On Sex and the Baseball Bats

The islands of rational thinking and protectors of constitutional secularism have to cooperate in creating an archipelago of resistance against extremism, regardless of our party affiliations, political disputes or other divergences we may have.By Petrit SELIMI, 

By now you ought to have heard the story. A Kosovo magazine called Kosovo 2.0 that is a seasonal publication, announced that its next issue will be dedicated to sex and sensuality. The magazine organized civic debates on the issues of gender and sexual identity, with special focus on the sensitive topic of LGBT community in Kosovo and Balkans. The magazine is sponsored by, among others, National Endowment for Democracy and Norwegian Foreign Ministry, both entities rather helpful on supporting democratization of Kosovo, even if some projects have distinct anti-government line.

Few days before the planned event, which was also accompanied with a concert and DJ’s, as well as guests attending a parallel event of Prishtina Youth Summit organized by Youth Initiative for Human Rights – a “student” organization and some people pretending to be football fans of Prishtina FC (Plisat) started making noise on social networks that “a night of orgies” and “immorality”. On top of it, in some Kosovar mosques, few imams used (what one can freely call) hate-speech, call “Xhemat” [the believers] for “action” to “stop immorality” and “propagation of whoredom” (a direct quote from one such statement of one so-called religious leader.

The event was reported to the police, as were the threats that organizers received. Police did send a patrol to be present at the actual opening of the event. Possibly, their risk-assessment was not the best, as those 4-5 policemen did give their honest best, but couldn’t stop few dozen hooligans and religious extremists who were chanting “Allahu Ekber”, “Faggots Faggots”, “Whores Whores” entering and demolishing the stage of Youth and Sports Center where the lecture were planned to take place. You can see the recordings on YouTube.

Very promptly, special police units come to the scene to stop a more serious incident unfolding.

Shocked by the phone calls I have received from freidns stuck inside the center who didn’t dare come out as soon as I landed home from Zagreb (where Adriatic Charter meeting took place), I went there to witness scenes one usually sees in Benghazi or Kabul. Few hundred bearded guys were cursing, throwing items while big number of police was escorting the participants from the Sports and Youth Center. Naturally, as many of these participants were guests of Republic of Kosovo from Prishtina Youth Summit (from members of family of Nelson Mandela to diverse journalists) the entire event had a potential to bring a lethal plow to our reputation. We, different from Serbia and despite the extremist discourse found online, are not know have public shows of violence against freedom of speech and sexual minorities. This illusion burst as a soap balloon when I recall the scenes from Friday.

What’s worse, some of these hooligans also showed up with baseball bats in several coffee-shops “looking for faggots” like a moral militia that “protects the feelings of majority”. Some individual who were not even part of the organization of events also received threats from these groups. In social networks we witnessed rapid explosion in hate-speech. Same goes for local news portals, which readily become a disgusting source of uncontrollable hate by allowing publication of online comments that threaten human dignity and integrity. For these websites, gaining clicks are more important than checking the discourse.

Some groups and institutions must give us some answers:

1. Kosovo police and courts must act swiftly and without a doubt. OSCE have reacted. Samuel Zbogar on behalf of EU reacted. European Parliament through Ulrime Lunacek reacted. Ombudsperson of Kosovo reacted. Government of Kosovo reacted through a strong statement issued by Vlora Citaku, the EU minister. She coordinates all efforts for Kosovo to fulfill all criteria from the Feasibility Study, including freedom of speech. Interior Minister Bajram Rexhepi and Justice Minister Hajredin Kuci and country’s prosecutors must act addressing this issue in the weeks ahead. This work has to be visible and without a shred of doubt in its seriousness. In this issue, political points and electoral politics are to be forgotten, as we are neither in Karachi nor Kabul. EU will not let this issue drop from attention and one will make the extremism disappear by ignoring it. The evil has to be cut at its roots and in Kosovo we still have ample space to be firm against these groups.

2. Islamic Community of Kosovo will have to distance themselves from the imams who use discourse of violence and hate. If Islamic Community is advocating with the government to introduce religious lesson in schools to be taught by ICK staff, then they have to understand that with these type of behavior these people will never, I repeat never, be allowed anywhere close to school buildings. Wahabi style of extremism demands clear response by ICK. I fully understand that ICK, as well as the Catholic Church and other faith organizations do not appreciate homosexuality. This is not a subject of discussion here. Truth is that some mosques have been used to recruit “moral” militia that seeks to curtail freedom of speech based on gender or sexual orientation. What happens when one of these “believers” commits a murder, inspired by what he hears in a mosque? Does he go to hell or heaven? I believe the answer is known by the religious leaders and since you know the answer, your reaction has to be based on the teaching of The Book, which is a book of love and peace and not hate and violence.

3. An answer is needed from the leaders of Prishtina football fans as well. In my younger days, being a “Plis” meant to be proud of the city club, being proud of the diversity and urban spirit of the capital city compared to all the other cities. It meant being proud of civic culture. So I plead with my friends, Minister of Agriculture Blerand Stavileci and Minister of Sports Memli Krasniqi, who are both active participants of the sports landscape and who both have merits for successes of Prishtina football and basketball clubs to distance themselves from the fake representatives of the capital city’s sports clubs. These people are using the cover of Plisat fans to promote extremist agenda. This reaction is especially important now after Fifa’s decision to allow for clubs to play international football. We shouldn’t not allow our fans to blacken the image of our country, as Serbia’s hooligans do.

4. Answer has to be provided by political parties as well, especially those that pretend to speak on behalf “of the people” and who advocate for “direct democracy of majority”. One easily forgets that there is a fundamental problem with the concepts of “rule of majorities” as in those ideologies one seldom finds space for the minority. An uneducated bearded guy can’t be closer to these parties than the much respected Igballe Rugova, a Kosovo icon of social activism that was on the focus of the planned magazine launch on Friday. She has given a personal contribution for Albanians, for the Albanian woman, for the 20,000 raped women of the war and she frequently criticizes the Government on the challenges of contemporary social and economic situation. According to those extremists that have taken the mantle of deciding who is Albanian and who not by their standards of morality (aided by those that support such populist, radical and anti-system discourse), Mrs Rugova should be lynched. I don’t have to hide my disgust when I think of how she’s been treated. Also, misogynic attacks on Minister Vlora Citaku and women in politics from some of the members of such political parties have undoubtedly contributed to creation of a landscape prone to violence and non-tolerance. From a word uttered that path to action taken is very short and radicals know this. De facto they love this as by provoking violence they hope they can change the system. But system will not fall. They should forget this scenario before someone looses their life.

5. Civil society organizations should also speak out loud against these bandits with baseball bats who have an issue with sex. I have a bad taste in my mouth when few of them say “we have bigger problems to tackle such as corruption, rule of law or Mitrovica”. Some of world’s worst theocracies have little corruption and no problem with rule of law. Rule of Law is not an aim in itself but means to reach to the type of society that we aim. Our Constitution projects that societal consensus. Until we change our Constitution, as it stands, category of religious identity such as being Catholic, Buddhist or, as over 90% of Kosovars say, Muslim is exactly the same as the ethnic category, or indeed sexual orientation. One cannot raise voice in protest for protection of rights of Albanians in northern Kosovo but stay silent on rights of gays in central Prishtina. I repeat myself – I am not entering a debate on the values – I’m merely referencing this column on the existing legal and constitutional framework. The relativist explanation by some that “both sides are to be blamed” and that “it’s all governments fault as they don’t provide employment” are weak and meek and are basically cynical closing of eyes in front of darkness that stares at us.

With some of those that were threatened on Friday and the subsequent weekend, I have strong political disagreements and we often debate in the media. Some of them support the radical political options just because they share the joint policies against this government. This type of flirtations based on temporary daily political needs makes them forget the fundamental difference between the ethnic and civil concepts of the state. Such political chimera was bound to eat the hand that fed it.

There are many people, many more then those frustrated hooligans with beards, who believe in rules and laws and believe that we deserve to be Europe; that we are Europe; that we want economy entrenched in Europe and personal freedoms like in Europe. These are innumerable islands that must be connected in an archipelago of civic resistance and coalitions beyond the political party divisions and personal fights.

The author is Kosovo’s Deputy Foreign Minister and the Member of State Commission of Religious Freedoms. Views expressed here are not necessarily of these organizations. For more, follow him on Twitter: @petrit

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