The first in a series of 52 interviews with Albanian women in the public sphere #52GraShqiptare.
Gresa Hasa is a radical feminist, political activist and freelance writer. She has studied Political Science at the University of Tirana and has been active politically and socially in the Albanian public sphere due to her engagement with the Albanian student movement “Lëvizja Për Universitetin”, and the leftist grassroots movement “Organizata Politike” which deals mainly with workers’ rights. Gresa has been a leading voice in the feminist cause and movement in Albania through organizing protests, working with working-class women and LGBT+ people, studying and writing about women’s and LGBT+ rights in the country and making the feminist cause an issue of public debate. She writes regularly in Albanian and foreign media, usually about political, cultural and social issues.
She is also a force to be reckoned with. A familiar face at civil society protests, usually found with a megaphone in hand, telling the subject of the demonstration to stick it, she is articulate, fearless and smart.
Even if you don’t agree with her, she has the ability to present her case in such a way that you find yourself questioning your own views. Of course, this has made her a fair few enemies all of whom feel threatened by this woman who loudly and proudly doesn’t take any of their crap. A woman who spends her time tirelessly campaigning for the rights of others and standing up for those with a quieter voice than hers, my project would not be complete without her input.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Determined. Messy. Persuasive.
How do you think others would describe you in three words?
It depends who the others are. If you ask my close friends, I am sure they would give you a different answer than my professors at the university or my parents or neighbours or people who know me only from my TV appearances or generally my engagement in the public sphere. I have heard people calling me “brave” as much as I have heard them calling me “arrogant” and “a bitch”, depending on what is the issue I am talking about, how challenging or fragile that may be. For example, I know for sure that whenever I am speaking against patriarchy and the socio-economic system that feeds this mentality, I’ll get both “brave” and “bitch”. I guess this is the price us women have to pay for daring to challenge patriarchal norms and the role that a society like the one I am living in has been forcing on us since forever, a role we are trying to crush and rebuild.
Nevertheless, I can assure you that it’s a broader and diverse spectrum of adjectives starting from very flattering words to horrendous bullying ones.
What are the biggest challenges you come up against and how do you overcome them?
Not losing faith in what I am doing. This is very important! Fighting against an oppressive and corrupt system that has the courts, the state police, the media and other powerful instruments in its back pocket to get at you, it’s not easy. This is not an impossible struggle, just a very hard one, especially when the powerful people, my friends and I are criticizing and protesting against, are dangerous people. They are either rich and powerful criminals or connected to rich and powerful criminals. Sometimes they can be both. They will do anything to exhaust you, to hurt you, to force you to give up.
Moreover, this is a war against a system that wants us to feel depressed, powerless, pessimistic. The system can grow stronger and remain alive only if we are not, only if we give up and end up being social cadavers, completely conquered. The system wants us to be exactly like that because that way we would be unable to organize and fight back. That is why optimism is the ultimate resistance! And I’d like to quote Angela Davis here when she says: “Optimism is a political act. Optimism is an absolute necessity! You have to act as if it were possible to radically change the world. And you have to do it all the time.”
You nourish optimism and vitality through the collectiveness; by organizing with others and being part of something that you know it is much bigger and important than you; something that overcomes individuality or personal feelings… An idea or a belief that you are aware it will go on living even when you won’t. We are social beings. We are part of a whole and it is right in the middle of an enormous social movement where you feel empowered and alive. I invest my time with intelligent and courageous young men and women who inspire me every single day and who inspire me the most, in those dark moments when it feels impossible to get going. I know I am not alone and I know this is more important than me.
What does your perfect society look like?
A society does not have to be perfect to be good. We are not perfect, that’s why I find it difficult for us to materialize the perfect society. However, together with good sisters and brothers in arms, I am fighting for an equal and just society, such a society where being a woman does not equal fear, insecurities or death; where there are enough goods for everybody and they are distributed to all of us, not just some us; where education and healthcare are free and accessible for everyone; were workers decide their own faith and their life is not dependent on their owner’s pity.
A fair society is a society where there are no poor people because the state takes care of all of those who can’t take care of themselves.
A fair society is one that’s oriented towards our deepest human values, like love. In a fair society, human life, nature and the relationships we build with one another matter more than money and objects.
I want to play my tiny part to help make possible for such a society to flourish before the world we’re living in gets burned down from negligence, pessimism and the greed of the rich.
Who or what is your nemesis and why?
My nemesis is a system that works to keep women and men divided, a system that oppresses us as women, as workers and as citizens of the free world; a system that puts money before human life and nature; a system that sees enemies where there aren’t any.
Such a system is inhuman and unfair that’s why it deserves to be taken down.
Tell me about being an Albanian woman in 2020?
I think being a woman is challenging no matter the nationality that it is stamped on our passports. Unfortunately, women are still discriminated against and society has unfair and absurd expectations towards us. This is a worldwide problem. What makes a society different from another society is the way it chooses to deal with problems and phenomenons.
In these terms, I think that Albanian women are so oppressed that they are even denied the basic freedoms towards different emancipatory action that would liberate them even a little bit from the chains of patriarchy. I am talking here specifically about labour organizing. Working women are denied – not by law – but de facto, to organize in free, democratic and independent labour unions that would help them to overcome certain chains by demanding rights that are denied to them in the workplace, like decent wages and less working hours. This would help them to overcome other patriarchal obstacles. For example, at home. Earning a decent income by being protected by a labour union that puts pressure on the company they’re working for (which usually means a privileged, powerful and corrupted white man who will try to crush any form of resistance, sometimes by using the connections that his privilege enables him), would grant them the possibility to financially maintain themselves. This means that they could divorce and no longer live with a violent man that could also murder them if that were the case.
I believe that gender violence is a class issue. The majority of the women who have gotten murdered in Albania belong to the poorest social strata. They come from working-class families or they’re underpaid workers themselves or unemployed and economically dependent on a male family member or boyfriend / lover / male friend who in most cases happens to be violent enough to take their life away.
I am aware of my privileges as a white middle-class woman in Albania but my status does not represent that of the majority of the population, especially women.
What’s your vision for the next ten years?
To find smarter and better ways to continue with the resistance and to hopefully, tear this unjust system apart, little by little, every day. This is a long fight that requires a lot of patience. Experience has taught me this much until now!
Why do you do what you do?
I will tell you a little story.
Last summer, I was having tea with a dear friend of mine who is an activist in the same political movement to which I belong. She and seven other activists were sentenced to 2 months of prison time, probation and community service for their involvement in the student resistance three years ago that sought reforms to the educational system to make it more inclusive, fair and accessible to all. I was so struck by how distressed and exhausted she seemed that day from the work she had to perform as part of the judge-ordered community service, that I caught myself experiencing an emotional tornado of indignation, anger and worry.
One cannot help but wonder: Why do we do what we do at such high personal cost?
Activism in a challenging and aggressive environment like the one in Albania requires a lot of sacrifice. In the process, you lose a lot of things. Friends that you thought you had. Lovers. People you grew up with and others you met along the way. People you truly cared about and appreciated.
You lose safety. Security. Peace of mind. You lose one job after the other. Actually, even keeping a normal job becomes a struggle of its own. Nobody wants to have around someone who’s trouble. Somebody whose existence solely in the same place as other co-workers would cause a disturbance.
You lose your privacy. You lose close family ties. Your public engagement has a counter-effect on your loved ones. They will have to suffer because of you and that’s quite a burden. They’ll face bullying because of you. They’ll get fired because of you. They’ll get threatened because of you. They’ll be the main gossip subject for people who have nothing better to do with their lives other than talking shit about other people.
You’ll get arrested. You’ll get violated. You’ll spend hours or days behind bars. You’ll get charged. They’ll make you pay in one way or another, is it money they’re taking from you or every bit of your soul. Doors will be shut down to your face mercilessly.
But you don’t give up. You stick together with your friends. They’re all you got when you don’t have anything else to lose. You got their backs and they got yours. This much you know and this much is enough.
You don’t give up because from the bottom of your heart you believe in the movement, you believe in the IDEA. You look back at history and you see that people have given their lives for ideas. Because ideas matter! They’re more important than us. We will all die one day but our ideas will continue to live.
You don’t give up because even in the darkest moments that you may have to go through, you know that things will change. They will change for sure because we’re working hard to make them change; because no matter how much we’re losing, what we’re about to gain is much bigger and rewarding than us and our personal struggles.
You don’t give up because you know that when this world was created, it had enough space and goods for everybody, not just some of us… Because life is precious and everybody must be granted the possibility to taste its bittersweet fruit. But most importantly, because you understand the value of freedom very well because you grew up lacking it and its absence has made you more mature and conscious.
Because we’re political beings and as such we have responsibilities towards each other, human duties that we must accomplish in one way or another. Because love, compassion, solidarity and humanism are non-negotiable and (always) worth fighting for.
Because we’re fucking mad.
Do you ever get scared? How do your family react to what you do?
I get worried sometimes. I get stressed, a lot. However, I do not get scared. Being part of a big social movement gives you strength and inspiration. It reminds you that you are not alone and the struggle you have committed to is bigger than you. Whatever happens, the struggle will continue until everything is put back to the right place, there where it belongs and I don’t think there’s anything else more exciting in life than this…
My family is aware of my commitment and my parents are my biggest supporters. However, unlike me, they do get scared. Sometimes they get worried more than they should because they’re parents. We communicate with one another, we try to talk things through calmly and I try to make them understand and when I can’t do so, I try to protect them and save them from the trouble.
What bit of advice would you give to your younger self?
Being born a girl and having grown up in a very patriarchal society comes with a lot of insecurities and violence. The advice I would give to my younger self and to any girl and woman out there is to trust your guts and never allow anybody to make you feel as if you are less than what you really are because what you are is a strong and courageous person. I’d tell them: You got this!
Keep going ladies!
This article was originally published on The Balkanista.