SEE and-in the media - Part 8

posted by sab on 2006/08/07 15:21

[ SEE and-in the media ]

The case of AA Gill

This is somehow a long story, and yet not really, and I do not really know where to start or whether to write it in English or German, so probably I’ll mix the two (sorry for that.)

It starts (but this is an arbitrary act, to let it start there and then, it re-started there for me, however) one summer evening last week in Vienna, in a somewhat SATC-like setting on the currently popular Badeschiff – four women out for a drink, but instead of discussing Sex and the City-topics, discussing BATC (Balkan and the City)-topics. Not even Zidane’s header could distract us from our favourite topics, which revolve around Balkan Studies (we all participate(d) in a course called ‚Interdisciplinary Balkan Studies’, which I am planning to write more about soon – once I am out of danger and got my certificate...) and around what is also subject of this weblog – Images of the Balkans, in the self-defined ‚West’.

Ok, I guess we also spent some time talking about Zidane, which then brought us to the question of political correctness. PC, interestingly, apparently does not really apply to the Balkan countries – on the contrary: while many other regions of the world are off-limits for certain approaches and ‚views’ on them, one can still deliberately insult the Balkans.

(See also Mr. Detrez article :

In a very paradoxical way, however, the Balkans also suffered from not being labelled as
"oriental". As a consequence, it could not benefit from the political correctness the Orient was
approached with – at least till the 11th of September 2001. Balkanism – the biased Western perception
of the Balkans – also results from Western political correctness remaining limited mainly
to coloured and especially black people, people professing non-Christian creeds and especially
Islam, and people living in or originating from former colonies. The Balkan nations, being
white and Christian, and living in states that never were colonies in the legal sense of the word,
seem to be excluded from a politically correct treatment and can be described without much restraint
as bloodthirsty barbarians involved in age-old, completely irrational tribal quarrels. Notice
the world "tribal", so frequently used in the Western media, which is borrowed straight from a
colonialist vocabulary. Notice also the tendency to essentialise violence and irrationality as an
innate and ineradicable feature of Balkan mentality – a point of view that no self-respecting commentator
would dare to express in regard to people in other parts of the world. This essentialist
approach soothingly obscures the legacy of semi-colonialism and the responsibility of the European
powers in creating spheres of influence and stirring up ethnic hatred.

And where the Balkan countries now have somehow achieved a similar taboo-status – be it due to Eu-candidate-status or tourism or whatever – there is always one place left to bash: Albania.

And that is where the actual ‚story’ begins now. For a change, Austria and the existing (mis)-representations of Albania/Kosovo are not the center of my attention here, but the British media, namely a certain AA Gill (though it is worth mentioning what my friend Gejsi from Shkodra told us about her Diplomandenseminar and what has been said when the question: What do you know about Albania? came up - The responses were along the lines of: ‚Hm, eigentlich fällt mir zu Albanien nichts ein, außer: Blutrache.’ ‚Gibt’s da nicht auch viele Bunker?’(‚I can’t think of anythin I know about Albania, apart from blood feud/vendetta.’ ‚Aren’t there many bunkers?’) And when she asked them: ‚Also kommt, ihr habt (Politikwissenschaften, übrigens) studiert, seid Akademiker, habt Diplomarbeiten geschrieben, lest Zeitung – fällt euch wirklich nichts ein außer ‚Blutrache’ und ‚Bunker’?’(Come on, you have studied (political science, b.t.w.), you are academics, have written your thesis, read the newspapers – can you really not think of anything but ‘vendetta’ and ‘bunker’), one of them answered: ‚Ja, da ist noch was – war da nicht ein Riesenproblem mit Schmuggel, Frauenhandel und so?’(‚Yes, there is something else – wasn’t there a huge problem with smuggling, trafficking in women and so on?’) Laughing, Gejsi told us that she had answered them this was exactly what she wanted to hear – and we all shook our heads, wondering about the absurdity of it all).

Gejsi also told us about an article in the Sunday Times, which has exceeded all her bad experiences with journalists writing about Albania. The next day she sent me the link.

And this is how the article, now alread subject to a legal complaint, starts:

The land that time forgot


It was a communist state for nearly half a a century. Now it has organised crime and the worst-dressed teenagers in Europe. Will the world ever take Albania seriously?

[This article is subject to a legal complaint]

In the unlikely event of your ever needing to know, Tirana’s international airport is called Mother Teresa. It is grimly typical that the Albanians named their runway to the world after a woman who devoted herself to helping people die; and after a Catholic from a country that’s 70% Muslim. Mother Teresa is the only internationally famous Albanian; all the rest are infamous.

At first, I could not believe that what i was reading was real, was from the year 2006. Then, two days later, I started googling Mr. Gill and this article – and there has been a lot of response to it. In the following, I’ll just list links that I found interesting and that give some sort of insight on the ongoing events around this article.

First of all, who is Mr. AA Gill?

The article and reactions in the Times:


I am sure there will be more to be added to this list..and to the topic itself. But for now – have ‘fun’ reading about what is happening ….though I am afraid it will only add to AA Gill’s popularity.

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The imagineSEE-weblog is a space about ideas, images, (re)inventions and (re)constructions of and about the Balkans, from outside and within SEE.

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This is a part of the collage 'The Black File' by Croatian artist Sanja Ivekovic, who will be represented at documenta 12 (16/6-23/9) in Kassel this year.

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