This week I was contacted by Antonia Young, A British scholar, author, and anthropologist who was in Albania and wanted to ask me some questions. The topics on the table were the realities of life for LGBTI individuals within the country, and the issue of women’s place in society, coupled with worrying domestic violence statistics.
Antonia is an Honorary Research Fellow at the Department of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford and she is also a Research Associate at the Sociology and Anthropology Department at Colgate University in New York. Over the last 30 years, she has worked extensively within the Balkan area, researching and working on projects regarding women’s rights, violence, blood feuds, and other social issues. She first came to Albania in 1989, during the reign of Enver Hoxha and now visiting once a year, she is involved with the Balkans Peace Park Project.
The project was started by a group of individuals who had a passionate belief and the motivation to make it happen. Bringing together a diverse selection of individuals such as artists, academics, and environmental activists, as well as those that live and work on the villages and mountains or Northern Albania, Kosova, and Montenegro. A spokesperson for the Project, Graham Watson who was also a Member of the European Parliament said:
“The European Union has done a great deal to secure peace and prosperity for its members, but has been deeply troubled by conflict in South East Europe. Whilst EU membership remains a beacon of hope for Balkan countries, schemes like the Balkan Peace Park Project are vitally important to peace in Europe. The Project rises above the politics that have plagued the region, and instead focuses on the issues that are common to Albanians, Kosovans and Montenegrins alike; protecting the shared natural environment and promoting a sustainable economic prosperity for all those living in the area. For me, this embodies both the spirit of liberalism and European integration, and I am therefore proud to be a Patron of the Balkans Peace Park Project.” (former MEP Graham Watson:, 2010)
The concept of a peace par is to create a safe, transboundary area which straddle borders that have a history of difficulties. These parks then become a symbol of peace and cooperation between countries and the people that inhabit these reigons. Antonia sits on the committee of this organisation and makes several visits to Albania every year to continue her involvement in the project.
Young is also the author of a well known book: “‘Women Who Become Men: Albanian Sworn Virgins” (telling the story of women in the North of Albania that live a life of celibacy and reject all traditional gender roles), as well as several academic papers such as ‘Old Tradition to New Reality: Social and Econmic Impacts of Tourism in Thethi, Albania”, “Everyone’s Battleground: Surviving in a Landscape of War”, and “Distortion Reality in Travel Writing on the Balkans”. Her work has also been published by papers such as The Guardian, and The Journal of Contemporary Religion with a piece called “Religion and Society in Present-Day Albania.”
We met by the fountain at Taiwan Centre on a sunny, hot, and slighty thundery Saturday afternoon. Joining me was a friend, Luke Dowding who is behind the Inspiration Network that creates links between human rights and LGBTI projects and those looking to offer fundraising. He has been coming on Albania back and forth for years, and between us we were able to give Antonia some insight on issues pertaining to the realities of day-to-day discrimination.
It was a pleasure to meet with and discuss with such an intelligent, interesting and acclaimed individual and I hope that Luke and I were able to provide her with the information and answers that she was looking for.Follow The Balkanista!