From: Alice Elizabeth Taylor
Women of Astir Form Civil Society Group to Demand Dignity and Justice

A group of women from the Astir area of Tirana have formed a civil society group called “Ring Road Women For Dignity” (Grate e Unazes per Dinjitet – GUD) following the obscene gesture directed at them by OSCE Ambassador to Albania, Bernd Borchardt on Sunday night.

The women formed the group following a protest they took part in outside the Tirana Police Directorate, where Borchardt, who was passing by on foot, stuck his middle finger up at them on more than one occasion. According to the group’s manifesto, their objective is to promote “peaceful gathering in public places, always without violence.”

The manifesto reads:

Mr Borchardt’s verbal and gestural insults against women at the protest were very serious and unprovoked. We have been confronted with similar insults by some police officers during confrontations, but neither the Municipality nor officials have offended us with dirty gestures.

The closest they have had to such offensive action is being called “cavemen” by the Mayor of Tirana, Erion Veliaj, they said.

Following widespread outrage at Borchardt’s behavior, he tweeted an apology from the OSCE in Albania Twitter account. In it he said sorry to anyone he “may” have offended and added he respected Albanian’s rights to protest. Whilst GUD said this is a “positive step” they feared it is “insincere and clearly insufficient” adding that he gave no explanation of why he made the gesture.

The group has also created a petition, aiming to collect 5,000 signatures before it is presented to the Head of State, Assembly, and Government. They also said they are saddened by the silence of gender equality NGOs and will be contacting them for their comments and support.

“Together we will contribute to an environment where respect for one another and courtesy towards women dominates”, they said.

Coordinator of GQD, Enxhi Turtulli told Exit:

As Albanian women raising our voices has been always hard. But we never thought that we would find injustice or prejudice from a representative coming from a Western country. We have always thought that Albania should take an example from West in terms of gender equality and protesting for their own rights, but this gesture puts a big question on whether this is the case.

She added, “with this movement we aspire to justice in order to restore our dignity and to raise our voices for the rights and troubles that women may be facing.”

Citizens of Astir have been protesting for over a year against the demolition of their homes. Many of the properties in this area were built without the necessary paperwork at a time of civil and political unrest in Albania. 

The government then introduced a legalisation framework that would allow citizens to legalise their properties. Then the Socialist Party government and the Municipality of Tirana stopped this legalisation process, despite many residents having paid thousands of euros to go through the various steps of the procedure. They then announced a new road-widening project at an unprecedented cost of EUR 20 million per km using a company that forged documents and signatures to apply.

The government has said it will not compensate residents for their properties, even the ones that have taken steps and paid significant amounts of money to ensure their properties are in line with the law.

Speaking of the troubles faced by women and the community in Astir, she said “deep inside we have felt hopeless and desperate but today we feel stronger than ever to find a solution to this matter. It is painful to see tears in the eyes of children and old people in our community as they wonder what will happen to them when they are made homeless.”

We are worried because we have to deal with a government that doesn’t listen to us.

Citizens have regularly taken to the streets in the area to protest against the proposed development. On Sunday, 15 citizens were arrested and held at Tirana Police Directorate after a large number of police and special forces descended on the area in a pre-planned offensive.

The OSCE refused to say what action, if any, will be taken against Borchardt, adding it is being dealt with via “internal processes.”