Monthly Monitoring Highlights: Hate Speech in the Western Balkans throughout July

August 10, 2022

Throughout the month of July, the RDN monitoring team has detected a range of hateful narratives and discourse.

Antisemitism in Albania

On Top Channel’s show “E Diell’, as part of the segment – Rrethi Katror’ – a frequent guest of the show, Alfred Cako, made problematic antisemitic statements. Cako is also known as Albania’s most prominent conspiracy theorist. The segment itself was focused on the topic of World War II, in which Cako claimed that the history books are inaccurate, and that it was in fact the Jewish people who started World War II against Germany with the intention of exterminating the German people.

This statement and claim can be perceived as revisionist, which, according to the European Convention on Human Rights, is a form of hate speech. Alongside this, Cako continued to make other dark statements containing elements of racism by arguing that “there is enough reason for the white race to be superior” as well as stating that “Jews have been kicked out of 100 countries…wherever they have invaded, they have destroyed [that country].”

Although this show aired in early June, by mid-July, Israel’s Embassy in Tirana sent a letter to the Albanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to which Alfred Cako reacted to on his social media, arguing that his comments and statements were just “alternative ideas”.

Television channels, such as Top Channel, have an ethical and legal obligation as well as a responsibility for all content and discussions aired on their programme, therefore allowing the spread of antisemitic comments and historical revisionism with little to no limitations. Furthermore, with such a wide audience and outreach, these negative connotations will continue to fuel more religious intolerance.

Ethnic discrimination in Montenegro and Serbia

In Montenegro, as part of the Montenegrin Cultural Network campaign for the project ‘Montenegro without division’, a promotional photo for the project was published on the Network’s website. The photo displays representatives of all national communities shown in their traditional costumes except for the Roma community, who are pictured in the work uniforms of Serbia’s Public Utility Company.

In reaction to this, many organisations, and individuals themselves came forward to condemn the stereotypical and discriminatory representation of the members of the Roma community. In response to this, The Network issued a statement on social media that “they failed to provide Roma folk costumes” and they continued that as the proverb says “a suit does not make a man” and that it is more important that the Roma and Egyptians appeared equally as people in the campaign, rather than focusing on how they were dressed.

The level of discrimination and exclusion of the Roma community in comparison to other representatives of national communities within Montenegro is apparent here as by not providing traditional Roma folk costumes fosters an image of inequality. Also, the reaction of the Montenegrin Cultural Network portrayed a level of justification for the ethnic discrimination aimed towards the Roma community.

In Serbia, following Aleksandar Vučić’s ban from entering Croatia, there has been problematic media coverage and language used by Serbian politicians. A couple of days after the visit, Ivica Dačić, President of the National Assembly of Serbia, was invited on the local KURIR TV station to comment on it. During the show, when discussing the topic of Srebrenica during the war in the 90s and the level of education surrounding the genocide, Dačić denied Serbia’s involvement. He then argued that one can discuss the events which took place in Srebrenica if there is equal admittance of wrongdoing and crimes committed against the Serbian population during the World Wars.

Genocide denial is a serious issue that we are still experiencing till this day, decades after the loss of countless lives. Dačić argued that genocides differ in terms of acknowledgement and reconciliation process. Such arguments are highly problematic as genocide recognition and acknowledgement does not work on a quid pro quo basis. KURIR TV has an obligation to prevent such ethnic discrimination and harmful narratives from being spread amongst the public. The media should use their platform to educate and inform the public rather than promote hateful narratives and fuelling tensions that are already surrounding the case.

Sexism in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina

In Mitrovica, Kosovo, a 26-year-old woman reported her husband to the police on account of domestic and physical abuse. Following on from this incident, the police initiated a domestic violence procedure, resulting in the husband calling the woman’s parents to say that she can go back home, as she’s no longer his wife.  She is now currently staying with her parents.

Local online news website Sinjali reported that the husband initiated a divorce case. The comments from the site’s Facebook page on this story were filled with sexist language and misogyny, arguing that it is actually a fact that women are the main cause of problems in the family. There were even a number of comments calling for men not to marry in the future.

In Kosovo the number of domestic violence cases is on the rise, and such incidents are reported almost on a daily basis. Due to the often-inadequate response from the police or mediators who insist that the woman return to her husband, several murders have also been recorded. In the traditional outlook of Kosovan society, the man is often seen as the ‘head of the family’ and that a woman is his ‘property’ thereby justifying forms of physical abuse. Often, it is not traditional media itself who spread sexism and misogyny, however, by reporting rather superficially, without in-dept approach to this important social issue, they leave space for spread of the existing misconceptions and sexist stands in the comments section. Comments are usually much more problematic that the content itself, but media do little or nothing to change that.

In the Parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a discussion was held in regards to an important law, when a number of male representatives from the ruling parties lashed out at an MP from the opposition, who is a woman. The individuals spoke out sharing personal remarks and commenting on her appearance. One of the male politicians went on to say to her “your facial expression, I wonder who can love you even politically. I know some who love it, they are very rare”.

This comment is both extremely unprofessional and sexist, as directing personal insults towards the MP, whether in a heated discussion or due to political disagreement, should never be justified. Politicians hold a level of both power and influence over public opinion and should therefore use their platform in a responsible and professional manner.

Hate speech in North Macedonia

Currently North Macedonia is facing political turmoil surrounding the necessary requirements and conditions for starting negotiations for future EU accession. The new ‘French proposal’ lays out concessions to be made by North Macedonia to Bulgaria in terms of the human rights of Bulgarians who reside within North Macedonia. This would involve a change within the constitution itself, allowing for their greater rights as a condition for Bulgaria to lift the veto so that North Macedonia can start the accession negotiations.

On the other hand, not everyone is keen for this proposal. Dimitar Apasiev, leader of the Levica party, has been one of the most vocal opponents of this. The leader has taken to social media to call out members of the government who are considering such proposals. In one of his posts on Twitter, he went on to call President Pendarovski highly inappropriate names due to the fact that the president allegedly claimed that he didn’t see the new proposals as wrong.

When one politician is personally offended rather than just challenging the stands of political opponent, sharing public opinion in a disrespectful manner can often worsen the situation at hand. Members of parliament hold a certain moral responsibility and duty to be accountable for their actions and hold themselves in a professional manner. Such comments made on social media not just widen the gap between those in favour and those in opposition of this proposal, but more generally foster tensions in the society.