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.

Stallo, J. Isotopic Study of Migration: Differentiating Locals and Non-Locals in Tumulus Burials from Apollonia, Albania. Master’s thesis: University of Cincinnati, 2007.

Stallo, J.R., L.A. Schepartz, V. Grimes and M. P. Richards. Strontium Isotope Ratios and Mobility Reconstruction. In The Complex of Tumuli 9, 10 and 11 in the Necropolis of Apollonia (Albania), International Centre for Albanian Archaeology Monograph Series No. 2, 2010, pp. 78–84.

Stewart, Charles, and Shaw, Rosalind. Syncretism/Anti-Syncretism : The Politics of Religious Synthesis. Routledge, 1994.

Stipcevic, Aleksander. “The Question of Illyrian-Albanian Continuity.”

Stocker, S. Illyrian Apollonia: Towards a New Ktisis and Developmental History of the Colony. University of Cincinnati, 2009.

Vezenkov, Alexander. “The Albanian Language Question: Contexts and Priorities”. Entangled Histories of the Balkans. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2013.

van Domellen, Peter. Matters: Material Culture and Postcolonial Theory in Colonial

Situations in Handbook of Material Culture, edited by Susanne Kuechler et al.  Sage Publications Ltd, 2006, pp. 104-124.

Van Dommelen. Classical connections and Mediterranean practices

Exploring connectivity and local interactions in T. Hodos (ed.), Routledge Handbook of Archaeology and Globalization. London: Routledge 2017, pp. 618-633.

Vickers, Miranda. “The Cham Issue – Albanian National and Property Claims in Greece.” Südosteuropa. Zeitschrift Für Politik Und Gesellschaft, no. 4–06, De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2002, pp. 228–49.

Vranic, Ivan. The ʻHellenizationʼ process and the Balkan Iron Age archaeology, in The Edges of the Roman World, Marko A. Jankovi, Vladimir D. Mihajlovi and Staša Babi (eds.) Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014 pp. 33-47.

Wilkes, J. The Illyrians. Blackwell, Guildford, 1992.

Wright, J. R. 2016 Greek Colonial Expansion: Impacts on Illyrian Physical Activities. Master’s Thesis: Colorado State University, 2016.

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


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

1939 – Why the destruction of Albania’s National Theater is more than just the loss of another building.

Today is a dark day in Albanian history.

For over a two years now a war has been waging in regards to the National Theater of Albania, located in the heart of Tirana. Today at 4 am in the morning, it was torn down. In the cloak of darkness – maybe in a bid to hide the insidious nature of this act. The reasoning for doing this are numerous. The destruction of the theater is in some ways illegal. But in other ways, it sends a clear message to the Albanian people. That their voices do not matter, and that our democracy is a sham.

As an archaeologist, me pikon zemra [my heart aches] when I hear that cultural monuments are torn down anywhere, but especially in my country. Cultural heritage is a rich part of any culture. This is one of the reasons why I love archaeology so much. Uncovering and preserving aspects of our past for our current and future generations to appreciate is a privilege. Cultural heritage has a way of bringing people together in way. In the case of Albania, our rich cultural heritage is being encroached upon at an alarming rate as “development” increases. If you want to call the haphazard spread of improperly planned and illegally funded buildings development.

As an Albanian, this blatant disregard for the law and for the will of the people is terrifying. And that is why I am writing this. I have said this before, I am not a political science specialist. But the very least I can do is help bring even a little more awareness to what is going on in my country. And I would encourage anyone who reads this to do their own readings in addition to hearing what I have to say – because, at the end of the day, it is my opinion. And there are many articles out there written by people who know more then I do.

But for those of you that have never even heard of the theater and this struggle, the situation an be summarized in a few (very broad) points:

  1. The National theater was a historical monument, built-in 1939 in the “Italian style;” like many other government buildings in this part of Tirana. It has been the “home” of many famous writers, playwrights and actors; a hub for artistic expressions and thought.
  2. The building was considered to be a national monument once upon a time, which protected it from destruction. But at some point in the last year or so, it seems to have magically lost this categorization. And with it, its protection.
  3. For over a year, people have been protesting the destruction of the theater, claiming that it is an important architectural feature for the city of Tirana, which it is.
  4. Their voices, pleas, and arguments have been ignored. And peaceful protestors have been fined and removed – sometimes by force.
  5. At last, the building was destroyed in the early morning of May 17th.

Ok so you may be thinking, yes this is very sad that a cultural monument was destroyed. But so what? There are bigger things to worry about. And you would not be wrong. But the fact of the matter is that the destruction of the theater is not just about losing a piece of our cultural heritage. It is about the message it sends – and this message is a terrifying one. It says loud and clear that our government will do as it pleases and ignore the voice of the people.

Destroying a building is one thing, destroying a cultural monument, one that is specifically linked to freedom of expression and thought. That is another. In times of war, it is actually against international law to target and destroy places of cultural or religious importance. And yet it is happening at the will of our own government.

The arguments for the destruction of the theater are mediocre.

“The building was beyond repair.”

Bullshit. Let me tell you, no building is really beyond repair. If we can repair the foundations of castles and citadels from the 6th century BC (and we often do) then a building built less then 100 years ago should have been salvageable.

“The new building will bring much tourism to Tirana.”

Are you kidding me?! In my humble opinion as someone who literally works with cultural heritage, I regret to inform you that people do not come to Albania to look at shiny high-rises. People come to Albania for the rich natural and cultural resources it has to offer. Our parks, beaches, forests, archaeology, our cultural monuments. If it is highrise you want, may I suggest Toronto or perhaps New York?

And this my friends is why the destruction of a cultural monument in Tirana Albania, today, May 17th, really is foreboding. This isn’t about buildings anymore. Or let’s be honest, likely it never was. It’s about democracy. Or in our case, the lack of it. And that is terrifying.

The f-word.

I am a feminist. But if you know me even the slightest, that will not come as surprise. Sometimes I get a lot of push back for this identification. And sometimes it’s not nice. The usual argument is that I should argue for equality, not feminism. Which is think is very ironic since it proves my point for me.

Then the argument goes, well if you believe in equality why call it feminism? Those arguments run akin to why we need #blacklivesmatter as opposed to “all lives matter.” And I won’t go down that rabbit hole today. But I will say this, for as long as we live in a society where a group of people faces systemic discrimination because of their gender or the amount of melanin in their skin, we need these movements. These movements are about balancing the scales, not overthrowing them. Securing equal treatment for disenfranchised groups does not take anything away from other groups..other than, you know… privilege, entitlement, and the like. But I digress.

So why do I care so much about equality? First I think we need to acknowledge the elephant in the room; I have the privilege to care about these things. I don’t have to worry about where my next meal will come from, my country is not a war zone and my family is healthy. Being in academia, I have the luxury to spend a lot of my time reading and researching and I have at my fingertips access to databases upon databases of books, articles, and other resources.

The reason I care so much likely also comes from my discipline. I have said this before and I will say it again, everyone needs to take an anthropology class. It will change your life. Trust me. I was listening to a lecture by one of my favorite professors the other today and he said something that struck a chord.

“Anthropology matters. If only to show us that the categories we think are real, are not.”

Growing up, I was always a bit of a renegade. I think my young mind struggled to make sense of these categories I was forced to fit myself in. I was a girl, I was supposed to like Barbies and pink. So in childish acts of rebellion, I took my stance. I hated pink, sparkles, dresses. Oh, you would have to kill me to get me in a dress.

I played outside with the boys, fought, rode bikes. Up until recently, I outright rejected the practices marriage and childbearing..don’t get me started on marriage. It was not until a few years ago when I started to realizes that this sort of binary thinking was not me fighting the system, this was me playing by its rules. Society states girls like pink, so I hated pink. Society stated women must get married and have children, so I rejected both. In a bid to be strong, independent, not governed by norms, I rejected what I thought in my mind it meant to be a girl or woman.

Binary or categorical thinking is quite dangerous. But this is why I say anthropology matters. Because in anthropology we learn that these norms are constructed, contested, and always changing. Culture, race, gender, sexuality, are all constructs that are created, upheld, challenged, and changed by society. Culture is constantly changing, I think that boggles peoples minds since culture is seen as such as static thing usually. But I will come back to this point in the end because I think it is an important one. I use society in a sort of arbitrary way, since getting into the definition and accounting for scale may take 30 pages, give or take. Let’s think of society as the consensus of a group of people, this can be a community, a nation, a worldwide phenomenon, depending on what you are looking at.

So why am I writing about feminist thought in Albania? I think we all have certain causes that are close to our heart because of our personal trajectories. I think the reason I care so much about equality and female empowerment has a lot to do with my culture. I love my country. I love it so much that I see its flaws, and want it to be better. The academic articles I read about Albania and its people present “the Albanian” as a fierce, stubborn, warrior. On the ground, this translates as “patriarchal” and “conservative.” I won’t go into why I dislike western interpretations of my people, maybe that can be another post for another time. But there is no denying that Albanian society is patriarchal and that this permeates all aspects of our society. Of course, things are changing, and not everyone is the same, we all have agency do we not? Things are different in the bigger cities. People have more open minds, or maybe the just care less about the business of strangers.

To understand why anything is the way it is today, you need to consider its historical context, taking a page from Boas’s Historical Particularism, if you will. Or maybe more fittingly, a page from archaeology’s provenience. Why is Albanian society patriarchal? How long has this been the case, and why is it the case today, in the 21st century?

At least historically, it seems like the roots of our patriarchal social structure come from the times of the Kanun when Albanian society was organized into land-holding kin segments, known as fis. These tribes were headed by men, specifically elderly men, each referred to as plak or krye plak. 

So what did it mean to be an Albanian woman in the time of the Kanun? It means your worth was 1,500 grosh [literally translated to beans, but also used to refer to a type of currency used in the past](Kanun i Leke Dukagjinit, XIX]. This was the price your family was paid if you were killed, or your husband’s family paid for your bride price when your betrothal was agreed upon. For the records, the death of a male was paid in blood. You went from the protection of your father to your husband at the time of your marriage. In fact, you were often betrothed to someone’s son when you were still in the womb. You were superfluous to your household, raised in your parent’s house as someone without roots, who would leave, and relocated to your husband’s house as a permanent outsider (Kanun i Leke Dukagjinit, XXXIV, XXXVI). Your primary job was to give your husband a male heir. Everything in the house was your husbands, your children included. When you were not directly cooking and cleaning, your job was to work the fields, and make clothes for your children, and fetch water and firewood. Never forget the firewood. I’m reminded of a character sketch by some foreign traveler making his way through Albania where he describes a man riding by on a donkey, and his wife walking beside them, firewood on her back. Every traveler, writer, scholar who visited Albania remarked on the disparity between men and women. Edith Durham especially noted how she was often given special treatment because she was foreign, and allowed to eat with the men. Remarking that the women serve the men their meals, but ate afterward, with the children, when the men were done.

The rally for women’s rights in Albania began in the early 20th century. First with writers like Haki Stermilli and his book, Si kur te isha djale (If I were a boy) which is hailed by some as Albania’s first Feminist Manifesto. The story follows the life of a female protagonist, Dija, maybe Albania’s first flaming feminist, as she struggles to make her way through the practical society of Albania at the time.

The status of women under Enver Hoxha’s communist regime is disputed. Hoxha pushed for multiple emancipation movements, where women were encouraged to work the same positions as men, including fighting as partisans against enemies of the state. However, how much Hoxha actually cared about women’s rights as opposed to creating the ideal “Albanian comrade” irrespective of gender, remains to be determined. With that said, Albanian women did experience quite a bit more autonomy under the communist regime then they ever had before.

However, the fall of communism in the late 20th century lead to a rejection of all things associated with the Hoxha regime, including the “new” role of women in Albanian society and a reversion to the traditional way of life throughout Albania. One can argue then that the 21st century in many ways found Albania more conservative than it had been in decades, at least in terms of social norms and gender roles.

But what about today? What does it mean to be an Albanian woman today? Well, let me provide some insight from my own experiences.

It means getting harassed on a public bus by an old man who thinks it is his place to tell what is and is not acceptable for you to do with your body.

Maybe I should back up here a little.

I was on the bus with a cousin of mine and we had just returned from a trip down south. We are tired from our trip and just wanted to go home. While absentmindedly looking around the bus, I noticed that the guy next to me had a really beautifully done tattoo. Without even thinking about it, I told him so and asked if he had got it done in Tirana. He did. He told me the name of the studio and I said thank you. And it is at that moment that said elderly gentleman from above interjected.

“You kids these days are so frivolous.”

We were a bit dumbfounded. The boy responded something, but I don’t recall what it was. But it was clear he was not the target of the comment, because the elderly man turned his gaze towards me.

“Women need to be simple, you should not be ruining your body.”

I replied with a smile “Well since women need to be simple good sir, then I will get a simple tattoo, just for you.”

He didn’t like that.

He proceeded to tell me that women could be either beautiful or smart but not both, and that us women should remember to be proper and remember our place, like in the good old days.

At this point, the whole bus is involved.

Another example?

Being a woman in Albanian society means that some men won’t shake your hand when you are out in the field. Or even answer you when you address them, but instead talk only to your younger male colleagues.

It means getting asked questions like “Does your dad know you’re here? When you are out with friends.. or somewhere you “shouldn’t be.”

Or better yet, getting asked “Whose are you?” when you encounter someone in your hometown. “I am Roza’s” I respond.

Ok, these are interactions with strangers, you shouldn’t put so much weight on them since strangers will always judge, right? So let’s move the familial sphere then, where it counts? Where it hurts?

One of my absolute favorite memories is when I’ve had family members mansplain my own research to me, that’s always a treat. It’s not as if I have spent the last 8 years of my life researching and reading about the very thing you’re “explaining” to me.

It means getting asked when you’re going to get married all the time. Because everyone knows a woman only has value in society when she is someone’s wife. It means you are told your whole life you are told you are not enough on your own.

It means getting asked when you will have children? And when you will finally finish that damn school a stop reading all the time.

It means getting told, this is not the job for women, when you tell them you want to be an archaeologist. But when you pursue it regardless, you get asked when you will quit that silly job and get a real one, and stop playing around with dead people.

In all honesty, my experiences are very benign, or maybe I am just stubborn. I have to admit though, I am rather lucky. My parents are pretty woke.. now. After years of me arguing, or should I put it more pc?.. “Debating” with them about my rights, my choices, and my job, they have come around. I wonder how much of that comes from the fact that we live in Canada. I often wonder how different my life would be if we had stayed in Albania. If I would think the way I do. If I would care about the things that I do. I am well into my 20’s now, if we had stayed in Albania, would I have been married off already? Would I have become an archaeologist? Would I be a feminist?

I think about how life is for the average Albanian girl. I understand that this is a problematic phrase since it implies some sort of shared identity. So I want to acknowledge this before moving forward. I don’t want to deny Albanian women their individuality. And I really admire how feminist scholars like Donna Halloway challenges the idea that there exists some sort of shared identity we all can tap into because we are women. She and other scholars, like Patricia Hill Collins make such strong cases why this mentality is also rather dangerous because in addition to being women, we carry multiple other complex and nuanced identities that are unique to us, and these intersectionalities mean that what I may experience as a woman living in Canada does not come close to what a woman living in a third world or a developing country may experience. Or even what a woman of color in the US may experience. And this is not even considering other aspects like age and social class.

So what does it mean to be an Albanian girl or woman today? To be a feminist is a dirty thing – the word itself is not liked, even among women. It is as if by being a feminist you are rejecting your very “Albanianness.”

As stated in the Albanian constitution, discrimination based on gender is against the law, and men and women are equal before the state. But social practices dictate otherwise. Being an Albanian woman, regardless if you live in Albania or elsewhere means accepting a role as a secondary citizen.

It means staying with your abusive husband, sepse është turp të ndahesh [because it is shameful to leave him]. Even if he abuses you.

It means having to come home at a certain time, te përgatisesh darkën dhe te pastrosh shtëpinë, sepse do t’i bësh këto gjëra për burrin [to make dinner ready and to clean the house, because these are the things you will have to do for your husband].

It means having to lie when you go out with your friends. It means hiding any romantic relationship you may have, god forbid you like the same sex, you have to hide that even deeper. Turp [Shame].

It means marrying someone you don’t know, sepse është një djalë i mirë, dhe vjen nga një familje të mirë [because he is a good boy and comes from a good family].

It means your brother going to get his master’s, but you not going to university at all, se nuk ke nevojë për shkollë ti [because you don’t need school].

You must be quiet, you must be obedient. Above all, you must not shame your family. And of course, kur te martohesh, mund të bësh gjithçka që dëshiron zemra, nëse burri te lejon [when you get married, you can do what your heart wants, if your husband lets you].

It means not being taught about sexual health. Një vajzë e mirë nuk ka lidhje me këto gjëra [a good girl does not need these things]. Your main job is to bear a son when its time. No need to talk about STI’s, STD’s and consent.

Albanian society is patriarchal. I am not saying this to paint my culture in a bad light. I am stating a fact (and honestly, I would argue that every society today is). I love our culture, I love our history, our music, our food. But what I don’t love is the remnants of the old ways that still dictate what is acceptable for women in our culture today. If you remember, many paragraphs ago I said that culture is always changing. We can still appreciate our beautiful traditions and embrace feminist ideas. An acceptance of equality is not a rejection of what it means to be Albanian. Arguments that begin with      “we have always done it this way” are weak, and not really arguements. Just because something has been done this way in the past, does not make it right. We also used to steal brides from the next villages over, we don’t do that anymore.

Our culture is not a static fossil. It is changing whether we like it or not. So let’s usher it into a new direction. Let’s start with opening our minds, changing the way we educate and raise our children, girls, and boys. Revamping our education system, from pre-k to university. Teaching gender studies or women studies classes, opening programs dedicated to gender or women studies. Knowledge is power.

Sami Frasheri posed his iconic question over 100 years ago “C’do te behet [Shqipëria]? [What will Albania become?].

I’ll answer it with another question. Kur Shqipëria bëhet një komb pa ndarje. Kur nuk ka ndarje, midis gjinive, çfarë nuk do të bëhet? [When Albania becomes one nation, one nation without division between genders, what won’t Albania become?

Works Referenced

  • Collins, Patricia Hill
    • 1990. Black Feminist Thought.
  • Danaj, Ermira Edvin Lame & Daniela Kalaja
    • 2019 Gender and feminist studies in Albania – a brief state of the art, Gender, Place & Culture.
  • Durham, Edith
    • 1908 High Albania.
  • Frasheri, Sami
    • 1899 Sqipëria, ç ‘ka qënë, ç ‘është e ç ‘do të bëhët.
  • Harraway, Donna
    • 1985 A Cyborg Manifesto.
  • Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit, Albanian
    • [1989] Text Collected and Arranged by Shtjefën Gjeçov, Translated with an Introduction, by Leonard Fox. 
  •  Stermilli, Haki
    • 1936. Si kur te isha djale.
  • The Albanian Constitution
    • 1998 [With 2016 Amendments, in English].

A brief history of Albania, Kosova, the geopolitics that created them, and why this matters today.

A lot of people are fascinated with Albania and Kosova. This is good for me because when I write grant applications to fund my research there, my proposal instantly becomes “mysterious” and “intriguing.” Yep, there’s nothing more appealing to a grant committee than these small, predominantly Muslim countries in the Balkan peninsula, with their long history of communism and turbulent democracy. What is interesting about most people’s intrigue in these countries is that many don’t really know anything about them at all. Or what they do know is colored by Hollywood, which tends to portray Albanians as thieves, drug dealers and human traffickers (Aka. Taken).

So why am I talking about the creation of these two states now? Well a lot of reasons, but mainly, the idea was sparked by the news that Albin Kurti’s (the current Prime Minister of Kosova) 50 day old Government has been toppled in a vote of no-confidence this week. The news articles have been filing in since…

I know what you’re thinking. We are in a global pandemic.. and you’re not a political science specialist, so what have you to say? That’s true – but as always, I find myself having an opinion. In terms of the pandemic, I am doing my part by staying home. I am not a health professional to be able to offer some new and groundbreaking insight on how to kick the virus to the curb. And you really don’t need me to tell you to wash your hands and to stay the fuck home. But seriously.. stay home. In regards to the latter, while I may not have a degree in poli-sci, I do have on my side is an understanding of the history of the area (both in the deep past and in the more recent one) and an anthropological bent. But in the spirit of transparency,  I should mention that I also have a vested interest in the politics of these countries, being Albanian myself.

Following the news coverage of the “toppling of the Kosovar government,” I’ve gotten messages from my non-Albanian friends asking me what is going on. And I’ve been talking to my friends overseas about the situation as it unravels. Many of us are frustrated. If not outright angry…all of us are worried. And then something struck me. I’ve had to explain the situation so many times these past few days to so many colleagues (happily of course, if you know me, you know there is nothing I love more). But it got me thinking about what the rest of the world must think. How they are interpreting this? And then I thought about how the articles regarding Kosova, its government and the Mini-Schengen deal (which I assure you is at the root of this whole debacle) have been published of late. And the recent tweets from Donald Trump Jr. (link here)  and Ambassador Kosnett’s (link here) comments on the matter of US and NATO Involvement in Kosova. If most of the world has no idea that Kosova exists, then even less are familiar with its history.  And if the only exposure to Kosova many are getting are these heavily biased and skewed articles which use thinly veiled rhetoric with an overt political agenda.. then we have a problem. So I thought the best that I could do is help provide some context.

Of course, I cannot go into all the details of the formation of the Balkan states, but I can provide a generalized timeline specifically in terms of the creation of Albania and Kosova and anyone who wants to know more can read up on their own to fill the gaps (in fact, please do go and read on your own – this is not going to be all-encompassing). My goal here, I guess it to provide a very watered down, but comprehensive enough timeline of the creation of Albania and Kosova, since understanding this will help people contextualize what is going on in the Balkans now, specifically in regards to Kosova, and hopefully bring some more attention to this very worrying situation. Having done that, then you, my friends, can make up your own mind on how you feel about the situation. I also want to make a disclaimer that I am not trying to convince people to favor one party over the other. I know just how messy Balkan politics are and know as well as the next person that no political leader is perfect.

So shall we begin ( a very short history of the Albanian people, with E. Baci)

Once upon a time… Kidding…

There exists in the Balkans an ethnic group of people called the Albanians. Depending on who you ask, they have been there for hundreds of years or thousands of years… I’m not even going to go there. Pause number one, what is an ethnic group? Good question mon amie. Very simply, an ethnic group is a community who see themselves as having a shared culture and descent. Often times, ethnicity is dictated by what people are not, you know, good old fashion binary opposition.

Some of the earliest references to the Albanians as a cultural or ethnic group date to the early Middle Ages, in the 12th century. Their origin and ethnogenesis, however, is very highly contested by scholars… The reasons which I think are also very much rooted in geopolitics. Despite sharing a common language, the Albanians were never politically unified but instead, their socio-political organization was more similar to that of a tribal society, based on landowning kinship units- known as fis, led by men of the family. This form of sociopolitical organization was especially dominant in the north, where it survived until the 20th Century.

Historically, the first time the Albanians united as one was in the year 1444, under the leadership of Gjergj Kastriot (aka Skënderbeg) in order to fight off the Ottoman Empire in a military alliance known as the League of Lezhë. Despite holding off the Ottoman for multiple decades, the Albanians were conquered and incorporated into the Ottoman Empire, like the rest of the Balkans. They remained under Ottoman occupation until the year 1912, where I suppose our story really begins.

Some themes are going to intertwine through the rest of this narrative: they are nationalism, romanticism, and foreign diplomacy and geopolitics.

Pause number two, you’re probably wondering what romanticism has anything to do with geopolitics.. a lot my friend.. a lot. A good example of this is the declaration of Independence of Greece. Greece was the first nation to break out of the Ottoman Empire, back in the early 1800s. However, despite being “woke” the Greeks would not have been able to throw the yoke of Ottoman domination without foreign help, specifically from the big European players like England and France. This creates the very unhealthy pattern of foreign intervention that we will over the next 200 years up until the present. You may be asking yourself,  why would these European giants have a vested interest in helping the Greeks? Surely it is out of the goodness of their hearts, no? Sorry to disappoint, but there is always a motive. The first of which was that many of the larger powers want to snuff out the Ottoman Empire because they saw it as a threat to their own power. What better way to weaken the Ottoman Empire other than breaking it up at the very junction where it connects to the European continent? But why help Greece specifically? Well because their ancestors created democracy. The Western world as we (they knew it) owed its existence to the Greeks… très romantic, no? The same argument has been made in regards to the incorporation of Greece into the EU, with many specialists arguing that Greece was not ready economically, politically, etc. etc. to become a part of the EU but obtained the vote because of the romanticization of its past. The romanticization of these heroic or golden days has proven over and over again to be disastrous, just look at Mussolini’s Italy… but I digress.

For the most part, however, the Ottomans were able to maintain their hold on the Balkans until the beginning of the 20th C when the empire began to weaken. In 1912 the Balkan Wars began; a violent war fought by the European powers over the spoils of the dying Ottoman Empire. Yep, others got involved to gain some territory, not to help those under Ottoman control to free themselves…how unromantic. One of the most contested territories was that of Albania – which declared independence at the end of the First Balkan War in 1912. This is what many people don’t know however and the root of a lot of the conflict we see in the Balkans today – in regards to Kosova. The Conference of London, a peace council consisting of the six great powers at the time  (the UK, Germany, France, Italy,  Austria-Hungary, and Russia) decided on the borders of Albania, all with their own interests in mind.

Remember the war was not fought for the liberation of the Albanians or other people, but over who could claim that territory. Here is where “smaller players” like Serbia factor in. Serbia claimed the area that is today Kosova, on the basis that key national and religious monuments, primarily churches are found there. Because we all know, if you build a structure on some land, it becomes yours.. neverminded what lies directly under it.. #logic, amiright? Serbia, being an Orthodox Christian nation had the backing of Russia (yet another case of foreign intervention and support).

Anywho, the border suggested by the Albanians, which would have consolidated the dispersal of ethnic Albanian in the Balkan peninsula under one nation was rejected, and the resulting borders left as many ethnic Albanians outside of the new country as it housed within – essentially creating multiple populations of Albanians as minorities in other nations – again this is really important when we think about the Kosovar War and Genocide which I well get to in a minute.

I am going to fast forward over 80 years in the Balkans fairly quickly. Albania was independent for a short time, then it became an Italian protectorate, and then a monarchy, and the communist state, and only “recently” a democratic republic, in the 1990s. And this is where our storyline comes full circle to the topic at hand. For all of this time, Kosova was a part of Yugoslavia. For those of you who don’t know anything about Kosova, it is Europe’s youngest state with a population of just under 2 million and, as is almost entirely ethnically Albanian. So, you may be wondering dear friend, why are there two countries in the Balkans that have an ethnically Albanian population – the geopolitics that created the Albanian borders mentioned only a paragraph before. Kosova became an independent state in the year 2008, however, it is one of the most contested counties in the world – with its sovereignty bringing challenged and unrecognized by multiple other nations. Spearheaded almost entirely by Serbia, which still refuses to acknowledge “its lost territory” as an independent and sovereign state.

The creation of an independent Kosova is a history that is rooted in violence and oppression. While many people may know of the Bosnian War, very few know the Kosovar War, which started in 1998 and lasted one year. Americans may recall that this is when Clinton sent over NATO forces in 1999. But many fail to understand why the situation called for NATO in the first place.

In the 1990s several Balkan states started to break free from Yugoslavia. You can think of Yugoslavia as a mosaic of “different” ethnicities who were all held together by the idea that they were Slavs (this is a very watered down explanation of a very nuanced situation, so please take it with a large grain of salt). You were not Bosnian, Slovenian, etc., you were a fellow Slav. Interestingly enough, the Kosovars were not Slavs, they were Albanians, and protests began demanding the autonomy of the province in the ’80s. While things may have been more bearable under Tito, who promoted an idea of unity and Slav-brotherhood. However, the Milosevic regime that followed differed as Serbian nationalism grew. It was clear that Milosevic’s regime had a clear bias for certain groups over others, and that resources were not really being equally distributed by going to Belgrade. This sparked national awakenings, with ethnic groups coming together and declaring independence, the first of which were the Croatians and Slovenians.

The conflict rose to the world scene with the Bosnian war in 1992, when the US sent in NATO troops after rumors spread of the mass killing of ethnic Bosnians and the use of rape as a weapon of war by the Serbian Militia.  You with me so far?

The mid-1990s finds the former Yugoslavia a “shadow” of its former “glory” with just Serbia and a few small provinces – one of which was Kosova. At this time, the conflict between Serbia and Kosova intensified as the ethnic Albanians demanded autonomy from Serbia who systematically mistreated them based on lines of ethnicity and race. This conflict came to a head with the Kosova War, which many people don’t even know took place. Like in the Bosnian War, the atrocities carried about by the Serbian military includes systematic genocide and rape as a weapon of war to “erase the Albanian race” from the territory of Kosova. It is estimated that 10 000 ethnic Albanians were killed during the war, and that 20 000 women were raped.

You may be wondering, why the interest in this tiny piece of land? Well, the argument is that there are Orthodox Churches there, as mentioned above. I find this to be weak, to say the least. But really, it’s about money and power. The territory Serbia really wants are the northern parts of Kosova, incidentally, the same territories that are richest in minerals and metals.. go figure. And this brings us to today, to the Mini-Schengen deal, and to the toppling of Albin Kurti’s government.

For the past 6 months or so the Albanian news outlets have been coving the proceedings of a new political alliance known as the Mini-Schengen deal, between the Balkan states. So far, the leaders of Serbia, Albania, Montenegro, and Macedonia have attended. If you are familiar with the geography of the area, you will notice two things, first, there is a major gap in this free trade zone, by the absence of Kosova. And second, one nation, in particular, towers over the rest, in terms of size and economic strength: Serbia. So you can ask yourself, who will profit the most from this deal? Actually, you don’t have to, Vučić himself will tell you as he told the Serbian people in an official address, Serbia.

While I love international negations that foster peace and comradery as much as the next person, this whole deal is shady to me. Honestly, it sort of reminds me of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). For those of you not familiar with NAFTA, it is a free trade agreement between Canada, the US and Mexico, intended to bolster their economies. However, this is not how things really played out and in fact, the interactions between the three were very asymmetrical, to the detriment of some. For example, the flooding of the Mexican market with US corn due to NAFTA had catastrophic side effects on smaller framers in Mexico. With this analogy in mind, you can think of everyone else in this Mini-Schengen deal as Mexico.

The whole situation is also infuriating for many other reasons. First, a lot of the blame on the stagnation of the deal is being placed on Kosova (the rhetoric I mentioned earlier) – Specifically on Albin Kurtu for his “malicious” tax policy on Serbian goods. And second, for refusing to sign into a deal with a country that refuses to acknowledge its sovereignty….. Yes, you read that right. Kosova is the one playing dirty because they don’t want to sign an international free trade and movement agreement with another nation that doesn’t even recognize it as sovereign. To make matters worse, through a series of tweets (like the ones linked above), because that how geopolitics work now, US officials (if you want to count Trump Jr as an official) are for lack of a better word bullying Kosova into playing along by threatening to pull out NATO forces.

Again, I am not a poli-sci specialist, but if you ask me, it is the “question” of Kosova’s sovereignty that Albin Kurti’s government was toppled, not because of a failure of his government to respond effectively to the COVID pandemic. The fact stands, that after breaking the pattern of a predominantly two-party system (with Vetëvendosje winning by a landslide a few months ago), Kosova finds itself “without a government.”

I am not naive and understand that no political party is perfect, and I am not writing this to suggest that Albin Kurti and Vetëvendosje are the holy grail of Kosova politics. But I can’t help but feel that geopolitics had a lot to do with the movement for the vote of no-confidence which toppled the Kosovar government, and maybe I am being pessimistic, but what will go down in the next few months could not only have catastrophic consequences for the Kosovars but all of us. Let’s not forget that it was nationalism that sparked WWI, beginning in the Balkans no less. And the disaster that followed when the world turned a blind eye to Hitler’s annexing of “small and insignificant” portions of Sudetenland. These small “microaggressions” in the field of geopolitics have disastrous consequences if left unchecked. That is why the world needs to care about this tiny country in the Balkans and its independence.

Despite being so well connected in our day and age because of the internet and social media, it is just as easy for people to disconnect as well. We can get so caught up in our own little world that we could not be bothered to care about the toppling of a government of a country with less than 2 million people. A country that is so far away. A country that has only been a country for just over a decade. But this mentality is dangerous.  History has shown us time and time again what happens when we don’t think the goings-on in a country far far away has no effect on us.

Stay safe and stay healthy dear friends. And as always, formulate your own opinions – all I really wanted to do was get my thoughts out there. And if at most, I anger people enough to go and do their own research, then I consider that a win. I acknowledge that I have my own biases. So if you don’t agree with what I had to say, by all means, you are free to do so.

Peace, love, positivity.. and viva democracy.

PS. I thought about citing all of my sources as I was writing but it became overwhelming. Of course, most of what I present are not my own opinions but recounts of historical events, which I learned from reading various books. If you would like to read on your own and are not sure where to begin, I would be happy to suggest some books and articles.

Imposter Syndrome: Symptom of a broken system.

I was under the impression that Imposter Syndrome was a relatively new phenomenon. But a little research suggested otherwise. A brief overview of the literature shows that scholars have been researching Imposter Syndrome at least since the ’70s, if not earlier..meaning people have been struggling with it for just as long. If not longer. Today, at least in the circles I find myself in, it is something that pops up constantly, almost daily. It seems that my colleagues and I are plagued with the deep, haunting, ever-present feeling of being an imposter.

It turns out, we are not alone. This seems to reflect the literature, as articles, books, and posts related to Imposter Syndrome have spiked in the last decade. Which is good! Part of fixing a problem is first acknowledging it exists. But is Imposter Syndrome the problem? An interesting article I read by Dr. Samyukta Mullangi and Dr. Reshma Jagsi (2019) argues that Imposter Syndrome is not the problem, it is a symptom of the problem. So in order to treat it so to say, we need to get to the cause – inequity (Mullangi and Jagsi 2019). Other scholars have made similar links between Imposter Syndrome and minority groups, specifically women. Another interesting article I read by Langford and Clance (1993) made an interesting connection between the idea that intelligence is a trait that must be displayed at all times, which is instilled in some of us at a young age by either our parents, or our teachers, and Imposter Syndrome. I think there is quite a bit we can unpack in both of these arguments, so why don’t we take a look at some of their components, shall we?

I can’t help but follow the format that is ingrained in my mind when it comes to writing anything. So of course, I think we need to mention some sort of definition of the term before we can unpack it. A basic definition of the term outlines Imposter Syndrom as the feeling of being inadequate in your field, despite being successful (straight out of dictionary). People who struggle with imposter syndrome often feel like they don’t deserve their success, that they are not good enough, or simply that they are frauds. Well, I feel called out…

I’m going to just say outright what I think the problem is, and you can call me a hardcore processual if you want – I’ll roll with it. I think the problem is systemic. Yes, I blame the system.

Here is why.

I think the entire education system is broken, kindergarten to graduate school. Or maybe broken is not the right word. I think at a time, it did what it was supposed to do. But our school system hasn’t had an overhaul in ages… and the cracks are starting to show. We should be sending our children to school so that they can learn to be critical thinkers, not so they can learn how to do well on standardized tests and become preconditioned to a life of 9 to 5 doing some repetitive task over and over again with a lunch break at noon. Your average school-aged child will go to school for 8 hours a day, wake up at 7, get home at 4, do hours of homework, and then stare at screens for the remainder of the day. I can’t be the only one that finds this to be insane. I know what you’re thinking: “but didn’t you do the same?” Yes and no. Yes, I received a standard public school education, but I also grew up in that weird in-between period where kids still played outside. And I had an obsession with reading. My mom would have to take my books from me at night so I wouldn’t ruin my eyes (that failed – hello glasses).

So if Imposter Syndrome is linked to the notions that are instilled in us at a young age by our parents and teachers that we must be an acceptable level of “smart”, does this not suggest that partial blame for this symptom is how we educate young people? Surprise, surprise, the root of the problem comes from our childhood, how Freudian. Think about how we determine what “smart” is. Standardized tests? Speaking a certain way? Being able to recite a paragraph verbatim from memory?

I feel like I need to add a caveat here. I know that we live in a country where we have the luxury (yes, luxury) of having free and mandatory public education for every child. This is not something to scoff at and we need no reminding that there are some children in parts of the world that don’t have this right. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t improve on this. Kids are the future, and education is how we prepare them for this future – I just think we should be a bit more critical of the system that is supposedly preparing them. A system that was designed decades ago to prepare people for factory jobs. A system that until not too long ago also kept certain groups out based on notions of what gender, race or socio-economic status deserved an education.

Which ties over to the other cause mentioned above – inequity. Which, let’s face it, is also a systemic problem. I don’t think there is enough space for me (nor do I have the scholarly training) to do justice to the history of how things like colonialism, commercialism, consumerism, and racism (to name a few isms) have created a system where inequality is inherent and rooted so deeply that it is almost unchallenged. It is not surprising then that the people who are the most plagued by Imposter Syndrome are those who are pigeonholed by these isms. Women, who as Simone de Beauvoir put it, were considered the Second Sex for so long. And then minority groups, people of color, nonbinary individuals, people from lower socio-economic households, nontraditional families, the list goes on. Not to mention that these “categories” do not exist as standalone, but often intersect and overlap, and at the intersection of these categories you have even more disenfranchised identities. It is not hard to see how individuals who have been disenfranchised by a system that kept them out for so long struggle to feel like they belong, that they are making an impact, that they deserve to be where they are.

Ok, so how do we solve these problems. I wish I had an answer. I feel like most of my posts end with: “and I don’t really have an answer.” But what I was hoping to highlight in this post in particular, as many brilliant and talented people before me have done is that Imposter Syndrome is not new and it is not a disease so to say in itself. It is a symptom of a much deeper problem. And if we are going to overcome it, we need to address its cause. This is not something that will happen overnight. But at least the ball is rolling. We are talking about it are we not?

But I think there are some things that we can do as individuals, especially those of us in academia where Imposter Syndrome runs rampant, to help mitigate some of the sources of the feelings that lead to Imposter Syndrome. And I think a lot of that comes with a revamping of our education system so that it is more inclusive and less biased. By promoting a healthy environment where people are not measured solely by “how they appear on paper.” Moreover, we can all strive to be GOOD people to our colleagues and to ourselves. A system is the sum of its parts. We can’t overhaul a broken system in one night. But we can steadily work on being better ourselves. We can have conversations about Imposter Syndrome and the things that often go along with it like mental health issues. We can speak up against things that are wrong – like workplace and sexual harassment. We can start unpacking the stigma that follows these discussions. Even on a smaller scale, we can foster an environment of collegiality, positivity, and support.

I also think anthropology can be really useful in helping make some progress. I mean, if you think about it, at the root of a lot of these issues is the unchallenged acceptance of social constructs and categories like race for example, which have systematically kept individuals not only out of academia but out of multiple spaces…. but I digress. A little anthropology may go a long way in this sense, especially if we teach young people how these social constructs are created (or what social constructs are).

To anyone reading this that struggles with Imposter Syndrome, you, my friend are not alone. More importantly, remember to be kind to yourself. The way that we speak to ourselves matters. I think most of us would never speak to others the way we speak to ourselves – why is that? Be your own number one fan. Remind yourself that you are brilliant in your own way. You are doing the best you can with what you have. And that no matter what we are all constantly learning and growing.

Peace, love, and positivity (with a dash of rock n roll).