Throughout the month of June, the RDN monitoring team has detected a range of hateful narratives and discourse. This month, we have seen hatred against LGBTQ+ individuals alongside religious, ethnic and gender discrimination, but also attacks on journalists and media due to ethnic intolerance.
Anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric in Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia
This month, both Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia held Pride parades in Sarajevo and Skopje. Despite Pride being a celebration for equality, freedom and human rights, some individuals took the opportunity to spread hateful rhetoric against the LGBTQ+ community.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, a day following the Pride parade, political magazine Stav published an extremely problematic article spreading misinformation surrounding the LGBTQ+ community. The article’s headline called for parents to ‘protect’ their children from ‘paedophiles’ on social media platforms for meeting LGBTQ+ individuals. It included screenshots from various problematic profiles in an attempt to make a correlation between the LGBTQ+ community and paedophilia. This article, though presented as a warning piece for the protection of children’s safety, in reality, used disinformation to spread homophobia.
Furthermore, Faruk Kapidžić, an architect from Sarajevo and a member of the Commission for National Monuments as well as Sarajevo’s Canton Assembly, made a post on Facebook where he referred to the amount of money that would be spent on the Pride parade. He went on to say the money was from the “working hands of a large group of disenfranchised, poor, worn-out family citizens”. Kapidžić is a member of the Party of Democratic Action. Similarly, Fadil Novalić, another member of the Party of Democratic Action as well as the ex-Prime Minister of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, posted a Facebook photo in which he commented that “we are obliged to protect our children from deviants who impose their manifestations” – referring to members of the LGBTQ+ community. A member of parliament and someone of political importance and influence, should not be making comments which undermine the importance of Pride, and which serve to pit people against one another.
In North Macedonia, following the Pride weekend and parade, which was held in Skopje, there was a rise of online hate speech. This occurs every year, whereby information circulating in the media in the country is welcomed with hate speech online. This year, the page of political party VMRO-DPMNE Mavrovo-Rostushe published a Facebook post calling the LGBTQ+ community a “doom for humanity” saying “that’s what happens when you support SDS (Social Democratic Party)”. The fight for human rights and equality should not be used as a pawn for political opposition and confrontations, but it is often misused in that way, and that is the case across the Balkans.
Alongside this, one of the most read online portals in the country – SDK.mk – published information regarding Skopje Pride activities in June, which was shared on Facebook. This resulted in a series of hate speech comments underneath the post. Despite Skopje Pride being a yearly event accompanied with a number of activities, each year the posts about the activities are met with extremely hateful and divisive comments. The Skopje Pride Weekend published an article on their Facebook page recognising the end of their activities accompanied by an interview with Slavco Dimitrov. The Facebook post contained a comment from a private Facebook user that insinuated that straight people should be careful when attending these activities, perpetuating homophobic stereotypes.
The Internet has made the spread of hate speech more prevalent and common on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. The comment section is often used as a means for spreading hateful rhetoric. It is a space that often goes unmonitored and unchecked, resulting in it being a pool of hateful language.
Sexual harassment in Kosovo
In Kosovo, a video emerged which portrays a young girl in a school in Deçan being forcibly kissed by her seventh-grade teacher. The incident was secretly filmed by a student and sent to the director of the school. The director reported this incident to the police, who arrested the teacher. The spokesman of the Prosecutor’s Office, Shkodran Nikçi, stated that the teacher has been requested to be detained for one month on suspicion of having committed two criminal acts: “sexual assault” and “threat”. The teacher has been suspended from work following the investigation, which was launched against him.
When cases of sexual assault and attacks have been confirmed, often the police announce them through a press release. In response, the media is quick and not hesitant to publish information regarding the victims, which includes the person’s identity and personal information. This is especially concerning in cases such as this one, where the victim is underage. Such reporting makes it very difficult for that person to stay where they live. The patriarchal society of Kosovo, on the one hand condemns every form of sexual violence, but on the other hand transfers the blame partly to the victim as well, and is quick to remove themselves and their association with the victim’s family. The sad reality is that often, victims of sexual violence are considered immoral and are thereby forced move away from the community.
The media in Kosovo must adhere to the Journalists’ Code of Ethics when it comes to reporting on gender-based violence. By publishing information that exposes the identity of the victim and using sensationalistic headlines, this can make the lives of the victim and their family difficult to function within the environment they are in. Journalists have a responsibility to handle such topics with care and in adherence to journalistic practices and ethics.
Religious discrimination in Montenegro
In Montenegro, it was recently announced that the Serbian Orthodox Church was planning to build more religious buildings in Podgorica. This was met with serious opposition from the Montenegrin Orthodox Church which protested. This information was picked up by portal IN4S, which used an insulting label aimed at supporters of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church. Indeed, there is constant conflict between pro-Montenegrin and pro-Serbian groups in society and that conflict is obvious too in the religious sphere. Furthermore, this has also spilt into the realm of the media, which chooses sides and are not afraid to show their support for either. For example, IN4S supports the Serbian Orthodox Church and does so openly: in this case, openly labelling and using derogatory terminology towards the Montenegrin Orthodox Church. This can only further contribute to the hatred and division which persists in society.
The media has an obligation to report and provide an unbiased account of current situations. By openly showing support and furthermore by spreading hate towards one side, the media is violating its standards and moral duty. The media has a responsibility for what it publishes and by openly showing a preference for one side and openly criticising the other, this can only contribute to further tension and hate within a multi-ethnic and religious society.
Ethnic discrimination in Serbia
A local portal in southern Serbia known as Jugmedia recently published an announcement about the screening of the film “we are all different and beautiful”. It was produced and directed by young Albanians from Preševo, Vranje and Niš on the occasion marking World Refugee Day, sponsored by the UNHCR. The announcement was published first in Albanian and then in Serbian and posted on their Facebook profile. However, the post in Albanian was met with a large number of hateful comments and even threats of violence against Jugmedia and its editor-in-chief, Milica Ivanović. The hateful comments were instigated by the fact that the text was published in Albanian rather than due to the content itself.
On a separate occasion, a local portal in Vranje known as Info-Vranjske, published a text titled “President Vjosa Osmani told the Albanians in the south of Serbia: we will stand with YOU – you are not ALONE”. This resulted in the City Board of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) in Vranje, publishing a statement in which they directly targeted this media by calling them a “newsletter of terrorists” and “an accomplice of a terrorist organisation”. The statement also includes ethnic-based hate speech and hateful discourse aimed at Albanians and government officials of Kosovo. The City Board of SNS furthermore, used a derogatory term of Albanians. Indeed, Portal Info-Vranjske is often targeted for their reporting, frequently by the members of the ruling SNS party.
Both portals and media are located in the south of the country and are the rare portals that aim to provide unbiased information. They do not promote nationalistic narratives and hate towards Albanians and other ethnic minorities living in southern Serbia. Nevertheless, in this instance, both of these incidents were motivated by hatred against Albanians. Despite the media reporting and doing their job and role, the level of ethnic discrimination persistent in society has proven to be a motivating factor for spreading hatred towards both media outlets. Furthermore, having local politicians and public officials directly targeting the media outlets is a breach of their mandate and an attack on media freedom. Using derogatory terms to label Albanians is both insulting and hateful. These individuals should be held accountable for their actions and hold responsibility for their words rather than contributing to existing tensions in society.
Intra-ethnic hatred in Albania
In the context of the recent Kosovo crisis and worsening relations between the Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, there have been undoubted repercussions. Albanian media has focused on the statements of RTK (national broadcaster of Kosovo) board member Albulena Mehmeti, who called for the boycott of the Albanian coast this summer. In response, the media reported on this negatively throughout the country, prompting users on portals and social media platforms to spread hate speech. Anti-Kosovo sentiments have begun to emerge amongst some media outlets, visible also in the comment sections, where not only was Mehmeti attacked personally (and on the basis of her gender), but furthermore, clear anti-Kosovo sentiments were also displayed.
Political polarisation and the spread of accusations towards opposing groups can have extremely negative repercussions. The presence of intra-Albanian hatred as a result of geographical prejudice is present in public discourse. Anti-Kosovo and anti-Albanian hatred spilled from that of hatred against governments to the level of hatred against people. The division and pitting of one group of individuals against another has become more prevalent. The divisive narratives present in the media and comment sections creates and upholds the binary of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ which can prove harmful for society. The media should not be an active force in further spreading hatred within society or be a tool for upholding division. Narratives like these can prove dangerous to the overall harmony and stability of society. Instead of promoting division, the media should focus on upholding inclusivity and diversity in society.