HATE SPEECH IN THE WESTERN BALKANS: Monthly Monitoring Highlights

Throughout the month of June, the RDN monitoring team has detected a range of hateful narratives and discourse. As June was Pride Month, homophobia continued to be present within traditional and social media alongside a large range of hate speech including sexist narratives and ethnic discrimination across all six Western Balkan countries.

Ethnic Discrimination between Albanians and Serbs

RDN recently explored the role of the media in creating ethnic tensions and hatred between the Serbian and Albanian population.

Albanian-Serbian relations have been a consistent topic throughout history in which negative stereotypes, prejudice and discriminatory headlines seem to drive a wedge between both populations and fuel ethnic hatred and distrust between both countries.

Recently, in Serbia, Informer.rs published an article titled ‘Arnautovic angry like a lynx! A Serb cursed Shiptar after he tried to hurt him!’. The national football player Marko Arnautovic, who had Serbian roots, cursed racist tones to the player of North Macedonia who has Albanian heritage by using a stereotypically racist terminology ‘Shiptar’. This negative group labelling and inflammatory speech is typically used as a personal insult to humiliate and denigrate people of Albanian ethnic heritage.

Similarly, Albanian news platforms often use derogatory terms such as ‘Shkja’ when referring to Serbs which only supports the notion of the role of media in driving a wedge between Albanians and Serbs leading to ethnic hatred and tension amongst both nations.

Ethnic Discrimination towards the Roma community in North Macedonia

On Facebook, a private user posted a video titled “Roma people are complaining that a genocide is being committed against them, similar to the fascists that built 3-meter walls”. The video which spread on Facebook showed the foundation of what seems to be a wall that was being planned to be built. The social media user published this video with the description that it was believed that the municipality of Gjorche Petrov plans to build a 3-meter wall around a Roma populated area. There was indeed a protest against the building of this wall, but under the video comments there was also a large number of negative stereotypes, hate speech and insults directed to the Roma population.

Roma people are often stereotyped as being “dirty” and “annoying” and indeed the comments below the video seemed to reinforce such sentiments. The supposed wall would block out the Roma populated area from the neighbouring areas populated by non-Roma population. This would only further reinforce the division within the society and the marginalisation of the Roma community.

RDN 2.0 used the occasion to pose a question to its social media users ‘Do you think social media platforms should moderate hate speech more carefully?’, as although some of the commentators may have protested against the building of the wall, ‘for others this was a trigger for numerous hateful comments which perpetuate negative stereotypes and insults directed at Roma community’.

Political Hate Speech in Montenegro

In Montenegro, an article came out on RTCG after a video showing an unknown male person urinating on the monument of the national hero Ljubo Cupic in the city of Niksic was circulating on social media networks. This led to a number of reactions on many social media platforms and included the condemnation from politicians including  Montenegro’s President Milo Djukanovic. President Djukanovic claimed that “this is the most obvious expression of the vampirization of the chetnik ideology that the new parliamentary majority encourages by its inaction”, adding that he expects the competent state bodies to react decisively and adequately. “Otherwise, we will know what to do and how to defend our revolutionary heritage and the most valuable historical values of modern Montenegrin society,” the President of Montenegro concluded.

 When such inflammatory terminology is used, including by powerful and influential members of society such as the President of Montenegro, merely spreads and upholds ethnic divisions and hateful narratives within the region.

Homophobia and anti-LGBTQ+ narratives in Kosovo and Albania

In Kosovo the online newspaper Insajderi published an article titled ‘LGBT community seeking to remove the term ‘mother’. The article reported on recent articles published by some British media (such as the Daily Mail and The Sun) which report that LGBTQ+ charities such as Stonewall sought to changing the term ‘mother’ from work documents and replace it with the term ‘the parent who gave birth’. They furthermore, claimed that the community was seeking to avoid using the term ‘father’ as part of their encouragement towards the use of gender-neutral language.

This article was then posted on Facebook in which it received many hateful comments aimed towards the LGBTQ+ community, going as far as calling to “kill those idiots”. This is highly problematic as such headlines and articles run the risk of spreading hateful comments and narratives which contribute to the negative labelling and strong anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric within society.

In recent years there have been several attempts by various organisations to change the Family Code in order to allow for LGBTQ+ families to adopt children and thereby, gain legal recognition of their relationships. Nevertheless, Kosovo’s traditional society seems rigid about changing their attitudes towards this as they do not seem yet ‘ready’ to accept such demands, including the Government (s) who are expected to address the issue themselves.

In Albania, on the online news portal exit.al, a headline read:  “Albanian Journalist Uses Homophobic Slurs on Live Television” whereby the article discussed how on national TV, Blerta Tafani used negative hate speech and inflammatory speech aimed towards the LGBTQ+ community in conversation with LGBTQ+ activist Xheni Karaj. The debate surrounded the topic of introducing the term ‘parent’ rather than the traditional ‘mother’ and ‘father’ in order to allow legal recognition and acceptance of same sex families and couples. Blerta Tafani went on to negatively label same sex couples as part of a “degenerate society’ in which she added that “it’s a great misfortune [that an LGBTQ+ person] gives birth to a child”. She furthermore, went on to compare same sex couples to traditional heterosexual couples by adding that “same sex couples should not start a family” and indeed “cannot start a family” as a “life with two fathers doesn’t work, like with a gay family ends, this is offensive”.

Such inflammatory hate speech aimed at the LGBTQ+ community can be seen to spread hate and negative stereotypes within society who may become opposed to same-sex couples and families on the basis of misinformation and negative labelling.

Sexism in Bosnia and Herzegovina

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, during the European Championship, the women’s basketball team achieved significant success. In an article on archive.vn, the basketball player Irena Vrancic, who missed two games after her injury but nevertheless, appeared in a warm-up session with her colleague was applauded on her perseverance by making a direct comparison to other male players. The title read “in the 1st round she was taken off the field, and what she did today many men would not even think about” – this was a clear example of the success of a women being spoken about exclusively in comparison to the success of men. By positioning women’s success on a scale of comparison to that of their male counterparts, this only further reproduces sexist connotations and discourse whereby a woman is not given a platform of her own on which her success can be judged upon.

Another similar situation occurred when B&H Sports posted a picture on Facebook of one of the female basketball matches against France with the title ‘pure craftmanship that many NBA players would envy..’ This was another example of the success of women being compared to that of men as the NBA League is exclusively played by men.

Such titles and headlines uphold sexism within society.