18 July 2019
01 November 2018
It has been ten years since Kosovo declared its independence. To this day, its women are, however, not entirely free. Feminist Zana Hoxha Krasniqi and other like-minded people are fighting for things to finally change.
The nightlife is thriving. Mother Teresa Boulevard, the pedestrian zone in the heart of Pristina, is teeming with young men and women. They flock to one of the numerous coffeeshops and restaurants or stroll across the large main square. In Kosovo, the percentage of people under 30 is higher than anywhere else in Europe. This gives rise to many conflicts. In particular young women ¬– who frequent the country’s hip bars, wearing Mom jeans, low-cut tops, gold jewellery and heavy make-up and cultivating a casual style, a cool attitude and Western lifestyle – suffer from the traditional social structures.
Appearances are deceptive
Much of the lifestyle seen on Mother Teresa Boulevard is all tinsel and glitter, says Zana Hoxha Krasniqi. A theatre director and activist, Krasniqi founded the FemArt festival in Pristina in 2012. Ever since, it has been a place for young artists and activists from the entire Balkan region to meet and share their thoughts. The event is not only about making yourself heard, says Hoxha Krasniqi. The FemArt festival intends to be a platform for presenting ideas and creations by artists from the region and other Western Balkan states where the situation of women is not so different to that in Kosovo. “Through their work they convey values such as human rights, peace, respect and tolerance,” says the founder of the festival, which aims to develop new ideas to promote the feminist cause in Europe’s youngest state.
“Feminism in Kosovo is often linked to taboos and misunderstandings.”
“Feminism in Kosovo is often linked to taboos and misunderstandings,” says Krasniqi. The traditional image of women used to be extremely outdated, particularly before the declaration of independence in 2008, she says: men ruled the roost, while women were supposed to maintain the home and care for the children. Young girls ¬– often having just come of age and against their will – were married off. Domestic violence against women was and still is daily fare.
2018 saw the sixth annual FemArt festival. It featured discussion rounds, artistic performances, concerts, exhibitions and film screenings in the capital of Pristina and the towns of Ferizaj and Mitrovica over the course of six days. More than 220 artists and activists from across the globe participated that year.
Photo: Once a year the FemArt festival brings activists from the entire Balkan region to Pristina. © FemArt-Festival
A survey of the Kosovo Women’s Network from 2015 shows that more than two thirds of the female population have experienced domestic violence in their lives. Experts estimate that 90 per cent of these cases have never been reported. In 2017 women broke a taboo when they spoke out in public for the first time, talking on TV about the rapes they had to endure during the Kosovo war between 1998 and 1999.
Krasniqi says the reasons for the delayed development are also due to the Balkan countries’ patriarchal social system. The Kanun, the old, initially oral set of customary Albanian and Kosovan laws, still has a strong influence on people’s lives. “Women are the property of their husbands” or “Their duty is to give birth to children: a woman is a sack for carrying things”, it says, for example.
This attitude is much more common in rural areas. The FemArt festival also aims to reach out to the people in these areas. Last year’s events were held for the first time in smaller towns such as Ferizaj and Mitrovica. To Krasniqi this is a big step towards countering prejudices among the rural population.
Krasniqi recalls a story that had a strong impact on her life. In her early twenties she married her boyfriend. Shortly after she got pregnant. When she visited her home town, a small village outside of Pristina, she met an old acquaintance who said to her: “Oh Zana, you were such a promising woman. Now look at you: you’re married and pregnant.” This comment made her angry. She wanted to be more than just a mother and wife; someone who makes a difference. This encounter changed her life, she says. An initial spark for her dedication to the feminist cause.
No more taboos, at last
Krasniqi has been advocating women’s rights in Kosovo ever since. In 2004 she founded Artpolis, an organisation that aims to promote social dialogue through art. Its goal is to involve people of different ethnic, social or religious backgrounds and sexual orientations, talk about taboo issues and debunk prejudices in society.
The FemArt festival is part of this movement and has turned out to be particularly successful. Many national and international activists attend its events every year. The festival week features lectures and discussions, and also includes film screenings, which deal with topics such as rape or forced marriage, for example.
Postcards from Albania
Postcards from Albania is a journalistic research project by students of Journalism and Public Relations at the FH Joanneum in Graz. In the early summer of 2018, the 19-member editorial team reported live from the ten-day research trip through the Western Balkans. erstestiftung.org shares selected articles from the comprehensive online and print magazine which resulted from the project and translates them into English.
Graphic: © Margit Steidl / Studiolo M
Human rights activist Feride Rushiti delivered one of the most emotional speeches in 2018. In her capacity as executive director of the Kosova Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims, Rushiti provided in-depth insight into the fates of traumatised rape victims who were abused during the Kosovo war, her voice trembling and tears welling in her eyes. She said that nothing was more important to Kosovan women than being able to speak openly about this issue at last and break its taboo. She emphasised the necessity to help victims and to finally hold the perpetrators accountable.
The audience was primarily comprised of young women, mostly students and pupils. There were even a few men among them that evening. There was an embarrassed silence in the dark hall of Pristina’s Oda Theatre when Rushiti finished her speech and a feeling among those present that change could be imminent.
Many of them pin their hopes on the European Union. Krasniqi, too, wants Kosovo to join the EU and hopes that the country’s inhabitants will finally be perceived as Europeans. She believes that the female population in particular will not only fight for their own rights but also for those of their country. Therefore she is confident – in line with this year’s FemArt motto “Run The Show” – that in the end it will be the women who lead the country into the EU.
Original in German. First published in November 2018 in the printed version of Postcards from Albania.
Translation into English by Barbara Maya.
This text is protected by copyright: © Linda Schwarz. If you are interested in republication, please contact the editorial team.
Copyright information on pictures, graphics and videos are noted directly at the illustrations. Cover picture: Native Kosovan Zana Hoxha Krasniqi founded the FemArt festival. She fights for women’s rights in Kosovo. Photo: © Ramona Arzberger