Monthly Highlights: Hate speech in the Western Balkans throughout June

Throughout the month of June, the RDN monitoring team has detected a range of hateful narratives and discourse. This month there has been a rise in religious hate speech, sexism and ethnic discrimination in the Western Balkan region.

Sexism in Montenegro, Albania and Serbia

In Montenegro, the website  Aktuelno.me, has a section called ‘Beauties from Instagram’ in which readers select ‘the most beautiful women’ from Instagram. This month, Aktuelno.me published a post with the title ‘Beauty from Instagram – Sara Žižić’ and under the headline it was written ‘In the BEAUTY FROM INSTAGRAM we present the graceful, naturally beautiful, model SARA ŽIŽIĆ, who in addition to her beauty, is adorned by her traditional values’. This article went on to publish various photos of Žižić taken from her Instagram profile. Columns such as these are extremely misogynistic and sexist as women are depicted as objects and their respective values are measured by their beauty. In traditional and patriarchal societies, such as Montenegro, a woman’s value is measured by her beauty and appearance. The choice of language in the title and addition in the text that Žižić is adorned with respect to her ‘traditional values’ portrays the message that the ‘ideal woman’ should respect the traditional and patriarchal structures in society. Sections such as this one on a variety of similar webpages contribute to the consistent media representation of unrealistic beauty standards which mainly focus on the physical aspect of women’s characteristics.

JOQ Albania, in one of its posts which include  polls in the form of a question posed to its social media followers, predominantly on Instagram, recently asked an extremely problematic and sexist question to the public. The question was whether women prefer money or the person nowadays – ‘The person or money, who do women prefer nowadays’. Not only is this question suggestive of women forming relationships and interests in partners with the aim of finding money but it is furthermore extremely sexist and inaccurate.

One user commented in the comment section of the post ‘why not ask what men prefer today? Or are these questions always only for women? Have you noticed how many men go out and get married for stupid documents? A woman loves the person; she wants security. Do men know how to give this? Or just to take advantage of one woman and then go with another? So, when you ask, ask for both genders.’ This reaction highlights the level of sexism within the media and the focus on women and their choice in partnerships as one in which there are hidden interests at play.

The fact that a media outlet such as JOQ Albania, which has a large reach and followers, is posing such a question and is opening the debate surrounding such matters is problematic because it provides a platform to individuals to spread negative, hateful and sexist rhetoric. Posts and debates such as these only uphold and maintain misogynistic values in society.

In Serbia, following the Roe vs. Wade’s overturn by the Supreme Court in the United States, lawyer and member of the Serbian Progressive Party, Vladimir Đukanović, shared a number of sexist and hateful tweets aimed at individuals supportive of abortion rights. One of these tweets read ‘Bravo for the decision! Feminists and all other atheists, take your uterus and cry’. This was followed by another tweet which displayed a picture of three cows with the caption ‘Feminists in disbelief due to the ban on abortus in the USA’. He went on to quickly justify this tweet in another post reading ‘I did not compare women, but aggressive feminists who otherwise in their manner insult the views of us believers. Yes, I consider them the worst evil that advocate for the legalisation of murder. I tell you nicely, if you don’t like it, block me’.  

On top of this, he went on to express his anger towards what he claims to be ‘insane feminists’; ‘I enjoy monstrous aggression and insulting insane feminists. The US Supreme Court killed them in a sense and their attempt to legalise murder as something normal has collapsed. The ideology of death that these frustrated people advocate, thank God, have been defeated. Evil is on its knees’.

Vladimir Đukanović, has around 7,000 followers on Twitter and a large reach in the country. By sharing such sexist, hateful and misogynistic narratives towards women and those in support of abortion rights, these comments are further spread and upheld in society. The insulting language and use of degrading imagery including the comparison of women to that of cows, is highly demeaning and shameful. Politicians and those in power with large influence and authority hold a moral obligation towards their actions and should be held accountable for the spread of negative and highly sexist narratives in society. Although the debate surrounding abortion is a highly polarised one, the fact remains that everyone has the right of self-autonomy and freedom of choice.

Islamophobia in Kosovo

Lawyer Arianit Koci recently wrote a post on his FB profile spreading Islamophobic tropes. His post read: ‘I don’t know how many of you have noticed, but in our country the number of ladies and gentlemen who have started wearing the headscarf is growing rapidly, not to say in a worrying way.’ He also added ‘and it’s not a scarf like some of our grandmothers used to wear, this is typical scarf that expresses religious commitment. Does it reflect the Albanian identity and our European commitment? Not at all!’ He moreover, emphasised that wearing headscarves can only be prohibited by law and that it is something which does not lie in accordance with the culture of Albanians. Amongst other things, he wrote ‘The lack of communication with Europe, mainly due to the isolation unfairly imposed on us by the European Union, is one of the main reasons for the spread of religious ideology. Religious political ideology’.

Hundreds of individual users have reacted to his post, amongst which the largest number of them have reacted negatively towards Koci’s opinion, mostly through hateful language. Even Arianit Koci himself has informed the public that he has received numerous threats following this post, which he believes came from the Kosovo ‘Taliban’. This post was further picked up and published by the online newspaper ‘Insajderi’ which also published it on their respective Facebook profile.

In Kosovo, there has been a long debate over the years on whether or not headscarves should be allowed in schools and institutions in the country. Individuals wearing headscarves although small in number, are employed in a variety of institutions with no prohibition or restriction. Recently, young girls who are covered are seen more and more often on the streets on Pristina. Various sociologists associate this phenomenon mainly with poverty and the privileges that such persons receive from various humanitarian organizations from the Middle East, which have been present in Kosovo in large numbers since the end of the war in 1999. Part of the intellectual community and a large percentage of the urban society, believe that such religious identification does not belong with the Albanian culture and values whilst others see the interpretations of the Quran other than the traditional one, having a serious impact on the security situation in Kosovo and posing an obstacle to rapid European integration.

These narratives and ideas, shared on social media platforms only spread hateful and Islamophobic narratives within society. These ideas only further fuel the existing hatred and discrimination towards the Muslim population within Kosovo.

Ethnic discrimination in Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia

In the city of Gradačac, the Islamic Community of Bosnia and Herzegovina placed a sign on a small cemetery with the inscription ‘A place for burying citizens from mixed marriages. It is forbidden to perform any religious rites. It is forbidden to place any symbols on the gravestone’.

This sign is extremely problematic. By discriminating against individuals of mixed marriage, such signs create segregation within society and uphold divisions between individuals of different ethnic and religious backgrounds. Signs and displays such as these further fuel ethnic discrimination and xenophobia within the region by promoting the idea that individuals of mixed marriage do not belong with the rest of society. These narratives only create tension within heterogeneous communities.

In North Macedonia, during a parliamentary session on the 27th of June, the MP of the largest Albanian party in Macedonia, Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), held a session where they proposed to prolong the pension years for judges in the country. The opposition VMRO-DPMNE opposed this, fearing that it’s just another way of imposing control over the judiciary. Several of the VMRO-DPMNE MPs stormed the speaker booth in the Parliament, trying to turn off the mic of the DUI speaker Arber Ademi. Ademi responded by standing up and pushing away the hands of the VMRO-DPMNE MPs and at one point, he proceeded to throw a coffee mug and a plastic bottle at the MPs. Following this, the State Secretary of the Ministry of Culture, Valmir Aziri, published a post on his Facebook profile claiming that the Anti-Albanian MP Antonio Miloshoski (one of the MP’s that tried to shut down Ademi’s microphone) ‘deserves more’ and that the new generations of Albanians will ‘break the legs and arms’ of those that oppose and go against Albanians in the future. The post has since been removed.

There is increasing and growing tension between the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) and DUI political parties on the one side and the VMRO-DPMNE on the other. This is just one of the series of arguments and debates that they have all been involved in recently.

This confrontation is problematic on a number of levels. The fact that political leaders, including members of parliament as well as the State Secretary of the Ministry of Culture, spread hateful and, in some cases, aggressive narratives which call for violence towards those against Albanians, fuels ethnic tensions and may even promote violence in society. Political leaders have a responsibility and duty over their actions and behaviour and should avoid such language and rhetoric that creates division and hostility between ethnic communities in North Macedonia.