by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
When Albanian LGBT activists announced they would hold the country's first-ever Pride parade on May 17, they sparked a controversy that now involves all of Europe.
Albania's Pink Embassy organization said on March 23 that they were planning a Pride event in the country's capital city, Tirana.
'May 17 will be a special day & the LGBT flag will be raised for the first time in Tirana,' Pink Embassy's Altin Hazizaj said in a statement sent to media.
Albania's deputy minister of defense, Ekrem Spahiu, was quick to condemn the planned Pride parade.
'My only commentary on this Gay parade is that they should be beaten with billy clubs,' he said.
After Spahiu's outburst Albanian LGBT organizations said they would take Spahiu to court.
'This is a call to violence, and we will ask through our lawyers that Spahiu be convicted, in accordance with Albanian law, to a prison sentence of up to five years,' said Kristi Pinderi, one of Albania's leading LGBT rights activists.
Prime Minister Salih Berisha also criticized Spahiu's remarks as 'unacceptable,' while Albania's Ombudsman Igli Totozani and 48 Albanian NGOs also condemned the comments and asked Spahiu to apologize.
Human Rights Watch said Spahiu's statement was 'terrible.'
The E.U. office in Tirana also condemned 'any discriminatory rhetoric as well as any incitement to hatred or violence.'
The E.U. 'strongly urges the Albanian authorities to ensure that such behavior is not repeated,' it said in its statement.
Albania has applied to join the E.U., and the organization issues annual reports on the country's progress in meeting E.U. entry requirements.
Same-sex sexual relations have been legal in Albania since 1995. In 2010, the country's parliament passed an anti-discrimination law that protects sexual orientation and gender identity.
Berisha said at that time that his government would also legalize same-sex relationships, but no legislation to that effect has been introduced.
Albania has ratified Protocol No. 12 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, prohibiting discrimination due to 'sex, race, color, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth, or other status.'
It is also a signatory to the 2007 U.N. Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.
While modern Albanians are probably descendants of the prehistoric inhabitants of the Adriatic coast where they still live, Albania became an independent country only in 1912. After more than 25 years of political turmoil, Italy occupied the country during World War II.
Albania emerged from the war under a Communist government so hardline it criticized even Stalin and Mao as too liberal, and so isolationist its only international ally was North Korea.
Communist Albania collapsed in 1990, but the new democratic Albania almost collapsed as well in 1996 when the vast Ponzi scheme on which the national economy was based fell apart, bankrupting the country.
Berisha was president of Albania until he was forced to resign in 1997 in the midst of the economic crisis. He has been prime minister since 2005.
Although Berisha is an ex-Communist, he heads a center-right government that includes Spahiu's monarchist party, the Legality Movement.
Albania's first, last, and only independent king was Zog I, who fled the Italian invasion in 1939 and died in exile in France in 1961. His son, who styled himself Leka I, died on November 30, 2011.
Spahiu did jail time after a 1998 coup attempt aimed at installing Leka I as king of Albania.
Leka's 29-year-old son, Leka II, works for the Albanian foreign ministry, and has not yet claimed the title of king.
A street in Tirana formerly named 'Stalin Boulevard' was renamed 'Zog I Boulevard' by Berisha's government.
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