Albania is Europe’s Most Homophobic Country According To A New Survey

The results of a European Social Survey, ESS, which will be published on Tuesday, suggest that Albania is the most homophobic society of the European countries included in the survey.

The survey showed that 53% of Albanians believe that “gays and lesbians should not be free to live life as they wish,” a sharp contrast to the 3% of the population in both the Netherlands and Sweden who agree with the same sentiment.

It is important to note that the survey did not include other countries in the Western Balkans, where homophobia is believed to be just as strong, if not higher.

Xheni Karaj, a Tirana gay rights activist, told Balkan Insight that the survey’s findings reflect the discrimination LGBT persons face every day in Albania:

It’s part of a mentality that does not see us as members of the community, and often perceives [being gay] as a phenomenon imported from developed countries and that there is no such thing as homosexual in Albania. People should understand that we have been, are and will continue to be Albanians and homosexual.

The European Social Survey was established in 2001, and is conducted biannually. 2012 was the first time the survey was conducted in Albania.

A Brief Albania LGBT Recent History Recap:

In July 2009, Prime Minister Sali Berisha unexpectedly declared his support for same-sex marriage at a televised meeting of his ministers. His comments came before his expected support for a comprehensive national anti-discrimination law. The Albanian media erroneously began calling the proposed anti-discrimination law “the law on gay marriage.” This surprise announcement came to a country were LGBT persons live deep in the closet for fear of harassment and violence.

Albanian Prime Minister Sali Barisha
Albanian Prime Minister Sali Barisha

In February 2010 Albania adopted anti-discrimination legislation which includes the prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (Amnesty International (28 March 2012))

A publication issued in May 2012 reviewing events of the preceding year by the United States Department of State, revealed:

The law prohibited discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals; however, no official claims of discrimination were made, and the government has not had an opportunity to enforce the law

Despite the law and Albania’s formal support for LGBT rights, homophobic attitudes remained…LGBT NGOs reported some discrimination and loss of employment due to sexual orientation. Reports of police harassment of LGBT persons and police brutality against transgender sex workers were verified

When the first ever gay pride parade was announced in March 2012 to be held in Tirana on May 17, Albania’s deputy defense minister, Ekrem Spahiu, denounced the plan saying, “My only commentary on this gay parade is that they should be beaten with truncheons.” Albanian Prime Minister Berisha responded by saying, “Albania is a free country, and nobody should think that we are going to restrict rallies. Tirana is a tolerant city, and we are a country where freedoms are guaranteed.”

The parade did go on but gay rights activists shelved plans for a larger parade after the hostile comments from the deputy defense minister. As the parade began, a dozen cyclist were attacked by “hooded youths who threw homemade tube bombs at them. The missiles banged and sent thick smoke into the air, but the demonstrators were unhurt and cycled on.”

Balkan Insight notes that:

While Albania’s parliament decriminalized homosexuality in 1995, more than a decade and half later gays and lesbians are still heavily stigmatized. Most gays and lesbians still conceal their true sexual orientation, fearing that if it was discovered, their safety would be compromised. Human rights reports on Albania say ingrained attitudes among the general public leave gays and lesbians stuck on the fringes of society.