Monthly monitoring highlights: Homophobia and ethnic intolerance during December

Throughout the month of December, the RDN monitoring team has detected a range of hateful discourse. There has been a rise in homophobia and ethnic discrimination in the region.

Homophobia in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Kosovo  

The release of the animated children’s movie, Strange World by Disney has sparked much controversy within the region including remarks of dismay and anger from both the public and officials. The movie shows a young male character who has a crush on another male. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, politicians such as the member of the Banja Luka City Assembly and member of the Party of Democratic Progress, Dragan Milanović, shared his opinion on his Facebook page. This post was written on the occasion of Strange World’s premiere which he claims it promotes ‘homosexual values’ and argues that the film should not be screened.

Furthermore, the daughter of Milorad Dodik, president of Republika Srpska, retweeted the news of Milanović’s request to stop the screening to show her support. In her tweet she claims that although she will ensure that her children do not hate or discriminate against anyone regardless of sexual orientation, she highlights that she does not ‘want this topic to be imposed on them in this way’. She even claims that cartoons should not be used for ‘that kind of propaganda’. In addition to these reactions, Aleksandar Stojanović, journalist of the banjaluka.net website, wrote an article regarding the debate in which he says that this cartoon indeed promotes the ‘LGBT agenda’, further adding that the character is also of ‘mixed origin’ which according to him, is yet another imposition of the ‘liberal agenda’.

Politicians and individuals with public platforms and influence have both a role and responsibility over their use of language. Making statements and sharing homophobic and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric can easily be spread amongst the public. Hateful and inaccurate rhetoric only results in the spread of homophobic narratives and instils hatred, creating a divide in society.

Similarly, in Serbia, following the Strange World’s premiere in cinemas across the country, there was  widespread backlash from a part of the public based on the movie’s plotline. Amongst the public involved in the backlash were parents in Novi Pazar, right-wing political party Dveri and the organisation Centre for the Protection of the Family which started a petition to stop the screening of the movie. It is worth noting that the Centre’s  only previous work seems to have included a petition for the ban of Europride 2022 in Belgrade.. With terminology such as ‘LGBT ideology’, ‘gender ideology’ and the ‘LGBT agenda’ gender and sexual identities are represented as separate ideologies or political agendas. It, furthermore, creates conspiracy theories about LGBTQ+ people and presents them as a political force rather than a group of people who is a part of the community.

Following this, Novosti.rs, a tabloid newspaper and website, reported on this case without providing a critical perspective. The lack of different perspectives results in the continuation of  homophobic narratives rather than counteracting such hateful rhetoric.

In Kosovo, the member of parliament of the Self-Determination Movement in Kosovo, Gramos Agusholli, accused the Ministry of Culture of psychological violence against adults and children. This accusation was a reaction to the Ministry’s purchase of a a photo called ‘Saint Valentine’s Day’  which portrays two girls kissing at the price of approximately 10,000 Euros. Amongst other things, Agusholli expressed his doubt that the photograph was indeed a work of art as, according to him, it was a means and absurd tendency to ‘forcibly normalise someone’s sexuality’.

In Kosovo, a large majority of citizens are against the LGBTQ+ community which includes, amongst them, officials of Kosovo institutions. When the draft law of the Civil Code, which includes an article about civil unions between same sex couples, was put to vote, it was not adopted. A large number of representatives of the ruling ‘Self-Determination Movement’ opposed this article the Civil Code, considering same-sex civil unions as unnatural and foreseeing it to have negative consequences for the youth of Kosovo. Following large criticism, mainly from the international community and civil society, the Civil Code might be put to a vote before the deputies soon. However, several members of parliament from this party as well as from opposition parties, have already declared that they will not vote for this proposal.

Ethnic discrimination in Albania, Montenegro, and North Macedonia

During the FIFA 2022 World Cup, images of a controversial flag which depicted Kosovo’s map with Serbian colours and the phrase ‘No Surrender’ circulated. The flag was hung by Serbia’s football team and FIFA opened disciplinary proceedings against the team. Following the incident Albanian media reported on this news using sensationalistic headlines. As a result of such headlines and reporting practices comments sections were flooded with hate speech. . This incident is indicative of the ongoing tension between the two nations. In cases such as this, the media have a large role and influence in creating a further divide and contributing to existing tensions between both nations. The media has a role and influence on public perception and rather than reporting with sensationalistic headlines, they should report in a factual manner without influencing each parties’ perception of the other. Sensationalistic headlines like these, only further result in xenophobia and ethnic discrimination in society.

In Montenegro, IN4S a nationalist Serbian website, attacked editors of nationalist Montenegrin webiste, Standard. Using disinformation and inflammatory speech, the attack resulted in numerous hateful comments including personal threats aimed at journalists.

Recently, there has been an ongoing cyber clash between the Serbian and Montenegrin nationalists. The article itself was covered in other media too including both neutral and nationalist Montenegrin media. News websites like IN4S have a responsibility to report and publish information which adhere to journalistic standards and practices. Publishing an article which clearly attacks individuals is extremely problematic. The practice of naming and shaming individuals, in this case editors, only subjects them to hatred and makes them vulnerable to hate speech and even threats which can result in physical violence. Websites and journalists should be held accountable for their actions and be aware that directing hatred towards certain individuals further fuels and provokes more serious threats and rhetoric as seen in this case.

In North Macedonia, popular influencer and conservative activist, Milenko Nedelkovski, shared a tweet which included an image that contained the flags of both Bulgaria and Greece. However, in the image, the names of the two countries were replaced by the terms ‘BulGAYria and GAYlada’ – a clear intention of mockery of the two nations.

North Macedonia has been involved in disputes with both Bulgaria and Greece regarding the name of the country and the origin of some of the most important national figures. This has resulted in many people criticizing the government for entering negotiations with both respective countries and has been seen to result in hate speech online towards both politicians and citizens of Bulgaria and Greece.

Milenko Nedelkovski is an outspoken activist against the current government and opposes any talks with the two countries. His social media profiles are a minefield of hate speech and hateful narratives. An individual like Nedelkovski, who has a large platform and following, thereby a large influence, should be responsible and mindful of the content which he publishes on his public social media. The use of the two images with the country’s names replaced, is seen as an effort to undermine and mock both nations. However, this language is in fact insulting and discriminatory which further contributes to ongoing hostility towards the respective countries and their citizens.