Monthly monitoring highlight: Sexism and homophoia across the Balkans

November 10, 2022

Throughout the month of October, the RDN monitoring team has detected a range of hateful narratives and discourse. This month there has been a rise in sexism, misogyny and homophobia, alongside hate speech against political opponents. 

Sexism in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia and Albania 

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, a private user on Facebook spread extremely sexist and victim-blaming narratives in reaction to the news of a recent femicide which took place in Bihać, where a husband killed his wife. The comment posted on Facebook, included remarks made about the physical appearance and behaviour of women who smoke, drink and wear artificial nails, in an attempt to justify and explain acts of violence against women. The comment read ‘what do you have to do every weekend in a disco or a café, but to look for those things. First, you separate the husband from the parents, brother, sister, you screw up the whole family. Then you take him to a rented apartment and make a cobbler out of him…in Bihać, surely every third one is a wh***’.  

Comments and ideas like these are not only disrespectful towards victims of gender-based violence, but also extremely dangerous and run the risk of spreading narratives which justify violence against women and femicide on the grounds of the behaviour and physical appearances of women. The fact remains that nothing justifies any forms of violence against women, on any grounds. Sexual harassment and femicide holds no justification and can never be excused, while media should strengthen their role in preventing such narratives to be spread, be it in the media content or comments section.  

Mrika Nikqi, a well-known mountaineer from Kosovo, recently published a video on her Facebook account as proof of the sexual assault she fell victim to. In reaction to this, the president of the Fjala party, Gezim Kelmendi made a post on his own profile in an extremely distasteful and problematic manner. Kelmendi tried to justify and share his opinion regarding the motives behind sexual attacks and violence towards women as one which can be pinned down to the broadcasting of films – in particular, erotic scenes – as well as the tolerance towards the LGBTQ+ community which is taught in schools. He went on to criticise the Prime Minister and the President of Kosovo for working on the adoption of a civil code in which one of the points concerns the coexistence of individuals of the same sex. Amongst all of this, he also highlighted that whilst all these introductions to the education system and society continue, the wearing of the headscarf in schools continues to not be permitted.  

This post spreads intolerance on multiple layers and goes as far as to relativize gender-based violence. Spreading narratives which aim to justify violence and place blame on both individuals and topics within society, hold no tangible place within the topic of sexual violence. No social matter or policy can validate sexual violence towards women. By posting such opinions on social media, an individual of political importance with a large platform, like Kelmendi, runs the risk of strengthening existing prejudices amongst the public, which is extremely harmful in a society where gender-based violence is no rarity. 

In Serbia, there have been several sexist commercials which have emerged over the past month, promoting harmful stereotypes and gender roles. One of these includes the well-known non-governmental organisation, WWF Adria which launched an offensive campaign consisting of three photos posted on Instagram and one on Facebook. The posts itself included no explanation but could be deduced is the campaign seemed to be targeting the protection of wildlife. However, the campaign photos itself insinuated extremely harmful gendered stereotypes including the use of degrading imagery and sexualising language. The captions included “I would rather catch foreign than domestic fish” including images of women representing the idea of a ‘domestic fish’. Similarly, a sexist campaign was launched by a Serbian Rakija company known as Šamar – translating to ‘slap’ – posting a photo on Facebook of a women putting on lipstick, captioned “tonight only Šamar (a slap) takes off the lipstick” – implying violence against women. Shortly after, the company changed their post and corrected the caption to “only a glass of Šamar rakija removes the lipstick”.  

Along these two campaigns, was the dairy company in Serbia known as Imlek, which published a commercial for their Moja kravica yogurt on both Facebook and Instagram captioned “What happens when dad takes over mom’s role?”. The post included three photos, the first captioned “What does dad turn into when mom’s not home?”, the second one showing a dad with two children looking at a laptop and drinking Moja kravica yogurt captioned with “He turns into the person who is there to make breakfast, but also arrives at his Zoom meeting on time.” This commercial sends several harmful messages: that there is a ‘moms’ role’ and a ‘dads’ role’, implying that the mum should be the one to make breakfast for the family with her designated place being in the kitchen. The post is equally offensive to fathers, implying that they are not equal parents to their children when the mother is present.

This series of campaigns which rely on sexism in the promotion of the brand or a cause only further contributes to the spread of gendered norms and sexist narratives within society, while they could use their position and corporative responsibility exactly to challenge these issues.

Out of defence and solidarity, feminist organisation BeFem condemned these commercials through social media posts and all three companies faced public backlash and removed the commercials from their profiles. WWF Adria posted an apology and a replacement campaign, however, Šamar rakija and Moja kravica did not apologise to women or their customers. 

In Albania, a mass murder occurred in the town Klos in mid-October, where a male murdered the alleged boyfriend of his daughter (and his father) and wounded her other alleged lover, after finding out that they were playing her and harassing her online. Following his crimes, the perpetrator killed himself. As usual, the media coverage of the situation focused on the young woman rather than the perpetrator of the crime. The media placed focus on the 17-year-old girl and her role in the murders, with headlines portraying the girl as one “for whom the murders were committed”. Equally, the comment sections were full of hateful and denigrating comments against the girl; a classic example of victim-blaming instigated by the media that provides a platform for such narratives to be spread. One of the comments under the headline read “how many more will be killed for this girl?”. This comment is extremely harmful and disrespectful to the girl who is being attacked and held accountable for the actions of other individuals.  

The media, by focusing on the the 17-year-old girl and her position within the story, glazes over the important and relevant facts of the crime, and provides a platform for the spread of victim-blaming and sexist narratives. The media holds responsibility for the information they publish and share to the public, and by publishing headlines like these will result in victim-blaming narratives and denigrating language, and provide the space for hate to be spread, but furthermore shadow down the actual issue at hand, which is violence. This example exposes how media sensationalistic practices enable the spread of problematic comments, which they should be held accountable for. In reality, the media rarely bear consequences for the comments section.

Homophobia in Montenegro  

This month, Montenegro hosted Pride on the 8th of October, resulting in a rise in homophobia and hate speech predominantly amongst important religious figures. A day before Pride was set to take place, the Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Littoral of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Bishop Joanikije, announced a “prayer for the sanctity of marriage and the preservation of the family”. This announcement was made alongside the belief that events such as Pride, according to him, are forms of manifestations that “destroy God-blessed marriage and family and traditional values”; ones which are the result of the “aggressive, violent, imposition of new, perverted value systems with the help of money and power”. Furthermore, Joanikije claimed that society has become witness to the devaluation of the meaning of love as a result of the times we live in, which is characterised by “instinctive totalitarianism, where sin, selfishness, self-love, and personal inclinations of individuals are set as a measure of love, truth, and freedom.” The Metropolitan Joanikije condemned all those taking part in Pride and promoting such values by quoting “Let’s condemn the public preaching of immorality, protect the family and children”. 

The call for prayer by Joanikije was picked up by several online portals. By referring to LGBTQ+ rights and Pride as ‘perverted value systems’ this is extremely harmful and hateful. Individuals from all walks of life should be treated equally, and there should be no segregation or hate directed towards those of different sexual orientations, particularly when coming from such highly ranked individuals.

Hate speech against political opponents in North Macedonia 

In a recent video found on Facebook, Bulgarian member of European Parliament Angel Dzambaski called out and undermined the Macedonian nationality, by calling them ‘Srbomani’ translating to ‘Serbian lovers’. He then went on to call Macedonism a ‘fascist and nazi ideology’ – an extremely derogatory and insulting label to name those who identify themselves as Macedonians. Not to mention, belonging to an ethnic group cannot be labelled as an ideology. Alongside this, Dzambaski insulted the Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski, claiming that his name is a Bulgarian one. These comments were all made in reaction to a statement by Kovacevski in which he claimed that he did not know of Dzambaski and who he was. 

Opposition between North Macedonia and Bulgaria have been rising and growing following the recent openings of the Bulgarian clubs in North Macedonia which celebrate historical figures. Moreover, tensions continue to rise as a reaction to Bulgaria’s veto towards EU accession of North Macedonia due to unresolved historical issues. Despite this, spreading hateful narratives within the political environment as a result of historical and present tensions does not justify such rhetoric. Undermining and insulting the Macedonian national identity by individuals of political importance can only further contribute to the existing tensions between two nations.