LGBTI activists mobbed and attacked in North Macedonia

By: Amarildo Fecanji

On the afternoon of Saturday, 29 June, seven LGBTI activists from North Macedonia, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina were mobbed, threatened and attacked by a group of men in the town of Saraj in north-west North Macedonia. 

The twenty or so perpetrators, recognized one of the prominent LGBTI activists from LGBT United Tetovo, Bekim Asani who was at the time accompanied by fellow LGBTI activists Xheni Karaj from Alliance against Discrimination LGBT in Albania and Lejla Huremovic from Sarajevo Open Centre in Bosnia and Herzegovina among others. They chanted “is that the f***t from Tetovo?” and started chasing the activists as they ran away. They kept threatening and insulting them for more than 300 meters as they managed to get into a taxi. They followed the taxi, ambushed it and one of the perpetrators physically attacked Bekim Asani while they were threatening the other activists with words such as “we will rape you” “we will kill you”. One of the perpetrators forced Bekim Asani out of the car, and started hitting him in the face and body, tearing his t-shirt apart and threatening him with words such as: “get away from here or we will kill you”. According to the activists’ statements, three policemen happened to be in a nearby cafeteria who managed to intervene. However, they were also attacked by the same perpetrator who attacked Bekim. Ultimately the police managed to detain and arrest the main perpetrator as well as the other attackers and a criminal investigation has been initiated. 

In a public statement, Bekim Asani said that “all this could have ended much worse if they [police officers] were not there. 

Unfortunately, this horrendous attack illustrates once again the unsafe and difficult environment in which LGBTI activists operate in North Macedonia as well as the rest of the Balkan region. We express full support and solidarity with Bekim Asani’s brave work and his engagement in a very difficult environment where prejudices are strong based not solely on sexual orientation but also ethnicity, religion and many more grounds. This was not simply a homophobic attack but a personal attack on him as an openly Albanian LGBTI activist. 

Last Saturday was an historical day for North Macedonia, as earlier that day, Skopje Pride was held for the first time with an amazing attendance of more than 1500 activists in a march which brought together Macedonians, friend and allies of all ethnicities, backgrounds, orientations and identities. It was a march of a country rich in diversity and the people attending shared messages of hope, acceptance and unity for a country which deserves to belong to everyone regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or ethnicity or any other characteristic. 

The horrendous attack shows also how LGBTI activists are at the forefront of attacks and targets of nationalists, fascists and religious fanatics whose perceptions of universality are based on narrow-minded and bigoted concepts of identity and unity. 

ERA expresses full solidarity to our friends and colleagues who were victims of such a horrible and shocking attack and hope that the Macedonian law enforcement, prosecution and justice system will do all they can to make full justice. We express full solidarity with our LGBTI queer brothers and sisters Bekim Asani, Xheni Karaj, Lejla Huremović and others for their bravery, for standing up to these attackers. 

We are equally concerned about the safety of LGBTI and queer persons everywhere in our region and the rest of the world. On the same day, Pride marchers in Maribor, Slovenia were confronted by a group of neo-nazis threatening and insulting them as the Police watched and did nothing. Earlier in May, ERA’s executive co-director Dragana Todorović was mobbed in a similar incident by a group of men in Novi Sad a few minutes after she and her partner left the premises of the first ever Pride of Novi Sad. These are just but a few illustrations to the daily reality of LGBTI persons and their struggle for free expression and existence. 

LGBTI people are far from safe in the Balkans and the rest of the world. Our struggle for equality, acceptance and inclusion is confronted not simply with prejudice and opposition but often with extreme views of murder and extinction. Our struggle is not just about a better life, but often purely about survival. As such our struggle will never be over unless and until all LGBTI people and all other marginalized communities here in the Balkans and all over the world are free to express themselves, to live and to exist.

In a statement for ERA Bekim Asani wished to thank all the people from Macedonian state institutions, public and community for the countless messages of support they have sent to him in the aftermath of the attack. 

We express our hopes and wishes and are confident that Macedonian authorities will do their job in the most professional way possible, punish the perpetrators and send an important and much needed message that justice favors no one, that no one is above rule of law and that no ones’ beliefs should be an acceptable reason to attack, harm or worse kill other human beings.