Spare the rod, spoil the child, the Kosovo family mantra

With 72 per cent of young people in Kosovo having experienced domestic violence, the brazen, brutal beating of a 16-year-old girl in Ratkoc last week is not an exceptional case, but the norm.

I don’t believe in traditional Albanian family values. I haven’t for a long time, because all too often our “family values” are code for obedience, violence and domination. This is our society’s open secret, confirmed by reliable data but denied in public. The narrative of “family values” is what has been playing out ever since video footage showing the brutal beating of a 16-year-old girl in Ratkoc was made public last week. The grainy footage shows three men standing over the girl, who is lying motionless on the ground. One of the men, her uncle, kicks her repeatedly. She cries out, but no one helps her. When her uncle has decided she’s had enough, he and the two other men, also her relatives, drag her into a car. This happens in broad daylight in front of her school. This is what passes for “love” in Kosovo.

The community of Ratkoc mobilized after the video was made public – to protect Hidajet Bytyqi, the uncle who beat his 16-year-old niece. His brother, Xhafer Bytyqi, writes a long winded public post on Facebook about how his 16-year-old niece was spoiled, skipped classes, and drank alcohol. He explains that he saw her at a cafe in front of her school in the middle of the day and ordered her to go home. She refused, Xhafer Bytyqi explains, so Hidajet slapped her. She fell to the ground, and her uncle began kicking her. “Even though the beating looks quite cruel in the video,” Xhafer Bytyqi insists, “what I’m saying is reasoned by the fact that [name redacted] didn’t receive a single injury from those blows.” He also makes sure to point out that Hidajet Bytyqi lives in Germany and is the head of the family.

When interviewed by Klan Kosova, the girl’s mother, Zafire Bytyqi, stands by her daughter’s beating. “I sent him [Hidajet Bytyqi],” she says. “I told him go and get her, and if you find her in a cafe get her because I’m beyond upset, I’m tired, I can’t anymore,” she adds. The principal of the girl’s school, Hasan Krasniqi, confirmed for that he was told about the beating taking place right in front of his school’s gates and did nothing.

“We were informed by the students who were yelling that [name redacted] was being beaten. We ran outside to see what was happening, but we saw that it was a family problem,” Krasniqi says. Police commander Osman Ismajli told that the girl didn’t have “a single injury,” and added that while the motives for the beating were unclear, “the initial suspicion is that the girl was skipping classes.”

At the court hearing held on October 17, the judge decided that an adequate punishment for Hidajet Bytyqi would be a restraining order forbidding him from beating his 16-year-old niece and obstructing her freedom of movement – for one year. There will be no jail time for Hidajet Bytyqi. This decision is striking, because restraining orders are notoriously ineffective and difficult to enforce in the tightly knit family homes of Kosovo. But the court has decided: the girl will return to the home where she will be vulnerable to victimization again – except next time no one will record it on their phone.

If it isn’t enough that the village of Ratkoc appears to be rallying behind Hidajet Bytyqi, national media have done so as well. Numerous popular news portals, including Zeri and Koha, have made sure to publicize Xhafer Bytyqi’s Facebook post in full with no criticism, no other sources, and no context. Klan Kosova has made sure to emphasize that the girl skipped a total of 41 classes and had dropped out of school. They also made sure to give Hidajet Bytyqi ample screen time to say that he loved his niece the most out of all the children in the family and that he knew what he did was wrong (this is the credo of Albanian masculinity in action: only be ashamed if you get caught).

The Albanian internet is filled with comments about how the girl is a “whore,” and that it was within her family’s rights to “discipline” her. The only positive outcome of this story is the national attention it received after protests organized by the popular Facebook group Feminizmi Shqiptar (Albanian Feminism) and the Kosova Women’s Network. A protest march held on Saturday was attended by the Minister of Justice, Dhurata Hoxha, and a follow-up protest on Monday received national media coverage. Former President Atifete Jahjaga, ambassador Vlora Citaku, MP Blerta Deliu and even the chairman of Kosovo’s parliament, Kadri Veseli, publicly condemned the attack. This is a rare moment of shared outrage from these political figures, in a country where 72 per cent of young people between the ages of 18-25 say they’ve been abused at home according to research conducted by the Kosova Women’s Network.  

That’s the important thing to remember about “flashpoint” cases like these: they are not the exception, they are the norm. We are not a society that cares about children. If we did, that statistic – 72 per cent – should have raised the alarm one year ago, when it was made public. If we cared about children, the streets of this country wouldn’t be filled with children forced to sell tissues, candies or their bodies. If we really cared about children, we would be outraged at the high rates of functional illiteracy this education system produces. If we cared about children, the high number of them living in poverty since the end of the war should have been decried as a national disgrace. Please, tell me more about our family values.

Hana Marku is a feminist activist and board member of Kosova Women’s Network.

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