September 6, 2023

In a world filled with increasing awareness and understanding about autism and related neurological conditions, it is deeply disheartening and concerning to come across remarks that not only showcase ignorance but also perpetuate harmful stereotypes.

In a recent incident that has sparked a public outcry in North Macedonia, a private individual named Ranko Srbakoski took to Facebook to air his deeply prejudiced views about individuals with autism, referring to them as “sick and retarded” in an exchange online with Zoran Mijalkov, a human rights activist and a father of two children with autism. Moreover, Srbakoski wrote during their argument on Facebook that Zoran Mijalkov’s seed was “cursed,” because it has two children with autism, implying that he should stop having children. It’s unclear what motivated Srbakoski to issue these comments, as they seem to be unprovoked. At the time of writing this article, the comments in question are deleted, but screenshots are available that clearly show what’s been said by Srbakoski.

Such comments are not only derogatory and misleading but also reflect a dangerous perspective that we, as a society, should wholly reject.

Unsurprisingly, the public was quick to condemn Srbakoski’s comments, flooding social media with calls for accountability and education on the matter. Many pointed out the dangerous implications of such a perspective, emphasizing the negative impact it can have on the lives of individuals with autism and their families. The general consensus was that these comments were not only unacceptable but also perpetuate harmful discrimination.

The media, too, was swift in picking up on the incident as leading newspapers and online news channels covered the controversy. The incident became a focal point for a broader discussion on ableism and discrimination against those with neurological conditions.

In a more formal response, both Mijalkov as well as the First Children’s Embassy “Megjashi,” filed an official complaint against Ranko for hate speech. According to the law, if found guilty, Srbakoski could face a prison sentence ranging from 1 to 5 years for hateful speech and promoting violence through social media.

The incident has served as a harsh reminder that despite progress in awareness and understanding of autism and other neurological conditions, deeply ingrained prejudices still exist. Challenging these toxic viewpoints requires collective action from the public, civil society, legal institutions, and media organizations.

Words matter. They shape our perceptions, beliefs, and actions. Ranko Srbakoski’s comments do not represent the kind of society we aspire to be – one that is inclusive, accepting, and understanding of all its members. We must do better, and it starts by challenging and rejecting such harmful viewpoints.

Photo: Photo Kozyr/ Shutterstock

This article was originally produced for and published by Institute of communication studies. It has been re-published here with permission.