20 minutes from Corfu

20 minutes may be a short segment of time, a very small inconsiderable portion of your life, but when you take the ferry from the island of Corfu to mainland Albania, it may be as if travelling in time machine as you confront the norms, habits and mentality of Albanian daily life. Whilst getting closer to the bay of Saranda, a small tourist Albanian town, you get the feeling that you are entering into a shadow and not only because the sun’s rays are blocked by the sides of the bay,.

Ugly grey communist buildings hurt the eye of the curious western tourists, who are attracted to this forgotten land. It’s been more than 7 years since this side of the country was first exposed to the western eye, due to its archaeological draw – the Unesco Heritage Butrint Site – and proximity to the Western World, being only few kilometres  from Corfu.

To be or not to be, TOPLESS?

In the summer of 2006, an unexpected event caught the attention of Albanian media. A considerable number of Scandinavian ladies created an embarrassing and difficult situation for Albanian police officers, while enjoying the Mediterranean heat on Albanian soil. What actually happened was as follows: some Scandinavian tourists after having visited the city of Butrint, decided to spend their time in the one, only and main beach of Saranda; for these foreign tourists it was a normal thing to be topless on a beach, and so that’s what they did.

Random citizens that happened to walk on the path along the beach were most probably alarmed by this and consequently they asked the police officers to find a solution for this inappropriate situation. It was abnormal for them to see topless women getting a suntan on the beach along Sarande. The few poor policemen that were there, having found themselves in intitial difficulty as they didn’t speak English and as they didn’t want to scare these foreign tourists, according to the newspapers tried “other means of communication” (I would guess body language). Luckily for the police and the morality of the entire Ablanian nation their tactics were successful and the message was delivered. The scantily clad Scandinavians, after having understood the situation, covered the cause of the national “scandal.”

Norms on Sexuality and Gender

The fact that this was deemed a worthy news story in Albania, and that people felt moved enough to call in the strong arm of the law to deal with the situation says much about  the sexual taboos that Albanian society is ruled by. Taboos that have created an inner complexity and fear of being stereotyped or labled with having an individual personality. Everything has to be hidden, untold and kept in line with the local habits and mentality. This has come from the deep infiltration of oriental cultures as well as the lack of intellectual development during communism, where Albanian paintings with nudes would not be exposed because of their sexual connotations, where singers were not allowed to move their bodies at festivals, where only one Albanian film (in the 80s) ever included a kiss scene – and even this was an implied kiss.

This may have been done in similar ways in most other communist countries, but in Albanian society it had a deep impact. A society that when a Kingdom, enforced a ban on Muslim women wearing veils, but also a society with stubborn mentality that though living in a period of change did not progress due to communism.

Unfairness. That is what it comes in my mind when I think about the inequality between males and females in today’s’ Albania. Why so? The old Albanian norms (often called Codes of Kanun) didn’t lay the blueprint for the inequality as is seen today. These norms have been misinterpreted and abused, especially after the fall of communism. Gender equality during the communist regime did not mean that females had the same rights as males, but rather that females should be as useful to the state as males. They used to preach this ‘mentality revolution’ as a contemporary concept of Albanian communist society. If females during communism were given the same rights as men, this was done so they would have the same duties as men and work the same jobs as men.

Today, sadly we see a hypocritical society growing in its ignorance, parallel to the deep changes taking place in its mentality. Albanian males have enjoyed their sexual freedom in whatever ways they could, while if girls act similarly they have been stereotyped and prejudiced against. Today, there sadly still exists the concept of marrying virgin females, as they are an image of purity and devotion. Isn’t this unfair when Albanian females can’t act in the same way?

No wonder unsuspecting Scandinavians, from their liberlised open socities, cause such a scandal when they arrive on these sandy shores. So ladies plannig to come to Albania: beware.

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