Homophobia and sexism in the Western Balkans media

Throughout the month of December, 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 homophobia, ethnic discrimination and sexism across the Western Balkan.

Homophobia

A member of the opposition PDP party in Republika Srpska, Ivan Begić, resigned following the release of a private video containing intimate moments. The video was sent to journalists and public figures through private chats, however, it was not publicly shared by the country’s media. The video led to hate speech towards Begić despite the fact that the video was never meant to be public. He was targeted with numerous personal and derogatory comments, threats, and was blackmailed in relation to his sexual identity.

Following derogatory comments and attacks, Begić decided to resign from his role within the PDP party.

As Begić is a close friend and associate of the mayor of Banja Luka, Draško Stanivuković, some media and social media activists involved Stanivuković in the case and accused both men of appearing in the video.  

One of the most widespread attacks is a poster based on Titanic movie which was created by self-proclaimed activist Njegoš Tomić which depicts Begić and Stanivuković. Tomić’s homophobic comment on the poster read: “A video of two passionate lovers Ivan Begić and Draško Stanivuković leaked. If this had not seen the light of day, next year we could have had a gay president and a gay prime minister, and like this their careers are over!”

Tomić has over 1,067 followers on his Facebook account which acts as an additional tool of spreading hate speech and homophobia amongst his followers and the population of Banja Luka as well as within Bosnia and Herzegovina. Such humiliating and denigrating comments, blackmailing attempts and composite visual content contributed to Begić’s resignation from his role and position within the PDP party. Media in this case played a role in influencing public opinion and in spreading homophobia. In contrast, their role should have been in informing the public objectively and moderating hateful narratives about this case as well as about the LGBTQ+ community more generally.

In Albania, politician Nard Ndoka appeared on the radio show ‘Ndryshe’ which is broadcast by Top Albania and stated that one of the participants in this year’s Big Brother VIP, Donald, is currently involved in a love triangle. He added that he “will go on to men if he keeps it up this way”, effectively promoting the false prejudiced and homophobic stereotype that links promiscuity to homosexuality.

Such comments promote hatred and misconceptions of the LGBTQ+ community as a whole which further trigger and uphold homophobia and anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech.

Ndoka’s statements were widely reported and shared in almost all mainstream media, however, there has been no evidence of critical headlines or articles whatsoever to counteract such homophobic prejudice.

This highlights the importance and role of the media in informing objectively and counteracting hate speech and homophobia by pointing out the issues and false assumptions which lie behind such opinions and statements.

Ethnic discrimination

In Serbia, there has been frequent negative labelling of Albanians by political figures, referring to them as ‘Shiptars’ – a derogatory term which promotes ethnic discrimination. Serbian minister of Internal Affairs, Aleksandar Vulin, frequently uses the term ‘Shiptar’ when speaking about the Albanian population.  He recently said: “The Brussels agreement was signed with the EU; we did not sign it with the Shiptars”.

Such derogatory and inappropriate labelling is highly problematic especially when used by politicians in positions of power who can influence a large part of the population due to their large audience.

The statement was broadcast on TV Happy’s morning show and then uploaded on YouTube, which, at the time of writing, has received over 12,000 views and 100 likes with no dislikes. Both the media and journalists hold a moral responsibility to prevent the spread of ethnic discrimination and derogatory terminology. Such hate speech is normalised by politicians and tabloids as this kind of terminology constantly appears in various headlines and is used with little to no censorship by some political leaders and party members.

Both political leaders and the media hold a responsibility and duty to pay attention to their speech and reporting in order to prevent the reproduction of ethnic discriminatory terminology and dominant narratives which could lead others copying and using such insulting language.

Sexism and sexual harassment

Following a recent verdict relating to the rape incident of a 19-year-old girl in Kosovo, the TV show ‘Justice in Kosovo’ published the investigation related to the verdict of the Basic Court in Gjilan. The incident involved five men who all committed sexual violence and harassment against the young girl who reported the case to the police. In 2013/2014 the first accused individual was sentenced to two years in prison whilst the other perpetrators were given a minimum sentence for rape of nine months. Following an appeal to the Court of Appeals, the case was remanded for retrial. However, in 2017, all the accused were found not guilty. In the text of the acquittal, the judicial body used highly sexist language in relation to the victim, going as far as to say that the first perpetrator was married whilst the other four had no intention of marrying her suggesting that such sexual accusations were unlikely under the circumstances. They even went as far as to suggest that the incident was of her wrongdoing by quoting “the victim agreed to take a taxi with the accused, despite knowing that he was a man.”

Frequently, judicial bodies in the cases of sexual violence and harassment generally hand out minimal or only symbolic prison sentences. According to research carried out by a number of NGOs, such decision are often embedded in sexist and derogatory language in relation to the victims. As a reaction to this research and evidence, many NGOs reacted in outrage especially the organisation Qika who protested in front of the Basic Court in Gjilan.

Such sexist language which is present in society and is promoted by institutional bodies representing the law and order within the country, creates stigma in relation to acts of sexual violence and harassment. This includes frequent victim-blaming whilst the perpetrators gets off with little to no consequences of their unlawful actions. This is only spread and upheld by media with a large audience and followers.

In North Macedonia, following the ‘Public Room’ scandal in which personal photographs were shared on Facebook of young, underage girls, it has recently been revealed that a new group was formed in the city of Gevgelija called ‘GevgelijaHub’. The group was formed on social media and its members have been sharing pictures of local girls without their permission. Some of these girls have indeed initiated a police procedure against those individuals who shared their pictures, however, even a year later, this case has still not been resolved. The prosecution is waiting for Facebook to reveal the IP addresses of those individuals who shared these photos and pictures. Meanwhile, the reputation of these girls within their local town continues to be tainted and hindered. Furthermore, some of the pictures continue to be available online despite efforts to be taken down.

This misuse of personal data and leaked information relating to private photography and pictures of young girls continues to be a problem in North Macedonia in which many actors hold responsibility for such behaviour which has little to no consequence. In this case, Facebook has an obligation to prevent such scandals from occurring by adhering to their Code of Conduct which clearly states that they aim to “keep people safe and protect privacy”. 

In Montenegro, Jovana Kikanovića member of the political party ‘Slobodna Crna Gora’ (Free Montenegro), attacked Draginja Vuksanović Stanković who is president of the Social Democratic Party of Montenegro (SDP), called her “mentally ill” and used highly insensitive and insulting language as well as edited photos. ‘Slobodna Crna Gora’ to which Kikanović is a member is led by Vladislav Dajković who plans to run for mayor in Podgorica during next elections. The party members are known for making hateful statements. 

Such statements and insults are highly problematic as they promote sexism and hate speech towards women within society.  The use of mental health as an insult additionally promotes stigmatisation and negative labelling of individuals with mental health issues. The topic of mental health is already surrounded with harmful prejudices, across the Balkans.

Individuals in such high political positions are responsible for language they use and should be politically correct in order to prevent the spread of hate speech amongst the population.