A reader writes:
The Huff Post's article is interesting but incomplete. The best the writer can come up with by way of an explanation for Albania's progressiveness on gay rights is that it has a strong "feeling of community" among the new gay Albanian activists, who also engage regularly in interventions and collaborations with other human rights NGOs and the government. The real explanation is much more basic – and way more interesting:
Until very recently, Albania was a total mess (I mean, it's still a mess; you should see it, but it's all relative). After all, Albania had endured over four decades of insane rule by Enver Hoxha, and when he died in the '80s, the country descended into a period of prolonged chaos (remember the crazy stock market Ponzi schemes that nearly threw Albania into revolution?). It was just like North Korea would be if suddenly its totally unsocialized citizens were granted the freedom to do whatever the hell they wanted.
Fast forward a few decades and Albania achieved some measure of stability. It's a new century. Technology advances connect the country to the rest of the world in hitherto unimaginable ways. The borders to neighboring countries like Greece opened up. It's fair to say that the Albanians' minds were blown. Exposed now to the Europe that Hoxha tried everything to prevent them from learning about, the population was able to take stock more fully of just how screwed up a country they had. Decade after decade, as the world advanced, Albania had remained a North Korea-like backwater, and suddenly the veil was lifted. It's like they'd just come out of stasis.
Albanians were (and still are) aghast at their fate. They're deeply traumatized and embarrassed by how far they lag behind the rest of Europe, and they are OBSESSED with achieving modernity.
I was in Albania pretty recently and have friends there (and in Greece, were a number of them work on my family's farmland). We talked about the push for gay rights, and they attribute it to the prime minister's attempt to make up for lost time – to show the rest of Europe that Albania isn't just making progress; it's leading the way. The push for marriage equality there wasn't quite a political stunt, but it was definitely intended to be an attention grabber that would change the rest of the world's perception of Albania in the most dramatic way possible. The PM didn't have any particular investment in the issue of gay rights; he just wanted to get Albania on the map FAST.
A few other things come into play, by the way. One is that it's probably the most progressive Moslem-dominated country on the planet. Read about Albania's brand of Islam. It's something unto itself. In fact, the Saudis have poured money into Albania to establish its brand of Islam there, and the Albanians thus far have had very little interest in embracing it. But that's a topic for another email.