Monthly Monitoring Highlights – a range of hateful narratives and discourse

June 14, 2023

Throughout the month of May, the RDN monitoring team has detected a range of hateful narratives and discourse. This month, we have seen hatred against political opponents and individuals as well as gender discrimination.

Hatred against political opponents in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and North Macedonia.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, to mark the International Day of Victory over Fascism, The Association of Citizens ‘Sloboda’ organised a musical event in the city of Banja Luka. This year, singer Darko Rundek amongst others was set to perform.

In reaction to this, journalist Daniel Simić posted a Tweet in which he added a photo of the concert poster, criticising the use of the Latin alphabet instead of the Cyrillic alphabet. He called out the Association of Citizens ‘Sloboda’  by claiming that ‘fascism finally won in BL (Banja Luka). It is written exclusively in the letters that was prescribed as the only legal one by law in 1941. Ante Pavelić.’ He then went on to claim that if this was not an example of true fascism – which according to him lies in the hatred of the Serbian people – then at least  the alphabet used to promote the event would have been written in Cyrillic next to the Latin.

The use of the term ‘fascism’ and labelling the actions of groups such as Sloboda as such is dangerous and contributes to divisions in country whose population is mixed along ethnic and religious lines. Instances like these can only contribute to tensions and division in society based on prejudice and harmful personal ideas, and a journalist should not use his public social media as a means to put those forth.

In Montenegro, Vesna Rajković Nenadić, an influential Montenegrin journalist spread hateful narratives and misinformation. On the 21st of May, the Independence Day of Montenegro, Vesna published a Facebook status. In this post, she expressed her contempt for ecological activists who clean Montenegro on that day, comparing their actions to that of the “cleansing of Montenegrins’” in the country This also served to discredit the work of ecological activists and imply that Serbian people and political parties are overtaking Montenegro and are trying to eradicate Montenegrins – a very harmful and divisive narrative.

Following this, Vesna proceeded to host a show called Crosswords, where she then elaborated on this topic and asked her fellow guests the question  “who orders trash cleaning actions on Independence Day?” By posing this question, Vesna tried to present the work of the ecological activists as an action which shows opposition and resistance towards the Independence of Montenegro and also as a means to boycott  Independence Day.

Vesna Rajković Nenadić is very open about her Montenegrin ethnicity and frequently tries to present Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church as the opponents of the nation of Montenegro. She often spreads similar misconceptions, implying that even ecological activists who traditionally clean trash from the Montenegrin landscapes on Independence Day are in fact in favour of or even working for the Serbian political groups in Montenegro, with the aim of boycotting the holiday.

Narratives like these, which are built on personal prejudice, misinformation or disinformation can create division in society. In a diverse society such as Montenegro, narratives like these can promote ethnic discrimination and further tension between groups within society.

In North Macedonia, portal Nova Makedonija recently published an article by Jani Bojadzi,  university professor and the director of TV Alfa. In his column titled ‘Let’s not fool ourselves, I don’t forgive’, Bojadzi calls for revenge against political dissidents, expressing his desire to see the mothers, sisters, and wives of members of the ruling party in the country  in tears. Throughout his text, he uses extremely derogatory, insulting, and hateful language including the terms “human freaks”, “devil force”, and “mentally ill”.

Such narratives, when coming from a public individual such as Jani Bojadzi, who has a high profile and influence, are additionally problematic. Everyone has the right to their political opinion, however, to publicly attack, insult and spread hate towards those who are of a different political stance, is extremely problematic and not in line with democratic values. Narratives like these can further spur on individuals of the same political stance to continue such rhetoric which can cause tension and hatred amongst groups of individuals. Bojadzi, as a public figure, should be held accountable for his language and words he shares with the public.

Hatred against opposing political views in Kosovo.

Supporters of Kosovan Prime Minister Albin Kurti and his cabinet  do not like any criticism of the work of their government. Most times, those who do criticise the current government and the prime minister are  subjected to hatred and insults on social networks.

Sisters Arta and Zana Avdiu recently participated in ta podcast of the online portal ‘Nacionale’ where they discussed the work of the  government. One of them  is a supporter of the prime minister’s party but nevertheless expressed some criticism.

The other sister, however,  said she is convinced the prime minister is leading a completely wrong policy that  neither benefits  citizens nor Kosovo itself. In response, the two sisters received hateful comments, mostly on the account of their gender.

This is not an unusual practice, as RDN findings show that women are often targeted based on their gender, even when the cause for insults is completely different;in this case political opinion.

Analyst Dafina Demaku, who appears in a TV debate broadcast during the week on KTV, is also known as a critic of Albin Kurti’s politics. Her severe criticism of Kurti’s recent policies and decisions has resulted in hatred aimed towards her. In response, Dafina reported the case to the Association of Journalists of Kosovo and through a press release the journalistic organisation strongly condemned the campaign and hatred she was subjected to.

In a democratic society, individuals should be free to  express their opinion and political beliefs without  the fear of receiving backlash in the form of hatred and insults.

Hatred following mass shootings in Serbia.

On May 3rd, Serbia faced a mass shooting in a primary school in Belgrade which left nine students and a security worker dead. Two days later, another mass shooting took place in a few villages surrounding Mladenovac, leaving eight, mostly young people, dead. The media reporting that followed completely disregarded all journalistic standards, violating the Code of Journalists of Serbia and relevant media laws. The media failed in reporting ethically on these crimes, endangering the privacy of the victims, the perpetrators, and their families. This continued throughout the month of May.

In response to the mass shootings and social unrest, a series of mass protests began in Belgrade and other locations in Serbia. Titled ‘Serbia Against Violence’, the demonstrations were triggered by the tragic events, which have urged the Serbian public to open a conversation regarding violence, especially focusing on hate and violence present in the media, pervasive tabloids, and television channels with national coverage. The protestors are calling for the  dismissal of the Council of the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media, the tabloids that continuously violate the Code of Journalists of Serbia to be shut down, and  for the permits  granted to TV channels that promote violence to be taken away.

In reaction to social unrest, various MPs and other government officials began to spread hateful narratives and discriminate against political opponents and those who think differently. The President of the Republic of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, called the protesters “hyenas” and “vultures” during the daily news segment on TV Pink.

He also accused opposition leaders of misusing the recent tragedies in Serbia for political purposes. Following this, during the parliamentary debate on the Government’s report on the security situation of the country following the mass shootings, Nebojša Bakarec, an MP from the ruling Serbian Progressive Party said that the opposition in Serbia is “armed to the teeth” and that they “oppose the action of disarmament of citizens”.

The President of the National Assembly of Serbia did not react to these words in any way. The Prime Minister, Ana Brnabić, also insulted the opposition in the National Assembly. She finished her response to MP Miroslav Aleksić from the opposition People’s Party with “Shame on you!” after which she turned off her microphone, pushed it away and went on to insult them. President of the National Assembly did not react or sanctioned this neither.

Tragic incidents like these should not provide fuel for various individuals including MPs and powerful political figures to spread hatred in society. In moments like these, which require all individuals to unite in the fight for a safer society, state officials must be held accountable for their actions or lack thereof, as well as for their public statements, especially when they are perpetuating the culture of violent communication.

Disinformation and homophobia in Albania.

In May, the Administrative Court decided to overturn the decision of the Commissioner for Protection from Discrimination who  ruled last year that evangelical pastor Akil Pano had used substantial hate speech against the LGBTQ+ community in Albania. The Administrative Court said its decision was  based on the grounds of freedom of speech and freedom of faith.

Pano presented this decision as a legal victory of ‘mother and father’ against ‘parent 1 and 2’ and the queer community itself. This in fact was far from reality. The ‘parent 1 and 2’ initiative, which would involve replacing the term mother and father with parent 1 and 2 to make families more gender-neutral and inclusive, was allegedly withdrawn from the legal docket last year. Therefore, there cannot be a victory of ‘mother and father’ over ‘parent 1 and 2’ despite what Pano has claimed. However, this rhetoric was not only shared by Pano but also by the media – mostly pro-opposition media who propagated this idea. Headlines presented this idea by pitting these two binaries against one another and presenting the outcome as a ‘victory’ of sort, thereby, spreading misinformation and false news.

Allowing headlines which spread disinformation and misleading claims is extremely problematic. The media have a moral and ethical duty to present information in a factual and correct way. Spreading misinformation  to the public can be dangerous and allow for narratives like these to provide the space for hatred against the LGBTQ+ community to continue.