Gill in new racism row over 'ferret-faced' Albanians jibe

The Sunday Times faces the threat of legal action for inciting racial hatred after a piece by AA Gill branded Albanians "short and ferret-faced".

The feature, headlined "The Land That Time Forgot", was published in the Sunday Times Magazine on 23 July, and detailed Gill's visit to the Balkan state.

He described the country as "a Ruritania of brigands and vendettas" and the people as "short and ferretfaced, with the unisex stumpy, slightly bowed legs of Shetland ponies".

Gill also described the Albanian language as "a ready-made code for criminals", adding: "There are four million Albanian citizens… three million of them live at home, the fourth quarter work abroad, and what they do is mostly illegal."

The article has angered Albanians around the world, and has been picked up by all the major newspaper and TV stations in Albania.

In the UK, Mjaft — an Albanian organisation that aims to promote the country's image throughout the world — has been in consultation with lawyers regarding possibile legal action against The Sunday Times.

The director of the group's London branch, Ralf Gjoni, said: "We don't mind criticism of Albania, because we are the first critics ourselves. But this was pure racism, and is inciting racial hatred in the UK.

"The article and the language of Gill inspires more prejudice and hatred in the British public, among employers and among businesses that are considering potential investment in Albania. It damages [Albania's] image and it damages trade relations, but above all it incites pure racial hatred and intolerance towards us in the UK."

In a letter to Sunday Times editor John Witherow, Albanian ambassador to the UK Kastriot Robo described the article as "unrealistic, negative, harsh, racist, anti-Albanian, denigrating and offensive to the Albanian people, nation and state", adding that the feature was "worthy of a tabloid".

Following the intense criticism of Gill's article, The Sunday Times last week published three letters in opposition to the piece — including an edited version of the ambassador's letter.

Sunday Times Magazine editor, Robin Morgan, defended Gill's article. He told Press Gazette: "Whether [Gill] writes about the Welsh, the English or the Germans there's always a reaction. I think people just read it literally rather than for the enjoyment of his attitude."

He described the article as Gill's "usual acerbic stuff", adding: "I think an awful lot of what he was saying was lost in translation. Most people see it for what it is, but the problem is that many Albanians think that he's being very unfair to the country. But the negatives are there and they exist."

This is not the first time that Gill has courted controversy. In 1997, he was reported to the police for inciting racial hatred after describing the Welsh as "ugly, pugnacious little trolls". Two years later he was again criticised for an article entitled "Hunforgiven", in which he spoke of his "hate" of Germans.

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