Monthly Monitoring Highlights March: ethnic hatred, sexism, hate towards journalists and political opponents

April 10, 2024

Throughout the month of March, the RDN monitoring team has detected a range of hateful narratives and discourse. This month, we have seen hatred based on ethnicity, gender and hatred towards journalists and political opponents.

Ethnic hatred in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the most read web portal in Bosnia and Herzegovina reported on an incident that happened in Sarajevo where a woman was attacked. The article provided details about the attack itself, however, it also mention that members of the Roma community were involved in the incident.

This incident exemplifies highly unprofessional media reporting whereby a journalist from the web portal specifically mentioned the involvement of individuals from the Roma community. Such reporting contributes to a skewed and stigmatised public perception of the Roma community. This is also apparent in the offensive language and prejudiced comments proliferating in the article’s comment section, which served as a platform for the spread of hateful, discriminatory language against the Roma community to go unchallenged.

Minority social groups often receive limited attention from the media and when they are featured, especially in the aftermath of incidents, it tends to worsen discrimination and marginalisation. It’s crucial for the media to exercise sensitivity when reporting on ethnic minorities, avoiding the propagation of hateful or discriminatory rhetoric.

Hatred against political opponents in Montenegro

In the town of Herceg Novi, an effigy with the face of prominent writer Andrej Nikolaidis was burned during the town’s carnival organised by the municipal authorities. Whilst burning his effigy, individuals present shouted insults and hateful comments, which also resulted in numerous hate speech comments being written online.

Andrej Nikolaidis has been the target of many forms of harassment and hate speech as well as threats throughout his life due to his political activism, anti-nationalism, and support for human rights. In reaction to this recent incident of hatred and harassment, PEN International (a worldwide association of writers), the Montenegrin PEN Centre and PEN Bosnia and Herzegovina demanded that the “targeting of prominent writer, journalist and PEN member Andrej Nikolaidis must end at once”. No one regardless of their political stance or opinion should fall victim to harassment and threats of any sort. Furthermore, the organisers and authority of Herceg Novi should not have permitted such violent acts to take place in their town and moreover, should apologise for such behaviour.

Violence towards journalists in Albania

During a media appearance, Syri TV journalist Ambrozia Meta faced a physical attack by Prime Minister Edi Rama when he shoved her face as he refused to answer her questions regarding an investment project linked to Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

In response to the incident, the SafeJournalists Network, an advocate for press rights in the Western Balkans, labeled Rama’s behaviour as “unacceptable and alarming,” demanding an apology from him. Additionally, the Union of Albanian Journalists publicly supported Ambrozia Meta saying she had the right to question Rama at the press conference. “The Prime Minister not only did not give a concrete answer to the specific question, but… avoided the obligation to give a concrete figure for the possible public benefits of one of the biggest projects in the field of Albanian tourism.”

Nevertheless, despite this, Prime Minister Edi Rama issued a statement on X (formerly Twitter), asserting that he did not regret his actions and refused to apologise. He controversially claimed that “denouncing an imaginary aggression disrespects the true victims of power aggression towards women journalists worldwide,” implying that Ambrozia Meta’s allegations undermine the credibility of actual victims of aggression. This statement attracted many views.

It is important to mention that Prime Minister Edi Rama has clashed with journalists, including Ambrozia Meta, on previous occasions. Any form of physical aggression towards an individual is unacceptable. It is particularly concerning when it involves a prominent and influential figure who serves as a public official, like Edi Rama, addressing journalists in such a manner. He should not only refrain from such behaviour but also issue a sincere apology for his actions.

Hatred towards a former activist and employee in Kosovo

Following a smear campaign against her Advisor on Foreign Policy, EU Enlargement, Western Balkans, and Transparency, Đorđe Bojović,  MEP Viola von Cramon-Taubadel released a statement on her social media account. It reflected her concern about the impact of disinformation campaigns and propaganda on Kosovo’s European integration efforts. She suggested that such campaigns, including the one targeting Bojović, will not serve the interests of Kosovo or its aspirations for rapid progress towards European integration.

Viola von Cramon-Taubadel wrote on her account: “My question: Who will this help? Certainly not to Kosovo and its European integration. Fake news, disinfo campaigns, government propaganda or even a deep fake with bots and trolls will definitely not change anyone’s position, but only weaken (Kosovo’s flag) the chances for rapid progress. It is sad for the country”.

A campaign was launched against Đorđe Bojović after a video of him at an exchange program, , during his time as an activist and former employee of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, was misused. Individuals who initiated the online campaign claimed that Bojović was denying the war crimes committed in the years ‘98-’99. He responded by attaching a video where he states that certain errors occur when certain crimes committed in Kosovo are labelled as genocide, when in fact they should be categorised as war crimes.

Đorđe Bojović received support from several representatives of Kosovo’s civil society, including Petrit Seljimi and Agon Maliqi, who responded to these attacks by saying that they are bots, that is, sympathizers of the ruling party, which labels all those who dare to criticise the current leadership. After that, several commentators organised a new campaign against Agon Maliqi. In reaction to this, Đorđe Bojović thanked Maliqi for his support. However, there were comments in reaction to Maliqi’s post that claimed he should be expelled from Kosovo and that his passport should be taken away. Former President of Kosovo Atifete Jahjaga also reacted. Commenters predominantly asked her to delete her post.

Furthermore, the Youth Initiative for Human Rights Regional Network released a statement calling for the condemnation of such attacks on Bojović strongly believing “that such attacks are wrong, damaging and should not be tolerated”. The nature of smear campaigns corrode trust and integrity, acting as a barrier to democratic discourse and dialogue.

Sexism in North Macedonia

In the lead up to the next elections in North Macedonia, three women and twelve men were collecting signatures to qualify to run as presidential candidates. However, the disparity between the level of sexism and hate speech faced by the male and female candidates was substantial.

Gender-based hate speech, insults and sexist comments were common in relation to the female candidates in comparison to their male counterparts. In one instance, the portal Kurir published a reel on Facebook from a speech of Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, VMRO- DPMNE candidate for president. Most of the comments she received were negative and sexist. Being the oldest, many of the hateful comments also referred to her age.

In another instance one of the biggest television stations TV21, published a question on its Facebook page with the photos of two candidates running for MP’s from the DUI party (The Democratic Union for Integration). The headline read: “how do you evaluate these selections of DUI?” The publication incited many comments with hateful speech towards females in general and towards the two women in particular.

Negative, hateful, and sexist commentary towards individuals on the basis of their gender is never acceptable. Online abuse can force women out of political engagement, eroding the foundations of equality and democracy.

Targeting of journalists and political opponents in Serbia

After speaking at the Rebedu Festival in Dubrovnik, Croatia, journalist and president of the Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina (NDNV), Ana Lalić, received thousands of threats and insults on social media and her private phone number. Lalić spoke at the panel “In the Jaws of Nationalism” where she said that “extra-Serbization” is happening almost every day in Vojvodina and that the people of Vojvodina are trying to defend themselves from the “gallop of Serbian nationalism”.

Soon after, a manipulated video of another journalist, Dinko Gruhonjić, who spoke at the same festival last year, appeared on social media. This video was instantly followed by a wave of hate speech towards him. Gruhonjić is also a member and the Program Director of NDNV and a professor of the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Novi Sad.

In the controversial misleadingly cut video from last year’s panel at Rebedu, he spoke about the people “who are climbing his genealogical tree”, ironically stating, among other things: “So they even invented the name Sabahudin for me, even though I have a nice name, Dinko, like Dinko Šakić.” After this, the video showed a presentation of who Šakić was – a commander of the Jasenovac concentration camp in the Independent State of Croatia during World War II, where many Serbs, Roma and Jews were tortured and estimated between 77 and 99 thousand were murdered.

Several tabloid pro-regime online portals, including NS Uživo, Republika, Srbija danas, NSuživo, Gradske info and 025, used this part of the video to prove that Gruhonjić “declared that he was proud to be named after Dinko Šakić”, spinning his actual words. In a statement for the fact-checking portal Raskrikavanje, Gruhonjić says that this is not the first time that “nationalists pull him out of the hat” and spin his words and that he has been suffering pressure and attacks on his work for decades. Threats continue to this day, the most notable being a graffiti of a death threat that appeared at the entrance of the building where he lives with his family.

Due to alleged hate speech, a criminal complaint was filed against Gruhonjić. The seemingly organised tabloid chase and hateful comments, including threats of violence and death, he received on social media were followed by condemnations by ultra-right organisations, the former director of the Security Information Agency Aleksandar Vulin, and even the Student Parliaments of the Faculty where he works and the University of Novi Sad. These student bodies demand that Gruhonjić be fired and removed from his position as professor.

After that, the Faculty of Philosophy in Novi Sad suspended work on March 28th after a group of primarily young men broke into the institution at the invitation of the Student Parliament. The group first gathered with banners in front of the faculty, then entered the building, locked the entrance with chains and a padlock and blocked the door with chairs. Students and professors were forced out of the building, which was blocked for four days. Many students and professors gathered with activists and citizens in front of the faculty to support Gruhonjić and defend faculty integrity and autonomy. Some students claimed they did not recognise most people blocking the faculty. Gruhonjić received public support from many colleagues, students, journalist associations, civil society and other individuals and organisations.

In March, young activists were also targeted in tabloid media. Certain media outlets with large audiences play a critical role in targeting journalists, activists, political opponents and those who oppose the regime. Targeting individuals through media is unacceptable and as is the case with Dinko Gruhonjić can be threatening to their safety and livelihood.