Last Friday, a remarkable thing happened in Pristina. I mean that in the original sense, of course: a thing worthy of remark, or perhaps created solely to prompt remark, occurred here, and now everybody is talking about it.
As all of my local readers are already aware, I am referring to the violent cancellation of Kosovo 2.0’s “Sex” issue party, which was shut down by a mob of club-wielding thugs whilst police – according to eyewitness reports, if not official record – did noticeably less than they may have been expected to do, or less than they may have done in another jurisdiction. People got hurt. Things were destroyed. Luckily, it did not go any further than that. Because sometimes these things do.
What happened here? To speak very broadly, it was a skirmish; it was a fast and unexpected (to a degree) little incursion by the forces of traditionalism against those of (the circumstance we have largely agreed to call) modernity. It was a small, localized battle in a war that is global in scope. It was a raid.
What else was it? Well, this is where it gets a little more complicated. Multi-layered, fluid, pregnant with questions. This is where it gets… Balkan.
Let us first define it by its official response: According to Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi, as well as a broad array of the acronym-organizations (UNMIK, EULEX, OSCE) that define Pristina’s institutional sphere, what happened on Friday was an organized attack on press freedom and on LGBT rights.
This is nearly impossible to argue. Following the raid on the Kosovo 2.0 party, the mob subsequently attacked persons associated with two of Kosovo’s (rare and embattled) gay-rights organizations. They screamed slogans beginning with “Allahu” and “Death to”. These people are not mysterious. We know who these people are and we know what they stand for, societally speaking. They are not pro-press freedom and they are not pro-gay rights. Everyone who has lived through the past few decades knows exactly what this particular cultural faction wants and doesn’t want to happen.
But what did Kosovo 2.0 want to happen? In what manner did they choose to address the fact that Kosovo 1.0 – the actual Kosovo, the fraught, tenuous, “newborn” Republic of Kosovo – contains a certain number of individuals who will go to great lengths to prevent things like gay-rights groups and sex parties and cultural modernity from gaining any sort of foothold here? To what degree were the various best- and worst-case scenarios considered? And what were they?
Two days after the event, I found myself sitting with a friend in Pristina’s Dit e Nat café – a conspicuously “European” corner of the fractious and fractured city –discussing how it all went down. Things were fresh. People were talking, telling stories, repeating things. The grapevine was swollen with intoxicating wines.
The thing to remember here, I was told, is that while Kosovo 2.0’s efforts might have seemed merely “progressive” in Paris or Berlin or (my native) Montreal, in Pristina they were nothing short of radical. To propose a party like this was a radical act. To send out invitations – as they did – mentioning things like “masturbation bars, the prostitution industry […] Albanian male adolescence, homosexuality and war […] having sex while disabled,” was a very direct and very radical gesture toward a part of this city and region that they had to know was watching.
And that, in one sense, is OK. It’s OK because these sorts of cultural skirmishes really are part of a greater war, and in war, radical gestures can and must occur. Sometimes, these are the only things that move the front-lines, that gain ground and cause one’s enemy to lose face and to lose support and to diminish. Because Kosovo is still very much a “1.0” sort of thing, there is this enormous sense that its future nature has yet to be defined. Will Kosovo, in this particular area, possess the public mores of Berlin? Or will it default to the more circumscribed ones of, say, Istanbul? Will the traditionalists win, or will the modernists? Because “dialogue” and “sensitivity” and public-statements-of-acronym-organizations aside, someone always wins. And someone always loses.
The trouble at this juncture, though, is that it’s hard to see any directly-involved parties as having “won” very much at all. I will state my own sympathies: I am a press-freedom absolutist. I am also a supporter of gay rights, both at home and here in Kosovo. As such, I rejoice in circumstances that advance these causes, and am troubled by those that imperil them. And I am not yet sure where this particular event will ultimately fall on that continuum.
Historically, one of the great blood libels leveled against homosexual men by religious conservatives has been that they support pederasty – sex with adolescent boys. “Pederasts” was one of the many words that followed “Death to” in the mob-cries of Friday’s raid. As such, I think one can reasonably question the responsibility of including “Albanian male adolescence” in a list of things that one’s “Sex” party is going to celebrate. Was this too much? Was this a dog-whistle meant to inflame traditionalists while internationals heard only the familiar language of LGBT rights? Or was it a well-aimed lancing of traditionalism’s stubborn boil, a principled act of defiance meant to communicate that no subject, no matter how taboo, will be silenced or suppressed in the new Kosovo?
This is where it gets difficult. Because though we are on one hand speaking of vast historical changes, of cultural shifts and radical actions and principled stances, on the other we are talking about a sexy holiday party held to promote a glossy magazine.
This is not to say that magazines cannot be political actors. They can. But they can also be opportunistic. They can benefit, in the sense of drawing publicity and public attention, from cultural schisms and divides, and they can benefit from remark-worthy events. They can benefit, sometimes, from things that end up hurting people.
I don’t believe that this is Kosovo 2.0’s intention. But now that the violence has occurred, now that the factions have identified themselves and the battle-lines have been drawn, it’s time for further action. For the sake of both Kosovo 2.0 and Kosovo 1.0, it’s time to be clear.
If one is going to be radical, one must be fearless and direct. That’s the price. Though I am relieved to know that the heads of Pristina’s various acronym-organizations deplore the violence visited on last Friday’s party, and I am glad to know that the reported lassitude of the police does not reflect the official stance of Thaçi’s government, this isn’t over yet. Reprinting the assurances of these institutions is not sufficient; though they may serve to legitimize, they cannot serve to protect. There is still one piece missing.
What do the editors of Kosovo 2.0 and the organizers of last Friday’s violently aborted party have to say to the mob itself? What do they say to the imams, to the hooligans, to the thugs?
Because this hasn’t run its course. For the gay men and women who are the supposed recipients of this act of goodwill, things are not yet over. Things are, in fact, tense and unfinished and dangerous. How will Kosovo 2.0 address the vast cultural fault-line that it has exposed? How directly will it counter the claims of the fundamentalists?
We need to know what the publishers have to say. Not the government, and not the international organizations, but Kosovo 2.0. Tell us what this means.
Tell us what is going to happen.