HOMOPHOBIA IN THE WESTERN BALKANS: Monthly Monitoring Highlight

Throughout May, the RDN monitoring team has detected a range of hateful narratives. Due to June being the month that several events take place globally to recognise the impact of the LGBTQ+ community we will have a country spotlight that focuses on homophobia. During our monitoring activities we have also encountered incidents relating to hate speech based on gender and religion within the Western Balkan media.

Homophobia in the Western Balkans

Around the world, LGBTQ+ Pride Month is celebrated in June as a way of raising awareness for the LGBTQ+ community, promoting equal rights and treatment. Throughout the Western Balkans, Pride parades take place in pursuit of celebrating the LGBTQ+ community and raising awareness to the fair and equal treatment of these individuals within society. Despite this, there have been various incidents of homophobia and hate speech directed towards the LGBTQ+ community throughout the month of May.

Homophobia in Kosovo: Threats and assault against LGBT activist

At 12pm, in the middle of Pristina’s main square, Lend Mustafa, an LGBTQ+ rights activist, received death threats and was publicly assaulted by an individual who approached him shouting “I will kill you” and then spat in his ear.

Even though the LGBTQ+ community in Kosovo is protected by law, they are nevertheless subjected to daily assault, threats and hate directed towards them on the basis of their sexual orientation. Such hate speech and negative homophobic labelling is usually directed through comments on social networks; however, they also occur in daily circumstances.

In an interview with ATV after the attack, Lend Mustafa spoke about the problems faced by the LGBTQ+ community in Kosovo, primarily criticising the Prime Minister Kurti, arguing that his  government was characterised by resistance and tension on the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Homophobia in Serbia: Homophobia towards the adoption of the Law on Same-Sex Unions, the Law on Gender Equality and the Law Amendments to the Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination

Since the recent discussions around the adoption of the Law on Same Sex Unions which allows for the legally recognised unions of two people of the same sex or gender to be entered into a civil ceremony, there has been a rise in homophobic hate speech and campaigns opposing such laws.

On a Facebook post, Boško Obradović, the political leader of the political party Dveri, started a campaign called “from family to family” in which he publicly opposed the Law on Same Sex Unions and continued to make homophobic statements towards the LGBTQ+ community. The campaign made claims that such laws and rights were “anti-Christian and anti-constitutional”. During the protest on May 15th, the campaign went as far as to call on the Government of the Republic of Serbia to withdraw all three laws by claiming that they “would not allow the Constitution to be violated in that way and the definition of marriage and family to be changed”.

This was a clear indication of homophobia and hate speech directed to the LGBTQ+ community against the equal treatment and rights of such individuals within Serbia.

Another incident of homophobic hate speech within Serbia involved the leader of the Narodna Patrola (the People’s Patrol), Damjan Knežević claiming that LGBTQ+ rights were ‘propaganda’. Narodna Patrola is an informal group which, according to their Facebook page, are openly opposed to migrants inhabiting Serbia and spreading discriminatory hate speech. In a speech given in front of the National Assembly, which was broadcast on Facebook, Damjan Knežević made homophobic claims and directed hate towards the adoption of the Law on Gender Equality, claiming it to be “an attack on our culture and family and all our traditional values” adding that the state “talk a lot about the spread of LGBT propaganda”. This hate speech and misinformation directed towards the LGBTQ+ community leads to negative group labelling and the spread of harmful lies surrounding the community’s attempt at raising awareness and fighting for equal rights surrounding family values, same sex unions and equal treatment within society. Such homophobia merely spreads hate and fear amongst society.

Homophobia in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Hate speech against LGBTQ+ community and anti-migrant narrative

The website antimigrant.ba is used as a platform to spread hateful, insensitive comments and narratives towards migrants and the refugees within Bosnia and Herzegovina. Recently, they posted an IOM post (International Organisation for Migration) promoting LGBTQ+ rights on the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Transphobia and Intersexphobia on the 17th of May. The headline “No Comment!!!” was placed under the image as a way to undermine the importance of the event and LGBTQ+ rights in general as well as promoting insulting and degrading hate speech and homophobia.

Homophobia in Albania: Hate speech towards the Open Society Foundation

In an article on Frekuenca info portal, the author pointed their finger towards the Open Society Foundation in Albania and FETE as being responsible for destroying democracy in Albania by promoting homosexuals as the highest value of developing societies, amongst others. The author continued to then to direct hate speech towards the Mayor of Tirana, calling him a “mutant” by claiming that he gets support from OSF himself.

Although this incident was not a direct example of homophobia, the article itself had subliminal messages and homophobic tones throughout. By spreading misinformation and disinformation surrounding the Open Society Foundation and the LGBTQ+ community, this article further promotes homophobia and negative group labelling.

Hate speech against individuals in Northern Macedonia: negative group labelling of civil activist Mersiha Smailovic

In an article in MK Denes, civil activist Mersiha Smailovic was referred to as a jihadist as the title read: ‘Scandal: Terrorist – jihadist criminal cell in SDSM’.

The president of the Union of European Federalists of Macedonia and the leader of the political party Macedonian Concept, Petar Bogojeski shared the article which contained claims relating to the activist Mersiha Smailovic in which she was said to be one of the leaders of an ISIS terrorist cell in Macedonia. This claim was not backed up with any facts or evidence and therefore, was a clear example of misinformation and disinformation. It furthermore made allegations that both her and her family were tied up with jihadist terrorist groups in the region – as this was not backed with any evidence it gives impression it is intended to cause harm and another example of hate speech and disinformation in the media.

Additionally, Petar Bogojeski, in several posts on Facebook, continues to claim that Mersiha Smailovic is tied up with jihadist groups and posts information about imminent attacks to be organized on Macedonian soil by such groups.

This raised concerns around the level of professionality amongst journalists and posts published on the basis of assumption and false allegations rather than claims backed up by research and facts.

Sexism and misogyny in Montenegro: Sex selective abortion  

During the debate on child allowances in the Parliament of Montenegro, the MP of the Socialist People’s Party (SNP), Dragan Ivanovic, came out and said that every citizen has the right to influence the gender of his/her child. Despite condemning selective abortions, Ivanovic argued that everyone had the right to influence and decide on the gender of their future child. This dangerous narrative encourages negative social behaviour including selective sex abortions and can be seen as further perpetuating existing sexism within the country by creating a hierarchical division among genders.

Ivanovic’s comment led to much public anger and frustration including many individuals calling Ivanovic out for his opinion and statements leading to him making a public apology aimed at mothers and women within Montenegro. He went on to argue that his words were misconstrued and that those were not his intentions or meaning however, he failed to clarify his true intentions. Nevertheless, despite his public apology, the incident itself was highly problematic and such sexist narratives can be seen as encouraging and promoting dangerous behaviour.

Montenegro has a history and ongoing problem surrounding the abortion of girls and selective sex abortion. Indeed, a campaign called #nezeljena (#notwanted) was created in order to oppose the abortion of girls and raise awareness of these issues within Montenegro. According to them, there are already around 3000 less women in Montenegro then there should be as a result of selective sex abortion.

Furthermore, according to an article in Radio Slobodna Europa, the aftermath and effect of selective sex abortion has taken a toll on the demographic environment within Montenegro whereby today there is a lack of more than a thousand women in their reproductive age due to selective abortion.

Therefore, such comments and statements made my members of parliament and political leaders alike leads to the spread of hateful behaviour and upholds sexism within the region rather than tackling the issue at hand.