Monthly Monitoring Highlights May: sexism and genocide denial

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash
Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

Throughout the month of May, the RDN monitoring team, including the input of Innovative Media team from the project Reporting Diversity Network – The New Agenda has detected a range of hateful narratives and discourse. This month, we have seen hatred based on gender, sexual orientation, genocide denial, and hatred against political opponents.

Sexism in Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo.

In Montenegro, during the TV show “Some like it hot” on Adria TV, university professor Aleksandar Stamatović sexually harassed host Irena Tatar by commenting on her breasts. At the end of the show when the host was thanking her guests and wrapping up the programme, Stamatović said that during the entire show he was concentrating on the inscription on her T-shirt, around the area of her chest. He proceeded to imply that he could not take his eyes off her breasts, stating that he likes what is ‘underneath her T-shirt’.

In Montenegro, sexual harassment by men is so common that sometimes it is accepted as some minor inconvenience for a woman, and not treated as a type of gender-based discrimination and violence, that can be serious. Consequently, even somebody who should serve as a reputable figure – in this case a professor at the University of Montenegro, freely spreads sexist and misogynistic commentary on a TV show with little to no restraint.

This blatant case of sexism on public TV is extremely problematic. Despite the fact that TV Adria did come out to condemn the events which took place, Stamatović should still apologise and acknowledge the harm of his actions and words. Sexism should not be tolerated on any scale on any platform. Journalists and women in the media in Montenegro, and across the region often face sexism and discrimination while working.

In North Macedonia, an online portal published a story about a brother of the singer Adelina Tahiri who was getting married to a Macedonian woman. Adelina herself is of Albanian ethnicity which sparked various hateful comments from the Albanian population against Tahiri due to her affiliation with Macedonians.

North Macedonia is a diverse country with a significant Albanian minority alongside the Macedonian majority, reflecting its complex ethnic landscape. Historical tensions between these communities have been rooted in cultural, political, and social differences, often exacerbated by political leaders and members of society who emphasise such tensions and divisions.

Tensions and hate between ethnic groups in North Macedonia undermine national unity and social cohesion. This animosity fosters discrimination and exclusion, preventing the equitable participation of all communities in the political and social spheres. Hate and division overall undermine efforts towards peace and ethnic diversity within the country. Messages of hate such as these only further fuel narratives of divide and drive a wedge between various ethnic groups living within the same country.

In Kosovo, the “Albkings” group on the “Telegram” Messenger distributed intimate photos of women and girls, as well as their contact numbers. Explicit photos and other personal information were also shared on social media. The women and girls then received calls from unknown persons and were harassed with messages. Women and girls, including minors, have been the main victims of this group which has existed since November 2022.  The media only started writing about the group, which numbers over 150,000 people, in 2023, upon discovering it.   

The Kosovo police reacted and in two cases arrested members of the group. According to media reports, this group distributed pornographic and paedophilic materials and was involved in the sale of narcotics. Journalists from various newsrooms who reported on the group were targeted, receiving anonymous calls and messages. The police have arrested seven individuals, including the group’s main administrator and a woman (an individual who is part of the same group). Authorities have urged all individuals targeted by the group to come forward and testify, highlighting that the investigation is ongoing and exploring multiple leads. It is also worth noting that the police shut down this private group on two separate occasions; however, it quickly became operational again each time.

Online groups that share pornographic content of young girls and women pose a grave threat to the safety and well-being of minors. This case indicates the growing threat of image-based sexual abuse in the region, as this is not the first case of such group in the Western Balkans. Not only are such groups illegal, but furthermore, the proliferation of such content is extremely harmful to the victims who have been exploited by such groups. Indeed, one of the reasons why part of the media was persistent and continuously reported on this group (even if the police asked that it not be reported on for a while, so that it would be easier to investigate) is the risk of suicide of women and girls whose profiles were stolen and whose personal data and phone numbers were published.

The publishing of personal and sensitive content of anyone without their permission is illegal and unjustifiable. Moreover, the existence of these groups undermines societal values, erodes trust in digital platforms, and highlights the urgent need for more strict and effective regulations to protect vulnerable individuals and hold perpetrators accountable.

Hate against political opponents in Serbia.

In Serbia in May, campaigning for local elections, that took place in 89 cities and municipalities on June 3, ended. There was an increase in hate speech against political opponents both leading up to the vote, throughout the campaign and through media coverage of elections.

During an interview with the president of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, on TV Pink, a video aired targeting primarily opposition politician Savo Manojlović, but also young human rights activists and other public figures allegedly “connected” to him. This video was presented as “one of the most viral videos in Serbia” by host Jovana Jeremić, however we were unable to find it online. The video titled “Antisrpska prevara” (Anti-Serb fraud) does not involve direct hate speech, however, they all are targeted based on their political views that are considered “unacceptable” in Serbia, such as supporting the UN resolution on genocide in Srebrenica, and Kosovo independence. Names and pictures of young activists were shown and they were labeled as “anti-Serb”, insinuating they are traitors and are working against their country. This incident is part of a larger narrative surrounding not only the adopted resolution, but also an increasing negative and on occasion hateful election campaign against political opponents. Manojlović seems to be a common target of this campaign, as there was a similar incident on TV Pink just a few days earlier.

An AI-augmented video of opposition leader Savo Manojlović aired multiple times on TV Pink during the news. Pink presented the fake video of Manojlovic as “a joke made using AI technology”, however, did not explain that AI stands for artificial intelligence and what this means exactly, misleading the viewers. The Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM) initiated proceedings against TV Pink shortly after. Tabloid media published many texts calling opposition politicians, activists who are against the regime and even some journalists reporting live during the election day “criminals” and “violent”.

The Bureau for Social Research (BIRODI) stated that central news broadcasts on television channels with national coverage provided eight times more space for the representatives of the ruling party than the opposition throughout this month. The ruling party was also represented in an “extremely positive” manner, with zero “negative” seconds.

Ensuring a platform for diverse political opinions and parties leading up to elections is crucial for a healthy democracy, as it fosters informed decision-making, preventing the domination of certain political groups and opinions. Hatred towards political opponents is never justified on grounds of political difference or opposing opinions. Everyone should have their platform to voice their political views and for a healthy debate to take place without hate and discrimination.

Genocide denial in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In May, the UN General Assembly adopted the resolution on the Srebrenica genocide, which proclaims 11 July as the ‘International Day of Reflection and Commemoration of the 1995 Srebrenica Genocide’. The resolution condemns ‘any denial of the genocide in Srebrenica as a historical event and actions that glorify those convicted by international courts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide’.

Both before and after the announcement of the adoption of the resolution, there was a rise of genocide denial amongst prominent politician figures in the country including the president of the Bosnian entity Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik, who once again, on the day when the United Nations adopted the resolution, denied the genocide in Srebrenica. When asked by a reporter if he was aware that on that day he denied the genocide in Srebrenica several times even though it is punishable by the Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dodik repeated his earlier claims without hesitation. “You don’t understand what I said. There was no genocide in Srebrenica. Do you want me to say it one more time? Are you recording me well, is it a close-up shot? There was no genocide in Srebrenica, because that’s what many authorities who deal with it say. I’m not the authority here, neither Lagumdžija or Bećirović, but people who invested their entire scientific lives to know what this qualification is,” said Dodik.

Furthermore, the Minister of Security of Bosnia and Herzegovina, whilst talking on the Serbian TV Happy, mocked and insulted the victims of the genocide in Srebrenica by telling a joke: “born in Sarajevo, buried in Srebrenica, lives in Germany”.

At the same time, some of the highest BiH military officials of Serb origin, wearing uniforms with state insignia, paid their respects to the convicted war criminal Ratko Mladić. The event took place in Kalinovik, the birthplace of Mladić.

From July 28, 2021, after changes to the Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina were imposed by the former high representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Valentin Inzko, the glorification of war crimes in BiH became punishable by imprisonment. Two and a half years after these changes were made and after dozens of rejected reports, the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina brought the first indictment in January of this year against the president of the “Eastern Alternative” association in Bratunac, for a poster congratulating Ratko Mladić on his birthday. Nevertheless, most politicians in Republika Srpska continue to undermine and deny the genocide which took place in Srebrenica whilst simultaneously glorifying war criminals. Indeed, Milorad Dodik is one of the biggest deniers of the Srebrenica genocide. According to research by the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, Dodik denied the Srebrenica genocide in various ways no less than 11 times in 2023. 

Messages glorifying war criminals are harmful and insulting to the victims of the Srebrenica genocide and their families. Glorifying war criminals and denying genocide perpetuates a dangerous narrative that undermines justice and distorts historical truth, as well as further deepens divisions and slows down the necessary process of dealing with the past and peacebuilding in BiH and the whole region.

Hatred against the LGBTIQ+ community in Albania.

On the 19th of May on the terrace of the Tirana City Hall, same-sex couple Alba Ahmetaj and Edlira Mara held an unofficial wedding ceremony. It is important to note that same-sex marriage is not allowed in Albania, and their union will not be recognised by the state. However, the couple, who were married by two British pastors, wanted to send a message. They took the decision to go to court to be recognised as the joint parents of their daughters. If this fails, they plan to refer their case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

This news was widely reported by Albanian media, including different points of view, both for and against same-sex marriage. Various media outlets also presented the perspectives of religious communities, both Muslim and Christian, who oppose same-sex marriage. These outlets largely succeeded in providing objective and neutral coverage by including diverse viewpoints. However, despite this balanced reporting, social media platforms saw a significant surge in hate speech and negative comments directed at the LGBTIQ+ community, flooding every news portal on these platforms. Same-sex marriage represents a fundamental right to love and equality, affirming that all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation, deserve the same legal and social recognition. Anti-LGBTIQ+ rhetoric undermines this principle, fostering discrimination, and perpetuating hate and inequality. Such rhetoric is unacceptable as it violates the core values of respect, dignity, and human rights that should be afforded to every person. Embracing diversity and promoting inclusivity is essential for building a fair and equitable society.