Perspectives | Society

We need to talk about violence

By - 26.09.2017

Reaction to recent youth killing ignores a deeply violent society.

Recently, there was a serious violent crime committed by young persons (currently there are two teenagers under police investigation) in Kosovo. The crime in question is the killing of the young man Aulon Zeka who was shot in the back by four bullets. In response to the news,  social media status updates all proclaimed shock and awe.

Many described this crime with astonishment and as previously unheard of. By all means this is a shocking crime; however, crime and violence in Kosovo are not new or another post-war acquisition from the ‘outside,’ the diaspora or abroad. On the contrary, crime and violence in Kosovo have not only been present throughout history, but at times were lauded and omnipresent, embroided within the tapestry of the society, history, culture and state.

Undoubtedly, the evidence shows that crime and violence in Kosovo and for Kosovars and Albanians are systemic, structural and cultural, and I challenge anyone for evidence of the contrary.

I am not by any means suggesting that crime and violence are idiosyncratic to Kosovo and Albanians. Like Kosovo’s, the history of all nations and cultures is steeped in violence. What I am suggesting here is that in this case, and in similar cases, the way in which many have reacted suggests that such news was alien to them previously, which it was not.

Often a violent society is steeped in criminal social structures that are deeply embedded within the social fabric, and Kosovo is not different.

Instead of addressing the nature of the crime, instead of addressing the systemic violence in society and the culture through the ages, most of those who were panicked were suggesting that this is a new and unheard of problem for Kosovo that marks a change for society. I told my mother about what was reported on social media and the reactions and she said: “Pse po quditen, gjith jon therr e vra per femra?” (“Why are they surprised? They’ve always stabbed and killed each other over women.”)

I had a lengthy conversation with my mum about why such behaviour existed, examining notions of masculinity and valor that were steeped in Kosovar and Albanian history and customs but also in other cultures through the ages. We concluded that often a violent society is steeped in criminal social structures that are deeply embedded within the social fabric, and Kosovo is not different. Therefore when all around is violent and that is all you know, it is difficult to distinguish non-violent behavior or healthy/ier structures due to this deeply immersed and everyday violent milieu.

It seems this very occurrence of this type of violence when a young man takes a gun and shoots to kill another young man, reportedly for the honor of a young woman, that this very dramatization forces many to proclaim that such abhorrent uncivilized behavior was not previously part of the society of the culture. Although, some have attempted to classify this a barbaric act that is distant from us, in fact barbaric acts such as this have always existed and have actually been interwoven with the identity of our society.

Social structures like the family, where children and women are often beaten to discipline them, are the genesis of violence, both physical and sexual. This is followed by social institutions, from nurseries to schools, where children are systematically physically assaulted in order to make them behave, to universities, where sexual harassment is rife, all the way to employment, where individuals are subjected to so many acts of violence that there are too many to list here. In these circumstances we must ask: Why the recent surprise on social media?

The reason we proclaim such shock and awe is due to the magnitude of the trauma that we now face.

Furthermore, in a society that repeatedly treats its most vulnerable with systematic and abhorrent cruelty, you only need to look at the plight of street dogs, something I have previously written on; why does it surprise anyone that a child will murder another child in cold blood?

In my opinion, although I have studied some of the history of violence within Albanian and Kosovar culture, and have myself often been physically assaulted — especially when I was a child in nursery school in Kosovo where I was beaten on a daily basis — the reason we proclaim such shock and awe is due to the magnitude of the trauma that we now face. This is therefore an attempt to deny, to absolve the guilt that we should all feel in some way, but which is also hard to bear, a guilt we cannot carry as individuals.

However, we are the people that are part of a culture where blood feuds are valorized, where sexual abuse is hidden as it carries shame, where the Kanun is revered. It will be hard but we need to take a step forward because the work that started with Anton Ceta and forgiveness is not sufficient to deal with the scale of violence in our society and culture that we now face.  

We need to launch investigations into present and past abuses and historic crimes, ranging from those that took place in nurseries, schools, and other state institutions in the first instance, in order to hold to account those that perpetrated such violence. This will require victims and perpetrators to come forward, as only through this process may we be able to publicly deal with these issues and demonstrate that it is not appropriate or acceptable behavior and will be no more.

Otherwise, we will continue to behave in ways that legitimize and accept violence. Investigations, and perhaps even prosecution of such crimes, may strengthen society’s trust in the rule of law and not lead to children taking matters into their own hands.

It is now over half a decade since Diana Kastrati was murdered by her ex-husband in the middle of Prishtina, despite having asked for protection from the police, and her family still do not have justice. Many other women have subsequently been killed by their partners.

Perhaps soon the everyday violence that appears to have become engrained in day to day life without a second thought will not be normalized — it will be called out.

It is also the role of the police to provide training for its officers so that they also understand that all cases of violence need to be investigated, regardless of how common and deeply engraved they are, and thus seemingly banal. However, we need to call on them to do so and also investigate the police and their practices when such acts of violence are not pursued and prosecuted.

We also need to recognize that we are the individuals that form this collectively violent society. To say, ‘I am not like that, I am not part of this,’ is to deny justice to all those victims: our children who we sent to nursery and school, our husbands and wives who are abused at work, our daughters, and increasingly sons, who are harassed at university, our colleagues who are abused at work.

I hope the social media updates will at least have a small positive impact. Perhaps soon the everyday violence that appears to have become engrained in day to day life without a second thought will not be normalized — it will be called out. Hopefully it will spur more people to recognize and call out those ugly acts of violence that are so deeply embedded that they are overlooked.

However make no mistake: This is not an outlier event, this is not new, and it did not come from elsewhere. It was born and bred amongst you.

Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.

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