Montenegro and hate speech – Trapped in the past

The voting of the Law on Life Partnership of same-sex partners was followed, in the beginning of July last year in the Montenegrin Parliament, by the majority of public approval and only a few negative comments on the account of betrayed “traditional values ​​of society”.

Despite the justification of individuals from the parliamentary majority that “this is what Europe demands”, as well as the fact that representatives of national, Serb, Albanian and Bosniak parties abstained from voting, Montenegrin society has made a significant step, in comparison with an incident from a couple of years ago, when police cordons could not prevent violence against Pride participants.

“Okay, it is positive that gay people have the right to marry now, but why is this such a big problem for the heterosexuals? … Long lived free Montenegro, death to the staleness and narrow-mindedness” was, until recently, one of the indispensable online comments below the news about voting, which overshadowed the cynically disguised hate speech.

In mid-October, it was announced that a sailboat with 52 migrants had been brought to the Montenegrin port of Zelenika. Despite the fact that the number of migrants, from 807 who entered Montenegro in 2017, increased to more than ten thousand last year, they were not targeted by “haters”. The refugees do not intend to stay in Montenegro, there are no significant incidents with the local population, and the authorities provide them with accommodation and basic conditions. Negative comments are aimed at criminals who exploit them.

“Congratulations! Just to find out who is the organizer and logistics of the whole operation, so that the sacrificial lamb wouldn’t suffer as usually”, illustrates one of the comments.

The current debate on changes to the election law is also considering the possibility of Roma and Egyptian political representatives entering parliament. By applying the principle of “affirmative action”, for this population, instead of the census of three percent of votes, only 0.35 would be valid. This is already applied in the case of the Croatian minority. For now, the proposal has been supported by all participants in the debate and there are no negative comments in public.

If these were not isolated examples, one could get the impression of a significant emancipation of Montenegrin society. However, the reality is different.

Hate speech has contaminated public opinion, stereotypes are once again overpowering the voice of reason, while divisions in society have been further deepened, as a reflection of what happened last year. It began with protests over the Law on Freedom of Religion which foresaw the confiscation of property of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), then with the removal of the 30-year-rule of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) in the parliamentary elections in August, and eventually a heterogeneous ruling coalition was formed composed of civic, moderate and ultra-Serbian nationalist parties.

The triumphalism of a part of the victors from the ranks of Serbian nationalists, long processions, fireworks, waving Serbian flags, and the display of church symbols provoked strong reactions from the other side. They responded with so-called patriotic gatherings “for the defense of Montenegro” behind which, according to numerous indications, stood the former authorities.

All this was encouraged by incendiary speeches, messages of prominent nationalists from Serbia about the need to unite the “Serbian world”, that is, Serbia, Montenegro and Republic of Srpska, to demolish the mausoleum on the top of Lovcen, mountain where the crypt with the remains of the Montenegrin poet and ruler Petar Petrovic Njegos is located and to restore the chapel built by the Yugoslav king Aleksandar Karadjordjevic.

On the other side, the current president of the state and the defeated Democratic Party of Socialists, Milo Djukanovic, gave his contribution, by encouraging his supporters that he would defend Montenegro “from the forest if necessary”.

“So how do you imagine Montenegro has defended itself through previous centuries, whence Montenegro has ten centuries of statehood?” By not being defended in parliament, but being defended with weapons, in the woods. Therefore, if someone thinks that they can take away our roof over our head, we will do what you would do, if someone came to demolish your roof over your head against your will, that’s logical”, Djukanovic said for FACE TV.

As a counterpart to Serbian nationalist organizations, which emphasize their clerical and often Chetnik’s tradition and bearings, despite the fact that their predecessors in Montenegro were marked as fascist collaborators in World War II, organizations with the prefix “Montenegrin” emerged. These are various “patriotic alliances”, but also “comitatus”, as the insurgents, who a century ago revolted against the extinction of the Kingdom of Montenegro and its annexation to Serbia, were called.

Hate speech also abounds in new language coins, so in some media that support the ultranationalist Serbian wing, such as the In4s.me and Borba.me portals, in addition to denying the Montenegrin identity, instead of Montenegrins, the mocking term “milogorci”(which is connected with president Djukanovic, meaning “Milo-negrins”) is used.

On the other side, in addition to the stereotype that all Serbs are equally Chetniks, the term “ravnogorska fukara” also appeared. It is connected with the name of the mountain in Serbia, Ravna Gora, where in 1941, Colonel Dragoljub Mihailovic led supporters who did not accept the capitulation of Yugoslav Army. From these addresses, with the mention of the Montenegrin government, it is regularly added that it is clerical-treacherous (portal Aktuelno.me).

The leader of the Social Democratic Party of Montenegro, Draginja Vuksanovic-Stankovic, a professor at the Faculty of Law, who recently called Serbs in Montenegro “posrbice”, also contributed to hate speech. It is an allusion to the name “poturice”, which was insultingly used 200 years ago for Montenegrins who converted to Islam.

Mostly, on the line of fire, between such opposing sides, are those who do not agree to divisions and the language of insults and hatred. Both sides use the unique label for them – traitors. In addition to independent media and NGOs, representatives of the United Reform Action (URA), a party of civic provenance, and the smallest members of the ruling coalition, are particularly exposed to this. Members of the URA called the old Law on Freedom of Religion and the actions of the government discriminatory against the Serbian Orthodox Church and Serbian citizens, but now, even in the new government, they oppose that the pendulum swing to the other side. Along with the daily pressures and threats to which the leader of the URA and the Deputy Prime Minister of the new Government, Dritan Abazovic, is exposed, which is also being investigated by the prosecution, the illustrative example is also Filip Adzic, an official of a political party. He and his family, in addition to verbal, are exposed to physical threats in Cetinje where he lives, because he was supposed to vote in parliament for abolition the disputed parts of the Law on Freedom of Religion, which concerns the property rights of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Under the pressure that his family suffered as well, Adzic left parliament and ended up as Abazovic’s adviser in the deputy prime minister’s office.

“We will ask our relatives Adzics from a village Djinovic if they are they on Your side, against Montenegro, or mine and theirs, for Montenegro. I’m on the right side and You’re on the wrong side of history. Because You betrayed Montenegro … ” Novak Adzic, a historian, wrote in an open letter to Filip Adzic on the cdm.me portal.

In their explanations of defeat, the former government, but above all Djukanovic, do not hide the bitterness towards the international community, accusing it of silently watching the influence of the authorities from Serbia in the elections and other events in Montenegro. Following this thread, the target of hate speech, ad hominem, was the American ambassador Judy Rising Reinke. In an author’s show on the Public Service, journalist Tamara Nikcevic, referring to her source, accused ambassador that “at a private dinner she projected that the president Milo Djukanovic will deploy tanks on the streets after the elections on August 30. “

“It’s not only frivolous, but I can’t tell what it borders with”, Nikcevic commented and asked if it is possible for such a large country to send such an ambassador to Montenegro.

The Public Service Council condemned this gesture, the journalist apologized “if she insulted the ambassador”, but the impression remained that the television, financed by all citizens, recognized as a media beating of the previous government, further pushed the boundaries in tolerating hate speech.

In the general exchange of fire, it remained unclear and unexplored who and on whose behalf, immediately after the election, sent messages of hatred to Bosniaks and Albanians, stoned mosques and wrote graffiti, threatening that a change of government could happen to their compatriots in Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where more than 8,000 people were shot by the army of Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.

Djukanovic refused to sign the amendments to the Law on Freedom of Religion and some other decisions of the parliament, rejecting the decisions of the Government on the dismissal of the ambassador and the change of the command staff in the Army of Montenegro. Despite attempts to reach an agreement with the new authorities, cohabitation still does not seem likely to happen. Especially since the local elections in Niksic, the second largest city in Montenegro, will follow in March, so the opposing sides fear that any cooperation could send a message to voters about their own weaknesses.

Because of everything that is happening, Montenegro will continue to be a prisoner of the past, stereotypes and insufficiently strong alternatives to effectively suppress hate speech for a while.

Author: Slavoljub Šćekić,
Editor-in-chief of Center for Investigative Journalism of Montenegro (CIN-CG)

The article was published under the project Reporting Diversity Network 2.0, which is implemented by Media Diversity Institute from London, with its partners Center from Investigative Journalism of Montenegro (CIN-CG), South East European Network for Professionalization of Media (SEENPM), Center for investigative Journalism of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Institute of communication studies Skopje (ICS), Media Diversity Institute Western Balkan (MDI WB) and News Agency KosovaLive.

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