Ethnic Hate Speech and Narratives of Divide in the Western Balkans

This article is part of Media Diversity Institute’s project Reporting Diversity Network’s 2.0 Monthly Monitoring Highlights and was initially published on their website.

Throughout March, Reporting Diversity Network monitoring team has detected several incidents related to xenophobia and hate speech based on ethnicity in the Western Balkan media. Hate speech was spread by politicians, influential figures, and other public figures. While there is a consistency in spreading hateful rhetoric targeting migrants and refugees, media representation of the Roma community does not exist, which is known  as “hate silence“.

Genocide Denial by Montenegro Minister of Justice

The Minister of Justice in Montenegro, Vladimir Leposavic, indirectly denied the genocide in Srebrenica by challenging the legitimacy of the Hague Tribunal, which recognised it as a genocide. “I am ready to admit that the crime of genocide was committed in Srebrenica when it is unequivocally established”, he said. According to Leposavic, the Hague Tribunal has lost its credibility. Leposavic specifically said:  

“The Hague tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, in addition to being established by a resolution instead of an international treaty, almost completely lost its legitimacy when it was established that the evidence of the Council of Europe rapporteur on the extraction and trafficking of organs of Serb civilian victims in Kosovo was destroyed in that court.”

The US Embassy in Montenegro, but also domestic representatives of political parties, CSOs and activists urged the government to hold Leposavic accountable for his words. Emir Suljagic, Director of Srebrenica Memorial Center warned of the possible ethnic intolerance and violence inspired by such rhetoric.  He tweeted: “With this government in Montenegro, I cannot exclude organised violence towards Bosnians in Montenegro in the near future. To start with, through ‘paramilitary’ formations. The signal for violence will come from the country”.

Montenegrin Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić, however, stated that the government respects the Declaration of Acceptance of the European Parliament resolution adopted by the Parliament of Montenegro in 2009, which condemns the genocide in Srebrenica committed in 1995, and all other war crimes committed during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

Part of the public in Montenegro urged Minister Leposavic to resign due to his statements, which he did not do.

Mixed ethnic marriages to discredit political opponents in the political scene in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Faruk Kapidzic, former Minister at Sarajevo Canton Government and current Chairman of the National Commission for Monuments, posted a Facebook status in which he aimed to discredit deputy mayor candidate, Ivana Maric. He accused the voters of the opponent parties as responsible for voting Maric. He described all voters as naive.

“Naive believers and members of the Islamic Community, as well as new businessmen who voted for People and Justice (political party), are also to blame for that. And everyone from working class and mixed marriages and supporters of socialist and realist ideologies who voted for the SDP (political party) are also to blame.“

Kapidzic shared the status on his Facebook profile, but many media outlets shared the status. He was afterwards invited in several media to explain himself why mixed marriages were mentioned in his Facebook status on which he answered that the does not understand why the media found that problematic as he listed all voters.

Ethnicity in ethnically mixed Bosnia and Herzegovina, and ethnically mixed marriages in particular, are a very sensitive topic. This is not something that should be utilised in political purposes and risk adding to an existing divides in the society.

Racist coverage of COVID-19 in Albanian media

Four websites in Albania published a segment of a video that labels COVID-19 as a Chinese virus which brought a lot of hateful comments on the Internet. Articles show a short video with an old patient in hospital who is sharing his experience of hisCOVID-19 battle in an interview. Instead of showing the entire interview, the portals included only the 12-seconds video segment where the racial hate speech is articulated. Headlines on the portals included this one: “Hospital patient Shefqet Ndroqi, shares his battle with COVID-19: “I prefer dying from God rather than those sons of a bitch –  the Chinese”.

Clickbait headlines and mal-intended usage of video interview in this case is very problematic as it is targeting Chinese people (since the virus originated in China) rather than warning of the possible consequences of COVID-19 and the need to respect preventive measures. It also influences public discussion, as evidenced in the readers’ comments, without bringing the needed benefit – care for public health.

Nationalist narratives in a popular Serbian TV talk show

Reporting Diversity Network selected Ivan Ivanovic, host of the TV talk show “Evening with Ivan Ivanovic“ as the Balkan Troll of the Month. Ivanovic used his episode 593 as a space to spread nationalist narratives by calling Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, a Serbian village. Later during the show, he made a sexist comment about women from Montenegrin town Ulcinj.

RDN members, Media Diversity Institute Western Balkans and Center for Investigative Journalism-Montenegro jointly expressed their concerns on the rise of nationalism in Serbian and Montenegrin media. In addition politicians in those two countries, where nationalism is present in the daily life, are creating this atmosphere. At the same time narratives of division, that are fed by nationalism, are very present in the media of both Serbia and Montenegro. Jovana Marovic from Politikon Network and Nikola Burazer from European Western Balkans warn of the rise of nationalism in both countries and that those nationalist narratives complement and strengthen each other. This has a potential to negatively influence good neighborly relations in the Balkans.

Xenophobia and anti-migrant narratives

Xenophobia and narratives that are targeting migrants and refugees are present across the Western Balkans and throughout March, RDN monitoring uncovered problematic narratives in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. These narratives, that predominantly represent refugees and migrants as a security threat, appear in traditional media as well as on social media.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the portal, which was RDN 2.0 February Troll, continues to spread anti-migrant feelings with headlines such as “Take migrant intruders to your countries, don’t feed them in ours”.

In Albania, migrants are depicted as a threat to society. “Stop the migrants that are threatening Albanian families” is just one of the anti-migrant messages in the media.

YouTube and other social media can be a source of problematic discourse about ‘the other’. That is the case in Serbia where the leader of Narodna Patrola (People Patrole), an informal group that is ‘protecting’ people from migrants, gave an interview to the YouTube channel ‘Mario zna’ (Mario knows). In the interview he claimed that some countries have ” “intentionally released prisoners into the migrant crisis” and that “(migrants) are an organised army that came to cause destabilization”.

Many other misleading and unfounded statements were part of the YouTube video which, at the time of the writing, had over 22 thousand views and obvious potential to influence opinion and attitudes of citizens towards the migrant and refugee community.

“Hate silence”

While media outlets give an open platform for spreading divisive narratives, there seems to be no space for the problems of local members of the Roma community. Despite of Roma being large ethnic minority across the Balkans they are rarely portrayed in the media.

RDN members call this hate silence, as in this case, hate is not expressed through the discourse or portrayal, but through ignoring and staying silent. MDI has already raised issue around lack of media discussion on discrimination of Roma people in the media in Serbia, however, the situation is relatively similar in other Western Balkan countries as well.

Reporting Diversity Network 2.0 stresses that the media landscape should be free from the narratives of ethnic divide. Furthermore, we urge the media outlets, journalists and media representatives to break the “hate silence“ for certain ethnic minorities such as the Roma community and contribute towards more frequent and accurate representation of life and challenges of Roma people.

Photo Credits: winnond / Shutterstock