Throughout the month of March, the RDN monitoring team has detected a range of hateful narratives and discourse.
Transphobia and Homophobia in Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina
In Albania, Syri TV’s morning show called ‘Kafe Shqeto’ invited a member of the queer community in Albania – Luana Myrto – a transgender woman as well as Linda Pano, the wife of an evangelical pastor Akil Pano. Akil Pano is known for leading the Alliance for the Protection of the Family. Both individuals were invited onto the show under the discussion and topic ‘Who is pushing children towards the LGBTQ+ community?’ The debate quickly turned sour when accusations from Linda Pano were made, claiming that the LGBTQ+ propaganda is pushing children towards the queer community. She, furthermore, misused information from a Gallup poll that shows that ‘20% of children consider themselves part of the queer community and 80% of children are undecided’. Moreover, the host of the show repeatedly referred to Luana Myrto by her previous (male) name, thereby completely dismissing her integrity. Referring to Luana with her previous name is disrespectful and insulting. To add to this, article published by Syri.net, the outlet’s portal, who captured key moments from the debate, portrayed extreme bias against the LGBTQ+ community. This contributes to upholding transphobic rhetoric and disrespectful portrayal of members of the queer community. Media portals should maintain an unbiased position and not serve to spread discriminatory rhetoric and opinion against any individual or group. Furthermore, hosts on shows should be held accountable to be respectful and considerate towards their guests.
In Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, a screening of the film ‘Pride’ was planned to be held on 18th March, joined with a panel discussion and informal gathering with music was also planned at the DKC Incel Facility. In reaction to the proposed event, the association ‘Srpsko Sabranje Baštionik’ published an open letter a few days earlier, which they send to the addresses of the President of Republika Srpska, the Prime Minister of Republika Srpska as well as the Mayor of Banja Luka in which they requested a ban on the use of the public space ‘for such gatherings and activities’. This included ‘preventing gathering, highlighting and promoting symbols that offend the religious, moral and freedom of the inhabitants of Banja Luka and Republika Srpska’. They requested from the President a legislation which would serve the purpose of ‘protecting family, spiritual and traditional values.’ As a result of the request and demand from many government representatives and non-governmental organisations, the event was eventually banned. Despite this decision, the activists still gathered in the premises of organisation Transparency International where they were subsequently attacked, leaving three individuals were injured.
The whole situation was a direct consequence of the hate speech and discriminatory statements against the LGBTQ+ community that have been normalised by government officials and other individuals in positions of power, such as the Mayor of Banja Luka, Draško Stanivuković, President of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik and other representatives of the authorities in the Republika Srpska, who threatened the right to public gathering of citizens who are members of the LGBTQ+ community. Politicians who have a large platform and influence should not spread or uphold anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, which can provoke more violence towards the community.
Religious Discrimination in Montenegro
March in Montenegro was the period of presidential elections which saw several hate speech incidents and a rise in discrimination and tension between political opponents. Ivan Vuković, the mayor of Podgorica, gave a speech during one of the final conventions of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) before the presidential elections. His speech contained a number of hate speech elements including religious discriminatory rhetoric. During his speech, Vuković used negative labels towards his political opponents; stereotypes, generalisations, and insults which were aimed at Serbian people in Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church members of Montenegro, and insults pointing to all religious people. Vuković even used labels such as the ’real Montenegrin government’ when referring to the current government where officials from the Serbian party in Montenegro, Democratic Front were present. He even went as far as to insinuate that the political opponents would kill ‘ten of us’ as this was allegedly the words of his political opponent Jakov Milatović during another heated event. Despite the claim and accusation, it has never been proven that Milatović did say these words.
Political debates in Montenegro often contains harmful language to label political opponents, usually targeting religion and ethnicity. This only culminated during the presidential campaign. Indeed, Montenegrin nationalists, headed by DPS often use insulting terminology to undermine the opposition by labelling them as lesser people, less educated and backwards with less rights than ‘real’ Montenegrins, further spreading discrimination and tension between various groups and members in society.
Ethnic Discrimination in Serbia
During a press conference earlier this month, the Mayor of Belgrade, Aleksandar Šapić gave an extremely problematic response when asked to comment on solving the issue of the Roma community living in unhygienic informal settlements. He quoted that it was necessary for the Roma community to want a “normal life” then proceeded to mention that the Roma community refuse to integrate into society and that the help which the city has offered them in the form of social housing has all been in vain. He justified this by saying that they have either misused it or did not use it at all because, according to him, “they tear our carpentry and sanitary ware, sell everything that can be sold, they cause problems for their neighbours and in the end, they return to their unhygienic settlements”.
In response to Šapić’s statement there was a large uproar from various civil society organisations and associations for Roma rights. The Commissioner for the Protection of Equality also demanded for the mayor to publicly apologise. Although many media outlets did end up reporting critically on Šapić’s statement exposing and condemning it as racist, some of the most popular media in the country such as Kurir and Informer did not report on this at all. Meanwhile, media platforms Blic and Telegraf only quoted his statements uncritically and without questioning them. By permitting such rhetoric and hateful language to go unchallenged, this only further perpetuates the systematic and societal discrimination and exclusion of Roma community in the country, whilst taking away the responsibility of institutions to ensure equal opportunities. None of the most popular media in the country have seriously tackled the issue of systemic discrimination of Roma and institutional responses to that.
Sexism in Kosovo and North Macedonia
In Kosovo, a Member of Parliament of the Self-Determination Movement Arjeta Fejza recently stated that femicide is present in Kosovar society. In reaction to this, a Member of Parliament of the Democratic Party of Kosovo, Ganimete Musliu, spoke out and claimed that this is wrong and there is no femicide in the country. She claimed that women are not killed due to the fact that they are women, but that there is violence against women, and it should be punishable by law. Musliu also claimed that one should be careful because everything which is said in Parliament will be exposed in reports later on. The Minister of Justice Albulena Haxhiu reacted to this statement and pointed out how ‘criminals listen to you, and are encouraged by such speeches.’
Femicide involves the intentional killing of women based on their gender and is a phenomenon which is observed worldwide, including Kosovo. By denying femicide and gender-based violence, this only serves to undermine the experiences which are committed towards victims of it and violence. This further supports the culture of non-recognition of violence that women face as a specific problem and consequently the responsibility that institutions bear to prevent it. Rhetoric like this expressed by Members of Parliament can only further justify and perpetuate the cycle of violence towards women with little to no consequence. Public figures bear the responsibility and hold the power to address these issues and prevent them from occurring in society and should therefore take these matters seriously instead of denying their existence.
In North Macedonia on March 8th – International Women’s Day – a group of people protesting for women’s rights and solidarity joined a march before several institutions, raising awareness for women’s rights across the country. The protest gained a large media coverage and focus from several TV and online media outlets, who reported on the march. One of the images captured from the march included a young woman who can be seen to be holding up a sign which reads ‘F**k off, Church’. This image provoked a number of reactions on social media who went on to call, name and shame her using all kinds of profanities. They also proceeded on to share her social media profiles, including screenshots in an effort to expose and shame her. In addition to this, individuals also began to vehemently attack the woman for being an employee of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights and similarly, went on to call out other people from the organization. The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights is often attacked by several social media users who accuse them of being tied up with the ruling party, and for being politically biased in their intervention of cases and situation where they protest or seek more women’s rights. The violation of the young woman’s privacy including the image which circulated around and exposure of her social media resulted in the surge of attacks and verbal abuse on social media. In conclusion, straying away the public attention from the cause of the protest for women’s rights in the country, only undermines the importance of the event itself.