Today, under the slogan “Together and Proud” human rights defenders, activists and allies filled the main squares of Prishtina for the Pride Parade.
Organized for the fifth time, this time Kosovo joined various countries around the world who mark “Pride month” during June; by celebrating, protesting and holding pride parades as acts of recognition, celebration and resistance of LGBTIQ+ people over the years. During Pride Week, Prishtina hosted a series of activities, including, among others, discussions, exhibitions and artistic performances.
Beyond solidarity and commitment for the protection and advancement of LGBTIQ+ rights, Pride Week serves as an important “test” for institutional support. Institutional representatives take the test, especially regarding their (lack of) presence in the Parade.
Over the last five years, institutional leaders and heads have mainly supported Pride Week by calling for the protection and respect of diversity; the term that has often been used as a substitute for LGBTIQ+ people. Even though these commitments have been mentioned only during their speeches or through their presence in the parade, the public support of leading politicians in the state, however superficial, is more than necessary and important.
For Kosovo, in particular, given the enormous challenges LGBTIQ+ people face, such as: Systemic violence, repetitive verbal and physical violence from homophobic or transphobic people, the lack of safe and welcoming public spaces, the lack of access in employment, healthcare and shelter, to mention just a few.
But, this year, even the superficial support was lacking. The prime minister, Albin Kurti, chose not to attend any of the activities taking place during Pride Week, including the Pride Parade. This makes him the first leader who did not attend and who doesn’t show open and straightforward support for LGBTIQ+ community. Similarly, the president, Vjosa Osmani, chose only to be present during the week’s opening, but did not attend the march alongside citizens.
It took continuous public pressure from LGBTIQ+ activists for the government to finally light up the building with rainbow colors on the evening of May 17.
Kurti’s decision this year is similar to last year when he became prime minister for the first time. Back then, on May 17, the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, the Kurti Government was reluctant to light up the government building with the LGBTIQ+ flag colors. Lighting up the building, from the government’s side, specifically from the Office for Good Governance, had become a tradition for years.
It took continuous public pressure from LGBTIQ+ activists for the government to finally light up the building with rainbow colors on the evening of May 17. While some argued that it is “better late than never,” this hesitation served as an indicator that the attempt to avoid even lighting up a building was not merely negligence, but a purposeful attempt to avoid the statement on protecting LGBTIQ+ rights. If no noise would follow, perhaps they could get away with it.
Meanwhile, Kurti’s only public statement was a tweet on his official Twitter profile: “Tonight, the Government of #Kosovo has been lit up in rainbow colors. Discrimination has no place in our society, and no one should be judged nor fear for their safety because of who they are.” While Kurti tweeted only in English, many within the LGBTIQ+ communities saw this as another attempt to avoid direct communication with the electorate who may not support his statement.
In fact, the party in power, Lëvizja Vetëvendosje! (LVV), has never come out in defense of LGBTIQ+ people or Pride Week, including during the period it was not in power. Similar to other political parties, LVV has not included the wellbeing and empowerment of LGBTIQ+ people in Kosovo in their governing plan.
LVV showed its nonchalance toward LGBTIQ+ rights even during the election campaign in 2019. They never actually discussed the reality that LGBTIQ+ people lived in or their commitment to advance the rights of these oppressed communities.
When asked about LGBTIQ+ rights, during the discussion “Fol Hapur,” (“Open talk” organized by Lëvizja Fol, (Movement Talk) Albin Kurti’s responses, back then a candidate for prime minister, were superficial, general and abstract in addressing such a present and concrete problem. He avoided the elaboration of any position or specific program in this regard to such an extent that if someone would not have listened to the question, they probably would have no idea of what Kurti was talking about.
It has been 100 days and things do not look hopeful when it comes to changing this attitude. The silence and disregard toward LGBTIQ+ rights continue.
“In every society there are other minorities that are not national minorities because in our country when we say minority, we mean only national minorities. Identity minorities are not just national minorities. I am an advocate for human rights, the UN Charter on Human Rights and the European Charter on Human Rights. I am for people to be treated equally by the state and the state to take care of them. As for other issues, we have the laws and the constitution. As far as this aspect is concerned, we have a very liberal Constitution, but it also depends on the legislation and the competent bodies that interpret it,” said Kurti in the discussion.
In a fight against oppression and discrimination, the commitment to protect human rights should incorporate much more than just the legal aspect, especially when it concerns LGBTIQ+ rights.
While in his first term, Kurti was the head of the government for only 50 days, this time, it has been 100 days and things do not look hopeful when it comes to changing this attitude. The silence and disregard toward LGBTIQ+ rights continue.
During the opening of Pride Week, prime minister Kurti participated in a video campaign, produced by the Center for Equality and Liberty (CEL), which included various messages on LGBTIQ+ rights conveyed by prominent individuals from politics and civil society.
What set the Prime Minister, apart from the others, was again his resistance to mentioning the acronym LGBTIQ+ at least once, let alone lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, or queer. Just like in the interview given to Lëvizja FOL, he was general and abstract.
A government that was voted for by more than half of the population, under the promise of equality and justice, seems to be choosing to turn one eye blind to the oppression of LGBTIQ+ people, who are citizens that should have the same access to the promised justice and equality.
It is of paramount importance to understand that Kurti’s position is more than merely an issue of his or his political party’s perspectives. The office of the prime minister of the state is a position that serves all the citizens of that state. Moreover, it should be understood that LGBTIQ+ rights are not an issue that should be calculated in terms of winning or losing the electorate, nor an issue of individual principles and someone’s opinions. LGBTIQ+ rights are human rights and as such, should be protected and promoted.
Attending the parade should be the least that prime minister Kurti could do.
Therefore, the government and respective institutions should actively and powerfully engage in creating and implementing concrete plans and strategies in fighting oppression and discrimination toward LGBTIQ+ people, and also in drafting specific and inclusive programs for their empowerment. The creation of easier opportunities for employment; health services for transgender people’s transitions; supervision of public spaces; incorporating the LGBTIQ+ community as discussion topic in school curricula; informing the general population through different activities organized by the ministries and municipalities, are among many things that the government and relevant institutions could initiate to improve the situation of LGBTIQ+ people.
Perhaps, as a start, the government should hear out LGBTIQ+ people. A genuine commitment will not be achieved if institutions and the government in question hesitates to recognize LGBTIQ+ people as equal citizens of this society.
Attending the parade should be the least that prime minister Kurti could do. Today, he chose not to give even the minimum.
Homepage image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0