Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Albania: Family Crime on the Rise

Social confusion and poverty are being blamed for a wave of domestic violence that has claimed nearly 50 lives this year alone.
By Zylyftar Bregu

When oil worker Fatmir Sulejmani arrived home early from a night shift and found another man in his house, he picked up a knife and stabbed his wife Xhuliana 17 times before turning the weapon on his two daughters. One died immediately and the other is now condemned to "a lifetime of physical and psychological scars", according to her doctors.


While a subsequent investigation confirmed Sulejmani's suspicions his wife was committing adultery, there is nothing to back up his other claim that her lover was plotting to send the girls to work as prostitutes in Italy.


Sadly, stories such as this one are all too common in the Albanian media. Family crime has claimed almost 50 victims this year, according to statistics from the public order ministry.


In Albania, such violence has traditionally taken place between families or clans, sparked by issues of honour or revenge. But the current wave is seen as a product of poverty and social confusion. "Albanian society is undergoing a period of huge change," said psychologist Zyhdi Dervishi. "Traditional cultural values have been severely weakened, while new ones have not yet emerged to take their place."


Some commentators have appealed to the media to stop reporting domestic violence, arguing that heavy exposure is "normalising" the phenomenon.


As incidents become more frequent, police have come under criticism for not doing enough to try to avert them. In a recent case in Divjake, south-west Albania, a 21-year-old man murdered four members of his family in broad daylight. "It should be acknowledged that the public are disillusioned by an apparent lack of police commitment to prevent these grave crimes," the Albanian Helsinki Committee commented in a press release following the killings.


Senior police officer Tonin Voci told IWPR that his colleagues face a tough task tackling such cases. "These kinds of crimes are very difficult for officers to investigate or prevent. Albanian domestic life is closed to outsiders and family violence is often concealed," he said.


Domestic violence here tends to follow a breakdown in relationships and usually culminates in a single frenzied outburst. "Around half of family-related murders result from a sudden mental breakdown, and in three cases the perpetrators have gone on to commit suicide," he said.


Research has shown that however much individual cases may differ, most families affected by violent crime do share some characteristics. They tend to be poor and have been badly educated - two thirds of perpetrators had only received elementary education.


The majority of the crimes have also taken place in the countryside, where families are more isolated and patriarchal relationships are strongest. "Police face the challenge of trying to establish closer relationships with communities in these areas. It will take time for us to build trust and improve our public image," said Voci.


Albania also suffers from a lack of agencies and networks dedicated to providing support for family units by easing the crushing effects of poverty. "These crimes will continue to rise until society mobilises to confront the underlying causes," said Dervishi.


"At the moment, state agencies are either powerless or frightened to act, while civil organisations are more interested in fundraising than anything else."


Zylyftar Bregu is an editor with the Albanian Gazeta Shqiptare newspaper.