Throughout the month of November, the RDN monitoring team has detected a range of hateful narratives and discourse. This month we have identified religious discrimination, sexism, anti-migrant rhetoric, and homophobia in the region.
Religious discrimination in Montenegro
The former president of the Municipal Assembly of Petnjica, Adnan Muhović, has made derogatory comments in reference to mixed marriages, specifically with non-Bosniaks. He claimed that such a marriage would be against the tradition of Petnjica, quoting that ‘mixed marriages have always been condemned in Petnjica because it is contrary to the religion, but also with the traditions and customs of Bosniaks’.
Petnjica is a municipality in the northern region of the country where the majority of the population is Bosniak, whereby, such comments are direct insults aimed at creating a wedge between both communities. Alongside his comments, Muhović used an extremely pejorative term for non-Muslim women, translating into the idea that women of different religions including atheists are ‘those who don’t know God’.
In a conservative region which has patriarchal attitudes and ideas regarding women, comments and insulting terminology directed at non-Muslim women only further promote discrimination and division in society. Furthermore, by promoting such narratives and ideas, individuals of mixed marriages may be more vulnerable to hate and intolerance within society and the region itself. An individual with political status and a platform such as Muhović should refrain from promoting religious intolerance and division which runs the risk of escalating into further tension.
Sexism in North Macedonia and Serbia
Katerina Dodevska is a journalist at MDK.mk who was exposed to a series of insulting comments and statements by Kushtrim Ramadani, the director of the ‘Skopje Sever’ heating plant in a phone call following the interview she conducted with him, where the director was asked certain question regarding the operations of his plant. MDK.mk correctly published his statement that Skopje Sever heating plant operates on fuel oil, but without permit. Soon after publication, Kushtrim Ramadani called up the journalist and began to verbally assault her with curses. Amongst other things, Ramadani swore at her and made personal, hateful insults towards the journalist.
Regardless of the content and information published by MKD.mk and journalist Katerina Dodevska, no individual should be the victim of verbal assault in any shape or form or be targeted in such a manner. Furthermore, there should be certain measures in place to protect journalists such as Dodevska, and Ramadani should be held responsible and accountable to apologise for their actions.
RTS (Radio Television of Serbia) is Serbia’s national broadcasting service known for producing both news, drama and sports on radio, television, and the Internet. It is one of the most popular and watched channels in the country. Recently in a TV show following the World Cup in Qatar ‘Biser pustinje’ (translated to the pearl of the dessert), ex-footballer and football analyst, Rade Bogdanović, made derogatory and sexist comments in reference to the wives of Serbia’s national football players. During the show, Bogdanović claimed that young men and today’s representatives are no longer required to go to military service, and for this reason, they become ‘spoilt’. He then went on to claim that their wives and families thereby, act as a distraction towards their achievement in the World Cup held in Qatar, whilst indirectly suggesting that they are actually the ones to blame for their failure. In reference to the wives of football players who joined their husbands in Qatar, Bogdanović spread hateful stereotypes, commenting that their only role was to look good, spend money and take care of their children.
In reaction to this, RDN network together with women and journalist organisations from Serbia sent a letter of complaint to the Editorial board of the Entertainment Program and the Sports Editorial Board of the Radio Television of Serbia. This letter was sent in an effort to raise awareness to the editorial team of the problematic and sexist statements made by Bogdanović on their program which only serves to spread rhetoric downscaling the role of women in society, limiting them to being mothers and one who ‘irrationally’ spends money which they did not earn themselves. During the entire program, both presenters did not once try to intervene and call out these sexist, patriarchal statements. The media, RTS editors and Bogdanović himself, all have a responsibility towards their actions and words – and should apologise for spreading sexist and patriarchal narratives. A public service as such, should also not provide the platform for spreading these sentiments to a wider audience which can only serve to uphold patriarchy and misogyny in society.
Anti-migrant rhetoric in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Portal Antimigrant.ba is known for anti-migrant rhetoric and frequent spread of sensationalist and fearmongering headlines and information. Under the headline ‘Special war: migrants really like Eastern Sarajevo… Extra!’ the portal claimed that migrants are slowly heading to the East of Sarajevo as they ‘really liked something there’. The article first begins by insulting Bosniaks, claiming that they must either be ‘corrupt or stupid’ to not understand the essence of importing illegal migrants into areas with a majority of the Bosniak population. The text then continues to make claims that these migrants will head to the town shops and drink from the bottle of Rakija resulting in them taking out knives.
Antimigrant.ba portal is an extremely hateful page, publishing frequent fearmongering information, holding no factual basis but rather serving to spread discriminatory and hateful narratives regarding migrants and refugees. These serve to instil fear within the public and contribute to already-existing tensions between the local and migrant community in the country. Furthermore, the editor of the portal received charges for inciting national, racial and religious hateful narratives and for spreading intolerance, and was then acquitted.
Coverage of femicide in Kosovo
A 35-year-old woman who had been hospitalised as she was about to give birth was killed with a firearm by her husband whom she was currently divorcing in front of the Gynaecology Clinic of the University Hospital Centre in Kosovo. In September, the woman had been granted police protection which was supposed to be in effect up until March 2023, due to her reported physical and psychological violence, which she experienced whilst living with her partner. This also meant that he was forbidden to approach her. Despite reports from her family that the victim was continuously being harassed by her partner, the police adamantly responded that she was being ‘protected’.
Following on from this, several protests were held by citizens due to the inadequate response of institutions to femicide and violence against women, including the lack of protective mechanisms in place. Since the murder, most of the media have published photos of the victim rather than the perpetrator as well as one interview in which the killer’s father claimed that although his son was loud, he never resorted to violence. Amongst the reactions included statements given by political leaders, including Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti, and President Vjosa Osmani. Kurti went on to relativise the responsibility of institutions stating that the number of police is disproportionate to the number of families, suggesting that the police cannot protect everyone, and that the responsibility falls on the individual.
Vjosa Osmani on the other hand wrote a Facebook post that the whole of Kosovo is ‘crying’ as the victim never became a mother which can suggest that the only purpose of women is to become mothers. Neither individual mentioned the responsibility of institutions, the police, judicial bodies, and measures of protection in place for women and victims of violence. Both the media and political leaders in power had a part to play; rather than using their voice and platform to address the lack of institutional bodies for the protection of victims of violence, they used their influence to divert the attention from the real issue at hand.
Homophobia in Albania
The release of the film Strange World has caused much controversy in Albania. The plot revolves around the adventures of a family in which there is also a part involving two boys who fall in love. In reaction to this, a protest was held against the film, organised by the Pro-Family Coalition which took place on the day of the premiere in front of the cinema airing the film. The Coalition also presented numerous statements arguing that the film ‘promotes homosexuality in children’ and ‘teaches them that being a homosexual is normal’. Likewise, the media reflected the ongoing debate between the Pro-Family Coalition and the LGBT Alliance by reporting on the case with sensationalistic headlines which only served to add more fuel to the fire and spread disinformation regarding the film and its content. This, furthermore, resulted in incitement of hate speech in the comment section and rise in homophobia. One of these headlines read ‘Alarming/The Albanian Pro-Family and Life Coalition: Keep children away from this movie, it teaches them how to…’.
The media have a large role to play in the framing of certain issues and incidents which are reported. In this case, the media should have used their platform to inform the public of the events in an unbiased manner, and also educate individuals of the importance of equality and non-discrimination. Instead, the media acted as a stepping-stone to further dissemination of false information and provided the space for the spread of hateful anti-LBGTQ+ narratives.