Monthly Monitoring Highlights – hateful discourses in the Western Balkans

May 9, 2023

Throughout the month of April, the RDN monitoring team has detected a range of hateful narratives and discourse. This month we have spotted hatred against journalists and political opponents as well as religious, gender, and ethnic discrimination.

Hatred against political opponents in Serbia  

In Serbia, during the morning show “Dobro jutro Srbijo” (Good Morning Serbia), on TV Happy, Nenad Čanak, founder and former leader of the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina claimed that he would shoot at Vojislav Šešelj – the founder and president of the far-right Serbian Radical Party. The following day, Šešelj joined the morning show live where he then insulted Čanak and used insulting words. This entire morning show was filled with hate speech and insults from almost everyone present. Rather than apologising and stopping hateful language and insults from spreading, both individuals decided to confront one another and make offensive comments, using TV Happy as a platform to do so.

This way of communicating with a stream of insults and hate speech is very normalised and frequent on TV Happy. The host and editor-in-chief of the morning programme, Milomir Marić often uses hateful language as well. This is extremely problematic, and TV Happy is responsible for preventing such situations and holding these people accountable for the language they use on the show. This is not the case and none of the two mentioned guests were stopped in spreading problematic and violent discourse.

Religious Discrimination in Montenegro

In Montenegro, the President of the Board of Auditors of the Port of Bar, Miloš Ostojić wrote two posts on Facebook which contained hate speech against Bosniaks. This resulted in him being detained for 72 hours at a police station and subsequently removed from office. On Facebook, he insulted Bosniaks and called Islam a ‘fake religion.’ His comments were aimed at undermining Islam and the Bosniak ethnic and religious minority in Montenegro.

An individual with such an important role and platform should not be spreading hateful comments and sentiments targeting religious communities. This only serves to spread hate and division in society, especially as Montenegro is a multi-ethnic society which has a history of intolerance between various groups based on ethnicity as well as religion. Cases like these undermine religious diversity and inter-ethnic relations more generally.

The fact that he was dismissed sends a message that such behaviour will not be tolerated.

Gender Discrimination in North Macedonia

This Easter, the annual address was delivered by Metropolitan Petar who spread harmful, sexist language criticising and attacking the importance of gender equality. Some of the labels used by Metropolitan Petar regarding gender equality include terms such as ‘poisonous ideology, manipulative terminology, blasphemous, unnatural’ and ‘perverted.’ Indeed, during his address, Metropolitan Petar quoted “Our society is threatened by an even more dangerous, destructive, and poisonous ideology – gender equality!” “This ideology, i.e., manipulative terminology is blasphemous, unnatural, perverted; God created them male and female, and anything else that is changed and different from God’s creation is abnormal and therefore unacceptable.”

During his speech, he also referred to feminism, noting that in the past centuries until its appearance in recent years and the emancipation of women, women used to be wives, mothers, and housewives. However, as he claimed, nowadays, women are often highly emancipated with notable societal positions but often divorced and single mothers. Following this, he also added that when someone demands more or greater rights, they should be aware and equally prepared to perform greater duties because demanding rights without obligations is nihilism. This video was published on YouTube and reached over 2000 views. A religious leader with a large platform and influence over public opinion, should not be labelling gender equality as something which is ‘unnatural’ or be spreading misogynistic and stereotypical narratives surrounding the role and position of women in society.

Ethnic discrimination in Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina

JOQ Albania, a popular media outlet in the country, is well-known for receiving tips from its citizens on various matters and topics. Recently, they published a reaction of a citizen who had a bad encounter with a group of children part of the Roma community in Albania. This resulted in a headline portraying that citizens are ‘scared of Roma children.’ Not only was the headline suggestive and accusatory, but it was also biased and published in a manner which is typical to JOQ whereby headlines like these incite and invite numerous hateful comments in the comment section. This held true even more on the Instagram post of the article. Comments revealed a deep-rooted hatred and stereotyping towards the Roma community, especially against children who, to this day, still face many problems and difficulties in the country including segregating schooling and lack of housing. Very few of these comments acknowledged the problems associated with this minority in Albania and the institutional and societal barriers they are faced with.  

It should also be highlighted that the type of news and media reporting on the Roma community in the Albanian information environment is often conducted in one of two ways; either the Roma community is completely forgotten about (hate silence), or they are associated with negative news. Reporting on the Roma community only in a negative light perpetuates existing stereotypes amongst individuals in society who receive and internalise certain biases towards this community. Rather than reporting on the Roma community in a positive, regular, and realistic manner in order to portray this group of individuals as equal members of the Albanian society, headlines like these only further solidify these prevailing stereotypes. JOQ Albania, which allows such comments to be made online and on their social media platforms, are responsible for maintaining these negative, harmful prejudice and stereotype by allowing them to go unnoticed and unchallenged. Media outlets like these hold a responsibility over their platform and the information which they release to the public along with its negative consequences.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the president of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik was a guest on the talk show Oko on the Radio Television of Serbia (RTS). In a video which was said to be filmed before the show, Dodik can be seen having a conversation with the host of the show where he uses an extremely derogatory insult towards the family of tennis player Novak Djoković. In the conversation, Dodik offended the family of the tennis player by claiming that they are “difficult people” and labelling them using an extremely derogatory and insulting term which is offensive to the Roma community.

Following the release of the video, RTS claimed that due to a technical error, the snippet of the informal conversation between the host and Dodik was illegally released from their system. They even called for the High-tech Crime Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Serbia and the Security Information Agency to determine how the fragment of the informal conversation managed to reach the public. This also resulted in the organisation for Roma rights ‘Opre Roma’ reacting with great outrage, demanding an apology from Dodik and pointing out the evidential “continuous discrimination of Roma in Bosnia and Herzegovina”. A political leader such as Dodik who has both a professional and important role should not be spreading hateful, stereotypical labels which only serve to maintain and reinforce discrimination towards the Roma community in the country.

Hate speech against journalists in Kosovo.

Following the debate on TV7, journalist Valon Syla was attacked after returning home from participating in the debate by three individuals, receiving body injuries. He also suffered head and hand injuries. The Kosovo Police in reaction, launched an investigation. All the media reported this information including on their social media network where a large number of commentators not only insulted the journalist Valon Syla, but many of them also expressed their belief that his ribs and arms should have been broken, and some even called for him to be beheaded. Media organisations, the Association of Kosovo Journalists, as well as the European Federation of Journalists, reacted to this news by calling on the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Police of Kosovo to react. The police later confirmed that they had identified and arrested the people who attacked the journalist.

It is believed that this attack was linked with the critics Syla made on his social media channel regarding the local imam who received a Mercedes car as a gift for his retirement. Nevertheless, despite the origin and cause of the attack, no physical violence as such can be justified. The call for violence and negative comments aimed at Syla are extremely hateful and harmful. At the end of the day, everyone has the right to express themselves without the fear of threats or violence.