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.
The September Troll of the Month is Savo Niković, a member of the Democrats in Montenegro who openly spread discriminatory and insulting rhetoric aimed towards the Roma community.
During one of the sessions held at Herceg Novi Municipality Assembly, one of the members of the Democrats, Savo Niković made extremely insulting and denigrating comments when discussing the workers of the utility company. During his speech, Niković openly called the workers of the utility company ‘arrogant’ and went as far as to unnecessarily emphasise their nationality. When referring to these individuals, Niković labelled them as “arrogant garbage collectors of Roma nationality”. According to the local NGO Young Roma, this comment is made with an intent to categorise the Roma as second-class citizens.
Several other NGOs spoke out in reaction to this incident, highlighting the level of discrimination and negative group labelling towards the Roma community. Making such statements, as well as unnecessarily referring to the nationality of individuals during public addresses is very problematic. Emphasising one’s nationality in an instance such as this contributes to the spread of negative group labelling of individuals. Narratives that rely on prejudices and stereotypes about Roma community, such as the aforementioned, perpetuate an image of Roma inferiority.
Spreading negative and hateful narratives surrounding Roma, runs the risk of reinforcing stereotypes and negative attitudes towards individuals based on their ethnicity. This often results in the stigmatisation and isolation of members of the Roma community, despite them being amongst Europe’s largest ethnic minority.
Politicians and individuals such as Savo Niković, who hold a position of power and influence over political agenda setting and the opinions of others should have a moral and legal responsibility to hold themselves accountable for their actions. Spreading hateful, insulting narratives when addressing an audience, only contributes to the spread of discriminatory rhetoric. These narratives could be picked up and reported by the media, which could result in the magnification of discrimination and hate directed towards the Roma community.
This is not the first case of discrimination towards the Roma community noted this year. As part of the Montenegrin Cultural Network campaign, for the project ‘Montenegro without division’, a promotional photo was published on the Network’s website. The photo itself depicted representatives from all national communities dressed in their traditional costumes, that is, all except for the Roma community. They in turn, were represented in their uniforms from the Public Utility Company. Many organisations as well as individuals spoke out in reaction to this incident and condemned the stereotypical, discriminatory representation of the Roma community. Indeed, by not providing traditional Roma folk costumes, this painted a disproportionate representation in comparison to the other individuals who all wore their own traditional costumes.
Beyond the two mentioned incidents and to a broader level, RDN 2.0 media monitoring did not found much content about Roma people. This phenomenon is known as ‘hate silence’. It is evident across the region that the Roma community is underrepresented in the media apart from certain incidents and events which most often bring negative publicity. The lack of representation in the media often reflects a deeper issue at hand whereby, the Roma community is overlooked in everyday practices as members of society and their social position is more than often ignored. One way of improving this is by increasing the number of Roma people in the newsroom and inviting members of the Roma community to share their stories and experiences thereby, providing them with a voice. The media should have an active role in counteracting negative labelling and discrimination aimed towards the Roma community as all citizens and members of society should be treated equally and with respect regardless of their ethnicity.