Troll of the Year 2023: Glorification of War Criminals

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 Balkan Troll of the Month is selected on a monthly basis from incidents monitored and gathered across the Western Balkan region. In December, RDN 2.0 opened the vote of the Troll of the Year to the public to help us make this selection.

Following a preliminary selection by our media monitors in each of the six Western Balkan countries and a subsequent intense round of voting on our Instagram platform the Troll of the Year was selected.

This year, the 11th of July marked the 28th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica. Ruled as genocide by both the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ), this horrific event in July 1995 saw the systematic killing of more than 8,000 Bosniak men and the deportation of thousands of women and children.

On the 28th anniversary this year, the media reported on two students from the Faculty of Criminology and Security Studies in Sarajevo who turned to their social media platforms to glorify war criminals and spread inter-ethnic hatred. One of the students posted a photo of General Ratko Mladić of the Republika Srpska army with the caption that read “convicted to immortality. You were and will remain our hero”. Mladić was sentenced to life imprisonment for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

The other student published a photo of herself holding up three fingers (a Serbian national sign) whilst wearing a T-shirt with the image of Mitar Maksimović Mando who was a wartime commander of the special unit of the Army of Republika Srprska “Mandini lavovi” (Manda’s lions).

In July 2021, the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina Valentin Inzko imposed an amendment to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s criminal code to ban the glorification of war criminals if it is likely to incite violence or hatred. Consequently, in response to the incident involving the two young students, the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina initiated legal proceedings against them.

In response to this, the director of the Security Information Agency of Serbia, Aleksandar Vulin, invited the two young students to continue their education in Belgrade. Moreover, Serbia awarded the two students with scholarships and housing in the capital city which they in turn both accepted and agreed to continue their education at the National Security Academy.

The invitation extended by Aleksandar Vulin to the young students to continue their education in Belgrade raises serious concerns. Vulin is a government representative and thereby, embodies the state’s authority. However, with this decision, the state unavoidably endorsed and rewarded the spread of hate speech and the glorification of war criminals. These actions are profoundly concerning and pose a substantial obstacle to social reconciliation.

Serbian mainstream media on the other hand, mostly overlooked this case with only a few media outlets reporting on the incident. However, the ones which did report, had a critical tone towards the situation, condemning the behaviour of both the young students and the government.

The glorification of war criminals, particularly in the context of Srebrenica, is extremely harmful and hateful. Srebrenica represents one of the darkest chapters in recent history of the region, marked by the massacre of thousands of innocent civilians. Any attempt to glorify individuals associated with such crimes not only undermines the pursuit of truth and accountability but also perpetuates the pain and trauma experienced by the survivors and their families. It is imperative that society unanimously condemns any glorification of war criminals connected to the Srebrenica genocide, as doing otherwise is not only highly insensitive and insulting to all those who suffered but also poses a grave threat to the principles of justice and reconciliation.