TROLL OF THE MONTH: Kosovo MPs Rrahmani and Balje, and the head of Prizren’s Islamic Community Berisha

September 8, 2023

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.

This month’s Troll are two members of Kosovo parliament Eman Rrahmani and Duda Balje and the president of Prizren’s Islamic Community Besim Berisha.

Every August, the city of Prizren in Kosovo hosts DokuFest, an international festival dedicated to documentary and short film. This year, the opening act was delivered by Canadian feminist musician Peaches. During the performance, photographs were taken and posted on social media featuring the singer and two dancers wearing body-revealing costumes. They also showed their support for transgender community which caused a large amount of outcry and backlash.

Amongst those reacting were MP Eman Rrahmani and MP Duda Balje who criticized the opening of the festival. On their Facebook profiles they published several photos from the opening, pointing out that such a performance is shameful and that such scenes cannot be financed and supported by the budget of Kosovo. They also made a point to note that children should be kept away from such ‘degeneration’.

For almost two years now, several MPs in Kosovo parliament have been blocking the adoption of the Civil Code which amongst other things, enables same-sex cohabitation. Many of them openly speak out against the LGBTQ+ community, arguing that they and their voters stand for the ‘traditional family’. They also make the emphasis that religion prevents them from recognizing this union.

Furthermore, the head of Prizren’s Islamic Community, Besim Berisha also took to Facebook to criticize the opening of DokuFest. He claimed that this kind of performance and the messages that were promoted and shared amongst the public were shameful, that the DokuFest had no values, and that children should be kept away from such ‘degeneracy’. In another post on his profile, Berisha called for a protest to be organized against the festival, posting a photo with DokuFest written out and a prohibition sign posted over it.

The Islamic community of Kosovo, like most religious communities in the country, advocates for the traditional family and does not accept people with a different sexual orientation or same-sex marriages.

Following this, the protest did indeed take place outside the main mosque in the southern Kosovo town of Prizren. Those attending the protest held banners against the organisation of DokuFest, as well as slogans reading “not with our taxes”, “keep drugs away from our children” etc. When asked by the journalists whether they believe the Islamic preacher, some protesters reacted aggressively including those who physically attacked a journalist and his cameraman. During the protest, a journalist of the online portal Nacionale, Vullnet Krasniqi and his cameraman were  physically attacked by a group of protesters.

The Association of Journalists of Kosovo reacted to this attack on the Nacionale team, demanding that the police investigate and bring the suspects to justice. The police have since confirmed that they have one of the suspects in custody, but have not provided further details on the investigation.

Members of Parliament, individuals with an important platform, power and influence over people’s opinion and decision-making should not turn to social media or any platform to spread hateful language towards the LGBTQ+, or any minority community. This is extremely harmful and can have negative consequences by promoting insulting language, ideas and actions in society.

Universal equality and treatment are fundamental rights that should be extended to all. Labelling and denouncing the actions of a group advocating for transgender and LGBTQ+ rights as ‘degenerative’ is profoundly hateful and offensive. Such behaviour perpetuates and reinforces transphobia and homophobia within society. Furthermore, the call for protest and use of violent language can potentially lead to graver outcomes, as exemplified by the experiences of the members of the Nacionale online portal team.