotionally.

So fellow students, as we wrap up 2020 and head into 2021, remember to love yourself more. You will get everything that you need to get done. But remember that to tackle that ever growing to-do list, you need to be ok first.

Peace, love, and positivity.

(And all the sleep.)

Why should Kosova be “on the map?”

If you follow Balkan news, the past few weeks or so have been a bit of roller coaster. There has been a storm brewing, mainly on social media, regarding the Kosova border. Or rather, the lack of a border for the country on certain mapping platforms. An Instagram post, by @balkanism__ went viral after its creators called out Apple for not having Kosova on the map. 

Since maps are sort of my thing – and I work in Kosove (aka. I manually put in a label and solid border for the country in the maps I make, I know #scandalous) I followed the “thread.” It blew up. Major Albanian singers got involved. Dua Lipa, Rita Ora, Gashi. Everyone was talking about Kosova. Now, it’s going on two weeks after the initial wave, Apple has remained silent, despite receiving an open letter from Kosova’s foreign minister.

I am so glad that this conversation is getting the global attention that it is. But there is still so much to be discussed. I wish it was as simple as calling out big companies and them putting Kosova on the map. This would be a start, but if things end there, it would be a band-aid solution. The more I thought about, and talked about the situation, the more it became apparent to me that something key was missing, historical context. Without knowledge of Balkan history, specifically, the recent history that created the Kosovo problem, any impact we would hope to have would be lost. Kosove not “being on the map” is not the problem, it is the symptom of the problem. To fix this, we need to address the problem itself, which is a bit deeper and more complicated. This is not a question of a line on a map. If it was something so simple, Apple would have put Kosove on the map ages ago. This is about what that line represents: independence. Something that Kosove “does not have.”

I’ve talked about the Kosovo problem in previous posts, so writing about it again felt redundant. Why it is even called “the Kosovo” problem is interesting in itself, but maybe another post for another time. To try to fill this need for context, I decided to come up with a sort of introductory resource list, which I could “put somewhere” for people to reference if they were interested. This proved to be more challenging than one would think. First, finding resources that are free and accessible on the internet is difficult. Second, I wanted to check any resources before I suggested them. Therefore, I had to listen to, watch, read every podcast, YouTube video, and book. I looked for a variety of different mediums to sort of find something for everyone. And lastly, no matter how selective and careful you are, someone will find somthing wrong with your selection.

I decided that the best place to “put” these resources would be here. Primarily because this is sort of “my space.” Writing is my preferred medium, and I guess in a way I have grown comfortable in my little blog. Second, I wanted to provide the resources in a sort of annotated bibliography, where I provide context on the author, the topic, and some of my general thoughts regarding the content, author bias, etc. 

In addition to the resource list, have also been working with a very talented friend, @fjoralbeza, to create a very beautiful (all her, btw) post for Instagram, which summarizes the issue of why Kosove should be on the map. Of course, this is a very bare-bones version of a very complex argument and history. But in a way, it is meant to be a primer, for the annotated bibliography, which I hope people will find useful. As always, my goal with my posts is not to tell people what to think. Merely to introduce my perspective, share some helpful resources, and encourage people to do their own research. 

 Without further ado…

A Short, Introductory Annotated Bibliography on the History of Kosova, the Balkans, and Geopolitics

YouTube Videos

  1. The entire history of Kosovo explained by TRT World: This is a really informative and concise 3-minute clip providing a very brief introduction to Kosove and its recent history as a country. I would suggest starting with this YouTube video if you have absolutely no idea where Kosove is located. For three minutes, I think it does a good job of presenting the history of the country in a fairly objective way (if one can say that any historical account is objective).
  2. How did Kosovo become a country? by The Economist: A slightly longer video, at 7 mins. The Economist is a newspaper and I find that newspapers always have some bias. I think this clip is still useful but comes from a very heavily western biased perspective. The role of the US and western “morality” is overemphasized. Listen with a grain of salt.
  3. Eastern Europe Consolidates: Crash Course European History #16 by Crash Course: I really like Crash Course videos so when I saw that there was one that covered Eastern Europe, I had to include it. I like Crash Course for several reasons. I find that John Green does an amazing job of presenting information in a way that is entertaining, informative, and above all, objective. He does not have an agenda and tells it like it is (from my knowledge anyway). I like Crash Course so much, I even use clips in my classes. The topic of this clip is Eastern Europe more broadly, so it does not pertain to Kosove exculsively. But as always, having a broader understating of the Balkans in general I think is very important for understanding what is going on today in Kosove.
  4. The Breakup of Yugoslavia by WonderWhy: I included this clip to pair with the Crash Course video. I wanted to include two videos talking about the same to think just so that I could have two slightly different perspectives. Although in this video, there is more of a focus on Yugoslavia specifically. In a way, we are scaling down form the Crash Course clip, but still staying at a relatively large regional scale of analysis. “Explaining” Yugoslavia no easy feat. But I think WonderWhy does a good job of presenting a “simplified” version of a very complex situation beginning with the creation of Yugoslavia at the beginning of the 21st century. Kosove is only mentioned briefly in the end, but I think it is valuable to have an understanding of what was going on in Yugoslavia at large, including the creation of other Balkan states as they broke away from Yugoslavia in the ’90s.

Podcasts

  1. Balkan Border Wars – Serbia and Kosovo by The Documentary Podcast: I like this podcast for many reasons. First, it talks about the tension in the Preshava Valley (South-Western Serbia), which has only escalated since the interview was conducted a year ago. The podcast presents the points of view of several individuals in the Valley, both ethnic Albanians, and Serbians who reflect on their feelings about a potential land swap between Kosove and Serbia. My favorite aspect is how it also highlights the positive aspects of humanity amidst all of the tension; how a basketball coach tries to create an atmosphere of friendship and tolerance. And how because of it, two young men, one Albanian, and one Serbian, are best friends. The podcast presents the border problem at the closest resolution, at the scale of the people, the individuals who interact with each other every day, which helps remind us that at the end of the day we are talking about people and their rights. When it comes to maps and borders, it is not just line, it is never just some abstract space on a paper.
  2. Kosovo, Serbia and Rising Authoritarianism in The Balkans by Global Dispatches – World News That Matters: This podcast is recent, it was actually published this July and talks about the recent political turmoil that is unfolding in Europe’s youngest nation, amidst a global pandemic, and more importantly, situates this current unrest of the young country in its turbulent and fairly recent history. I think this is a great podcast for many reasons. I think it provides a great good overview of the history of Kosove, but more importantly, it highlights how important history is for not the only understanding current situations, but in creating them. If you want to know what is going on in Kosove this year, this podcast will provide you with a fairly decent run down in just under 30 mins.

Books 

  1. Kosovo: A Short History – Noel Malcolm: If you only ever read one book on Kosove in your life. Let it be this. It is not a short book, and it is not very recent either. But it provides a very detailed and, in my opinion, thoughtful representation of the history of Kosove and specifically the situation “the Kosovo question.” If your Kosove related research ends here (or even at the preface) I think you will be on pretty good footing. I will say that some people critique Malcolm for having an overt bias and “favoring” the Albanian side. I would disagree. It is clear he has an agenda, but do not think it is to “favor the Albanian side,” but more present the case from the Albanian perspective. I would also remind readers that history is often biased towards the “winners” at the expense of others. The dominant narrative in the Balkans for so long was that Kosove belonged to Serbia, so of course any attempt to challenge this narrative will seem like it favors the other side.
  2. The Balkans – Mark Mazower: In a similar vein, if you are going to read just one book about the Balkans, I think Mark Mazower’s, The Balkans, is a pretty solid choice. The reasons for this are plenty, but I will distill it to three. Mazower writes pretty well and the book itself is not too long. It is about 200 pages and 30 of those pages are available on Google Books for free! Yay! Second, the approach Mazower takes is interesting; he talks a lot about the people, the real everyday people, the peasants. I like this focus on the people since it helps situate the nationalist attitudes that grow over time and explain where and how they came to be. You will find that religion is something that comes up time and time again, especially as it pertains to ideas of identity. And last, it was assigned as a core reading by one of my favorite professors for a European history course I took in my undergrad. Since said professor is a specialist in all things Albania and Kosove, I trust his judgment. Of course, any book that deals with a large region or extensive time period is going to miss things, and I personally do not agree with everything Mazower says (bonus points if you can find a particular sentence that just does not sit well with me). But I do think this is a valuable resource for someone who wants to understand the complex entity that is the Balkans, since it focuses on the very fabric that it is made of, its people.
  3. How to Lie with Maps – Mark Monmonier: Everyone needs to read this book. Regardless of your profession, research interests, life choices…This book changed my life. Another staple assigned to me in my undergrad, its lessons are something I carry with me every day. You do not need to be a map maker to benefit fromt his book. In fact, the people that benefit the most are map consumers – you! You are a map consumer whether you know it or not. You see maps every day. We are conditioned to think of maps as these objective things that exist outside of us – this is a lie. In his book, Monmonier shows the many ways maps and data are manipulated. Maps are abstract representations of reality, the maker has to make decisions about how to represent this abstraction. These decisions are affected by several factors such as the goal of the map (intentionally) or personal biases (unintentionally). The book is short, also about 200 pages and 20 are available for you to read online on Google Books.
  4. Geopolitics: A Very Short Introduction – Klaus Dodds: This is the most challenging of the books to read, maybe due to the topic itself. In this short 200 page book, Dodd provides a very short introduction to geopolitics (pun intended). A term I have used a lot lately and realized I didn’t know how to define specifically. But fear not, Dodd addresses this right away! Despite being a bit more difficult, I think this book is also very key. Dodd even devotes quite a bit of space talking to Kosove and the geopolitics that revolve around it. If you struggle with the book or cannot access it, Dodd has given a lecture on geopolitics recently (back in 2019, the pre-COVID days of in person conferances), which is available on YouTube. Like with Monmonier’s book, it does not matter what your life or career path is, everyone needs to know what geopolitics are and the role that they play in our every day lives. In the way we view the world, in phrases we use, in ideas we have, in opinions we hold. 

“Geopolitics are intersectional” – Dodd 2019

I’ve linked the book titles to Google or Goodread reviews, so you can get other people’s thoughts as well. It should go without saying this list is not comprehensive, it is a brief introduction after all. But I think it is a great starting point for anyone curious about Kosove, the Balkans, and the geopolitics of this part of the world. I am aware there are many other resources out there, but I settled on these because I found them to be the most objective, informative and accessable. I am aware that these books are not all readily available online, but they can all be purchased for under $20 each and are often readily avaiable at local libraries.

As always, peace, love, and positivity. 

Some reflections on nationalism

I have been getting so much wonderful feedback over the past few days since I created an Instagram for this blog. As always, in these conversations I discovered something that maybe I need to address or clarify. Something important. Nationalism. I talk about nationalism a lot – but I have not yet defined it. Woops. If you do not know me well, it might be easy to misinterpret my stance based on a quick overview of the topics that I write about. I think it is especially important to sort of “have this conversation” because the next few posts I have planned deal with nationalism, and I do not want them to be misinterpreted.

What is nationalism? A basic definition, straight out of the internet defines nationalism as the “identification with one’s own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations” (Dictionary. com). Being nationalistic is not the same as being patriotic. The key difference here is the last half of the definition: “the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations.” Loving your country does not have to come at the expense of the rights and interests of another. Loving your country does not mean you ignore its patriarchal tendencies, its dark history, its corrupt government. Being critical of your country does not make you any less Albanian, Canadian, American, Serbian etc.  

I write in defense of Albania and Kosova. So I guess I can see how someone who does not know much about the Balkans, who does a quick read of my posts, who does not really know me personally, or who may simply be looking to discredit me, confuse my perspective as a nationalistic one. So let me set the record straight now. I am not an Albanian nationalist. I condemn nationalism on all sides, including the Albanian one. In fact, something that I actively try to combat is nationalism amongst my fellow Albanians, especially among young individuals in the diaspora.

I said a lot in that lost paragraph, and I think it’s important to unpack and address the multiple arguments.

“I write in defense of Albania and Kosova.”

I do this for a number of reasons. The main one being it is a side that is not equally represented in the global discourse. Be it in regards to the prehistory of the area, its more recent history in the wake of nationalism and nation building in the Balkans and in regards to what is happening in these countries to this day. I found that many news articles and the materials that are readily available on the internet, were very biased, written through nationalistic lenses or supportive of nationalistic narratives (knowingly or not). Just look at the news titles, the words people use and the maps they show. None of these are neutral. Even a phrase as simple as “the Kosovo problem” is interesting to unpack. Why is Kosovo the problem? I’ll leave you to ponder that.

The second reason is a personal one, I care that this side of the narrative is represented fairly and equally because I am Albanian and I care about the rights of the Albanian people. But to be fair, I have and always will stand up for the rights of the side that I think is being oppressed. I have not only spoken out about Kosove. If you have read any of my previous posts or listened to my Instagram rants, you will know I have also talked about Palestine, BLM, women’s rights and LGBTQ rights.

“I can see how someone who does not know much about the Balkans, who does a quick read of my posts, who does not really know me personally, or who may simply be looking to discredit me, confuse my perspective as a nationalistic one”

Being Albanian and speaking about Albania and especially Kosova, I can see how someone who wants to twist the narrative, can. If I am an Albanian from Albania, what do I care about the Albanians in Kosove? A lot, they are Albanian, but more importantly, they are people. Peoples whose rights matter. Additionally, I work in Kosove. Studying its prehistory. If I care so much about the people who lived in the in the area in the past, how can I not care about the people that live there today? That would just be unethical.

When I speak up in support of Kosove, it is not because I support some Albanian claim to area. If Kosove and Albania were going to be united, it should have happened in 1912. But seeing as European leaders saw fit to ignore the Albanian claims to autonomy, here we are, with two majority Albanian nations in the 21st C. I do not think that Albania and Kosove should be united. Kosove must remain independent. Fully independent and recognized, not a “contested” province of Serbia, not a part of Albania. Anything else could be potentially catastrophic.

When I talk about the Kosova War or the Cham Massacre, it is not to villainize Serbia or Greece. I love both of these countries; I have friends and colleagues from both countries. I am only trying to explain the geopolitical history of the area and the consequences of unbridled nationalism. As an archaeologist, context is something that is very important to me. We cannot understand what is going on today in the Balkans, or even the Yugoslav, Bosnian and Kosovar wars if we do not have an understanding of the historical context. A historical context that many people do not know, maybe because they have no idea where the Balkans are, or worse, because it is something that is denied. This sort of denial of history is dangerous and will forever be the greatest obstacle we will face in the blanks in regards to moving forward. If we are going to move forwards in the Balkans, the first step is acceptance of the atrocities that we have committed against each other in the past in the name of the nation.

“I condemn all acts of nationalism, on all sides”

I am not blind to the fact that we have a problem with nationalism amongst Albanians as well. Oh, the arguments I have gotten in with friends, family, strangers… Something that I actually try to challenge is nationalism in the diaspora. I am not the first to have an issue with this type of nationalism. Many people my age were either born in the diaspora, or left when they were very young. They have an idealized version of what Albania is in their minds. For many, Albania is this exciting place they go to for summer vacation. Where they have fun for two months. Where they have semi-celebrity status in the village “se jan nga jasht” [they are from outside]. But what many, [myself included once upon a time], is that Albania is not some static fossil that has remained unchanged since we left. Time did not stop when we left. Albania has changed and will continue to change. This is why I try to keep tabs on what is going on, I watch the news, talk to my friends and family about what is going on, follow Albanian activists and NGO’s. Our love for our country should go beyond our summer vacations. I think we should be thinking of ways that we can give back to our country, in a way that is not nationalistic, colonial or rooted in saviorism. I know it seems strange to use the term colonial in this context, but chances are, if you can identify a problem from overseas, there are activists in Albania already working to try to address it on the ground. They don’t need us to come in and save them. Find ways to uplift and support people working on the causes that matter to you. Fighting with internet trolls on the internet and saying hateful and racist things is not going to get anyone anywhere. To my young Albanians in the diaspora, take the time to educate yourself, on our history, on Balkan history, on nationalism and racism. Do not  fight fire with fire, fight ignorance with knowledge.

I hope that by “having this conversation” I can sort of clarify anything that was maybe a little murky. Especially since the next few posts I have planned will continue to deal with nationalism. I want to end with what I hope these posts accomplish. Primarily, I hope that they raise awareness about what is going on the Balkans. Second, I hope that they facilitate discussion. As always, these are my thoughts and you do not have to agree with me. But if you don’t, I hope that you will do your own research and find productive ways to engage in this discourse. I acknowledge that I do not know everything, I am not perfect, I may say things that are wrong, I may leave things out. I may have typos. No, in fact, I can guarantee I will have typos. Spelling is not my thing. I am human. I know I have my biases; I try to account for them.  But I am willing to learn and change my opinion if I am wrong about something. There is no shame in that. And third, I hope these posts foster an atmosphere of tolerance and respect. Above all, I want peace and stability in the Balkans. This will not happen until we as a people come together, acknowledge our past, and look towards a future that is founded in acceptance, tolerance and respect. Our traditions, music, food and history are so closely intertwined; we are so much more simailar than we are different.  And more importantly, regardless of our nationality, religion and political views, we are all human.

Peace, love, and burek.

Cultural Monuments, Archaeology and Nationalism – The Case of Apollonia

I feel like I becoming a bit reactionary – I do have planned content, I swear.

But every time I seem to get back on track, something happens, and I feel a need to address it. So, this too is one of those posts. But finally, I am talking about archaeology.

A dear friend of mine, and one of Albania’s finest archaeologists, if I do say so myself, sent me a post titled “ALBANIANS VANDALIZE ANCIENT GREEK TEMPLE TO TERRORIZE THE GREEK MINORITY.” For lack of a better word – I was triggered. I knew what it would be about before I even started reading.

Other articles, from small news websites, make similar arguments. Granted they are less aggressive..sort of.

The Greek ReporterArchaeology News Network, & Greek Herald.

I want to start by stating the obvious. As an archaeologist, I condemn any acts of vandalism of cultural heritage. But as an academic, nothing is more abhorrent than the manipulation of the archaeological record, and the use of history (or perceived history) to demonize, vilify, or justify the inhumane treatment of another group of people. I know a lot of archaeologists struggle with what they think their role should be as creators of knowledge. And given the political and social climate today… the ethics of archaeology and the role of the archaeologists is something that we all should be thinking about.. very critically.

My opinion may not be popular but it is the one I have, so I will stick to it. I think as archaeologists we owe it to the public to make our research accessible and to actively try to interact with the public. Archaeology for the sake of archaeology and research for the sake of research does not cut it. Second, archaeology, whether you like it or not is political. This is something that we have to understand as we make our way through our careers. This means thinking critically about where we work, who we work with, and why we ask the questions that we ask. More importantly, what we intend to do with this information after we have it, and what our role will be in public discourse when this information is absorbed and processed. Note, it may not always be in the way we intended it to – and this is something we have to think about as well.

Archaeology has often been used as propaganda for nationalist regimes. The same way that history or perceived history has been in instrumental ideas of “the nation.” This is not news. But the fact that it is happening today is problematic, to say the least. But lest I get too carried into discussing the ethics of good archaeology, a topic that deserves its anthology, let alone its own post, let me lay out what I intend to do with this post.

On archaeology and nationalism: Hamilakis 2007, Galaty 2018, Pitts and Versluys 2015.

I will provide a brief overview of some of the problematics statements made in the article mentioned above. As always, I encourage you to do your own research, read the article yourself if you feel so inclined, don’t feel like you need to take my word blindly. After outlining the aforementioned problematic points, I will address them, systematically, with reference to the archaeological record. I’ll try to be brief because I am well aware of the fact that my posts tend to be a little long.

FYI.. if you’re wondering, I did reach out to the writer of the blog. I very nicely pointed out that what they were saying was complete bullshit and offered to send them useful resources to inform them. I even offered to talk to them directly about colonization in the Balkans, not that I am the world’s expert on the topic, but I do have some background in it having written my master thesis on the influence of the colonial presence in Illyria, specifically what is today modern-day Albania. I have yet to hear back… Well, can’t say I didn’t try.

The points that the author makes are as follows:

  1. The bad Albanians willfully destroyed a Greek monument to terrorize the Greek minority living in Albania. No sorry, “Northern Epirus.”
  2. The Greeks brought civilization to the Mediterranean through their colonization. Before them there was nothing. And everything afterward the cities, the urban growth, etc., was due to them. Anything that states otherwise is an attempt by corrupt Albanian revisionist scholars.
  3. The Albanian claim to the ancient Illyrians, who lived in the area in prehistory has no foundation.

So let’s begin to unpack the first statement. Yes, vandalism is bad, it is illegal. I think the real culprits here are not the lone idiots who carried out the act, but the Ministry of Culture which has neglected the site for so long #sorrynotsorry. I was there myself last year and it was in rough shape. Second, and I know this is expected of an Albanian reply, but I cannot find any source that provides concrete evidence that it was people that caused the damage in the first place. With the site being in rough shape, I can come up with a list of things that could have caused the damage. The massive earthquakes that have rocked the country in the past few months for example? And we are just finding out about this now because the country has been in quarantine? But I won’t hang my argument on this. Let’s just assume that it was an act of human vandalism. Was is to terrorize the Greek minority? I highly doubt it. Apollonia is located in modern-day Fier. In the center of Albania. Where there is no Greek minority. The small population of Greeks who still live in Albania are concentrated in the south, along the border with Greece.

So why make this statement. The proof is in the pudding – or in this case. The language. The use of the term “Northern Epirus” to denote a geographical area that has an actual name: ALBANIA, suggests an ulterior motive, or at the very least, a subconscious belief that southern Albania should not exist. History shows that this mentality is dangerous, as it lead to the massive expulsion of ethnic Albanians, known as Chams, who found themselves on the wrong side of the border after the creation of modern Albania in 1912. In this period of forced migration, hundred of ethnic Albanians were massacred at the hands of the Greek militia. I encourage you to look this up (Vickers 2002). Talk about revisionist – trying to erase an entire country off the map by calling it an ancient term that hasn’t been relevant since 1914. And even then it was problematic. So, I ask you, who has terrorized who? I won’t even begin on the xenophobic policies that are in place in Greece itself which prohibit Albanians from speaking their own language or preserving their culture.

Regarding the second point, I can write an entire essay. In fact, I have, more than one. But I will keep it as brief as I can. The idea that colonization brought with it culture and civilization is not only outdated. But, well, colonial. Archaeologists are moving away from these simplistic, reductionist and uncritical interpretations. Moreover, the archaeological record, as always, presents a more nuanced picture of the process and how it unfolded. Surprise surprise, the Ancient Greeks did not bring cities, culture, and civilization to the lands they colonized. The record shows that urbanization was a phenomenon that was present in many of the “barbarian” cultures that the Greeks and the Romans conquered. And in fact, may have been a prerequisite for their successful colonization. But why are we just talking about this now? Well, lots of reasons. First, we have to acknowledge the prevalence of colonial attitudes in our discipline and the desire to produce simplistic and “clean” explanations (a la Occam’s razor). But mainly, the greater interaction with a post-colonial theory which argues for an emphasis on local responses to colonization and the acknowledgment that indigenous groups had something called the agency and were not just empty vessels waiting to be filled with culture. Quelle surprise. I’m being sarcastic, btw.

On Post-Colonialism: Dietler 2010, Hodos 2006, Keay 1988, King 1990, Pitts and Vesluys 2015, Vranic 2014, van Dommelen 2017.

Albanian scholars have been arguing the same for decades. Specifically arguing that urbanization was a process that was preexisting among the Illyrian tribes in the area that is today Albania, arguing for the presence of Illyrian cities during the late Iron Age. Broadly, such arguments have been traditionally rejected on a technicality, because the way that we have traditionally defined the term city, referring to a trait listed which more often than not was a description of some ideal site. Making the definition tautological. Of course, urban centers in other parts of Europe won’t be classified as cities or even centers if the definition of such is a description of Athens. In regards to the Albanian record, such claims have been rejected because they have been deemed by foreign scholars that they represent an extension of the nationalistic agenda set forth by the Hoxha regime. The record, in my opinion, says otherwise.

The arguments that the author makes are steeping in the outdated and colonial discourse of Hellenization, which many scholars today are critical of. Again, a massive topic worthy of an anthology. Luckily these resources already exist so all one has to do is google Hellenization, or Romanization. Have fun.

So having said this, please tell me where the revisionism of the Albanian scholars is? I am not naïve to deny that archaeology under the communist regime had a very overt political agenda, no one will deny this. But the argument that all Albanian scholars today are revisionist, is not true and oversimplifying. I am not saying there may not be an outlier, but to reduce every Albanian scholar to this is really in poor taste.

On cities and the Albanian record: Ceka 1998, Fernández-Götz and Krausse (2013), Fernández-Götz (2018), Marcus and Sabloff (2008), Herman-Hansen in Marcus and Sabloff (2008), Korkuti et al. 1998.

And last but not least, the Illyrian argument. This is a tricky topic and I will try to be selective with my words so that my points are not automatically written off due to author bias. So let me address it right now. I am Albanian. I study the Illyrians. Do I argue unequivocally that the Albanians are related to the Illyrians – No, I do not think such a concrete answer is possible. Not only in the sense of the Albanians, but of any group in the Balkans. Do I think there is a possibility – sure why not? There is no direct evidence that says otherwise. Is there archaeological evidence that supports this claim? Yes. Is it enough to lay the argument to rest – no. We would need more data.

So, what is the evidence? It is twofold, linguistic, and archaeological. I am not a linguist, so I won’t get into the weeds of this hypothesis. But in a nutshell, Albanian is a unique Indo-European language that has its branch on the linguistic tree so to say. There is linguistic-archaeological evidence of ancient Illyrians with names from the roots of Albanian words. Like Bardhyll for example, which has the word bardh (white) and yll (star). Of course, there are problems with this linguistic argument, most of which have to due with the national awakening and the movement of an independent Albanian in the late 20th century as well as the ideology of the communist regime in the mid 21st C. Regardless, there is some food for thought there, at least in my humble opinion. Archaeologically, there is continuity between the Koman culture of Northern and the medieval Arbers (Albanians). This is shown in the continuity of the material culture itself, which as an archaeologist, I find more convincing.

On the Illyrian arguement: Anamali 2011, Stipcevic, Vezenkov 2013.

My biggest issue with the argument that the Albanian claim to an Illyrian connection is illegitimate is because that critical gaze is never turned inwards. No one denies the connection between the ancient Greeks and the modern Greeks. This might sound bitter coming from me, but I think there is a lot to say for the creation and maintenance of this uninterrupted Greek identity, which is founded in the romanticizing of the Greek civilization by classicists as early as the Renaissance and well into the 19th century when Europe began to take the face that it has today. The ancient Greeks gave us democracy, philosophy, the great poets, artists, and theater. The formation of Greece in 1821 helped solidify this idea. And gave the European powers a nice toehold to beat back the “terrible” and very Muslim, Ottomans. Convenient. While the idea that the Albanians are autochthonous is deemed ridiculous, no one seems to remember the massive population exchanged between Greece and Turkey in the 1920s. I’ll stop there. And try to wrap it up.

On the creation of the Greek state and nationalism: Gingeras 1990, Hamilakis 2007, Herzefeld 1982, Stewart et al. 1994.

When it comes to Apollonia, there is not a single Albanian scholar that argues that it was not a colony, this is a fact that is supported by the archaeological and historical record. Apollonia was a colony founded by the Corinth in the 6th C BC. But the Greeks did not colonize an empty landscape. While pastoral, the Illyrians were there. It was their land. Many scholars argue that the colonists may have been invited to the existing tribes to found colonies. The archaeological record shows that the Illyrians and the Greeks lived together and intermarried over time. We see the interesting interplay between the two cultures in the mortuary sphere, as indicated in the presence of mixed “hybrid” mortuary practices that blend aspects of both cultures (think Greek marble sarcophagi in Illyrian tumuli).

On Apollonia: Amore et al., 2010, Galaty 2002, Lafe 2003 McIlvaine 2012, McIlvaine et al. 2014, Stallo 2007, Stallo 2010, Stoker 2009, Wilkes 1992, Wright 2016.

The Albanians have nothing to gain by destroying a national monument that in many ways was just as much Illyrian as it was Greek. The fact that such misguided, misinformed, and aggressive opinions are voiced unchallenged is very problematic – and needs to be addressed.

I started this article talking about the ethics of good archaeology, and while I said I would leave that topic for another time, I feel I have come full circle to that point. Part of being an ethical practitioner of archaeology is acknowledging that archaeology is political, whether we like it or not. So there is a lot of responsibility for the archaeologist to think critically about the implications of their work. The problem of the vandalism of Apollonia touches on this and many other important threads in archaeology, like who owns the past, who has a right to it, what is our role as archaeologists, and what do we do when the past is manipulated to serve political agendas? In the case of Apollonia, we have to ask ourelves the questions, what is there to gain by claims that it was an act of terrorism? When taken into consideration with the history of the Balkans, the formation of the Albanian state and the political undercurrents in Albania today (most recently, the new proposed laws regarding the creation of a multicultural Albanian state) suddenly the problem of a smashed column and the motivation behind it becomes even more convoluted. What narrative does this support? I will leave you to ponder that.

Peace, love, and positivity.

Works cited:

Amore, M. G. The Complex of Tumuli 9, 10 and 11 in the Necropolis of Apollonia (Albania). A Time Span from the Early Bronze Age to the Early Hellenistic Period (Plates 18–26). In the Complex of Tumuli 9, 10 and 11 in the Necropolis of Apollonia (Albania)., Vol 1, 2010, pp. 57–74.

Anamali Skënder. Varreza e hershme mesjetare pranë Kalasë së Dalmacës, Koman (kërkime, probleme, rezultate) / The Early Medieval Cemetery near the Castle of Dalmaca, Koman (Investigations, Problems, Results). In: Iliria, vol. 35, 2011. pp. 39-54;

Ceka Neritan. Pesëdhjet vjet studime për qytetet ilire / Fifty Years of Studies on Illyrian Cities. In: Iliria, vol. 28, 1998.

Dietler, Michael. Archaeologies of Colonialism : Consumption, Entanglement, and Violence in Ancient Mediterranean France. University of California Press, 2010.

Fernández-Götz, Manuel, and Krausse, Dirk. “Rethinking Early Iron Age Urbanisation in Central Europe: The Heuneburg Site and Its Archaeological Environment.” Antiquity, vol. 87, no. 336, Cambridge University Press, 1/6/2013, pp. 473–87.

Fernández-Götz, Manuel, and Fernández-Götz, Manuel. “Urbanization in Iron Age Europe: Trajectories, Patterns, and Social Dynamics.” Journal of Archaeological Research, vol. 26, no. 2, Springer US, 6/2018, pp. 117–62, doi:10.1007/s10814-017-9107-1.

Galaty, Michael L. Modelling the Formation and Evolution of an Illyrian Tribal System: Ethnographic and Archaeological Analogs in The Archaeology of Tribal Societies, edited by William A. Parkinson. International Monographs in Prehistory, Michigan. 2002, pp. 109-122.

Gingeras, Ryan. Sorrowful Shores : Violence, Ethnicity, and the End of the Ottoman Empire, 1912-1923. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Hamilakis, Yannis,. The Nation and Its Ruins Antiquity, Archaeology, and National Imagination in Greece. Oxford University Press, 2007.

Herman-Hansen, Mogens. Analzying Cities In The Ancient City : New Perspectives on Urbanism in the Old and New World, Joyce Marcus and Jeremy Sabloff (eds.), School for Advanced Research Press, 2008 pp. 67-76.

Herzfeld, Michael,. Ours Once More : Folklore, Ideology, and the Making of Modern Greece. Revised edition., Berghahn, 1982.

Hodos, Tamar. Local Responses to Colonization in the Iron Age Mediterranean. Routledge, 2006.

Keay, S. J. Roman Spain. British Museum, 1988.

King, Anthony. Roman Gaul and Germany. University of California Press, 1990.

Korkuti Muzafer. 50 vjet arkeologji shqiptare / Half Century Albanian Archaeology. In: Iliria, vol. 28, 1998.

Lafe, Ols. The Earliest Urbanized Settlements in in the Hinterland of Apollonia (Albania): 7th-Mid 5th Century B.C. University of Cincinnati, 2003.

Marcus, Joyce., and Sabloff, Jeremy A. The Ancient City : New Perspectives on Urbanism in the Old and New World. 1st ed., School for Advanced Research Press, 2008.

McIlvaine, B. K. Greek Colonization of the Balkans: Bioarchaeological Reconstruction of Behavior and Lifestyle during Corinthian Colonial Expansion into Ancient Apollonia, Albania. Dissertation: Ohio State University, 2012.

McIlvaine, B.k, L.A. Schepartz, C.S Larsen and P.W. Sciulli. Evidence for Long-Term Migration on the Balkan Peninsula Using Dental and Cranial Nonmetric Data: Early Interaction between Corinth (Greece) and Its Colony at Apollonia (Albania). American Journal of Physical Anthropology vol. 153, no. 2, 2014, pp. 236–48.

Pitts, Martin, and Versluys, M. J., editors. Globalisation and the Roman World : World History, Connectivity and Material Culture. Cambridge University Press, 2015.

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An open letter to my fellow Albanians

(Especially those in the Diaspora)

I’ve written and rewritten this post a few times. And then debated on whether I should post it for a few days. As always, I don’t know if it is my place to say what I want to say. With everything that is going on in the US right now following the death of George Floyd, and here in Canada following the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet (and more recently in Albania regarding the repeated rape and blackmail of a 15-year-old schoolgirl, but I will focus on racism for today – One evil at a time I guess)… I have felt a lot of things – but this isn’t a diary entry about how I feel. The point is, I want to do something, to be an ally to my fellow humans, and to further their cause because it is all of our cause. Like you and everyone else, I’ve been bombarded with nonstop media coverage, articles, posts. People are protesting and police brutality is rising. It is horrifying that “things like this” are still happening now in the 21st C. But what is more horrifying however is the deafening silence of those who are not protesting, sharing, talking, and worse still, those who speak up against it.

I feel like it is not my place to write an article on how racism in America (and the rest of the world) is systemic, there are many people of color, authors, scholars, activists, who have done so, both in the past and present. Read their work, listen to them speak, hear their stories, and narratives. Support their work.

But what I can do is reach out to my community – my fellow Albanians, specifically, my Millenials. Because what I have seen these past few days is honestly disheartening. While many of my friends, colleagues, and family members have shown support for the BlackLivesMatter movement, I’ve seen posts circulating in the Albanian community at large around that state otherwise. And this is the biggest disappointment, to say the least.

I know what I’m going to say is not going to sit well with some of you – and I hope it makes you uncomfortable. I am not here to be liked. I’m here trying to get you to reflect a little.

Of all people, we know what it is like to be oppressed (500 years of Ottoman subjugation). We know what it’s like to be told you should not exist (creation of modern Albania – 1912). We know what it is like to be systematically oppressed. To be KILLED for the simple fact that we are who we are – Albanian (Cham Massacer 1945, Kosova genocide 1998-1999). We know what it is like to have our own government ignore us and profit off of our labor.

We know what it is like to struggle to make ends meet, to grow up without fathers because they are in some far off country working some terrible job to send money back home to our mothers – who raise us alone. Or to be raised by our grandmothers because our mothers are raising someone else’s children in a more prosperous country. We know what it is like to move somewhere new, where you are not wanted. To live without documents, in fear you will be deported. To have to change how you speak and how you dress to be accepted – to fit in.

We know what it’s like to be stereotyped –All Albanians are drug dealers – All Albanians are sex traffickers – Oh, you speak fluid Italian, I didn’t know that, you know someone told me once that Albanians are barbarians and have tails – Oh we like you Albanians here, you work hard –

I say this not to say that our history is the same or can be compared to that of people of color in America and Canada. Nor to make this about us. But to provide a background to say that we understand oppression because we have lived through our own.

But how easily we forget. Some of us leave our country, some as refugees, some illegally, some legally. We speak our new language fluently now, we have nice new passports. The kind that lets you cross borders easily. Decades of our parent’s hard work and sacrifice have paid off. We have university educations from the best institutions, we have English sounding names. We are living the dream.

“But we worked for this.”

Yes, you did, your parents worked hard. You worked hard. I am not saying you didn’t. But you also didn’t face the same systematic oppression that people of color do, to this day – because the system that you find yourself in now, be it Canada, the UK, Australia, Europe or the US, favors your skin tone. You can’t help this, you never thought of this, and this is what can be called white privilege, and you have it. @Janayathefuture explains this so much better than I ever could in a video titled “What white people must know” on Instagram, go take a listen.

This is where I usually lose the person I am talking to. They get upset. They think that by saying that they, a hard-working immigrant, have privilege, I am taking away or discounting their hardships. I am not. I am asking you to consider the other hardships that you have not endured. This concept is not my own, but that of many Black scholars, authors, and activists. As Janaya (linked above) states in their video, having privilege does not mean you have not suffered, it means you have not suffered some things. We all have our own personal struggles. But what many of us don’t have is the added struggle of trying to live in a system that is created to fail you – and then blame you for this “failure.” (For a brief crash course on systemic racism, check out this Youtube video).

The BlackLivesMatter movement is our fight too because it is a fight for human rights. But if that does not convince, then let me be very blunt with you. This is our fight because we too, are minorities – but have the benefit of passing for the majority in our new country, and have left that unacknowledged for far too long. If we remain divided, the majority will always win. But united, we stand at actually making a difference. Do not idolize your suppressors, they will just as easily turn on you. You might be the right kind of minority now – but it was not always be the case. When poor European immigrants started moving to the US they were not welcomed with open arms (search “Boas’s immigrant study”). They lived in slums, their children referred to as dirty vermin, and as a whole looked down upon by American society. Do not sympathize for the looted Targets, these are multimillion (if not billion) corporations that will be just fine. Plastic can be replaced, human lives cannot. Do not go around saying things like BlueLivesMatter, the police are protected by a racist system, they don’t need your protection. You can also choose to be a police officer. you can take off that uniform. You cannot chose to be Black, Indigenous, or Albanian. Also there is no such thing as a blue life #justsaying. Do not go around saying AllLivesMatters, no one said they didn’t, but right now we have a pressing issue to address (plug in burning house example here).

Call me a radical, call me extreme. Call me anti-patriotic. Call me what you like. But if what I say upsets you or makes you uneasy, I think I’ve made my point.

I by no means think I am perfect or that “I have done my part” because I wrote this post and shared some resources. I have a lot of work I need to do on myself and with my inner circle. I need to acknowledge the privilege I’ve had, with my education as an Anthropologist and my personal life history.

Now it’s your turn. Do YOUR part. Acknowledge your privilege and be an ally, better yet, an accomplice.

Being an ally doesn’t mean you have to go out and protest – some of us can’t. Maybe you are the primary provider for your family, maybe you have elderly or sick family members living with you and can’t risk going out in large gatherings. That is fine – there are other things you can do.

Sign petitions:

Justice for George, Justice for BreonnaJustice for Ahmaud for example.

Share content – knowledge is power. There is so much information out there by Black activits and scholars. So many BIPOC are sharing their stories. Share information that you found helpful, that your peers might also benefit from – but mindfully. Don’t repost graphic deaths of POC. Don’t post videos of protestors that can be identified.

Donate to bail funds if you are financially able – Here is a list of bail funds in the US; https://bailfunds.github.io/.

If you cannot donate yourself, watch this Youtube video created by Zoe Amira, and YouTube will donate to BLM organizations for you.

For change to be lasting however, our commitment has to be longterm. Start supporting Black-owned businesses or donating to NGOs that help and empower Black people. Think critically about where you spend your money. We all have to buy things, clothes, cosmetics, home goods, hygiene/cleaning products, etc. Why not buy from local, sustainable, conscious, and minority-owned businesses?

I know some of you will say – what about Albanian businesses, Albanian people, helping OUR people. I never said to not support Albanian businesses and organizations, but simply that we could support other groups too. We are complex beings, we can care for more than one cause. Just because I am a feminist does not mean that I don’t care about the environment. Just because I am Albanian does mean I don’t care about the civic and human rights of other groups of people.

But most importantly, START EDUCATING YOURSELF and those around you. It is our job to educate our community about race and racism. News flash, we are not immune to racism – if you want some inward reflection, look at how Roma people are treated in our own country (but I digress..again, so another post for another time). If we want any lasting social change, we need to change the way people think – and this is through education. Again, I find myself saying education is the answer. The sources available online are limitless, books, articles, podcasts, documentaries. Follow BIPOC activists, authors, artists, creators, and scholars on social media. Take this time to learn about race, racism, and slavery. Spoiler alert, race is a social construct and there is no biological basis for it, but I won’t ruin it all for you.

Pick a book on racism and start a reading group with your friends or family; start a dialogue. Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad is a great start. The book is painfully eye opening (to say the least) and builds in personal relfection. Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins is equally so. I wish I had read them sooner. The list of books is never-ending. It does have to be these two books, you just have to start.

As an anthropologist I can tell you that society is not some stable, monolithic entity out existing in the material world – it is what we make it. A society functions the way it does because we as a people agree upon a set of rules, constructs, contracts, whatever you want to call them. And for so long we have accepted a model of society which is racist, sexist, capitalist (and I can go on and on) thinking that things are the characteristics of society and we can only accept them. But we do ourselves a disservice when we accept things as they are uncritically “because they have always been this way.”

The fight of the minority is OUR fight. It is a fight for human rights. I am not trying to attack you, but if you are not doing anything in the wake of the events that have gone down in the past few days, you are helping the oppressors. It is not enough to not be racist yourself. It is not enough to claim that you are an immigrant and that this doesn’t have anything to do with you. It has everything to do with you. We need to work to be actively antiracist and to change the mentality of our community. Again, not my words but those of many many Black scholars, writers and activists. We have a lot of work ahead of us.

So to quote the great Robyn Rihanna Fenty, Pull up.

Sincerely,

Your friendly, neighbourhood, Albanian Archaeologist

Ps. Peace, love, and EQUALITY.

Pps. I made this post short on purpose – to get to the point. I also tried not to add to many links or post exensive lists of books / articles since I think it is important to find resources that speak to you. But if you want suggestions or are not sure where to start feel free to reach out and I’ll happily make suggestions and point you to resources I am aware of.

Edit: I’ll be able to share a link to a database that I have been working on with a few colleagues soon! Stay posted! 🙂

Living in perpetual liminality – LGBTQ+ Rights in today’s Albania.

Liminality is a concept that intrigues the anthropologist.

It has been the topic of much anthropological and social research in the last 100 or so years. It was first explored extensively by the European ethnographer Arnold van Gennep when he proposed the three stages of the rite of passage; separation, marginalization, and aggregation (van Gennep 1960, Turner 1979). However, his work was unknown to many British and American scholars until after the 60’s when his pivotal book The Rites of Passage, was translated into English. It is after this that American Anthropologist Victor Turner stumbled upon the book, fortuitously some may say, and the rest, well that is history…or anthropology (Vizedom 1976). 

So what is liminality? The literal definition means “threshold.” According to van Gennep (1960) and Turner (1967, 1979), in a period of liminality, one is at the threshold between two social identities, being neither one or the other wholly. The period of liminality is often marked by a feeling of disassociation while the individual is “betwixt and between” (Turner 1967). The end of the transition or the end of the phase of liminality is marked by the end of the rite of passage, and a re-entering into society with a new status. Coming of age ceremonies are an example of a rite of passage, which are present in multiple societies around the world. 

Many scholars, (Barry and Yilmaz 2019, Howard-Grenville et al. 2011, Thomassen, Underwood and Rhodes 2018, Wimark 2019, Ybema et al. 2011) are now using the concept to refer to multiple aspects of everyday life, not just the passing of important milestones. Broadening our understanding of the concept to include processes like immigration, migration, and personal identity. It has been incorporated into the teaching philosophies, theoretical critiques (of anthropology in particular), and even in the medical field when it comes to things like patient care and visitor experience (Underwood and Rhodes 20118).

Ok, so how does this relate to the queer community in Albania. In all the ways. And I am not the first to make this argument, many other’s like Wimark (2019) have specifically tied the concept of liminality and queer individuals. However, in his article, he refers to refugees and asylum seekers specifically. However, in general, scholars who use liminality as a concept outline two important points, first that the concept of liminality does not apply to just the in-between phase of a rite of passage. And second, more critically, that an important part of the liminal theory as argued by Turner, is the end of the transition. Theoretically, there is a point where the transition is complete, and you re-enter society. 

But what if you never reach that point? What if you live your life in perpetual liminality (Thomassen 2012, Ybemer et al . 2014). If the process of liminality is meant to be a short one when the actor remains “betwixt and between” two existential phases of social life, then what happens when they never make that transition? How does this affect an individual’s sense of identity? (Thomassen, Ybemer et al. 2014, Wels et al. 2011) How do they navigate their society? Because for whatever reason, there is no “category” for them on the other side. I know I am using terms like “they,” which implies some sort of shared, universal experience. And I want to state that I acknowledge that this is not the case. There is no overarching shared identity of what it means to be both part of the LGBTQ+ community and Albanian. But the reality stands that there is some overlap in experience and that for many, this clash of identities leads to marginalization (prejudice, bullying, abuse, stigma, etc.). This can manifest in several ways, from the scale of the individual to their family to their community (Telliti 2015). This is the reality for many members of the LGBTQ+ community who live in countries where it is illegal to be gay, or if it is not illegal on paper it is not socially accepted. Where being yourself means losing your family, or the very right to make a living. The right to safety, work, shelter, and dignity.

If you have read my previous posts or know anything about Albanian culture, you will know that as a people we are traditionally…well traditional. This is the first point made by all the authors of the suite of articles discussing LGBTQ+ rights in Albania (Çuri 2018, Kadi 2014, Hazizaj 2013, Telliti 2015, Shtylla 2013, Peshkopia et al. 2018, Rexhepi 2016). This adherence to a traditional way of life leaves no place for many “new” things like homosexuality or women’s rights. As mentioned in previous posts, it is as if being Albanian excludes certain other identities and beliefs; you cannot be both because they fundamentally oppose each other.

Having written essays for the last decade of my life, I can’t help but feel the need to structure my posts similarly. So having introduced the concept of liminality and making an argument of why it is an important one to consider when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community in Albania (and any country where LGBTQ+ individuals are marginalized, really) I will provide a brief overview of LGBTQ+ legislation in Albania and conclude why liminality is an important (yet, one of many) lens (es) to view the situation.

The Past:

When looking at changes in the Albanian legislature regarding LGBTQ+ rights the year 1995 is one of the first landmarks so to say, as this is the year that homosexuality was decriminalized. Until then, specifically under Hoxha’s regime, homosexuality was punishable by law and convicted individuals were sentenced to lengthy prison sentences. However, decriminalization does not ensure equality, something that many scholars have touched upon. Changing the law is one thing, changing public opinion is another. This is something that I will comeback to later. It is interesting however to note that homosexuality was decriminalized once before under the Ottoman regime, while the practice itself remained unpopular in public opinion (Çuri 2018, Kadi 2014).

The next big year that stands out is 2010. It is then that the constitution was amended to state that discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation is prohibited. This amendment extends to workplace discrimination. But again, this does not mean that these laws are enforced. It is very commonplace from someone who is LGBTQ+ to be refused a job, a house, or even help from the police when reporting abuse. Of course, this is changing, but there have been cases where individuals have gone to the police to report abuse and were not only ridiculed by the police but abused by them as well (Çuri 2018)

And even to this day, with a much altered and amended constitution, LGBTQ+ individuals fall through the cracks when it comes to ensuring basic human rights because of terminology or loopholes in the constitution. Gay marriage is still illegal and not recognized before the state for example, even though the previous Prime Minister Berisha stated in 2009 that it would be made legal. The clause was dropped from the 2016 amendments under Rama a few years later (Peshkopia et al.2018). In the same vein, LGBTQ+ individuals also do not have legal rights to form a family (Çuri 2014, Peshkopia et al. 2018)

2012 is the next stop in our tour so to say. This year marks Albania’s first Pride Parade, which despite being approved by then Prime minister Berisha, was met with heavy backlash by the general public, with protesters hurling objects at the organizers (Koleka 2012). The organization of the parade in 2012 and subsequent years, despite the backlash, is important for several reasons. As Rexhepi (2020) states, the parade itself is not just an event, but a form of resistance. You can read his recent article on PRIDE in the Balkans and what it means for LGBTQ+ activism in the region here.

While legislative changes in regards to LGBTQ+ rights seem to be moving at a snail’s pace, this does not mean that nothing is happening. This is quite the opposite, a lot is happening, thanks to the multiple NGO’s that have been created over the years to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and provide support, shelter, and information to members of the community and its allies. Examples of these organizations include STREHA, Historia Ime, and AleancaLGBT. While sharing a common cause, these organizations address different needs within the community.

The Present:

Where the government fails, the community does not. Over the past month, I have had the opportunity to observe as multiple organizations and activists as they prepared for Tirana Pride, which was held on May 15th, online (again, you can read more about the parade in Rexhepi’s article, linked above). Despite doing many things wrong, Albania did one thing right thanks to the hard work of these individuals, being one of the few countries in the world to hold a virtual pride. I have had the opportunity to listen to multiple LGBTQ+ and Feminist activists from Albania and it has been truly a humbling and inspiring experience. Seeing the hard work that these brilliant and resilaint individuals have poured into this cause truly makes my heart soar as an Albanian – there is hope after all.

Despite all odds, they are raising the banner for LGBTQ+ rights, and have been doing so for over a decade. They are creating a platform for people to share their stories, they are creating safe spaces for people to discuss and learn about human rights, LGBTQ+ rights and women’s rights. They are starting a dialogue.

It is their work, specifically a project run by Historia Ime [My Story], called Queerantine Storytelling that inspired this post. The purpose of the project is to document how Albanian LGBTQ+ individuals are experiencing quarantine due to the COVID-19 outbreak. By doing so, you have before you the analogy of social isolation which applies to everyday life for members of the queer community who can never really be a part of society as they are. Many individuals worldwide have experienced feelings of isolation, depression, desolation due to the quarantine. Isolation is a difficult thing for many people. While some of us happily identify as introverts, many of us are not all too happy to have our choice to isolate ourselves taken away from us. We like to cancel plans on our own volition. So, imagine a life where you are always isolated. Where the choice is not yours to make. Where you have to keep on a mask all the time because who you are is not accepted. Where your parents would kick you out of the house, they might even beat you, they might even kill you. That is an extreme of course, but not unheard of.

When you live in a society where being LGBTQ+ is not accepted, you live a life of isolation. While some may be lucky enough to have understanding and supportive parents, many don’t. Coming out is not an option. So they are resigned to a life of pretend; their mask never comes off. They live in perpetual liminality.

The Future:

I’m sorry if my last sentence was a bit grim, but I don’t see why I should sugarcoat the issue. As I have said before, I love my country and I love our culture. But the argument that we need to preserve our traditional ways at all expense is ridiculous… If you really think homosexuality is a phenomenon of the 21st century, I hate to break it to you, but for as long as people have existed, homosexuality has been a part of the human condition. If we are going to move forward as a country, into the EU or not, we need to make real tangible steps towards securing equality for all members of the Albanian community. Regardless of gender, sexual orientation, and social class (another topic for another time).

So where does this leave us in regards to the future? Continuing with the analogy of liminality, in order to move forward, we need to create a mechanism bring an end to this phase which is meant to be temporary. We can do this by legislative changes, to extends the same basic rights awarded to Albanian citizens to LGBTQ+ individuals. But more importantly, we need to work to change public opinion. As mentioned above, legislation is one thing, and practice is another. How can we change public opinion? Education. I’m starting to feel like I end all my posts with: education is the answer. But honestly, it is. We need to have open and frank discussions and engage with the general public. This where things like Pride and the internet come in. Again, where legislation fails, the community has stepped forward, organizing everything from public outreach, to talks about sexual health (Tabu.al), to events that increase visibility, to feminist theory reading groups. I understand not everyone can cry for equality from the rooftops so to say, but we can all do out part to help bring this cause forward. Even if it starts with educating yourself. 

Whether you are part of the community or not, LGBTQ+ rights matter. If you believe in democracy, then you will understand that securing basic human rights for minority or marginalized groups is a basic fundamental building block of democracy. And more importantly, just because something may not affect you directly, it does not mean that the cause is not worth your while. Quite the opposite, if you have the privilege not to be affected by oppressive legislation, it is your duty to acknowledge that privilege and use it lobby equal treatment for others. 

And I will leave it there for now. There were so many other things I wanted to talk about (EU incorporation and the politics of equality for one..), but for the sake of time, and a shorter article, I left it out.

If you are interested in the concept of liminality, the articles I references are found below, and many of the pivotal books can be found online. 

If you would like to know more about LGBTQ+ rights in Albania, many of these articles are found online, as well as multiple other resources. Wikipedia has a surprisingly well-written page that provides a run-through of legislation regarding LGBTQ+ rights. 

If you would like to know more about the NGO’s mentioned, the links to the websites are embedded in the post. A lot of them also have Facebook pages and Instagram’s.

And if you would like to discuss any of the things mentioned, I am always open to discourse. This post is not meant to be all-encompassing, it is just the tip of the iceberg. My goal, as always, is to entice a conversation. 

Peace, love, and equality.

Works cited

Barry, James and Ihsan Yilma 2019 Liminality and racial hazing of Muslim migrants: media framing of Albanians in Shepparton, Australia, 1930–1955, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 42:7, 1168-1185.

Çuri, Urjana 2018 Legal Provisions, Discrimination and Uncertainty on LGBT community in Albania.” Academicus International Scientific Journal 17:111 121.                                                                                                                

Hazizaj, Altin 2013 Legal Framework for the Protection of LGBT Adolescents from Violence a ndDiscrimination in the Pre-University Education System in Albania. Balkan Social Science Review 2:151-167.

Gennep, A. van. 1960 The rites of passage. [Chicago]: University of Chicago Press.

Kadi, Xhensila 2014 The approach towards gay marriage in the Albanian legislation and society.

Koleka, Benet 2012. Albania gay activists cycle to call for rights. Reuters.

Howard-Grenville, Jennifer Karen Golden-Biddle, Jennifer Irwin and Jina Mao 2011 Liminality as Cultural Process for Cultural Change. Organization Science, Vol. 22, No. 2, Cultural Construction of Organizational Life pp. 522-539.

Ridvan Peshkopia, Drin Konjufca, Erblin Salihu & Jonida Lika 2018 EU membership conditionality in promoting acceptance of peremptory human rights norms: a case study in Albania considering public opinion, The International Journal of Human Rights, 22:10,1355-1376.

Rexhepi, Piro 2016 From Orientalism to Homonationalism: Queer Politics, Islamophobia, and Europeanisation in Kosovo in Bojan Bilic (ed.), LGBT Activism and Europeanisation in the Post-Yugoslav Space. Palgrave, Macmillion.

Rexhepi, Agron 2020 Vendet e Ballkanit me Parada Alternative te krenarise. Kosovotwopointzero. 05/27/2020

Shtylla, Albana 2013 Sexual orientation, gender identity and non-discrimination. The Albanian labor legislation and its effects on employment and vocational training potentials. Member of Central Electoral Commission of Albania.

Telliti, Adisa 2015 Sexual Prejudice and Stigma of LGBT People. European Scientific Journal 11: 1857 – 7881.

Thomassen, Bjørn 2012 Anthropology and its many modernities: when concepts matter. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute,18(1) 160-178.

Bjørn Thomassen 2014. Liminality and the Modern: Living Through the In-Between. Taylor & Francis Group.

Turner, Victor 1967 The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual. Cornell University Press.

Turner, Victor 1979 Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage. Reader in Comparative Religion 4:234-243

Underwood, Janet, and Rhodes, Christine 2018 A Qualitative Investigation of Hospital Visitors’ Experiences Using the Analytic Lens of Liminality: Informing Nursing Practice and Policy.” Nursing Inquiry, vol. 25, no. 3

Vizedom, Monika, 1976 Rites and relationships: rites of passage and contemporary anthropology. Beverly Hills, California: Sage Publications.

Wels, Harry Kees van der Waal, Andrew Spiegel & Frans Kamsteeg 2011Victor Turner and liminality: An introduction, Anthropology Southern Africa, 34:1-2, 1-4

Wimark, Thomas 2019 Homemaking and perpetual liminality among queer refugees, Social & Cultural Geography, DOI: 10.1080/14649365.2019.1619818