Ethnic hatred and sexism in the Western Balkans throughout November

Throughout the month of November, the RDN monitoring team has detected a range of hateful narratives and discourse. During this month there has been a rise in hate speech including sensationalism, ethnic discrimination and sexism across the Western Balkans.

Insensitive reporting in Albania

Recently a headline emerged in Shiqiptarja.com reading “Horror in Fier/A 38-year-old kidnaps the neighbour’s son, kills him with a shovel and buries him in the backyard. The lifeless body of the 8-year-old covered in mud! The perpetrator was previously convicted for taking a minor hostage in 2006”.

The horrific murder of an 8-year-old boy in Fier by his neighbour has left the Albanian public shocked and stunned; not only due to the nature of the crime but especially in reaction to how the crime was represented and reported in the media. Reports included numerous details about the crime as well as highly graphic photographs (such as the spot where the boy was buried) which appeared and were reported in an incredibly sensationalist manner. This had a knock-on effect with various actors calling on media outlets and journalists to strongly adhere and abide by the Code of Ethics.

Reporting inappropriately on such crimes does not only violate the public, but, most of all, completely disregards the suffering and pain of those individuals who are affected by the crime itself. This was seen when all media outlets which reported from the boy’s funeral ignored the family’s current mental state thereby, ultimately worsening the situation for the family.

Various heart-breaking testimonies have been captured on camera from the community and family itself, including statements calling for the ‘hanging’ of the perpetrator, thus revealing and highlighting the suffering that the community and those related to the boy are experiencing.

This incident is an example of a complete violation of the Albanian Code of Journalistic Ethics

in regards to the media’s active participation in the ‘intrusion into private life’, the reporting of accidents and disasters and perhaps most importantly, the protection of children. It must be further highlighted that legitimate public interest does not justify sensationalism and in the spirit of the Ethics Code, it should never be confused with information deemed to be of interest to the public. Such events should not be reported in a manner which results in further distress to both the public, but more importantly, to those falling victims of such gruesome events.

Ethnic discrimination and tensons in Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia

Ethnic tensions between Kosovo and Serbia continue to influence the relations in the Western Balkans. Kosovo Online has reported on the former deputy Prime Minister of Kosovo, Edita Tahiri, who published on her Twitter profile several accusations of Serbia interfering in the region in the pursuit of creating the so-called ‘Greater Serbia’.

In her Twitter profile amongst other things, Tahiri claimed that Serbia, with the help of Russia, has now continued its plan to create a ‘Greater Serbia’ with Bosnia and Herzegovina, as it had previously failed to do so with Kosovo. “Tensions over the partition of Bosnia and Herzegovina has reached a boiling point in the last period, fuelling destabilisation and potential wars. ‘Open Balkans’ project serves as the paravane”, tweeted Tahiri.

Warnings emerged following the debate over the plans of Milorad Dodik“the current Bosnian Serb member of the three-way state-level presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina – to separate his region from the state”.

The comments made by Tahiri resulted in a number of hate speech comments directed to her and the Albanian public. One of the comments included a direct insult and attack on the Muslim community and Albanian population more general saying that Muslims of Republika Srpska want to take the whole country while Albanians want to do the same in Kosovo and Metohija. ‘’Give the Muslim a finger, he will try to take both hands from you”, reads the same comment.

Such insensitive comments and hate speech are further fuelling  tension and division between the Serbian and Albanian population.

In September 2020 in North Macedonia, a video which displayed a policeman beating up a member of the Roma population went viral. The incident itself happened while the police secured the scene of a traffic accident. The video shows the policeman assaulting a bystander by getting him on the ground and kicking him in his body and head.

Earlier this month, the court had decided to sentence the policeman with a one-year prison sentence on the grounds of physical assault. However, following the sentence, a protest was held in Bitola – where the incident occurred- requesting that the policeman’s sentence be revoked. The protestors argued that justice was selective in North Macedonia.

Fokus.mk who published an article about the protest mentioned the comment of the president of the Independent Police Union, Goce Delchev Todev: “someone cannot be sentenced to 6 or 7 months for murder, and someone to one year in prison for nothing” belittling  the physical violence against the Roma man and suggesting that  that the policeman should not have been prosecuted and punished for his actions.

Comments as such which argue that violence against a marginalised community should not have consequences promote ethnic discrimination towards the Roma population, an already marginalised group within North Macedonia, even more.  

An article published in antenam.net in Montenegro, exposed the director of the Piva branch of Hydroelectricity company, Radomir Radonjić, of spreading hate speech against Montenegrins and Albanians on his Facebook account. His comments included labelling two individuals with the derogatory and inflammatory term– ‘ustašice’ – also known as Ustashas relating to a Croatian fascist and ultranationalist organisation active during the early 20th century. He used such language when addressing journalist Tamara Nikačević and Draginja Vuksanović-Stanković, an MP and former president of the Social Democratic Party. Having in mind that he used female forms of this derogatory terms, his statements have elements of sexism along with open ethnic hatred.

He further spread xenophobic hate speech towards Albanians whom he labelled as “aggressive, slimy Shiptars” as well as naming Montenegrins as cattle.

Not only are such comments extremely hateful but they further promote both sexism and ethnic discrimination within society. It also highlights the importance of mechanisms in place on platforms such as Facebook in preventing and reacting to the spread of hate speech.

Following the exposure of Radonjić’s hateful posts, the Higher State Prosecutor’s Office in Podgorica issued an order to the police to collect information on the controversial Facebook posts in question.

Sexism in Bosnia and Herzegovina

This year’s Drama Theatre Festival in Brčko was marked by the waiver of awards from all theatres as the jury this year included Branislav Lečić, whose colleague had accused him of rape. All the theatres came together to make an explicit remark that they did not want to receive the award itself from Lečić following such accusations.

Following this event, several comments and reports by local journalists were published on the official website of the Festival in regards to the incident. In response, Novak Tanasić, a journalist, came out with a statement shaming the Belgrade Atelier 212 protest. Belgrade Atelier 212 is a local theatre located in Belgrade, Serbia which was the first to speak out and reject the acceptance of the award, thereby, initiating the protest.

The language used to refer to the situation and accusation of rape was extremely shameful including Tanasić’s comment: “it does not concern us perfectly who did what to whom, who is who to whom and what is between you…”. It is unacceptable to talk about sexual abuse in that way – such language is a clear indication of the patriarchal and misogynistic society, in which victims of sexual violence are often exposed to public scrutiny and shame. In July, the Belgrade Higher Public Prosecutor’s Office rejected Danijela Štajnfeld’s criminal charges against Lečić. This decision is not yet final.

 Sexism and misogyny thrive within the Bosnian society. The website klix.ba recently reported on the case of the murder of a woman in Zenica, who was killed by her ex-husband. The article itself included a comment emphasising: “Locals told us that the murdered woman lived with another man and that the two children were left without a mother”.

The report itself stated that the woman lived with another man and was almost seen to have ‘abandoned her children’. By reporting in such a sensationalist and sexist manner, the article itself resulted in a huge number of comments about how the woman deserved to be murdered. This is a prime example of the role of journalists and media portals in reporting on such incidents in an unbiased manner so as to not promote sexist narratives and further hate speech towards women.

Ethical reporting in Serbia

In celebration of International Day against Fascism and Antisemitism, the Youth Initiative for Human Rights displayed their united front against Fascism by painting over a mural of convicted war criminal Ratko Mladić. The Ministry of Interior announced that it would ban and prosecute such action on the grounds that there was “a high risk of physical altercations”.

This is extremely problematic and raises important ethical concerns regarding the governments’ role in promoting human rights and justice. Such reaction of the government gives the impression that Serbia is not confronting the glorification of war criminals.

Activists Aida Ćorović and Jelena Jaćimović threw eggs at the mural in protest and were laterdetained by the police. Activists and citizens who opposed these arrests took to the streets in protest to show their support for the arrested activists. Various media close to the government reported this incident framing it as ‘’creating chaos’’ including targeting communities that do not have essentially anything to do with the case, but show their support for arrested activists and their cause. Such example could be seen in Informer.rs; “Here is how LGBT members agree to create chaos in Belgrade because of Ratko Mladić’s mural”. The media began to target the activists and citizens with false accusations and assumptions driving the focus away from the real issue at hand.

The comment of the film director and writer Dragoslav Bokan is an example of very dangerous attempts to divide the Serbian society.Commenting on the roadblocks that were organised throughout Serbia in protest against the adoption of the law on expropriation and referendum, Bokan targeted the Vice President of the Party of Freedom and Justice Marinika Tepić, as a national enemy, based on her ethnic background. His comment itself read “Marinika Tepić is a member of a national minority that hates Serbia and the Serbian people. (…) She is from a Romanian family! A Romanian mom, a Romanian dad, worked in a Romanian organisation, and she is our enemy. She is a national enemy, not only ideological and political”.

This statement spreads ethnic hatred towards the Romanian population whilst building further tension in the society. This event was broadcasted on TV Pink which has a national frequency and wide audience. RDN 2.0 reminds Television Pink of the Code of Ethics of Serbian journalists that states:

“A journalist must be aware of the danger of discrimination that can be spread by media and shall do everything to avoid discrimination based, among other things, on race, gender, age, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origins.”

This further highlights a wider issue at play – the role of media outlets in promoting narratives through various forms of framing thereby influencing who the public perceives to be traitors and enemies. Indeed, this is a mechanism of diverting attention from the real issue at hand by focusing our attention elsewhere, but with potentially very dangerous consequences.