Monthly Monitoring Highlights: sexism, ethnic and religious tensions during February

March 17, 2023

Throughout the month of February, the RDN monitoring team has detected a range of hateful narratives and discourse. This month we have witnessed sexism, religious and ethnic discrimination, and homophobia in the Western Balkans media.

Sexism in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Albania

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, portal published an article regarding the composition of the new state government. However, when reporting on a female member, Jovanka Božović Milovanović, who has been appointed to become the head of the cabinet of the Deputy Minister of Transport and Communications the article focused on a separate, unrelated period of her life.  The article, ‘The actress from the Crvena Jabuka video became the head of the cabinet of Forto’s deputy’ concentrated on her appearance in a music video instead of highlighting her academic achievements and career as an individual who is taking up a new important position within the government. Crvena Jabuka – a pop rock band formed in Sarajevo in the 80s – was very popular in Yugoslavia in the 80s and 90s. Jovanka Božović Milovanović was described in the beginning of the article as an individual who graduated from the Academy of Performing Arts and who had studied literature, but was shortly then reduced to the role of an individual who made an appearance in a music video. This article failed to cover important information such as the competence and expertise of the head of the cabinet to be. Such treatment is not unusual when it comes to women in public life in the Balkans, but it indeed represents sexist practices that are harmful for women and the rest of society.

In Serbia, on K1 television during the show ‘Ako progovorim’ (If I speak out), the host of the show, Gordana Goca Tržan, was talking about the experience of women being harassed in public places, including receiving inappropriate comments from men. During the discussion, Tržan turned to the audience and posed the question ‘Have you ever had the experience, girls, of walking down the street and someone honking at you from a building or a car and saying, ‘hey little girl, you look good?.’ Many of the women in the audience responded that they had indeed had those experiences. Tržan then asked them if they were happy when this happened to them or if it ‘terribly annoys them and sexually harasses them’. The audience responded, with the majority saying that they were not pleased with it. Tržan responded ‘are you normal? Well, if it weren’t for those on the construction sites, no one would ever tell you that you’re a hot chick’.

This dialogue and rhetoric are extremely dangerous and problematic, amplified by the fact that such ideas and narratives are promoted by a host on a television program with a large viewership. Furthermore, this commentary was met with laughter and a clap from guests on the show and from some individuals in the audience, thereby, encouraging such statements. The entire rhetoric is both sexist, undermining the experience of those who have been victims of harassment be it sexual, physical, or verbal, and fails to address sexual harassment as a social issue. Sharing and promoting such ideas only serves to justify this behavior and further promote sexism in society whilst encouraging cat calling and other forms of harassment in public spaces. This clip from the show went viral on social media and received a large amount of criticism.

On TV Klan in Albania, an investigative journalism show called ‘Stop’ recently reported on a rape case which occurred in the town of Belsh where a man raped a 20-year-old woman ‘with mental disabilities’ – as implied in the show. The man was reported to the police after which he was granted permission to face the family of the girl and was then eventually let free. Following this, the ‘Stop’ show’s journalists interviewed both the perpetrator and the victim. The victim was asked extremely disturbing questions including ‘how did he open your legs?’ and ‘what were you wearing?’ This first and foremost violates the woman’s privacy and integrity, and moreover, is both insensitive and callous following an extremely traumatic event.

Sexual trauma and rape are extremely disturbing events and are illegal, but have not been treated like that by the TV Klan. Having a victim interviewed on live television and asked a series of insensitive questions regarding her experience goes against all moral and ethical guidelines. This is extremely problematic and completely ignores the emotions and dignity of the victim in question. Both the TV show and journalists should be held responsible for failing to adhere to journalistic standards when reporting on rape and sexual violence. Allowing such events to take place with no repercussion only further allows for instances like these to be repeated in the future. Furthermore, this only further strays away from the important issue of violence towards women and the lack of adequate responses and consequences of such actions.

Homophobia in Kosovo

In Kosovo, a member of the parliament of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, Albana Bytyqi, told online media outlet Insajderi that she and her political party will not be voting for the Civil Code, that would recognise same sex civil partnerships. Her justification and reasoning behind this decision was on the basis that she did not want her children to ‘go astray’ tomorrow and tell her that she voted for the Civil Code, thereby, taking away that right from them. This statement was also conveyed by the online media Insajderi on their Facebook page, which resulted in several comments supporting the member of parliament’s decision and alongside this, using the language of hatred towards the LGBTQ+ community.

Having a member of parliament and an individual of political power and influence express homophobic narratives and ideas of ‘going astray’ is very problematic. Every individual regardless of their sexual orientation should have equal rights and freedom of choice to love and live with whom they desire. Spreading rhetoric like this only further spurs on homophobic and anti-LGBTQ+ narratives in society. In Kosovo, the majority opposes the LGBTQ+ community and often use hateful language against them. Politicians and those in power have a moral responsibility to prevent the spread of hate and be aware of the influence of their opinions on society. Furthermore, media such as Insajderi should not provide the platform for the further spread of hateful, anti-LGBTQ+ narratives.

Ethnic Discrimination in North Macedonia

Journalist Milenko Nedelkovski recently published a tweet which translated reads as follows: “Did SDS enter the Shiptar government?” With this tweet Nedelkovski was insinuating that Albanian parties are in fact the main rulers of the government and not the SDSM party – the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia. Milenko Nedelkovski is a long-time supporter of the policies and public officials of the largest conservative party, which is also currently the opposition party, known as VMRO-DPMNE. He has been very vocal on several occasions about his distrust in Albanian parties and has often expressed hateful narratives and rhetoric toward the ethnic-Albanian people in North Macedonia.

The tweet received over seven thousand views, reaching a large audience. Ethnic discrimination holds no place in political narratives, especially in a country where it can influence relations between two major ethnic groups. Having an individual with a large viewership express hateful narratives towards the ethnic-Albanian population in North Macedonia is very harmful and only serves to create divide and tension in the country.

Religious discrimination in Montenegro

Rožaje is a town located in the northeast of Montenegro which is inhabited by predominantly Muslims. It has one Orthodox Church, which was recently repaired and repainted with the help of donations from the Muslim community. However, it was recently discovered that following the redecoration, a fresco was painted on a wall, which sparked controversy and dispute in the country. The fresco depicted Muslim men with knives, holding torches, heading towards the church. Alongside this, a man with a knife stands above a crib with a baby, its mother by its side.

This image sparked debate and outcry from the Islamic Community in Montenegro, with its head, Rifat Fejzic, warning that the fresco is ‘inciting ethnic divisions with the country’. Moreover, it was discovered that the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro had indeed approved such a painting to be drawn.

A drawing like this, which is clearly aimed at targeting a religious group, is extremely dangerous and creates further division in the town of Rožaje. Moreover, in a country like Montenegro with a sensitive political climate and characterised by a variety of religious communities, incidents like these can spark tension amongst groups in society.

Even though most media reported on this situation critically, warning that it might deepen religious intolerance, some right-oriented and pro-Serbian media used it to incite hate. Online portal IN4S interviewed Budimir Aleksić, Member of Parliament from the Democratic Front, a pro-Serbian party, about the issue. Aleksić used the situation to attack political opponents, accusing the former ruling Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro (DPS) of historical revisionism, and disregarding the feelings of the Muslim community in Montenegro. All criticism of the frescos was labeled as an attack on the church. Other Pro- Serbian portals, such as Borba and Pogled, republished the interview.