Andreas Winhart, a politician from the right-wing German populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD), thinks Albanians are thieves. He said as much in a widely criticized campaign speech in which he also deployed antisemitic stereotypes, used the N-word to refer to Black people and blamed refugees for HIV and scabies cases.
Despite Germany’s laws against hate speech, Winhart’s comments were not prosecuted as incitement, but were rather seen as part of the “right to polemical exaggeration.”
Though Winhart was not punished, his critics were. In 2019 Énissa Amani — a German comedian, artist and activist — reacted on her Instagram account to Winhart’s racist screed. In November 2021 she received an arrest order for insulting Winhart.
Amani had called Winhart a “bastard” and an “idiot” in her Instagram post, and shed light on the lack of a conviction in the prosecutorial process over Winhart’s hate speech. Now she would have to pay a 1,800 euro fine or go to jail if she refused to pay. Following this news there was a major wave of solidarity for Amani on social media.
It is difficult to describe Énissa Amani to outsiders. Albanians might think: “A është shqiptare?” “Is she Albanian?” Her first name makes it seem like she might be. Amani is famous for using her one million followers on Instagram not just for marketing and entertainment but for political activism. Her main issue is fighting the type of racism she has experienced growing up as a daughter of Iranian refugees in Germany.
Amani can easily afford to pay her fine. It’s not about the money. Rather, she refuses to accept that Winhart should get away with his racist and antisemitic statements and wants him to pay at least a symbolic amount for his comments.
Amani uploaded a video on Instagram in which she asks her followers to help her decide whether she should pay the fine or go to jail as a symbolic protest. As part of this conversation, there were potential plans made for anti-fascist initiatives to take over her Instagram account for 40 days in order to do further educational outreach on the topic. In the end, a massive wave of solidarity encouraged her to go to jail instead of paying the fine.
Despite Albanians being the target of hate speech from the AfD and others in Germany, I noticed limited solidarity on the part of Albanians on Instagram or in my surroundings. I expected to see diaspora Albanians posting the Albanian flag under Amani’s posts or at least someone sharing Amani’s case in my family WhatsApp group. It even made me doubt whether or not we were targeted in Winhart’s insults or if I just misunderstood. It seems as if Albanians hardly ever engage in anti-racist discourses in Germany, even if they themselves are affected. Why is that?
Albanians and migrant discourses
In the past few years, there have been a number of Germans from migrant backgrounds — often queer and/or women, second or third-generation migrants in the media, cultural and art scene or the field of political education — who have a major influence on conversations about racism, discrimination and Germany as a post-migrant society. They not only empower each other but also criticize one another to develop current societal debates further.
But there are just a few German Albanians taking part in these critical Migrant/German positions. There are women like Elona Beqiraj, who published “Und wir kamen jeden Sommer” (“And We Came Every Summer”), a book of poetry dealing with questions of belonging. Beqiraj is currently involved in a number of political projects addressing problems such as right-wing terrorism. Aferdita Suka, a politician for the Green Party in Berlin, is politically active, particularly in community work. Also, Fatbardh Kqiku, co-founder of the Diversity Mentoring Germany Initiative and board member at the Kaneza Foundation for Dialogue and Empowerment e.V., is now publishing his first book “Zwischen den Rissen” (“Between the Cracks”). The politically active Albanian bubble in Germany is limited for now, but still doing important work.
Albanian voices drowning in the fourth wave
The intensification of the Énissa Amani case comes at the worst time possible. Germany is facing a fourth corona wave with 76,414 new COVID cases in 24 hours as of late November. A significant number of people still do not want to be vaccinated, among them many AfD voters, endangering the health of all. People are tired, anxious and frustrated, which also affects the participation of German Albanians in the case of Amani.
I’m the last person to post proudly on social media about successful people with Albanian heritage, as many Albanians do. I guess my reserved position when it comes to what I call “patriotic posting” is linked to growing up in between Germany and Kosovo, making me critical towards the concept of patriotism. Don’t get me wrong, of course, it makes me happy to see successful Albanians worldwide and it brings tears to my eyes when I think of all their emotional biographies and the war experiences we have been through. But I do believe the case of Énissa Amani needs much more attention from Albanians in and out of the diaspora for several reasons.
Diaspora Albanians have been pretty quiet about Amani’s case and the racist way they were attacked by this AfD politician. Minority groups in Germany face frequent racist or Islamophobic comments. But Winhart’s comments were one of the most high profile and noteworthy occasions when Albanians were directly targeted with a verbal attack. Albanians’ silence could be seen as self-protection, but in the long run, being silent towards racism and discrimination undermines our self-worth and can be dangerous.
Even when I contacted Albanians in the cultural scene, who usually post political content, they said they didn’t have the resources to get involved and had no clear position on Amani.
Many Albanians post about political issues in Kosovo or Albania but not those in Germany. Talking to young Albanians living in Germany, many agree that we’re not politically engaged enough in German discourses and the reasons are unclear. It might be linked to Albanians being historically seen in the role of the victim and a desire to not be in a vulnerable position in the diaspora. However, like other minorities in Germany, Albanians too face racism.
Diaspora Albanian men in particular tend to show their integration through their hard work rather than by claiming their rights or showing themselves as vulnerable when it comes to discrimination. This is also linked to the toxic masculinity circulating in our community.
A young Albanian entrepreneur in Germany told me that he was not sure about Énissa Amani’s motivation to go to jail for injustice as Amani is not one of the groups targeted by the AfD politician’s comments. He’s afraid it might all be for image reasons. Further, he doesn’t want to give a stage to this racist politician. His thoughts on the case Amani are valid, but also shows that there is a lack of trust in others standing up for us or injustice in general.
Who are we?
Sometimes due to our physical appearance, Albanians are not perceived as stereotypical Muslims or Ausländer (foreigner), which leads to the fact that German Albanians become invisible or get “whitened.” Often people drop anti-Muslim comments in front of us without recognizing our grandmothers are wearing head scarfs too. Others ask us on Bajram if we didn’t come to school because we were sick.
I remember once as a child when some of my distant cousins from Switzerland visited us I felt ashamed because they listened to Albanian music in public and were proud Swiss-Albanian shacis. Today I look at it differently, I see a lot more self-confidence among diaspora Albanians in Switzerland compared to Germany.
Older generations have also contributed to the invisibility of Albanians in Germany, by hiding behind Italian or Croatian restaurants and other businesses. Despite the massive number of Albanians working in the restaurant industry, there are hardly any places in Germany where you can order authentic Albanian food.
Of course, this is primarily a result of German society in the past not being open to Albanian food, which made such restaurants’ survival a challenge. But nowadays society has opened up at least in terms of food culture. Many people from the German Vietnamese community who used to sell generic “Chinese” food have successfully shifted in the last few years to a more authentic Vietnamese menu at their restaurants. This can also be the case for Albanians.
Many Germans from migrant backgrounds find empowerment in BIPoC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities, a term and community space that some Albanians may not feel is open to them. Questions like “Am I (culturally) Muslim enough?”, “Are we privileged in German migrant discourses?” and “Did I experience enough racism?” come up. Sometimes instead we are framed as Eastern European, which also doesn’t feel quite right. This leads to problems of belonging and finding empowerment for civic engagement.
Diaspora parent struggles
I often hear from older Albanian German generations living in the diaspora that no one cares about anyone anymore. “Society has changed. Everyone focuses on themselves — even Albanians.” Life has separated them from their friends with whom they arrived. At the same time, their homeland changed so much that they no longer feel they are cared for anywhere. But the case of Amani shows people care about racist and antisemitic stereotypes and care about you — without being Albanian.
Furthermore, many diaspora parents, not only Albanians, raise their children to be quiet and not fight against racism. They say, “just let it go,” or maybe even blame their children, saying, “you might have done something that made the teacher angry.” Their reaction to racism may be a result of anxieties, a desire to not stand out too much. Perhaps they’re scared as a result of events like the right-wing terrorist shooting spree in Hanau, where nine young people from migrant backgrounds were killed. Of course, diaspora parents are worried about their children and are trying to protect them, but standing up against racism and for your and others’ rights is the only way of protecting yourself and others.
Germany, an imperfect place
People have to let go of the idea of Germany being a perfect place with a perfect legal system protecting everyone. People with a migration background living in Germany and even holding German citizenship face discrimination on a daily basis.
Énissa Amani for now decided to go to jail. Her case made clear that there’s a lot more potential for German Albanians to engage in societal discourses, no matter how many Albanians live in Germany or whether they arrived later than others. We can unite with other minority communities, learn from each other. We should never accept racism towards ourselves or others. Énissa Amani deserves our solidarity.
Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0