HATE SPEECH IN THE WESTERN BALKANS: August Monthly Highlights

Throughout the month of August, the RDN monitoring team has detected a range of hateful narratives and discourse. During this month there has been a rise in hateful narratives and hate speech towards various ethnic groups including ethnic discrimination and sexism across all six Western Balkan states.

Ethnic discrimination in three Western Balkan states

The mayor of Banja Luka, Draško Stanivuković said at a gathering, that he believed “Montenegro as a nation to be made-up”. The political figure made such comments in the presence of various individuals including the civil activist Vladislav Dajković. Dajković was one of the founders of “Prava Crna Gora” (“True Montenegro”), a political party pushing for Serbian-Montenegrin unionism, an ideology which opposes the independence of Montenegro.

Stanivuković’s comments which deny Montenegro’s national identity and further heightens ethnic tensions within the country that is divided between two main ethnic groups – Montenegrins and Serbs. Such comments are extremely insulting to the population of Montenegro as they deny their own independence and existence as a nation, thereby, stripping them away of their identity. Furthermore, political leadersmake such comments , it further leads to ethnic discrimination and hostility between Serbs and Montenegrins.

This incident resulted in numerous public reactions as it was covered by the media including TV channels, online portals and caused discussions on various social media platforms.

The inforportal antimigrant.ba, a platform known for spreading hateful narratives and ethnic discrimination, recently published an article with the tittle ‘People, get up and do not allow the occupation of BiH’. The article was referring to asylum seekers who seeking safety in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The article commented on the need for other countries to take in asylum seekers rather than BiH itself telling the population to call on the EU and the world to ‘pay back for the damage and loss of residence caused to you by the migrants’. The article furthermore, spread hateful narratives and false allegations including allegations that children can no longer freely play on the streets, due to the presence of asylum seekers. More specifically, it mentioned that parents ‘have to go with them because they don’t know what kind of bully will jump out of the bush’ which may leave them ‘disabled for the rest of their life and maybe take their life’.

By making such serious allegations against individuals who have migrated to BiH, such narratives spread hatred towards migrants and promote further hatred and violence towards the migrant community. Such comments also create a further division between Bosnians and migrants and thereby, act as a boundary towards further integration.

In Albania, Redi Panariti, a well known bartender and owner of Radio Bar Tirana, posted a meme comparing Arab tourists as “the July tourists” with South Asian tourists as “the August tourists”. This meme was posted as a reaction to the news that Indian, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi tourists had to spend two weeks in Albania in order to re-enter this country due to the COVID-19 restriction in place. This meme was not Panariti’s first instance of ethnic discrimination and racism. Indeed, this meme was a continuation to his July meme regarding the number of Arab tourists this holiday season. The meme in July depicted Caucasian tourists as “the tourists we expected” to have this summer tourist season in the country with a contrasting image depicting Arab tourists with the headline “the tourists we got”. This meme was created in reference to the large number of Arab tourists in Albania this summer which had led to reactions and commentary by the public. Due to new direct flights from destinations such as Cairo and lack of COVID-19 restrictions in relation to tourists and foreign travellers, Albania became a desirable location for tourists from various destinations.

Posting such memes on social media platforms such as Instagram only further promotes ethnic discrimination and hatred towards individuals and groups of people from various ethnic backgrounds. Furthermore, such memes promote hostility and hatred towards South Asian and Arab tourists leading to a higher possibility of racism and xenophobia.

Sexism in Kosovo and Serbia

On 22 August, two young men brought an 18-year-old girl , whose name has not been revealed, who showed no signs of life at the Ferizaj Hospital Center, Kosovo and fled. After a few hours, the police arrested one person suspected to be involved while the other individual is still on the run. The victim had heavy internal injuries leading to the police and prosecution treating the incident as a case of ‘aggravated murder’. Civil society, citizens and officials condemn the murder and are demanding harsh punishments. However, Xhevdet Pozar, an analyst close to the Self-determination movement in Kosovo – a democratic Albanian nationalist political party – commented on the tragic case on his Facebook page. In his statement he argued that whilst it is important and necessary to educate boys in society around patriarchal stereotypes and respect towards women, he also adds that girls should not pay attention to the type of car in question (in this case an Audi 8) but rather the “donkey that drives it”.

By making such a swooping sentence regarding women’s safety and in relation to the recent incident of ‘aggravated murder’ of the young girl in question, Pozar seems to justify the incident and downplay the events at hand. Such statements blame women and justify the actions of individuals who abuse women and blames women for not being careful or attentive. This promotes sexism and misogyny within society without highlighting the need for further gender education in school and the need of attention towards women’s safety.

As a reaction to his comments, many civil society organisations asked the media to no longer invite Pozari as an analyst. In addition many media organisations have commented on Pozari’s Facebook statement and there have been very negative comments in reaction to his statement.

In Serbia, on the TV channel‘Pink’, one of the most watched channels in Serbia, the leader of Serbian Radical Party, Vojislav Šešelj, made sexist and misogynistic comments about women and their dress sense. In Pink’s morning program, Šešelj commented on the situation of Afghan women in which he noted that the women have their own tradition and dress code which is related to their religion . The host then added that there have been instances of ‘extremism in Afghanistan where women are not allowed to wear heals’ or have their ‘nails painted’. To this comment, Šešelj added that “in all European countries, by law it is forbidden for a man to look at a women in a suspicious way, let alone something else. And women insist on dressing provocatively. Well women dress up and wear heals to get men’s attention. If not, why are they wearing heels?”

The judgemental comparison between women in Afghanistan and those in Serbia based on the way they dress promotes sexism and upholds misogyny. Women  should have a right to choose what they wear, be that on the basis of religion, tradition or neither, nobody has the right to judge. Indeed, no one has a right to decide what women can and cannot wear as they equally have no right to comment or condemn. Furthermore, having such comments on television by an individual of political significance and with a wide audience, such ideas and comments are spread thereby, justifying and promoting sexism and misogyny.

Spread of disinformation and misinformation in North Macedonia

In North Macedonia, the info portal netpress.com, published an article about a large fight which erupted in a sweet pastry show in Debar. It was alleged that the fight itself erupted as a result of the owners of the shop denying access to individuals who were not able to show a vaccine certificate or negative PCR test. The online media outlet, framed the incident as a fight that appeared due to ‘Filipče’s measures’ put in place surrounding COVID-19 restrictions. Venko Filipče, who is currently North Macedonia’s health minister, recently announced measures – which were already in place – which include a negative PCR test or a vaccination certificate in order to visit restaurants, bars, malls etc. The measures were introduced as a result of the spike in numbers of newly infected citizens and unsatisfactory levels of vaccine rollout.

Nevertheless, the infoportal, seemed to be leaning towards criticizing the ruling government by framing the incident to be the fault of Filipče’s measures in place which according to them “provoked a massive fight”. Such headlines run the risk of promoting antisocial behaviour in protest of the government and their decisions. Nevertheless, this can be seriously damaging as in this instance, regardless of the political party in power, such restrictions are put in place in order to protect the citizens of North Macedonia and further encourage individuals to get vaccinated  against Covid-19. Therefore, by spreading harmful lies and misinformation, individuals may react in a manner which puts everyone at risk.

In this instance, infoportals such as netpress.com have a moral obligation to separate politics from public safety.