Hate speech March monitoring highlights: Sexism, ethnic discrimination and homophobia in the Western Balkans

Throughout the month of March, the RDN monitoring team has detected a range of hateful narratives and discourse. Cases of ethnic discrimination, religious hate speech and homophobia continue to influence the relations within societies in the Western Balkan region as well as the relations between neighbouring countries.

Sexism in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia

In early March, the canton of Sarajevo Government decided to instigate the fight against menstrual poverty by providing free pads for female students.

Nevertheless, despite menstrual poverty being an extremely important and pressing issue, this decision was not approved or supported by the representatives of the national parties. Namely, the MP of the largest Bosniak party, Salko Zildžić, turned to ridiculing and mocking the decision altogether. He went on to sarcastically comment on the decision during a parliamentary session, saying: “The prime minister of the most potent canton with a budget of one billion and more is dealing with menstrual poverty”.

Menstrual poverty is a serious topic and issue which affects women and girls worldwide. Despite various efforts to combat the issue of menstrual poverty, having a member of parliament express negative and sarcastic comments regarding the topic merely pushes aside the need to confront and effectively deal with the issue at present. Having such sarcastic comments being made in parliament, which is both streamed live on traditional media such as the television and other social media platforms such as Facebook, further spreads and reproduces these negative attitudes in wider society.

Such comments are a reflection of a misogynistic and patriarchal society that views menstrual poverty rather as a ‘women’s issue’ that deserves no place in the public sphere or on the Government’s agenda.

In Serbia, info portal Kurir.rs published a headline which read “relationships with a student only after the exam!? Marić spoke out about the affair at the Faculty of Law”.

Psychiatrist Jovan Marić told Kurir that some female students are responsible for being targeted by their professors because they send the wrong signals with their dress code and attitude.

He commented “female student comes for the summer exam period, the push-up is here, she’s wearing two sizes smaller t-shirts, so everything falls out, and on top of that she’s wearing a miniskirt and sitting across from you. What exactly should I watch first? Thighs which I can see the whole length of or something else? And who is now sexually harassed? Well, me, of course, because I have to look at that object, so to speak”. He went on further to claim that he is “sexually harassed because I have to watch that nudity”.

This narrative is extremely dangerous and problematic. By flipping the narrative to place blame on women who have fallen victims to instances of sexual harassment and misconduct by their professors, this further spreads victim-blaming narratives. This can also result in other students and young women who find themselves in these situations staying silent and fearing speaking out due to such misogynistic and sexist responses which are common within Balkan society.

No matter what a women wears, it is never an excuse or justification for misconduct and sexual harassment of any sort. And it is never her fault, the blame is on the perpetrator.
Within an educational institution, where professors hold a position of power and influence, it is even more pressing that they hold themselves accountable, and act respectfully and professionally.

The narratives expressed by Maric run the risk of spreading further sexism and victim blaming as well as downplaying the issue of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour.

Ethnic discrimination in Kosovo and Montenegro

Tense political relations between Kosovo and Serbia are being reflected in the trade relations between the two countries.In the last two decades there has been a growing trade crisis and a call to boycott Serbian products, which are most prevalent in the Kosovo market.

On the Facebook page of group ‘Besa Besë’, a video was published of a commercial by Burim Piraj which calls on the citizens of Kosovo to boycott Serbian products. The advertisement shows a girl with her father in a market where they buy their groceries. At the moment when the father takes a Serbian product from the shelf, the girl tells her father “Didn’t our grandmother tell us not to buy Serbian products? Do you want to poison us? Didn’t they kill Abetara’s whole family? Is Abetara left alone now?”

This video is extremely problematic for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is clear that Serbian products are not really poisonous. Secondly, and probably most worrying, is the use of children within the video. This strongly violates the ethical code whereby children are used as a pawn within a political video. Furthermore, such false narratives serve to further deepen tensions between ethnic communities in Kosovo.

The video itself has received over 800 likes on Facebook.

In Montenegro, cdm.me recently published an article with the headline “Perović said that he could not understand such a story and campaign against Russian military action”.

The priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), Gojko Perović, called the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine a “military action” and further went on to state that it was both a “political and media ideology that goes beyond human reason”. He furthermore commented “But I can’t understand such a campaign against the military action without anyone remembering that an entire nation was deported from Croatia in our neighbourhood…Nobody wrapped themselves in Serbian flags then, nobody made any performances”.

These narratives and comments are especially problematic if we keep in mind the great number of supporters of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, as well as the fact that Montenegrin society is deeply polarised. This polarisation includes a certain political parties and supporters who are pro-Russia.

The recent war in Ukraine has been a tragic and devastating moment for many around the globe. In the Western Balkans region, it is used to deepen existing divisions.

Spreading these narratives of division on various info portals and in national publications can be extremely triggering and upsetting for those who have fallen victims to the violence and conflict in Ukraine at this time.
In the context of war, the media has an even greater responsibility to share verified and fact-checked knowledge and information rather than spreading hate speech and harmful narratives.

Homophobia in Albania

JOQ Albania recently published a headline which read “Non-approval of the Gay Code/Imam Shefqet Krasniqi: We are saved from the wrath of the almighty God!”. The article itself was based around the recent non-passing of the amendment to the Kosovo Civil Code to include LGBTQ+ civil partnerships. The article quoted religious figure Imam Shefqet Krasniqi in its headline.

The comments on both the Facebook and Instagram links to the article were extremely hateful and problematic. For instance, one comment praised communist leader Enver Hoxha for “detaining them [referring to gay men] in the women’s prison due to fear of infecting other men in prison”.  The Instagram post about the article has amassed over 11k likes.

However, this is not the first time this month that such a hateful, homophobic narrative was spread and upheld by JOQ Albania, who published another headline which read “Local media: Ukrainian homosexuals arm themselves to defend homeland”.

This article reported on the fact that Ukrainian media has recently reported on the LGBTQ+ community in Ukraine taking up arms in order to defend their homeland, fearing even more oppression if Russia were to win.

The comments on the Instagram link to the article further resulted in a similar pattern of hateful, strongly homophobic narratives. One comment read “hopefully you become less, you have increased in number like mushrooms after the rain”. The comments were extremely and overwhelmingly hateful, with users alluding to the hope that Ukrainians from the LGBTQ+ community die in the war so as to “become less in number”.

JOQ Albania has both a moral and ethical duty to monitor the information they publish on their website in order to prevent the upsurge of hateful, homophobic narratives and comments from being perpetuated. It has been made clear that JOQ Albania runs an openly homophobic editorial line. Article headlines are left ambiguous on purpose resulting in the incitement of homophobic hate speech within the comments.

Hate speech in North Macedonia

In North Macedonia, the Minister of Defence, Slavjanka Petrovska, was recently welcomed at a reception by the Honorary Guard of the United Kingdom. During the welcoming, the Guard played the Macedonian folk song ‘Jovano, Jovanke’ in her honour. Following the welcoming, a large number of social media posts and content went on to attack the minister, calling her a number of derogatory and insulting names. They claimed that what occurred at the welcoming was a disgrace as the Guard did not play the national anthem.

One user (Robert Mileski) published a video on Facebook depicting a naked man holding a gun, appearing out of the woods. The caption said: “Slavjanka spotted by CNN cameras in the battle for Stalingrad. Putin, hold on!”.

Following this stream of insults and offensive narratives targeted at the minister herself, the British Embassy in North Macedonia issued a statement on the debate amongst the public, followed by a statement on the inappropriate speech on social media networks.

The statement form the embassy read: “Yesterday, Minister Petrovska was welcomed by the Honorary Guard composed of the Coldstream Guard when she arrived for a meeting with the Minister of Defence of the United Kingdom. As is usual for this type of guard, the music segment “Scorpius” was played at the beginning. As a sign of respect, before the Minister greeted the guards, a segment of Macedonian folk music, “Jovano, Jovanke” was played. The national anthem is played only when the Honorary Guard welcomes Heads of State.”

The video itself has more than 180 comments, with many more adding to and joining the escalating hate speech towards the minister. The post also has over 700 shares. Such insulting and discriminatory rhetoric is extremely harmful and problematic, especially when it is further shared across social media.