HATE SPEECH IN THE WESTERN BALKANS: September Monthly Highlights

Throughout the month of September, 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 ethnic discrimination and xenophobia towards various ethnic communities as well as instances of homophobia and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric across all six Western Balkan states.

Ethnic discrimination in the Western Balkan

For the past five years, the Agreement of Freedom of Movement created between Kosovo and Serbia, demanded that vehicles with licence plates of “KS” could enter Serbia from Kosovo, however, licence plates “RKS” had to be replaced with temporary plates at the border. Cars with Serbian licence plates on the other hand, could enter Kosovo without any problems. Nevertheless, recently, after the Agreement expired on 15 September, the Government of Kosovo decided to introduce reciprocal measures which made crossing borders between both countries more complicated. Most notably, cars with Serbian licence plates would be required to take temporary licence plates when entering Kosovo too.

Following these recent political tensions between both Serbia and Kosovo, there has been a rise in ethnic discrimination and hate speech on both sides. Kosovo Online recently published a post with the title “Drama at Brljak: Special forces tried to get a Serb out of the car, KFOR prevented the incident”. KFOR is a NATO-led international peacekeeping force in Kosovo. According to the post, the “police demanded that a citizen of Serbian nationality get out of the car and remove the KM license plate, which he refused, so they started to pull him out of the car. Who knows how everything would have ended if KFOR members had not come along and calmed down the whole situation, Serbs who were protesting gathered there, and the driver managed to get to safety”.  This was not confirmed by Kosovo police, KFOR, on any relevant authority in Kosovo.

As a reaction and protest to the recent reciprocal measures undertaken by the Kurti government in Kosovo, Kosovo Serbs have been blocking two border crossings in northern Kosovo for the past three days. Within the previously mentioned article, Kosovo Online has been sharing and spreading fake news which can only lead to negative consequences. Given the historical and prior interethnic relations between Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo, the spread of harmful disinformation and inaccurate news leads to misinforming the public of actual events taking place thereby creating insecurity and fear.

At the other side of the border, Serbia’s newspaper Informer published an article on their website titled “Shiptars in a panic! America informed them that Vucic is not bluffing- the Serbian army will, in case of an attack, protect the people in Kosovo!”. The article claimed that “Albin Kurti and his extremists do not know what to do! The day after the Croatian and German NATO instructors at the ‘Vrelo’ base near Vučitrna trained them how to break the Serbian blockades ‘in an hour’ and take full control over the north of Kosovo, the Shiptars received a serious warning from the USA”.

The media, especially tabloids have been feeding sensationalist reports on the Belgrade-Pristina happenings, which contribute to raising ethnic tension and division between Albanians and Serbs that can have negative consequences. In addition to using derogatory names when reporting on Albanians, Informer continues to contribute to the spread of disinformation and fear when reporting on the situation at hand. By publishing such sensationalist headlines, the rise in tension and fear amongst the public creates false impressions of conflict which can further spark violence and hatred on both sides. By using such derogatory names and terminology when reporting on Albanians, this runs the risk of fostering hatred especially as Informer has such a large readership and reach.

In Albania, ethnic tension and fear of conflict continues as JOQ Albania, recently posted an image depicting three women in army uniform with the title “Would you join the Kosovo Security Force against Serbia if war erupts in the north of Kosovo?”. This was followed with a ‘poll’ on JOQ Albania’s Instagram page in relation to the growing tensions in the region and fear of conflict. The comments underneath the post were overwhelmingly in support of joining Kosovo against Serbia if war were to erupt, with many comments calling for “joining our brothers”.

The post – which received over 32,000 likes and over 2,000 comments – contributes to the rise of ethnic tensions in the region and spreads misinformation and feeds the public’s fear of the possibility of war and conflict. This also creates a further wedge and divide between the two ethnic communities on the basis of misleading narratives.

Homophobia and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric

At the Demographic Summit in Hungary, Milorad Dodik, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s member of the presidency and president of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) spread strong anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and homophobic remarks.

During his speech, he made specific references to the traditional role of mother and father within family settings and posed strong opposition and disapproval for same sex couples and families. He said “they want to impose their values on me and I run away from that. Don’t touch me you sick person. Get away from me, do what you want but don’t touch me. And now I am incorrect, but they are correct. There is parent 1 and parent 2. I have not yet said that parent number 1 and number 2 gave birth to a child”.

He furthermore, expressed his frustration towards his right to voice his opinion but arguing that “how is it possible that I cannot speak and that it is politically incorrect to say that the mother is a woman and the father a man. Sorry, I can’t learn that. It doesn’t make logical sense in my head”.

Using such insulting and misleading language when referring to the LGBTQ+ community, can marginalise groups which are already excluded and face unequal treatment within society. Such homophobic comments by someone such as Dodik, who has a large political and public platform, spread anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and hate speech and continue to justify and maintain homophobia in society. Such narratives  could lead to acts of hatred and violence. Politicians, who are supposed to represent society and their interests, should be held accountable and responsible for spreading this form of hate speech.

In Montenegro, Vijesti.me published an article in relation to a recent incident of homophobic speech from a member of the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro (DPS). In that article there was a video which included a highly derogative and homophobic word to describe Dritan Abazović , leader of the United Reform Action (URA) and Aleksa Bečić, the President of Democratic Montenegro. Furthermore, when asked to apologise for using such terminology, the DPS party accused the URA movement of downloading footage from private Viber groups thereby, justifying such inflammatory speech as ‘private footage’. The URA search committee argued that they do not expect “sanctions for this member of the DPS from its main parts, because that is what is characteristic of their political activities”.

Such statements excuse and downplay the use of homophobic hate speech by justifying its use and thereby allowing such terminology to be upheld and accepted within society especially from political parties and individuals.

Hate speech in North Macedonia

Petrit Saracini is a well-known, outspoken civil activist and a former employee of the Government who now works for the CSO ‘Civil Media’ where he regularly comments on various political happenings. Recently, on one of his posts on Facebook, a member of the political party ‘Levica’ published a video comment in which he insinuated that Petrit has ‘little time left’ and even though the exact intentions were not clear, it leaves the doubt whether or not the comments are indeed a threat to the life of Saracini. In his video he said “Petrit you black hold, where are you heading you rat, little bit more, do you know that you won’t have a hole to hide in. Let it out, just a little bit more”.

It is possible that the comment could be interpreted as referring to the period after the local elections which are scheduled for October in which ‘Levica’ expect to receive a high number of votes and gain more political power and influence. The post itself received around 888 views at the time of writing and runs the risk of inciting false information and hate speech towards Sarancini which could further promote and spark violence.