Monthly monitoring highlights: Sexism and ethnic discrimination

February 10, 2023

Throughout the month of January, the RDN monitoring team has detected a range of hateful narratives and discourse. This month, in the Western Balkans media, there has been sexism, ethnic discrimination and hate speech against political opponents.

Ethnic discrimination in Kosovo and Montenegro

In Kosovo, Shqipdon Salijaj, a freelance videographer from Kacanik, published a video on Instagram which depicts him in a store purchasing several Serbian products including Plazma biscuits – a very well-known product in the region. When he opens the bag and packaging instead of biscuits he finds bullets. He then opens the second bag, which also contains ammunition, as well as the other two purchased products. At the end of the video, a voiceover of an old man is heard in the background who openly ‘criticizes’ all those who buy Serbian products with the message that they have been at war for years with Serbia. He also spreads a message implying that Kosovo Albanians are losing parts of their identity.

The video itself has reached over 3 million views and gained close to 45000 likes. The comment section was flooded with hateful, discriminatory, and insulting comments including calls for violence from both sides. Several media outlets in Kosovo shared and reported on the video, supporting the message behind it. Indeed, it is not the first time that such type of content calling for the boycott of products has been shared in the public sphere. The campaign Bojkoto 8 60 has been promoting boycotts since 2011 and it has organised several boycotting campaigns against Serbian products over the last decade. The relations between Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo are sensitive with tensions starting on a top political level. When the media , promote such videos and provide a platform for their visibility, they pave the way for further tension and divide along ethnic lines.  

In Montenegro, there has been a new selection of candidates for future judges of the Constitutional Court of Montenegro. During the interview, Jovanka Bogavac, who is a Member of the Parliament of Montenegro made an insulting comment in regard to ethnicity and faith of one of the candidates. Narcisa Maja Bošković identified herself as a Montenegrin of Islamic faith. However, in response to this, Bogavac reacted in an inappropriate manner by questioning Bošković’s identity and labelled the candidate’s answer as an ‘atypical case’ which should be explained by Bošković. This was reported on in numerous outlets. Bogavac’s question was also spread on social media and reported in other articles, increasing its viewership.

Within Montenegro, ethnic and religious tensions are very common, and they have been recently rising. Bogavac who is a member of the pro-Serbian nationalistic party Democratic Front should have known that this comment was both provoking and insulting, especially during a period of high political turbulence. As a member of a political party, an individual with a high position of power, influence, and audience, Bogavac should be aware of the influence her comments can have. Rather than adding fuel to the existing tensions, she could use her platform as a means of promoting inclusion and respect for diversity and plurality of religions and ethnicities.

Sexism in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, and Serbia 

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bisera Turković, commented on the recent decision by the President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, to award and commemorate Vladimir Putin. Her response to his recent decision was to label it as an insult to human decency. Following her comment, Milorad Dodik responded to her by saying that “every word that comes out of her mouth is slap worthy.” 

It is well known that Milorad Dodik himself and the leader of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats often use offensive, derogatory words and inflammatory language in their public addresses and speeches. Often, the individuals on the receiving end of these comments and insults, tend to be women – officials and politicians. Political leaders stand in representation of the people and hold a high position of power and influence, and should not misuse their platform to spread sexist and prejudiced comments. Such attitudes by political figures only serve to further normalise sexism and sexist language in society.

In Albania, gynecologist Shkelqim Balili appeared on Vizion Plus’ program Vizioni i Pasdites in which he made misogynistic and sexist statements regarding the position and ‘role’ of women. During the program, Balili argued that women over 30 are deemed ‘old’ with respect to childrearing, and that a woman should have at least three children. He also added that women who choose not to have children are in fact ‘withered’ – an extremely insulting label to attach to an individual who chooses not to bear children.

These statements are indeed indicative and reflective of a society in which patriarchal and sexist values and ideas prevail. They reflect a society in which the position of a woman is based solely on childbearing: if a woman chooses not to have children, and thereby not become a mother, she automatically has no value. This is extremely harmful and hateful – women and individuals in society have free will and choice to decide whether or not to have children. It is not an aspect of the woman’s life which dictates her worth. Moreover, another important aspect to highlight is the fact that having a doctor – a medical professional – making statements which are based solely on misogyny and personal opinion rather than medical proof is highly dangerous. Doctors and those who have acquired medical education hold a moral duty and responsibility to provide guidance and present medical facts rather than opinions to the public. When such views are shared by individuals who have a significant role within the society the risk of widespread sexism and misogyny becoming widely accepted by the public is high.

In Serbia, another incident of physical violence occurred in the reality show ‘Zadruga’ on TV Pink, when one of the participants attacked and attempted to strangle another contestant on the show. A video displaying the attack on the show was then posted on their official YouTube channel and currently the video itself has over 400 thousand views. This was also picked up by various tabloids who reported on the incident  by sensationalising and justifying the violence, claiming that during the argument “she drove him crazy” and that then he, in reaction, “went mad and attacked her”. This incident is not an exception as violence against women in various forms including physical and psychological are a regular occurrence in reality programs which are broadcasted on TV channels with licensed national coverage and reach. During the past month, more than 10 incidents involving physical violence have occurred in ‘Zadruga’ without any consequences for neither the participants nor the broadcaster. This shows how violence is normalised in reality shows in Serbia, which have huge audiences, and completely ignored by relevant regulatory authority who has the power to react and sanction such content.

Violence against women is not an issue which can be overlooked in a society in which sexism is widespread and violence against women high. The fact that a TV channel which is broadcasted national not only allows such incidents of violence on their platforms but also promotes them on social media is both problematic and against all ethical and professional standards. Indeed, media content that “highlights and supports violence, criminal or other illegal behaviour” is prohibited by Article 47 of the Law on Electronic Media in Serbia. The regulation is constantly violated by TV Pink, and this is confirmed in the latest report by the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media. The report shows that TV Pink does not meet the requirements for a national coverage broadcaster, due to the lack of cultural, children’s, educational and documentary programs. The same report shows that TV Pink, as well as TV Happy, devote the largest part of their program (about 38%) to reality shows. The Regulatory Body for Electronic Media also filed a request to initiate a misdemeanor proceeding against TV Pink, since this broadcaster committed 493 violations of the Law on Advertising. However, this year both Pink and Happy were yet again awarded licenses for national broadcast by the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media.  

Hate speech against political opponents in North Macedonia

Tensions between North Macedonia and Bulgaria have been high in the past months, however, this month they reached a new low when MEP Dzhambazki celebrated Mara Buneva, a Macedonian Bulgarian revolutionary, in the centre of Skopje, alongside dozens of his collaborators in a form of provocation. Dzhambazki has been vocal over the past few years that Macedonians are in fact Bulgarians and that all Macedonian historical figures are actually from Bulgaria. The President and the Security Institutions begin considering him a persona non grata – this translates to a person who, by decision of the host country, has been assigned a status which removes any protection of diplomatic immunity from prosecution. The security force institutions within the country claimed that they will ban all foreign nationals in the country if it is determined that they are a threat to public order, national security, or international relations. This announcement was made in response to the planned commemoration of the birth of the Macedonian revolutionary Gotse Delchev on 4 February when an organised group from Bulgaria is expected to arrive to North Macedonia.

Commenting on President Stevo Pendarovski’s proposal to declare Dzhambazki a persona non grata, in a statement for Bulgarian TV NOVA, Dzhambazki responded by reminding the North Macedonian president of the assassination of the Serbian King Aleksandar Karađorđević. This threat was made almost to insinuate that the president may end up like him. Furthermore, he said that even though he was not planning to attend the commemoration of the birth of Gotse Delchev on 4 February , following the statement of President Pendarovski “he can’t refuse such an invitation” and confirmed his plans to attend the event. This may altogether only serve as an additional provocation and hateful rhetoric between the two countries. Politicians should aim to use their power and influence to prevent the spread of hatred and ethnic discrimination, however, this is often disregarded and political positions are misused to raise tensions.