Monthly Highlights December: disinformation, sexism and anti-LGBTQI+ rhetoric

Throughout December, the RDN monitoring team has detected a range of hateful narratives and discourse. This month, we have seen hatred based on gender, religion, and sexual orientation, as well as the spread of discrediting campaigns against political opponents.

Sexism in Montenegro and Albania

Five Montenegrin female journalists, Danica Nikolic, Tamara Nikcevic, Bojana Dabovic, Mirka Devic and Slavica Kruscic, received rape threats via email from an unknown source. The threats were sent to Danica Nikolic, who is the main editor of the M portal and contained the names of her other colleagues from various media. The case was immediately reported to the police and the prosecutor’s office.

The SafeJournalists Network announced that it was very concerned regarding the news of the threats of rape sent to the female journalists, whilst the Trade Union of Media of Montenegro (SMCG) warned that the threats received were very problematic as it was the first time that such a massive threat occurred in the country, targeting only women.

Milutin Mićović, the poet and brother of Metropolitan Joanikije, referred to it on Facebook. When commenting on the threats towards the female journalists, he said “It really isn’t normal; who would rape those journalists!” This was criticised by part of the public, as it was not understood as a critique of the threats, but rather as an implication that the journalists that are being threatened are not good enough to be raped.

Commenting on a woman’s appearance in relation to sexual violence and/or harm is extremely problematic and dangerous. It is crucial to emphasize that making comments about a woman’s appearance should never be used as a basis for justifying or trivialising the abhorrent act of sexual violence. Sexual violence and harm or the threat of such is both illegal, immoral, and unacceptable – no one should ever be subjected to the threat or act of such. Mićović is aligned with the political opposition of the organizations where these group of female journalists are employed. His statement can be understood in quite opposing ways, however‚ if Mićović consciously made this comment ambiguous, he implied harmful misogynistic narrative about certain women “being unworthy of rape”. If he aimed to express his support for the targeted journalists, he could have expressed himself more clearly.This is especially harmful coming from a person of political and social influence, such as Mićović.

In Albania, lawyer Zace Islami was invited on the TV program “Bardh a Zi”, broadcasted on ABC News TV, and made an extremely sexist, stereotypical, and harmful statement targeting all women who work outside of their home. According to him, if a husband/partner allows his wife to work in any work environment outside the house it is equal to him (sexually) sharing her with the male director/manager.

This statement reflects the sexism and stereotypes towards women. What is even more disturbing is the fact that this statement was made by a lawyer who has a duty and profession to uphold the law and protect citizens. Furthermore, this statement was made on TV and in some ways ‘promoted’ on social media by the same media that had invited Zace to make such public statements.

The media have a moral and legal responsibility to be aware of what information they are sharing with their audiences. By allowing such sexist narratives and rhetoric to be openly expressed and furthermore, later ‘promoted’, this can only further spread such ideas in society with no repercussion as to the level of sexism and misogyny at play.

Disinformation surrounding missing minor in North Macedonia

A 14-year-old girl, Vanja Gjorchevska, from North Macedonia who had disappeared in late November was found lifeless on the outskirts of Skopje on 3 December. The investigation into her abduction and murder revealed a complex web of suspects including her father, Aleksandar Djordjevski and several other local figures. The investigation uncovered that the possible motive behind her murder was financial gain whilst her father allegedly shared information about her movements with the criminal group allegedly involved in the murder.

In the wake of her disappearance, numerous comments were made on social media platforms some of which were extremely distasteful, harmful and insensitivity considering the gravity of the situation and those affected. Furthermore, there was widespread disinformation by various media outlets claiming to have found the girl alive and well in a neighboring country. This report from Kurir, a media organization, caused significant public commotion. However, the Macedonian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVR) quickly refuted the claim with an official statement resulting in Kurir amending their original article and acknowledging the inaccuracy of their report. Nevertheless, this false information was picked up by several other media outlets and portals that cited Kurir as their source and despite Kurir’s correction, some of the articles remain accessible. Whilst Kurir updated its article, the misleading headlines published by other media outlets remain present, running the risk of spreading disinformation.

The media bears an obligation to present information accurately and truthfully. The dissemination of false content not only contributes to the spread of disinformation but also reflects a lack of respect for the individuals affected and their families. In the case of a media outlet like Kurir, accountability for such actions is imperative. It is crucial to recognize and understand that these actions can exacerbate the proliferation of false information, emphasizing the need for responsible journalism.

Hate against political opponents in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Saša Trivić, who serves as the president of the Union of Employers of Republika Srpska and is also the owner of a bakery chain, recently made remarks on X platform (Twitter) about the responses of the opposition in Serbia to the recent elections in Belgrade. These comments specifically addressed the significant voter turnout from Republika Srpska in the Serbian elections. He wrote “after so much spitting on us Serbs from Bosnia and Herzegovina, the opposition deserves that we all take citizenships and that we all vote against them in an organised manner”. In response to this, one other X (Twitter) user joined the discussion and asked, “do you want to create a new Srebrenica in Serbia, well you won’t be able to”. In response, Trivić replied with the comment “we trained for you in Srebrenica, get ready!”

Trivić has in the past provoked serious reactions in response to his offensive, harmful and nationalistic comments on social media networks. Indeed, a few years ago, Trivić was also the target of public criticism for supporting convicted war criminals Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić. After that, he apologized, as he did following his recent statement on X/Twitter.

However, regardless of this, no political tension or disagreement should ever justify hate of any kind. Furthermore, the threat made by one politician to another opposing political group, invoking the chilling statement “we trained for you in Srebrenica, get ready,” is deeply hateful and problematic, as it not only perpetuates an atmosphere of intimidation and fear but also callously exploits a tragic historical event of genocide for intimidation purposes whilst completely disregarding the weight such a statement carries.

Anti-LGBTIQ+ rhetoric in Kosovo

Pope Francis recently approved a decision to allow members of the LGBTIQ+ community to be blessed. According to the decision, Roman Catholic priests will be able to bless same-sex couples in the future, provided that these ceremonies are not part of regular Catholic rituals. The decision also applies to unmarried couples.

In reaction to this decision, human rights activist Zana Avdiu commented on the Pope’s decision on her Facebook profile (which was later deleted), asking when the LGBTIQ+ community would be accepted in Kosovo. This provoked reactions in certain parts of the media which reported on Zana Avdiu’s post, resulting in commentators using language of hatred towards the LGBTIQ+ community and offensive and sexist comments towards her.

The patriarchal and conservative society in Kosovo strongly opposes the LGBTIQ+ community. Furthermore, in the Kosovo Parliament, notably the ruling party and coalition partners from minority communities, consistently reject legislation such as the Civil Code which would allow for the cohabitation of same-sex couples, citing the preservation of traditional family values and alignment with voter expectations as the main reason for such decisions. However, every individual should have the equal freedoms and rights as everyone else regardless of their sexual orientation. Spreading hate against the LGBTIQ+ community is never justified.

Antisemitism in Serbia

The President of the Council of the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM), Olivera Zekić, posted a photo montage of her in a Nazi uniform of the SS division as a profile picture on her Telegram channel. When asked about this, she said it was “a provocation” and that “someone made this a few years ago and posted it on Twitter”. In reaction, Zekić stated that with this act, she “laughed in the mob’s face, and showed how stupid and banal their “jokes”, drawings and photomontages are”, and that she can bear and accept them.

The Coalition for Media Freedom and the Jewish Municipality of Belgrade condemned her act in a statement, saying that they were “disgusted by the outrageous gesture” of the president of REM, as well as her explanation that she did it “out of provocation”. They called on the authorities to react to this and enforce the Law on the Prohibition of Neo-Nazi or Fascist Manifestations and the Prohibition of the Use of Neo-Nazi and Fascist Symbols. According to Article 3 of that law, it is prohibited to “produce, reproduce, store, present, glorify or in any other way spread propaganda material, symbols or signs that cause, incite or spread hatred or intolerance, propagate or justify neo-Nazi and fascist ideas.”

The original photo used for this photo montage shows Reinhard Heydrich, who was one of the main creators of the “Final Solution”, the Nazi regime’s systematic plan for the extermination of Jews from Europe during World War II.

The use of a photo montage depicting Zekić in a Nazi SS uniform is not only reprehensible but also deeply offensive, referring to a historical atrocity that caused immense suffering and loss of life. Zekić should not only publicly apologize for this act but also face the consequences of her actions – an image like this is not just an attack on her personal dignity but also a gross disrespect to the victims of the Holocaust.