TROLL OF THE MONTH: Bishop Nikanor of Banat

The Balkan Troll of the Month is an individual, a group of individuals or a media outlet that spreads hate based on gender, ethnicity, religion, or other diversity categories. The Balkan Troll is selected based on hate speech incidents identified across the Western Balkans region.

RDN’s August Troll is the Bishop Nikanor of Banat who openly spread hateful narratives and incitement to violence towards those attending and participating in this year’s EuroPride hosted in Belgrade.

Earlier this month, a number of videos emerged on social media depicting Bishop Nikanor of Banat making a speech directed at the public in regards to his views and thoughts on EuroPride. Nikanor publicly shamed and condemned all those in favour of participating, organising and involved in this year’s EuroPride which will take place in Belgrade in mid-September.

Bishop Nikanor addressed the public with extremely hateful and problematic statements including insulting and derogatory comments towards the Prime Minister of Serbia, Ana Brnabic, and first openly gay person to hold the office. In addition, he openly called for the use of violence and physical action towards those taking part and participating in EuroPride. Nikanor expressed how he would be amongst the first to stand up against the EuroPride, claiming that he would “curse anyone who preached this”, and that he would use weapons against them if he had them.

EuroPride is one of the largest European events for the LGBTQ+ community and an important milestone for the LGBTQ+ community in the whole region – it is an event marking the respect for equality and shared rights for all, regardless their sexual orientation or gender identity. An event promoting the empowerment of individuals, shared values, respect and love. Nevertheless, not everyone is equally as supportive of this event and many politicians, religious actors and members of society have publicly expressed their dismay at the hosting of such an event in the city of Belgrade.

In reaction to the calls for violence and hateful narratives spread by Bishop Nikanor of Banat, a number of media outlets picked up and reported on this incident including a large number of social media users who expressed their shock. Furthermore, the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality – Brankica Janković –  made a public statement condemning the Bishop’s actions, rightfully highlighting his extremely problematic statements and calls for violence against members of the LGBTQ+ community. Janković furthermore, highlighted the divide between the Church and public matters as well as not standing in the way of democratic values.  

On the other hand, others took this as an opportunity to continue to show their objection to hosting of EuroPride in Belgrade which resulted in an increase of problematic and discriminatory statements spread by public figures. These incidents only further contributing to the existing hate environment.

Discrimination is considered an act of denial of an individual’s right to convey their values in accordance to their beliefs. However, under Article 18 ‘the prohibition of religious discrimination’ of the Serbian Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination it is clearly stated that the Church itself is exempt from this law. The passage reads:

“behaviour of priests or religious officials that is in accordance with the religious doctrine, belief or goals of churches and religious communities (…) is not considered discrimination”.

In other words, given that the Church is exempt from the Serbian Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination, it is extremely difficult for actors and institutions to act upon such cases and hold individuals accountable for the spread of hateful narratives and calls for violence aimed at the LGBTQ+ community. Such lack of institutional mechanisms of response, allows for Church representatives and members to openly spread hateful and discriminatory narratives with full legal immunity.

This is not the first time a religious figure has publicly interfered in public matters. Three months ago, the Metropolitan of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, Joanikije Mićović spoke in support of the recent initiative by the American Supreme Court, wishing to overturn abortion rights in the United States. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the church is a separate institution and therefore, should not interfere within public matters or stand in the way of equality, freedom of choice and rights for all.

Reporting Diversity Network 2.0 strongly condemns any type of hate speech aimed at the LGBTQ+ community. Spreading such hateful narratives poses a direct threat towards the LGBTQ+ community and further creates a divide in society. Media should also take a critical stand when reporting on such incidents and keep in mind their educational role and obligations in accordance with the Code of Ethics.

Individuals spreading such narratives, regardless of their religious affiliation should be held accountable and responsible for their actions and behaviour.