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Outrage over MP’s sexist remarks against new Kosovo president

Before parliament had even finished voting her into office, Kosovo's new President Vjosa Osmani was already the apparent target of sexist remarks from an MP and professor

Newly elected President of Kosovo Vjosa Osmani reacts after being sworn-in during a parliament session in Pristina on April 4, 2021. – MPs elected Kosovo’s most popular politician Vjosa Osmani as president on April 4, 2021, overcoming an opposition boycott that had kept parliament short of a quorum one day earlier. Osmani, 38-years-old, is a law professor who belongs to a new political generation in the Balkan territory vowing to eradicate widespread corruption. (Photo by Armend NIMANI / AFP)

Before parliament had even finished voting her into office, Kosovo’s new President Vjosa Osmani was already the apparent target of sexist remarks from an MP and professor, whose denigrating comment sparked a protest Monday calling for his resignation.

Carrying posters that read “Sexists out”, around 50 students rallied outside the University of Pristina to demand the dismissal of political science professor and opposition politician Ardian Kastrati.

While Kastrati did not directly name Osmani on Facebook on Sunday night — posted as other MPs were voting in her into office — he wrote that an excerpt from an article describing a former senior female official during the Ottoman era had “made me laugh with tears tonight”.

The article he cited described the woman as having “a bucket-like belly and legs like a wooden container, with a pair of thick and mature hands, and with a swollen and red face like a pepper”.

Kastrati, who was elected in February’s snap poll, removed the post after it started generating a backlash. He said he had not been targeting Osmani specifically.

But students and many others found that denial hard to believe.

“Kastrati last night commented insultingly and denigrating on President Vjosa Osmani’s physique,” said Liridona Sijarina, one of the student demonstrators.

“This language causes hate speech, and when it is done by public figures… should be punished.”

Justice Minister Albulena Haxhiu also denounced the “low-level language which should be strongly condemned and opposed.”

“There is no room (at the university) for sexists and misogynists who insult powerful women just because they themselves are powerless,” she added.

The election of Osmani, a 38-year-old crusader for women’s rights in patriarchal Kosovo, marked the latest blow to the male-dominated PDK party that Kastrati belongs to and which has run Kosovo for most of the past two decades.

She was backed by Prime Minister Albin Kurti and his reformist Vetevendosje movement, which won more than 50 percent of the vote in February in a major rebuke of Kosovo’s traditional parties.

With six female ministers in Kurti’s 15-person cabinet, the new administration is trying to challenge the longstanding exclusion of women from positions of power.

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