Threats, insults and rejection prior to the first-ever pride march in Bosnia and Herzegovina, topped with protests and ignorance, are mirrored not challenged in Bosnian media.
From “they should be whatever they want between their four walls” to “they are undermining traditional family values,” the first ever Pride due to take place on September 8 in Sarajevo has been met with widespread hostility.
In the five months since it was announced in April, the Pride has been the focus of dispute between the minority of Bosnians who support this event and the majority who are either “decent enough” to look the other way or openly violent and extremely toxic about it.
Already, Sarajevo is the last capital city in the region to host its own Pride. In 2008, the Queer Sarajevo Fest was launched. Prior to its launch, the whole city was filled with banners saying that queerness is an “illness of modern times.” These banners were followed by threats of physical violence. On the day of the event, dozens of hooligans and members of hard-line so-called Wahhabi group gathered in front of the building of the Academy of Fine Arts, the location of the festival. They insulted the visitors, spat on them and launched a standoff that resulted in physical violence, which saw at least a dozen people injured.
At the time, some media outlets plaid a sad role in inciting such anti-LGBTIQ violence.
Today, the violence that accompanied this event serves as a silent threat to organisers and participants of Sunday’s Pride.
Likewise, today, most Bosnian media had stayed predominantly on the side of ignorance, abandoning their “educational” role. Only a small minority of outlets give their platform to people who are openly homosexual, transgender or other. You can hardly see these people’s faces and hear their voices in mainstream media. Instead, the latter’s report concentrate mostly on “technicalities” such as the number of policemen who will secure the event or which parts of city will be blocked this Sunday.
The predominant narrative among social-media users and in online publications is similar. Most argue that Pride is not necessary. They add that it risks security concerns and will offend Sarajevans’ religious feelings, who – according to their generalisation – consider anything but heterosexuality a sin.
Such ‘concerns’ were also voiced by the main right-wing Bosniak (Muslim) parties. They dismissed various organisations and individuals who had been active within the LGBTIQ community as a group of sick people who should be ashamed of themselves and suggested that the event should be called a “Shame March” instead.
Among the first to openly criticize the announcement of Sarajevo Pride was Samra Cosovic Hajdarevic, Member of Cantonal Assembly from Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA), the largest Bosniak party. She said that the small group of organizers behind Pride aim to destroy the country and its people. People like them should be isolated and removed “away from our children”, she suggested.
A screenshot of her Facebook status went viral on social media and spread through the traditional media, serving as a focus for debates about whether Pride should happen or not. The majority of media used this post to provide space for accusations, political acrimony and even insults.
The usual division in Bosnian media, by political affiliation, was clearly visible. In some cases, right-wing media did not limit themselves by claiming that Pride’s organisers are enemies of the nation, but targeted any individual with anti-conservative views. One example is this degrading and insulting article about a journalist who commented that Valter, iconic partisan who liberated Sarajevo in 1945, would support the Pride. The article not only ridiculed the journalist for being a supporter of Pride, but pointed at the ideological wrongness of left-wing and liberal views in general.
As the media fallout deepened, it really started to look like anti-Pride campaigners think it is a sin to be liberal, have an open mind and respect the human rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation. Eventually, such media narratives created the space for the “Traditional Family” march, scheduled this Saturday – one day before Pride. Campaigners behind this march insist that the LGBTIQ Pride is immoral and promotes socially-unacceptable deviancy.
Another demonstration has been recently announced for Sunday to coincide with Pride directly. One organiser, Sanin Musa, theologist and Islamic-studies professor, asked “should we also let paedophiles and murders march with their beliefs?” He explained that this is not a Muslim event and that people of all religious affiliations will come out to express their opposition to LGBTIQ ‘immorality’.
Unfortunately, the majority of media are not asking too many deep probing questions that could challenge bigotry. Instead, they go around asking people “Do you support Pride or not?” By doing this, they are helping to sensationalise this event. For example, Chairman of Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Zeljko Komsic, was asked for comment about Pride. The fact that he did not openly say he is coming to the event made headlines.
Even worse, so-called “media analysis” by a Muslim portal Saff, which often platforms hard-line views regarding religion, society and politics, claimed that most Bosnians do not want the “parade”, which is being forced on them by pro-Western media.
Such organisations are creating a highly dangerous narrative of Bosnians vs. the West.
To give another example, “Young Muslims”, a Sarajevo-based citizen association, voiced dissatisfaction with the support Sarajevo Pride had received from foreign diplomats and donors. They claim that the international community has betrayed the peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina by supporting “destructive” pro-Pride activism.
Even when more liberal media occasionally produce content explaining that not being heterosexual is just as normal as being a heterosexual, these reports get dismissed as lies, their promoters as “foreign mercenaries” and LGBTIQ individuals as “foreigners” who do not belong here and should stay quiet to stop infecting healthy young people with their “disease.”
Despite all the threats, insults and accusations, some Bosnian media had stayed professional.
The Association of BH Journalists and CRA are reminding journalists to be professional in their reporting about the upcoming Pride event – a fact that in itself shows the current state of LGBTQ rights in Bosnia.
Elvira Jukic-Mujkic is the Editor-in-chief of Mediacentar Sarajevo.