Just weeks before next month's snap elections, Kosovo's interior minister and a leading voice in one of its top parties has been accused of taking a sexist, body-shaming swipe at the Balkan state's most powerful woman.
Agim Veliu said he didn't know that Vjosa Osmani, Kosova's acting president and parliament speaker, was "so big that she needs a space as big as the presidency [of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and] that [the leadership] should be removed [in order] for her to come [back and join the party]."
Veliu was referring to Osmani's demand that the LDK's top leadership resign before she returns to the party in which she served as a deputy chairwoman. She was expelled from the LDK in June after disagreements with its presidency.
In Veliu's full comments, published on January 5, a journalist follows up by asking what he means by calling Osmani "big."
"The way I say it," he responds.
Asked whether he regards that as insulting language, Veliu says, "She considers herself big if she thinks a [LDK] presidency should be removed [from office] for her to come [rejoin it]. She considers herself to be big."
Asked to further explain, he declines: "No, no, that's all I'm saying. I don't want to complicate it further."
It's unclear how perceptions of misogyny or sexism might affect voters in a region where many patriarchal norms and stereotypes against women persist.
"Life in politics is seen as a life dominated by men," Luljeta Demolli, executive director of the Kosovar Gender Studies Center, told RFE/RL's Balkan Service. "And it would be better for Agim Veliu to support women entering politics with more democratic language and not such language, because we clearly see that they are afraid of women [and] afraid of women's votes."
Osmani has, however, had more important things to think about than Veliu's seemingly sexist swipe at her.
This week alone, the 38-year-old politician and professor of international law has dissolved the legislature after the Constitutional Court declared the ruling coalition illegitimate, scheduled new national elections, and urged the incoming U.S. administration to review Kosovo's recent "pledges" to Washington regarding mainly economic issues with Serbia.
But an Osmani adviser, Egnesa Vitia, took to Facebook to demand Veliu's "immediate dismissal" over the remarks. Vitia said the comments were "unforgivable, intolerable...disgusting" examples of "bullying" and "misogyny."
The National Assembly's Group of Women caucus told RFE/RL's Balkan Service that Veliu's statements were "unacceptable."
"The use of pejorative vocabulary that insults women is unacceptable and as such should not be used by anyone, much less by politicians," it said.
While she's not the first female president since Kosovo declared independence in 2008, Osmani in February became the first woman to serve as speaker of the National Assembly.
Veliu, who is expected to stay in the caretaker government until the February 14 parliamentary elections, is also a deputy chairman of the LDK.
Osmani was also previously the LDK's candidate for prime minister. She has conditioned a possible return to the LDK on the departure of its top officials, including Veliu.
Osmani also continues to explore the possibility of launching her own political group, tentatively called To Dare.
Scrambling For Votes
The six-week run-up to the elections follows a year of particularly acrimonious politics in the partially recognized Balkan state of some 1.9 million.
Powerful ex-President Hashim Thaci stepped down in November to face war crimes charges at The Hague stemming from Kosovo's war of independence in the late 1990s and its aftermath, which led to Osmani being made acting president.
And multiple governments have fallen since the LDK and the upstart Self-Determination movement unseated Thaci's former guerrilla allies in the 2019 elections.
These political uncertainties left a haplessly weak, LDK-led government in charge during landmark U.S. and EU efforts to restart Kosovo's path to normalization with neighboring Serbia, which still opposes its former province's independence, declared 12 years ago.
Kosovo's leading parties -- the LDK, Self-Determination, and the former ruling Democratic Party (PDK) -- will be scrambling for every vote in February elections seriously constrained by the coronavirus pandemic.
Osmani wrote this week to another pioneering female politician, the longtime speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, to congratulate the California Democrat on her reelection for a fourth term chairing the lower house of Congress.
"As a fellow speaker, and crucially both the first women in our respective posts, I cannot stress enough the example we set today for future generations," Osmani wrote.
Osmani is a trained lawyer who led Kosovo's successful legal defense of its declaration of sovereignty before the International Court of Justice in 2008 and served as President Fatmir Sejdiu's chief of staff a decade ago.
She teaches international law at the University of Pristina (where Veliu studied law) and has written extensively on gender issues.
In 2019, Osmani wrote a chapter on the origins and effects on society of "stereotypes and sexist labels toward women" for a philological series published by an Albanian cultural and ethnological institute in Pristina.
She cited the prevalence in local language and literature of "hatred, contempt, anger, reproach, irony, ridicule, despair, contempt, resentment, disappointment, disbelief, hostility, envy, jealousy, disgust, and many other attitudes of contempt for women."
In an abstract of the work, she concludes, "Such negative stereotypes and labels ideologically justify the inferiority of women in society."