1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Kosovo: Conservative traditions fuel sexual cyberbullying

July 5, 2024

They call themselves "Albkings" and have made a sport of aggressively attacking women online. Thousands of Kosovan men are involved in the phenomenon, and women who dare speak out against them suffer tremendously.

A young woman covers her face with her hand as she looks into a cellphone
Cyberbullying often targets girls and women by threatening and humiliating them onlineImage: Christin Klose/dpa Themendienst/picture alliance

Ardiana Thaci, a prominent television journalist in Kosovo, had no idea what personal consequences her investigative research could have until she became the target of aggressive cyberbullies following the broadcast of her report on the self-proclaimed "Albkings."

The name applies to a group of men active on the social media platform Telegram. In the report, Thaci accused the men of posting intimate photos and videos of women without their permission to insult, intimidate and abuse them.

Thaci's report described the operations of the group, which at times swells to as many as 100,000 members. She explained how the men send one another photos of women they know or have seen online, using the cover of their chat room to distribute, at times, intimate images of their victims. Those who know the women personally then share their telephone numbers and other personal information. Most of the men in the group — as well as their victims — live in Kosovo and Albania. The photos and videos that they post, however, also show up in neighboring countries.   

Thanks to the internet, the images spread far and wide in a matter of seconds, and posts from the Telegram chat get millions of clicks. Police in Kosovo say that at least 32 cases of illegally distributed images have been reported this year alone, but it is clear that the actual number is far higher. Videos uploaded by the group have appeared on TikTok accounts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia.

A woman wearing sunglasses (journalist Ardiana Thaci) smiles during an interview in Pristina, Kosovo in June 2024
Kosovan television journalist Ardiana Thaci became the target of online attacks after exposing a network of abusive menImage: DW

Targeted by the 'Albkings'

After Thaci's story ran, she herself became the target of Albking wrath. One group member found her telephone number and shared it in the chat. Since then, she has been bombarded with phone calls in which anonymous callers ask things like, "How much do you charge for sex?"

Thaci's children have also been attacked. "Last Sunday morning, I got really nervous," she said during an interview in the Kosovan capital, Pristina, "the phone rang, and the display showed an EU number. It was 8:00 am, and my 5-year-old son had picked up the phone because I was asleep." The caller proceeded to verbally abuse the journalist with obscene questions. She said she simply couldn't understand how someone could use a child to help them carry out such a vile attack.

The Kosovo Journalists Federation says the publication of Thaci's telephone number was not only an act of revenge meted out by the Albkings but a threat to her safety and an attempt to intimidate her, destroy her reputation and silence her.

Domestic violence and cyberbullying

In June 2024, there was another case in which the news site kallxo.com published a report on an incident of domestic violence in which a woman and her father were both injured. According to the journalist investigating the case, neither police nor prosecutors properly followed up on the incident. Although the site kept the journalist's name secret, her identity quickly became public knowledge, and she immediately became the victim of online attacks.

Should kids be banned from Socia Media?

"Within hours of publication, our colleague's name and photo were published on an Albking Telegram channel with instructions to call her," recalled Kreshnik Gashi, the editor-in-chief of kallxo.com. 

As a result, the journalist started getting hundreds and hundreds of obscene calls. Police have since arrested four individuals in connection with the case.

Seven Albking administrators were arrested in late June, and the Telegram channel shut down. Chief Prosecutor Zeynullah Gashi has promised to investigate the case and bring the perpetrators to justice. Victims, however, say a new chat has been opened. According to Telegram, at least 20,000 Albkings are currently active on the platform.

'Women don't matter!'

For psychologist Kaltrina Ajeti, it is no surprise that journalists are being targeted. That's because they are seen as self-assured members of society and publicly represent change in Kosovo. 

"Women's economic independence in Kosovan society has led to a masculinity crisis. Until now, men created and dominated the prevailing social order," she said.

That fact has had far-reaching consequences. "Self-assured women don't accept a patriarchal mindset that demands to dominate them sexually."

As evidence of just such an instance, psychologist Ajeti points to a debate on in vitro fertilization (IVF) that took place in April of this year. Feminist activist Dana Avdiu got involved with a movement advocating for IVF under the motto, "We don't need men." The move, says Ajeti, was read as an attack on Kosovo's males.

A woman in a blue blazer (Zana Avdiu) looks into the camera with arms crossed
Kosovan feminist Zana Avdiu forcefully called for the right of unwed women to have access to IVFImage: Vjosa Çerkini

When a law designed to give unwed women access to IVF came up for a vote in Kosovo's parliament, it failed after the majority of the body's members left the plenum, meaning a quorum could not be achieved. Disappointed, feminist Avdiu summarized the vote in three words, saying, "Women don't matter!"

Conservative values and sexual frustration

But psychologist Ajeti says not every man in Kosovo should be held responsible for what the Albkings are doing. She is also trying to understand what is behind their anger. In looking deeper, she says men in Kosovo are a product of their upbringing and of the values given to them by their parents. Traditionally, that means that women are forbidden from having premarital sex. More than anywhere, any transgression of such rules is immediately followed by rumors and then insults from the entire family.

A woman in a white coat and cap (Kaltrina Ajeti) smiles as she looks into the camera
Kosovan psychologist Kaltrina Ajeti says an overly conservative set of values handed down to children breeds sexual frustrationImage: Vjosa Çerkini/DW

"When we consider how most young men in Kosovo grow up, how great their sexual frustration is and how rare appropriate information about sexual development is, that naturally leads to trauma, to frustration that is projected upon the opposite sex," says the psychologist.

Cyberbullying numbers in Kosovo have grown exponentially over the past several years. According to official statistics, more than 450 complaints were lodged in 2023, twice as many as in 2022. Nevertheless, new laws designed to combat online crime are nowhere in sight.

This article was originally writen in German.

A young woman (Vjosa Cerkini) with long black hair
Vjosa Cerkini Reporter focusing on Kosovo and other Western Balkan countries