TROLL OF THE MONTH: Stefan Lazarov, YouTube influencer

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.

A popular North Macedonian YouTuber and influencer by the name of Stefan Lazarov recently published a podcast episode which featured a well-known journalist with decades of experience, Dragan Pavlovic-Latas. During the show, amongst other things, the two individuals began to discuss the guest’s sexual past. Latas openly admitted to a case of rape of a young woman when he was 15-16 years old. Whilst describing the rape, both Latas and Lazarov were laughing about the situation. Lazarov is a popular YouTuber in the country, with a large number of followers of around 77,500,  highlighting his large viewership.

Following the publication of the podcast, there was an avalanche of reaction on social media, which both criticised and publicly shamed the release of the interview. The pressure on the YouTuber resulted in him removing the video from his channel. Furthermore, the contents of the show and the story Latas discussed caught the attention of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights. According to the organisation the fact that the video received over 50,000 views and the issue of rape and sexual violence was deemed a topic and source of laughter only serves to portray the ‘realistic representation of how we treat women victims of violence’. Furthermore, the Committee highlighted how the fact that the topic was deemed a source of amusement is something which only further highlights the ‘painful indicator of what normalising a culture of violence looks like in practice and where institutional inaction and the lack of clear attitudes and policies that protect victims rather than abusers can lead to.’ The Committee rightfully pointed out the ongoing issue within society whereby incidents such as these involving abuse and non-consensual acts of violence are deemed a laughing matter. No form of sexual abuse or violence towards women should ever be seen as a matter of mockery or source of entertainment – they are crimes and should therefore be treated as such. Individuals should face the consequences and punishment for such actions.

Alongside the reaction from the public, institutions, and civil society organizations, the Department for Computer Crime at the Ministry of Internal Affairs submitted a request to the Basic Public Prosecutor’s office in Skopje resulting in a case being opened.

Furthermore, despite the video being deleted and removed from Lazarov’s channel, it has since then been re-uploaded by an unknown YouTube account and only recently deleted in the past few days. Although it is not known who the YouTube channel is associated with or for what means it was re-uploaded, it is extremely problematic that such content continued to have a platform and visibility.

Sexual harassment and violence towards women in any form holds no justification. Permitting Latas to discuss rape that he committed, whilst laughing and mocking the situation is highly problematic. Violence towards women is an issue which continues to exist within society and highlights the lack of both institutional protection of women and the societal attitudes towards rape and sexual abuse. Incidents like these can be seen to normalise these acts of abuse. Mocking and laughing at the topics discussed rather than condemning the situation and reporting Latas for his acts, only serves to relativise such behaviour within society. Relativisation of gender-based violence is a frequent practice in the Western Balkans, which RDN 2.0 monitoring confirms. However, Lazarov has a responsibility to be accountable for what he releases on his YouTube channel and should face the consequences for allowing such content to go unchallenged on his platform.