Monthly monitoring highlight: Homophobia and other hateful content throughout September

Throughout the month of September, the RDN monitoring team have detected a range of hateful narratives and discourse. This month, there has been a rise in homophobia, but other forms of hatred have also been detected.

Homophobia in Serbia and Albania

This month, there was a significant rise in homophobia in Serbia across both traditional and social media, as Belgrade hosted this years’ EuroPride. A number of openly hateful narratives and homophobic stances taken by the public, social media users, political figures, including many right-wing politicians, and religious figures contributed to the homophobic environment.

In Serbia, online portal Blic.rs published a headline reporting on the resolution which was taken by the Ministry of Internal Affairs to ban the Pride Parade set to take place. After an overwhelmingly negative reaction to this news, at the last minute, the Government came out and announced that there would now be police protection provided for participants of the Pride. This news effectively provided the green light for the event to proceed as planned. The article published by Blic.rs, highlighted the reaction of the European Union to the news about banning of EuroPride resulting in a stream of hateful, homophobic comments. Most of the comments circulated around the idea of members of the LGBTQ+ community being ‘sick’ and ‘mentally unstable’ as well as a number of comments using derogatory labels. The most extreme and hateful comments received an overwhelming number of likes in comparison to dislikes, revealing the support for these narratives and homophobic rhetoric. Portals like Blic.rs hold a responsibility to react to these homophobic narratives shared on their online platforms. By allowing the comment section to go unchallenged and uncontrolled, this only provides the space for the spread of homophobic and anti-LGBTQ+ narratives with their readers. Reporting on EuroPride showed many malpractices by the Serbian media, particularly tabloids, but also showcased how important public figures are as generators of hate speech. Bishop Nikanor of Banat, who was the August Troll of the month, is just one example of that.

Following the attack of eight Albanian activists who participated in EuroPride 2022, the media in Albania mostly reported on this event in a neutral manner. This however did not hold true for the comment sections on both the online platforms of traditional media, and on the online portals which were flooded with negative comments and narratives. The eight Albanian activists were attacked by Serbian far-right hooligans whilst on their way back from the event to their accommodation. Many of the comments regarding this incident were both homophobic and hateful, with a number of so-called ‘funny’ reactions to the events which took place. Some of these comments went as far as to legitimise and even spur on the violence perpetrated towards the activists including inciting to more violence against the LGBTQ+ community as a whole.

This incident resulted in a rare display of ‘brotherhood’ and unification between Albanians and Serbs, based on the discrimination and hate towards the LGBTQ+ community. Once again, this highlights the lack of responsibility and will of media outlets to moderate the comments section and discriminatory narratives which arise on their platforms. Incidents such as this highlight the lack of mechanisms in place which aim to prevent and restrict such hateful narratives from being shared online. Media outlets should be responsible for moderating comments and held responsible for all of the content that is shared on their platforms.

Islamophobia in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina

During an interview on popular TV channel, RTK, Albanian writer Mehmet Kraja made comments concerning the latest public debate in regard to the possible change in the Administrative instruction which would allow girls from the age of 16 to wear the hijab (also known as the headscarf) in schools. When discussing this, Kraja made several comments which held no factual basis or proof. He claimed that girls in Kosovo have problems with emancipation, especially when it comes to those who wear the hijab which affects their perception, limits them and restrains their freedom of thought and speech. Such strong sentiments, presented as fact but holding no tangible argument or backed up by the research, are both problematic and Islamophobic.

This comment made on public TV  upset a number of people, including activist for the rights of women with headscarves, Nora Huseinovic, who announced a complaint against Kraje for his comments made during the interview. She furthermore demanded the resignation of Kraja from his current position as the president of the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Kosovo, on the basis of his use of hate speech and intolerance.

The debate surrounding the permittance of women above the age of 16 to wear headscarves in schools has been quite polarised with several individuals arguing in support of such a change on the basis of freedom of choice whilst on the other hand, others arguing that such a change would go against the Constitution of Kosovo.

Regardless of the ongoing debate, making public statements and accusations regarding the position of women who wear headscarves as being ‘limited and restrained’ is problematic and incorrect. Narratives such as these only spread Islamophobic outlooks on the position of women who wear headscarves and contributes to negative group labelling and stereotyping.

The negative impact of these comments goes beyond targeting Muslim community in Kosovo; they target women and perpetuate the assumption that women are intrinsically unable to make informed choices, particularly when it comes to them making free and legitimate decisions over their own bodies.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, politician and Serbian member of the Presidency of Bosnia, Milorad Dodik, gave an interview for the Russian agency, Tass in which he discussed the current conflict in Ukraine. During this interview, Dodik justified the current invasion of Ukraine and even made problematic comparisons of the ongoing situation to that within Bosnia and Herzegovina. Dodik then went on to claim that it is not possible to “have joint schools and textbooks with the Muslims” when referring to Bosniaks.

This is not the first time Dodik has referred to Bosniaks as Muslims in public appearances, portraying the Bosniak community as a religious entity and stripping them of their ethnicity and position as members of the constituent peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Political figures such as Milorad Dodik, who hold high public influence, should refrain from spreading such narratives. Making sweeping statements claiming that it is not possible to share public spaces such as schools with Muslims is not just Islamophobic, but contributes to already strong divisions within the Bosnian society on ethnic and religious grounds. 

Ethnic discrimination in Montenegro and North Macedonia

During one of the sessions of the Herceg Novi Municipality Assembly, one of the members of the Democrats, Savo Niković, made extremely derogatory comments when referring to the Roma community. When addressing the audience, Niković commented on the workers of the utility company as arrogant and unnecessarily emphasised their nationality, describing them as “arrogant garbage collectors of Roma nationality”. Labels such as these are hateful and denigrating and uphold discriminatory connotations towards the Roma community.

According to the local NGO Young Roma, this comment is made with an intent to categorise the Roma as second-class citizens. Referring to the nationality of individuals during public addresses in such a way is unnecessary as it  contributes further to the spread of negative group labelling of individuals. Narratives that rely on prejudices and stereotypes about the Roma community will go on to perpetuate a negative image of Roma inferiority.

Powerful and influential politicians such as Savo Niković have a responsibility towards the public to hold themselves accountable for their actions and words. All citizens and members of society should be treated equally and with respect, regardless of their ethnicity. Such prejudices run the risk of being picked up by individuals resulting in the mistreatment and hateful attitudes towards members of the Roma community, which is already severely discriminated against.

In North Macedonia, news made headlines regarding one of the largest Macedonian supermarket chains – Tinex – is said to be acquired by the Kosovo company Viva Fresh. Social media users on Twitter went on to spread hateful comments insulting Kosovo citizens with a range of insulting names and labels. Alongside this, online portal ‘Shqipmedia’ also reported on this incident, claiming that the supermarket chain was going to be bought out for around 90 million EUR – a statement with little to no proof. As soon as this news was published, many Macedonian outlets also reported on the matter, resulting in an outcry amongst Macedonian public and a surge of hate speech on online media.

Within North Macedonia, tensions between Macedonians and Albanians are well known, meaning that any information which is released and reported on in regards to Kosovo or Albanian companies entering the market is almost always faced with negative responses. Allowing such discriminatory and hateful comments to be posted with no consequence only further justified and fuels the ongoing tensions between both ethnic groups. This case highlights the lack of professionalism by the media within North Macedonia, who publish information such as these without factchecking beforehand. In highly sensitive political landscapes like in Macedonia, such headlines can only result in hate speech being disseminated by social media users. The media should report on information in a professional manner as a priority, and reject spreading disinformation in order to working against  the spread of hate speech.