Today marks 10 years since K2.0 published its print magazine issue on Sex — an edition that challenged rigid and exclusionary understandings of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender roles. It marks 10 years since K2.0 staff, readers and LGBTQ+ individuals and allies were attacked.
Today, 10 years later, we must remember that night. On December 14, 2012, groups of hooligans and religious extremists acted as self-proclaimed morality police in an attempt to decide who is allowed to exist in the public sphere and what can be said.
That night remains one of the most significant moments of our journalistic endeavor. It was a moment we exposed the violent forces in our society and experienced firsthand the extent of their hate. But more importantly, it was a moment where we witnessed our journalism breaking the culture of silence over LGBTQ+ lives and rights.
Reflecting on that moment 10 years later makes me think of just how much has changed since. Six Pride Parades have marched their way through Prishtina’s city center, there is an increase in intergenerational support and broader social acceptance, as well as improved, if delayed, legislation that has come as a result of fierce and persistent activism.
There are heartening and welcome changes.
Many things have come a long way from 10 years ago. I often recall how around the time of the 2012 attack, there were few allies standing in support of LGBTQ+ rights and few voices speaking out in support of freedom of speech. Ten years ago, it was not rare to hear statements or read posts from many who would condemn violence against LGBTQ+ individuals or our magazine, yet condone the premise upon which it was called.
In that sense, the tactic of the hooligans and extremists was working. They had framed their rhetoric of exclusion and calls to violence around claims to be “protecting Albanian tradition” and preventing the “degeneration of our youth.” These claims were based on a narrow idea of what constitutes tradition and of who makes up the youth. And in a society that largely defines itself through expressions of national identity, patriarchy and heterosexual normativity are bound to prevail.
The homophobic mob garnered support on such premises and were helped along by a sensationalist media environment that, leading up to our event, promoted distorted and hateful narratives.
Ten years ago, it was not rare to hear statements from people condemning violence against LGBTQ+ individuals, yet condoning the premise upon which it was called.
Realizing this at the time was not only heartbreaking, but extremely worrying. A violent mob’s takeover of the public sphere was not only taking place, it was televised and somewhat institutionalized. A group of 20 men entered our venue and beat K2.0 staff. Hooligans took to the streets and entered cafes in search of “degenerates” to beat. Two hundred men barricaded us inside the Red Hall at the Palace of Youth and Sport while chanting “faggots out of Kosovo” as the police looked on passively. Days later hooligans attacked people at the office of an LGBTQ+ rights organization. This is what the public witnessed, or many even endorsed.
Yet, power and purpose can be derived from such experiences. When you see the rights of one group threatened or denied based on the whims of a violent mob, you realize how fragile everyone’s rights are. All freedoms are in jeopardy if we don’t protect the rights of one another. A democratic society built on equality and justice must insist on a broader solidarity that recognizes and protects difference.
Our Sex magazine issue, and the violent response that followed, broke a culture of silence 10 years ago. It made us see our surroundings anew, it shook our expectations and strengthened our determination to remain provocative and bold in a quest for a truly just society.
The struggle for human rights never ends
However, the increasing volume of activists’ voices continues to be met with pushback or rejection. This year, 2022, marked a particularly upsetting moment, when on March 16 the Assembly became a podium for perpetuating hate and exclusion.
As the Civil Code went up for a vote, public discussion focused on an article that would open the door to recognizing same-sex civil unions. Human rights activists criticized the article for falling short of delivering genuine equality for same-sex couples, but in Kosovo’s Assembly it elicited days of hatemongering.
The deputies’ speeches not only confirmed their homophobia, but showed their misogynistic understanding of society, rooted in traditionalist conservatism. On March 16, Assembly members talked about their support for “the natural family” and said that recognizing same-sex marriage is “against family values.” We heard that such unions are contrary to “the culture and tradition in which we have lived and continue to live.” It sounded a lot like the hooligans and extremists who attacked our magazine event 10 years ago.
Many of these statements were made by deputies from the governing party Vetëvendosje (VV). It wasn’t much of a change from their position 10 years ago when they shrugged off the December 14 attack as “an attack on dolls,” in reference to the mannequins that were destroyed at the event.
To speak of human rights without naming the groups suffering from discrimination, means attempting to erase their existence and experiences.
Today, 10 years later, party leader and Prime Minister Albin Kurti goes out of his way to avoid saying “LGBT.” He speaks of the importance of recognizing all human rights, yet fails to acknowledge queer existence and lives through language. To speak of human rights without naming the groups or individuals suffering from violence or discrimination, means attempting to erase and reject their existence and experiences. It strengthens the possibilities for hate to dominate at an institution supposed to represent all citizens.
That is what happened on March 16 this year, when deputies were operating on a close-minded idea of what constitutes a family. And the kind of family they were “protecting” is the site of some of the most gruesome violence in the country — it is where women are discriminated against, subjugated, raped or even murdered. Women are being killed by their male partners — tortured to death in their homes, axed in their sleep or shot in front of the gynecological clinic before giving birth. These murders have often been the result of men’s fears of losing privilege, power or authority over the murdered women. These women were murdered by their partners, yes, but they were also murdered by the patriarchy.
Yet politicians have not mobilized on the Assembly floor or elsewhere to genuinely confront and acknowledge this litany of murders as femicide — acts rooted in patriarchal norms. When, and if, there is a response to femicide, they again invoke “tradition” or rely on ethnocentrism to condemn it. Women mustn’t be murdered because it is against tradition, we hear. The case of the murdered woman is tragic due to the nation losing a potential mother, we hear. Both such responses reproduce the image, and subsequently the role, of women as essentially tools of social reproduction: baby-makers for the nation.
That is why recognition and support for LGBTQ+ struggles is crucial to challenging patriarchy. For homophobia and misogyny are not two separate forms of hate — rather, they feed into one another and are both rooted in patriarchy.
In my editorial in the Sex edition of the magazine 10 years ago, I wrote: “ultimately, the battle among and within the sexes boils down to the basic request that in the act of sex, men act (penetrate) and women receive (passive recipient). As such determinants frame ‘normal’ heterosexual relationships, they are therefore also used to excuse homophobia. The space to challenge such social norms seems small.”
Homophobia and misogyny are not two separate forms of hate — rather, they feed into one another.
The attempts to control the bodies and lives of people of any sexual or gender identity — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, even cisgender men and women — are rooted in the power dynamics of sex itself; they are attempts to control what bodies can do or feel, how they can look, who they choose to engage with or whether they choose to at all.
This is what brings me to the name of our magazine issue from 10 years ago: Sex.
When we set out to do the Sex magazine edition in 2012, we embraced it as a moment to explore the ways we as a society were suffocating ourselves with rigidness and conformity. Sex was the entrypoint to speak about self-identification, self-care and self-agency. Yet we also treated sex as inherently political, as the way that bodies are controlled and disciplined.
Our journalism has always been driven by the conviction that it is our professional obligation to scrutinize and make visible what is kept concealed or unquestioned. The attack 10 years ago showed us how important it is to continuously challenge what is considered “natural” or “the truth” and how collective liberties are not truly won until everyone’s struggle is recognized. We also witnessed how journalism has the power of transformation if it recognizes, listens and places such struggles at the core of its care and investigation.
This means that at K2.0 we insist on understandings of tradition that go beyond narrow conservative fantasies. Tradition is for us a place from which to excavate models for justice and equality. We build upon a tradition of civic engagement, resistance and protest.
This means too that we see the youth not as a homogenous or passive demographic, but as a power that can redefine our world.
It has meant challenging the institution of the family — from merely a tool of social reproduction to one of solidarity that can go beyond mere blood relations.
And it has also meant rejecting a strict gender binary in order to recognize and celebrate all the ways individuals identify.
Today, we mark a decade from a violent attempt to control the public sphere. We mark a decade from when freedom of speech, expression, identification and existence were attacked.
And we mark the strength and resilience of the LGBTQ+ individuals who live their identities unapologetically, and we at K2.0 promise to try to live up to our own journalistic goals of not just reporting on the world, but trying to reimagine it and thus change it for the better.
Feature image: Kosovo 2.0.