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Research on the Attitudes of civil society organisations and young people
This research on the youth policies and policy-making processes in the Western Balkans has been conducted as part of the regional project entitled Regional Youth Dialogue for Europe – RYDE. The project is financed by the European Union. The goal of the project is to contribute to strengthening the participatory democracy of European integration and regional cooperation in the Western Balkans by increasing the influence of civil society organisations (CSOs), youth organisations in particular, in promoting democratic values and the political, economic and social benefits of the European integration of the Western Balkans.
The aim of the research is to increase overall awareness by collecting relevant data concerning youth policies and social investment in the Western Balkans. The research provides an analysis of the current viewpoints held by both youth organisations and youths themselves, regarding youth policies in this region. The research covers six economies: Albania, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia.
The research team consisted of paired senior and junior experts from all of the covered economies, with the exception of Montenegro (which was covered by a researcher from Serbia).
The focus of the research was to collect data on the attitudes toward existing youth policies, approaches to improving youth policies at local/national/ regional levels and the priorities of vulnerable youth groups in respective policies. Both youth CSOs and young people (civic and political activists, policy-makers, journalists, scholars, etc.) participated in the research.
Following this, two complementary surveys were conducted concurrently in all economies – one focusing on youth organisations through interviews, and the other on a broader spectrum of stakeholders, through an online survey. From August – October 2023, a total of 151 interviews with CSO representatives were conducted in the Western Balkans economies. The interviews were followed by an online survey conducted throughout October and November 2023. The survey included 1,366 youth individuals in these economies. Both surveys aimed to assess the state of youth policies, their effectiveness, and the perspectives of those engaged in youth-related activities. (…)
This publication was funded by the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of the Center for Democracy Foundation and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.
You can see the publication HERE: ryde-research-western-balkans-youth-in-policy-making-processes
By: Aleksandra Jerkov, PhD
Hate speech in the Western Balkans has become a pressing concern, particularly as the region continues to navigate the complex process of reconciliation and integration after a tumultuous history marked by ethnic conflicts and political upheaval. The term ‘hate speech’ in this context refers to any form of communication that disparages a person or a group based on some characteristic such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or other aspects that might trigger conflict.
In the Western Balkans, a region characterized by its ethnic and cultural diversity, hate speech has been identified as a significant barrier to fostering a political culture of tolerance and inclusion. Despite the progress made since the conflicts of the 1990s, the legacy of division still influences the public and political discourse, making the task of cultivating a culture of respect and understanding all the more critical.
Hate speech not only poses a threat to individual rights and social cohesion but also undermines democratic processes and the rule of law. It can lead to an environment where inflammatory rhetoric becomes normalized, which in turn can erode trust in public institutions and fuel cycles of retaliation and violence. This has particular relevance in the Western Balkans, where the balance between free expression and maintaining social harmony is often delicate.
The public space in the Western Balkans thus becomes a critical arena for addressing the issue of hate speech. It is here that the contest between perpetuating a divisive narrative and promoting a tolerant political culture is most visible. The region’s path toward greater European integration provides both an impetus and a framework for addressing hate speech, as adherence to European values necessitates a commitment to human rights, including the right to be free from hate speech.
Understanding the nature of hate speech in the Western Balkans, its impacts on society, and the efforts to counteract it are essential steps toward building a more tolerant and democratic region. This blog post aims to delve into these issues, offering a comprehensive overview of the current state of hate speech and its implications for the political culture in the Western Balkans.
The primary aim of this blog is to explore the intricate relationship between hate speech and the political culture within the Western Balkans. This examination is not only about identifying the presence and patterns of hate speech within the region but also understanding how it interacts with and influences the political culture, public discourse, and daily interactions among diverse communities.
In this context, hate speech is not just seen as an isolated phenomenon but rather as a symptom and a catalyst of the broader political dynamics in the region. The blog will delve into how hate speech can reflect deep-seated historical grievances, current political tensions, and societal divisions. Moreover, it will investigate the ways in which hate speech can both shape and be shaped by political narratives, media representations, and legislative frameworks in the Western Balkans.
This exploration will encompass an analysis of the tools and strategies employed by political entities, civil society organizations, and international bodies to combat hate speech and promote a culture of tolerance and dialogue. It will also address the effectiveness of these approaches and the challenges that lie ahead in nurturing a political culture that is resilient to the divisive effects of hate speech.
Understanding this relationship is crucial for anyone interested in the progress of the Western Balkans towards greater stability, peace, and integration with the wider European community. Through this blog, we aim to contribute to the ongoing conversation about building an inclusive and respectful political environment that can withstand the challenges posed by hate speech.
The Western Balkans, comprising Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, is a region rich in cultural and political diversity, shaped by its complex history. Historically, this region has been a crossroads of different civilizations, which has contributed to its rich cultural tapestry. Empires such as the Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian have left their mark, creating a mosaic of ethnicities, religions, and languages. Political diversity is equally pronounced, with the region housing a range of political systems and ideologies over the past century. The 20th century, in particular, saw the rise and fall of Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia. The fall of communism and the subsequent breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s led to a series of conflicts known as the Yugoslav Wars. These wars were marked by severe ethnic tensions and instances of genocide and ethnic cleansing, leaving a legacy of mistrust and division that still lingers.
The recent history of the Western Balkans is one of trying to overcome the deep-seated prejudices and animosities that the wars of the 1990s reinforced. The conflicts exacerbated historical grievances and created new ones, often manifested through hate speech and nationalist rhetoric. The legacy of these conflicts has been a significant factor in the political life of the region, influencing both domestic policies and international relations.
Efforts towards reconciliation and fostering regional cooperation have been ongoing, with the European Union playing a central role in promoting stability and democratic standards. Despite these efforts, the region still grapples with nationalism and ethnic divisions, which are sometimes inflamed by political leaders seeking to exploit these sentiments for political gain.
The prejudices and biases rooted in the region’s recent conflicts pose a persistent challenge. Hate speech, often a reflection of these prejudices, continues to be a tool for political mobilization and a barrier to the establishment of a more tolerant political culture. These dynamics make the Western Balkans a compelling case study for examining the relationship between hate speech, political culture, and efforts to build inclusive societies. Understanding this historical context is crucial for any analysis of hate speech and its impact on the region’s progress toward peace and integration.
For the purpose of this paper, we will use the definition which considers hate speech to be any form of expression that spreads, incites, promotes or justifies hatred, violence and discrimination against a person or group based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or national origin. The nature of hate speech is often inflammatory and derogatory, with the intention to demean and dehumanize the targeted group, contributing to a climate of hostility and potentially inciting real-world violence and discrimination.
The legal implications of hate speech are complex and vary from country to country in the Western Balkans, as well as globally. In many jurisdictions, hate speech is a criminal offense when it incites violence or discrimination. However, balancing the restrictions on hate speech with the fundamental right to freedom of expression can be challenging. Legal frameworks in the Western Balkans often reflect international standards and agreements, such as the European Convention on Human Rights, which seek to protect both individual rights to free speech and public order.
Social implications of hate speech are profound and far-reaching. It can lead to increased tensions between different community groups, contribute to a climate of fear and hostility, and undermine social cohesion. Hate speech can also have a silencing effect on its targets, restricting their ability to participate fully in public life. In the context of the Western Balkans, where societies are still recovering from recent conflicts, hate speech can threaten the fragile peace and reconciliation processes, reignite old animosities, and impede the region’s path towards European integration and cooperation.
Therefore, understanding the dynamics of hate speech, its legal boundaries and social consequences, is pivotal in shaping policies and educational programs that aim to promote a culture of tolerance and respect for human rights within the Western Balkans.
Current State of Hate Speech in the Western Balkans
Hate speech in the political arena of the Western Balkans often manifests in nationalist rhetoric, which sometimes escalates during election cycles or in the midst of political crises. Politicians and public figures have been known to use divisive language to rally support, targeting ethnic, religious, or national groups. This can include derogatory comments aimed at neighboring countries or minority populations within their own borders.
One of the examples of this is the most recent statement of the President of Croatia Zoran Milanovic, who stated on December 30 2023: “Bosnia and Herzegovina is a clumsy, sloppy, incompetently led colony” (“Bosna i Hercegovina je trapava, traljava, nesposobno vođena kolonija”). The examples of this type of hate speech also include constant and persistent use of term “shiptar” for persons of Albanian nationality in Serbia, although it is highly offensive. This term is used widely in Serbia in public discourse by politicians, media, officials and on internet, although in 2018, the Serbian judiciary determined that the term ‘šiptar’ is offensive and designated as hate speech.
Everlasting bilateral conflicts or disputes in the region, as well as olitical debates around issues such as the status of Kosovo, the representation of ethnic minorities in government, or immigration can sometimes lead to hate speech. Political leaders may resort to inflammatory language to strengthen in-group solidarity among their supporters, at times using historical grievances or stereotypes to vilify the out-group.
It is also not uncommon for media outlets with strong political affiliations to echo and amplify hate speech, thus giving it a wider audience. Social media, too, plays a significant role in spreading such rhetoric, with the anonymity and reach of digital platforms making it easier for hate speech to circulate and gain traction. The spread of hate speech through popular culture is a common occurrence. Croatian singer Marko Perković Thompson is among the mainstream performers in Croatia, even though his songs glorify Ustasha crimes and call for the expulsion and killing of Serbs. Songs that glorify convicted war criminals are a common occurrence in Serbia and have become almost a usual part of celebrations and festivities. In June 2022, social networks were flooded with a video of the end-of-school-year celebration at an elementary school in Novi Sad, where a teacher played the song ‘Ne volim te Alija zato što si Balija’ (I do not like you Alija, because you are Balija (offensive term for Bosniaks) to ten-year-olds, and pop-folk performers like Baja Mali Knindža have been filling halls and squares for years and are among the most popular in Serbia, even though they sing songs like “Moj je tata zlocinac iz rata” (my dad is a war criminal) and similar.
These instances of hate speech can have a chilling effect on inter-ethnic relations and undermine efforts to build a stable and cohesive political culture. They can lead to discrimination against minority groups, hinder the integration process, and potentially incite violence.
Monitoring organizations and civil society groups in the Western Balkans often document these incidents and work to hold political figures accountable. Latest reports warn about the situation with hate speech in Western Balkans. What is particularly worrying is the fact that, although hate speech is legally prohibited in all countries of the Western Balkans, these examples, as well as statements by officials, go unsanctioned, and some have become so common that they often remain without significant public condemnation.
Social and Political Impact of Hate Speech
In the Western Balkans, where societies are still healing from the wounds of past conflicts, the impact of hate speech is even more pronounced. It can reinforce historical prejudices and interrupt the process of reconciliation.
Erosion of Social Cohesion: Hate speech can drive wedges between different groups within society, eroding the sense of community and shared identity. It can fuel suspicion, fear, and hostility, leading to social segregation and isolation of targeted groups.
Normalization of Prejudice: Repeated exposure to hate speech can normalize bigotry and discrimination. This is particularly concerning when such speech comes from public figures or is disseminated through popular culture, as it may influence societal norms and behaviors.
Psychological Harm: Individuals and groups targeted by hate speech can suffer significant psychological harm, including increased anxiety, stress, and a feeling of unsafety. This can lead to lower self-esteem and hinder their ability to participate fully in society.
Violence and Intimidation: Hate speech can incite violence and acts of intimidation against marginalized or vulnerable groups, leading to a climate of fear and sometimes resulting in physical harm or even death.
Polarization: Hate speech can polarize political debates, making it more difficult to reach consensus or engage in constructive dialogue. It can turn political discourse into a ‘zero-sum game’ where the success of one group is seen as coming at the expense of another.
Undermining Democracy: For a democracy to function effectively, it requires a certain level of civil discourse. Hate speech undermines the democratic process by silencing voices, spreading misinformation, and reducing the capacity for rational debate.
Legitimization of Extremist Views: When hate speech is not adequately addressed, it can lead to the legitimization and empowerment of extremist groups and ideologies, which may gain a foothold in mainstream politics.
Impact on Policy Making: Hate speech can influence the development of policies and laws, especially if it becomes a tool for political gain. Politicians may be swayed to adopt hardline positions or enact legislation that discriminates against certain groups to appease constituents influenced by hate speech.
Tolerant Political Culture: Challenges and Opportunities
A tolerant political culture in the Western Balkans, a region marked by its rich historical layers and complex interethnic relations, implies the creation of a political landscape where debate and disagreement occur within a framework of mutual respect and understanding. This is particularly significant in a region where the legacy of conflict and the deep-seated historical narratives of ethnic and national identity have often been sources of tension.
In the Western Balkans, fostering tolerance means actively working against the currents of past animosities and prejudices that have long divided its people. It involves building a political discourse that is inclusive, one that not only tolerates but also celebrates the cultural and ethnic diversity that each nation within the region possesses. It is about nurturing a culture where political actors and the general populace are educated on and mindful of the language they use, the historical contexts they operate within, and the potential impact their words and actions have on the delicate fabric of their society.
A tolerant political culture here does not imply a mere passive coexistence or the mere absence of conflict. Rather, it denotes an active engagement in democratic practices that protect minority opinions, uphold human rights, and encourage participation from all sectors of society. It is about creating institutional mechanisms that not only prevent hate speech and discrimination but also promote policies that ensure equitable treatment for all, regardless of ethnic background, religious belief, or political affiliation.
In the Western Balkans, where memories of the wars of the 1990s are still fresh in the collective memory, the challenges to establishing such a culture are considerable. The media, educational institutions, and political leaders have a particularly pivotal role to play. Media must strive to be impartial and resist serving as a platform for divisive rhetoric. Education should aim to impart not only knowledge but also empathy, teaching new generations about the region’s diverse heritage in a way that fosters an inclusive identity. Political leaders, meanwhile, have the responsibility to lead by example, to demonstrate that it is possible to hold firm to one’s convictions while still extending dignity and respect to one’s opponents.
Fostering a tolerant political culture in the Western Balkans faces unique challenges, deeply rooted in the region’s recent history as well as its long-standing cultural and national narratives. One of the primary challenges is the legacy of conflict, which left behind a complex web of unresolved issues and grievances. The wars of the 1990s, in particular, have left a profound imprint on the collective consciousness, and the resultant trauma can often be a barrier to building a culture of tolerance.
Another significant challenge is the prevalence of nationalist sentiments, which can be exploited by political figures to gain or maintain power. Nationalist rhetoric often relies on portraying ‘the other’ in negative terms, which can entrench division rather than promote the understanding needed for a tolerant society.
Additionally, the region’s media landscape often reflects and amplifies these divisions. Media outlets sometimes act as echo chambers for hate speech and divisive rhetoric, rather than as conduits for the kind of balanced and fair discourse that could foster tolerance.
Moreover, education systems in some parts of the Western Balkans have not fully addressed the need for curricula that promote critical thinking, empathy, and a nuanced understanding of the region’s diverse history. Without this, younger generations may inherit the biases and prejudices that continue to challenge social cohesion.
Political institutions in the region also face the daunting task of ensuring fair representation and equal treatment for all ethnic and religious groups. In some cases, these institutions themselves may be perceived as biased or untrustworthy, which can undermine efforts to develop a tolerant political culture.
Lastly, the efforts to integrate into the European Union provide both a framework and an incentive for fostering tolerance, but they also present challenges. The EU’s criteria require significant reforms and the development of inclusive policies, which can sometimes be met with resistance from those who see these changes as threats to national sovereignty or identity.
These challenges require a multifaceted approach that includes political will, educational reform, responsible media, and ongoing engagement with civil society. Overcoming them is essential for the Western Balkans to build societies where diversity is not only tolerated but valued as a strength, and where political culture can thrive on the principles of democracy and mutual respect.
Efforts to Combat Hate Speech
Efforts to reduce hate speech in the Western Balkans have been multifaceted and involve various stakeholders, including governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and international bodies. These efforts recognize the importance of addressing hate speech to promote social cohesion, stability, and progress in the region. Here are some of the key initiatives and approaches:
Legal Frameworks: Governments in the Western Balkans have put in place legal frameworks that define hate speech, incitement to violence, and discrimination as criminal offenses. These laws provide a basis for prosecuting individuals and groups engaged in hate speech.
National Action Plans: Some governments have developed National Action Plans against Hate Speech, outlining strategies for prevention, protection, and prosecution. These plans often involve collaboration with civil society organizations and international partners.
Media Regulation: Efforts have been made to regulate media content to prevent the dissemination of hate speech. This includes monitoring and holding media outlets accountable for promoting hate speech.
Education: Governments have introduced educational programs aimed at promoting tolerance, diversity, and critical thinking in schools. These programs seek to counteract the influence of hate speech on young minds.
Monitoring and Reporting: NGOs in the Western Balkans play a crucial role in monitoring hate speech and documenting incidents. They provide platforms for individuals to report hate speech, and their reports often inform policy discussions.
Education and Awareness: NGOs conduct awareness campaigns and educational programs focused on countering hate speech. They work with schools, communities, and online platforms to promote tolerance and respectful dialogue.
Legal Support: Some NGOs offer legal support to individuals or groups who are victims of hate speech or discrimination. They help victims navigate the legal system and seek justice.
European Union: The EU has been actively engaged in promoting tolerance and countering hate speech in the Western Balkans. Accession to the EU is linked to compliance with democratic values, including the protection of minority rights and freedom of expression.
OSCE: The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has a presence in the region and works on issues related to hate speech and tolerance. They provide expertise, conduct training, and support civil society initiatives.
United Nations: UN bodies, such as UNDP and UNICEF, collaborate with governments and NGOs to promote tolerance, youth engagement, and conflict prevention in the region.
Council of Europe: The Council of Europe also plays a role in promoting human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in the Western Balkans. It supports efforts to combat hate speech and discrimination through various programs and initiatives.
These efforts, while important, still face challenges, including the need for more effective implementation of existing laws, addressing political and institutional biases, and countering the influence of extremist ideologies. However, the commitment of governments, civil society, and international partners to combating hate speech is a positive step toward building a more inclusive and tolerant Western Balkans.
The effectiveness of measures to reduce hate speech in the Western Balkans varies, and their impact can be influenced by several factors.
Legal Frameworks defining hate speech as a criminal offense have the potential to be effective in discouraging overt hate speech and providing legal recourse for victims. However, their effectiveness can be hindered by uneven enforcement and the reluctance to prosecute high-profile individuals or public figures. Additionally, the challenge lies in defining hate speech within legal parameters, with the risk of potential misuse for political purposes.
National Action Plans against hate speech can be valuable in coordinating efforts across government agencies and civil society. They promote a comprehensive approach to combating hate speech. Yet, their effectiveness depends on their implementation and adequate funding. Regular monitoring of progress and adjusting strategies is essential for continued success.
Regulations aimed at preventing hate speech in the media have the potential to discourage its dissemination and encourage responsible reporting. However, achieving a balance between protecting freedom of the press and preventing hate speech can be challenging. Media ownership structures and political influence can hinder effective regulation.
Educational programs focused on promoting tolerance, diversity, and critical thinking in schools are crucial for countering the influence of hate speech on young minds. These programs have the potential to shape future generations with more inclusive values. However, their long-term impact may take time to become evident.
Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) play a vital role in monitoring hate speech, providing platforms for reporting, conducting awareness campaigns, and offering legal support to victims. Their effectiveness varies depending on their reach and resources.
International efforts, including those from the European Union, OSCE, United Nations, and Council of Europe, are instrumental in promoting tolerance and countering hate speech. They provide expertise, training, and support to regional governments and civil society organizations.
In assessing the overall effectiveness of these measures, it is crucial to acknowledge that reducing hate speech is a complex and ongoing process. Success hinges on collaborative efforts, consistent implementation, public awareness, and adaptation to evolving challenges. Additionally, addressing the root causes of hate speech, such as historical grievances and societal divisions, is essential for sustainable progress.
Looking ahead to the future of political culture in the Western Balkans regarding hate speech, several trends and areas for improvement emerge:
Gradual Improvement: The region is expected to see gradual improvements in its political culture concerning hate speech. Efforts to combat hate speech, especially those aligned with European Union accession requirements, will continue to push for greater tolerance and respect for diversity.
Lingering Challenges: Historical grievances and ethnic tensions are likely to persist, and some segments of the population may resist change, particularly during times of political or economic uncertainty. These deep-rooted issues will require sustained efforts to address.
Youth as Agents of Change: Younger generations, growing up in a more interconnected world, may become key drivers of change. Their exposure to global perspectives and access to information can lead to more open-minded attitudes, making them instrumental in fostering tolerance.
Media Responsibility: The role of the media will remain pivotal. Media outlets that prioritize responsible reporting and refrain from sensationalism can contribute significantly to a healthier political culture. However, addressing media ownership and influence will continue to be a challenge.
Civil Society’s Influence: Civil society organizations will continue to play a vital role in monitoring hate speech, advocating for tolerance, and holding authorities accountable. Their impact will depend on their ability to mobilize public opinion and engage with diverse communities.
To further promote a tolerant political culture in the Western Balkans, several measures can be taken:
Strengthen Legal Frameworks: Governments should focus on enhancing and enforcing legal frameworks against hate speech, ensuring that they are comprehensive and effectively implemented. This includes penalties for hate speech and mechanisms to address online hate speech.
Education for Tolerance: Educational programs should be expanded to promote tolerance, diversity, and critical thinking in schools. These programs should address historical narratives and encourage empathy and understanding among students.
Media Regulation and Ethics: Media regulation should be refined to strike a balance between freedom of the press and preventing hate speech. Encouraging responsible journalism and media ethics is essential.
Promote Interethnic Dialogue: Initiatives that facilitate interethnic dialogue and cooperation can help bridge divides and foster understanding among different communities.
Youth Engagement: Engaging youth in initiatives that promote tolerance and intercultural understanding is crucial. Youth-led projects and platforms can empower young people to be advocates for change.
Regional Cooperation: Collaborative efforts among Western Balkan countries, with support from international organizations like the European Union and the Council of Europe, can strengthen the collective resolve to combat hate speech and promote a more tolerant political culture.
Overall, the path toward a more tolerant political culture in the Western Balkans is a journey that requires persistence, collaboration, and a multifaceted approach involving governments, civil society, media, and the active participation of citizens.
Throughout this blog, we have journeyed through various facets of hate speech, from its definition and legal implications to its societal consequences. We have delved into the historical context of the Western Balkans, unveiling the enduring legacy of conflicts and prejudices that continue to shape the region’s political landscape. Through the examination of recent examples, we have witnessed the persistence of hate speech within the political sphere of the Western Balkans, a stark reminder of the challenges that lie ahead. We have also analyzed how hate speech acts as a catalyst for polarization, erodes trust in institutions, and poses the unsettling potential for violence.
In essence, this blog reinforces the message that addressing hate speech is not merely a matter of legal compliance; it is an imperative for the health and stability of the Western Balkans. By combatting hate speech, the region can embark on a transformative journey towards fostering a more inclusive, tolerant, and harmonious political culture.
As we look towards the future, it is clear that the path to change will not be without its challenges. Historical grievances and ethnic tensions may persist, but the role of the younger generation, civil society, responsible media, and international cooperation offers hope for a more positive trajectory.
In conclusion, this blog advocates for a collective commitment to combat hate speech, for it is through such concerted efforts that the Western Balkans can truly embrace a political culture founded on the principles of democracy, mutual respect, and unity in diversity.
References and Further Reading
Reports and Publications:
- “Hate Speech and Incitement to Violence in the Western Balkans: A Regional Overview” – United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
- “Media and Hate Speech in the Western Balkans” – Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)
- “Freedom of Expression, Hate Speech, and Propaganda: Monitoring and Analysing Media Content in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia” – ARTICLE 19
- “Hate Speech in Bosnia and Herzegovina: The Problem and the Solutions” – Selma Porobić (Journal of Hate Studies)
- “Media and Hate Speech in the Western Balkans: The Role of the Media in the Spread of Hate Speech in the Western Balkans” – Branislav Radeljić (Southeast European and Black Sea Studies)
Government and NGO Resources:
- Council of Europe – Official Website
- European Union – Enlargement and Stabilization Process
- OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina – Media Development
- “Ethnic Conflict and Hate Speech in the Balkans: The Influence of Nationalism” – Norbert Bugeja
- “Media, Ethnicity and Nationalism in the European Context” – Janusz Bugajski
Articles and News Sources:
- “The Balkans, Where Hate Speech Flourishes” – Balkan Insight
- “Hate Speech and Media in Bosnia and Herzegovina: An Overview” – Al Jazeera Balkans
Civil Society Organizations:
- Human Rights Watch – Balkans
- Amnesty International – Balkans
 https://mc.rs/rezultati-monitoringa-seksizam-govor-mrznje-i-mizoginija-najprisutniji-u-zapadno-balkanskim-medijima/za-medije/detaljno/1215 , visited on January 15, 2024
NOTE: This Blog is written within the project Regional Youth Dialogue for Europe – RYDE, funded by the European Union
CONFLICT RESOLUTION IN THE WESTERN BALKANS AND THE ROLE OF THE WEST
Serbian nationalism, historically aligned with Russia, instigated four wars in the 1990s against Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and NATO. Although Slobodan Milošević was ousted in 2000, the nationalist elite responsible for the wars has never been removed from power. Post-2000, a coalition between the nationalist elite, the Serbian Orthodox Church, and Russia gave rise to the “Serb World,” aligning with the security and foreign policy of the “Russian World” in the Western Balkans. Nationalists in Serbia acknowledge neighboring countries’ territorial integrity but deny their sovereignty, advocating that only nations possess sovereignty, making borders relative. President Aleksandar Vučić considers himself the leader of all Serbs, adopting a doctrine of limited sovereignty. This nationalism asserts the right to intervene where Serbs reside under the pretext of protecting Serbian rights, mirroring the Russian narrative in the Ukraine conflict, and fostering a centralized, corrupt regime with anti-European sentiments. This regime cannot create strong and independent institutions; only para-states influenced by Russia.
Western efforts to redirect Serbia’s allegiance from Russia to the West are misguided. The “Serbian World” aims to prevent neighboring countries, particularly those with Serb populations, from joining the EU, advocating for Serbs to be unified in one place and not divided between the EU and Serbia. Belgrade prevented a pro-EU government from being formed in Montenegro and supported pro-Russian factions entering the government, seeks to destabilize Bosnia and Herzegovina through Russian and Serbian proxies in Republika Srpska, and provokes ethnic conflict in Kosovo.
Democratization and decentralization of Serbia: Centralization and autocracy are powerful tools of aggressive Serbian nationalism. Until Serbia undergoes democratization, freedom and democracy for its citizens, and peace for neighboring states, will remain elusive.
Baltic model of EU integration process: This model involves strong partnerships between Western Balkan countries and stable EU democracies that have no specific political agendas in the region. During the 1990s, when the three Baltic states embarked on their path towards EU membership, three Nordic EU member states partnered with them. They trained their public officials, and helped harmonize laws, build institutions, and introduce necessary decision-making and implementation procedures. They also facilitated their communication with EU institutions. To this day, it is considered the most successful integration into the EU since 2004. Partners for Western Balkan aspirant states cannot be the largest EU members, nor the states too close to the region. The reason is the latent danger that the neighboring states have their political agendas in the region, leading to a distrust among the citizens of the Western Balkan countries in their bona fide intentions. In summary, the six EU member states, partners to the Western Balkan countries on their path to the EU, should all be stable democracies without specific political agendas in the region and have a strong EU orientation.
Bosnia and Herzegovina as a civil state: Propose a democratic constitution for Bosnia and Herzegovina, initiating electoral law reforms based on universal voting rights rather than ethnicity.
Kosovo’s NATO integration: Facilitate Kosovo’s NATO membership and establish the Association of Serb Municipalities without executive powers.
Montenegro’s EU membership: Liberate Montenegro from Russian and Serbian influence through its accelerated accession to the EU.
You can read entire publication HERE
From December 8th to 10th, 2023, the Regional Academy for Democratic Development and the Embassy of the United States in Belgrade organized the first module of a seminar focusing on involving young men in activities aimed at achieving gender equality. The event took place at Kaštel Ečka in Ečka, bringing together thirty young men aged 18 to 30 actively engaged in school and student parliaments, as well as other youth organizations.
The purpose of the seminar was to provide participants with fundamental knowledge and understanding of key issues related to gender equality, with a specific focus on the role of men in this context.
Day 1: Working Dinner
The seminar began with a working dinner on the first day, creating a relaxed atmosphere for participants to get to know each other and exchange expectations for the upcoming days.
Day 2: Diverse Sessions
In the opening remarks, Balša Božović and Holly Zardus presented the seminar’s objectives, including the BOLD program designed for young leaders across the Western Balkans. Subsequent sessions and workshops, led by Vladimir Kozbašić, addressed issues of masculinity in contemporary Serbia, analyzing gender stereotypes, traditional roles, and power distribution.
Tatjana Tabački, in a session on the fight for gender equality, explored the concepts and history of this struggle, focusing on discrimination in various societal spheres. Dejana Stošić shed light on the topic of gender-based violence, including violence in families, partnerships, and politics. Dr. Aleksandra Jerkov concluded the day by exploring why it is essential for men to participate in gender equality, raising questions about collaboration and post-seminar steps.
Day 3: Institutional Frameworks and Closing Remarks
The final day of the seminar focused on institutional mechanisms and the legislative framework for protecting gender equality. Prof. Dr. Marijana Pajvančić discussed the legislative framework, bodies, and mechanisms for protection, as well as the representation of women in decision-making positions. Prof. Dr. Svenka Savić concluded the seminar with a discussion on the role of language in shaping societal attitudes and the importance of gender-sensitive language.
Closing remarks summarized the key points of the seminar, and lunch marked the end of this inspiring event.
The first module of the seminar was a significant step towards educating and activating young men in the fight for gender equality. Diverse topics and an interactive approach fostered a deep understanding of the issues, providing participants with tools for further engagement in their communities. The seminar format facilitated informal networking and the sharing of experiences, laying the foundation for future actions and the development of projects focused on an inclusive fight for gender equality.
Within the RYDE project funded by the European Union, ADD organized the first in a series of regional debates in Belgrade, held at the Miljenko Dereta space, Dobracina Street 55. The event took place on Thursday, December 14th, strategically scheduled before the onset of pre-election silence in Serbia, preceding the elections on December 17th. This timing was deliberately chosen to address the debate topic: “Youth Participation in Political Processes in the Western Balkans.” Participants included Natalija Stojmenović, a parliamentary candidate from the Serbia Against Violence list; Sofija Kirsanov, a youth activist and co-founder of the NGO “Network for Youth Activism” in Montenegro; Sofija Todorović, director of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights in Belgrade; and Damir Zejnulahović from the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory in Belgrade, with journalist Mia Bjelogrlić moderating.
Attendees concurred that youth participation in political processes in the Western Balkans is significantly below desired levels, with substantial room for improvement in both developing existing mechanisms and creating new ones to ensure their engagement. Often, while formalities are observed, young people remain distanced from decision-making positions. This situation discourages and demotivates them from participating in their countries’ political processes, with their involvement typically limited to election participation, which is also lower than other age groups across the region. Young people who actively engage in politics and join political parties often do so for material rather than ideological reasons, typically choosing the ruling party in hopes of securing employment or other material benefits rather than out of conviction or a genuine desire to contribute to societal change. There is particular concern about the percentage of young people holding radical, far-right views and research indicating that young people have more conservative attitudes on certain social issues than older generations. Young individuals entering political processes, whether through NGO youth activism or political parties, often face discrimination, belittlement, and challenges in advancing within party hierarchies or asserting their views. This is especially true for young women and those from marginalized groups. As a result, a significant number of young people seek their future outside the region, either actively preparing for or expressing a desire to leave their country.
At the debate, there were 29 young attendees, of whom 14 were women. (ATTACHMENT: attendance list) Additionally, through the Zoom platform, another 37 young individuals from various youth organizations and organizations dealing with youth issues followed the debate. Out of those present at the debate, 20 are active in civil sector organizations or actively collaborate with them.
Only YES means YES – Policy Development on combating sexual violence against women and girls in Western Balkans
Sexual violence, as one of the most brutal forms of violence against women, remains unpunished in significant numbers of cases due to an inadequate and scientifically incorrect legal definition of this criminal offence. Definition of rape in all countries of the Western Balkans remains based on necessary use of force and requires victim’s physical resistance; decisions on whether the rape took place are based on traditional beliefs about “typical” behaviour in any such situation, gender stereotypes and myths about male and female sexuality. This is in collision with Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention; this explicitly calls the states to amend the definition of rape and to consider every sexual act without consent as rape.
The aim of the Phase I of the project was to undertake contextualised and comprehensive research on the level of knowledge, policies, attitudes and opinions of political parties in all Western Balkans countries regarding amendment of legislative definition of rape and improvement of the position of survivors, and to develop a strategy for each of the Western Balkan countries to amend legislation, practices, and bylaws regarding rape and sexual violence against women and girls based on robust analysis of opinion (attitudes) and policies of major political parties.
Phase I showed that the problem of legal definition of rape is little known about around the region, both in general and political public. Even the persons dealing with human and women rights within the parties, are often unaware that there is a problem in the legal definition of the rape and that it needs to be amended. This is why political parties, in a vast majority of cases, have no policy regarding the issue, have not dealt with it, and had no statements, campaigns or activities to change the legislation. It also revealed that the parties, as a rule, are open to addressing this problem. However, they do not put this issue in the focus of their own actions due to the assessment that other topics are more important or can bring more significant political benefit.
Phase I of the project has intricately delineated a comprehensive array of subjects, concerns, and domains that are slated for inclusion in the training curriculum. This phase is dedicated to the enlightenment of 50 national trainers and party messengers, individuals poised to become pivotal catalysts for the transformation of legislative paradigms. Their role extends beyond the confines of political parties to spearhead advocacy initiatives both internally and externally. Their strategic significance is underscored by their indispensable contribution to the impending Phase III, wherein advocacy campaigns will be initiated and substantive amendments to legislation will be proffered.
The project is being implemented by Regional Academy for Democratic Development with the support of UK Labour.
MONTENEGRIN-SERBIAN RELATIONS COMPLEX, DIFFERENCES EXPRESSED, AND THE POTENTIAL FOR CRISIS CONTINUOUS
“The relationships between Montenegro are sensitive and complex, and they should be approached realistically with full awareness of what they draw from history, as well as what shapes them through current decision-makers, as well as through the prism of evident attempts to provoke a crisis by the authorities in Belgrade. These were some of the highlights from yesterday’s Plenum on Montenegrin-Serbian relations, organized by the Center for Civic Education (CGO) and the Regional Academy for Democratic Development (ADD) with the support of the Swiss Embassy. The Plenum was opened by Daliborka Uljarević, the executive director of CGO, and Balša Božović, the director of ADD, by presenting the key findings of the public opinion research on the relations between Montenegro and Serbia through a comparative analysis. It is worth noting that earlier, individual research findings were presented separately in Montenegro and Serbia.
The European future of the Western Balkans depends on joint efforts and the desire to strengthen European unity
“Sustainable alternative for European integration of the Western Balkans does not exist, and anything else would be merely a foreign policy adventure that would be disastrous for stability, sustainable development, and even peace in the Western Balkans,” said the President of the Executive Board of the Academy for Development of Democracy (ADD) at the conference “Time to move on – 20 years since the Thessaloniki Summit,” organized by the Regional Academy for Democracy Development (ADD), the Center for Civic Education (CGO) from Podgorica, and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES).
Balša Božović also mentioned that 20 years after the Thessaloniki Summit, most of the Western Balkans still wants to believe that its future lies in the EU. “New war circumstances in Europe, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, have made it necessary for the EU and the Western Balkans to renew their mutual commitment and continue working together, in new circumstances, on the integration of this part of Europe into the Union,” Božović stated.
Božović stated that the experience of Ukraine teaches us that peace is no longer guaranteed. “The Western Balkans, as Europe’s soft underbelly, represents a weak point in European unity in foreign and security policy”
He added that it is important for the problem of stalled reform processes and difficult relationships to be resolved by the EU based on the Copenhagen criteria and the European system of values.
Božović mentioned that the experience of recent years has shown that some partners lack sufficient sensitivity to the situation in the Western Balkans. He believes that today, European sensitivity is more necessary than ever. “Peace is no longer a given; peace is a privilege, and in the Western Balkans, it stands on shaky ground,” Božović said.
He is of the opinion that, after the terrorism in Kosovo, “we have an obligation to focus on the democratization and Europeanization of the region. We cannot pretend that nothing happened in northern Kosovo because if we do, it will happen again,” Božović said, emphasizing that European institutions must find a way to deal with influences that can jeopardize peace in the Western Balkans.
Božović believes that those who have made the most progress in negotiations, like Montenegro, need to be supported. “Helping Montenegro to politically consolidate after a three-year crisis and gather the strength to continue on the EU path would be a sign that the Union is not geostrategically yielding this part of Europe to malign influences from the east and does not tolerate malignant influences from neighboring countries,” Božović said.
He stated that if a country does not want an EU future, it should say so clearly, but this decision should not hinder others and drag them back into an uncertain past. “It’s time to move forward because tomorrow may already be too late,” Božović concluded.
Director of the Center for Civic Education (CGO), Daliborka Uljarević, expressed her opinion that Montenegro has gone from being an outstanding student to a repeater with no signs of making the necessary substantial progress in the near future. She is unsure about the prospects of Montenegro’s EU integration, especially in light of the recent developments in the structure of the government.
According to her, Montenegro has been stagnant for six years without closing a single chapter. While the majority of the population supports the European dream and Montenegro’s path towards EU membership, the country is losing influence from the EU, its member states, the USA, and other Western partners. Uljarević believes that the enthusiasm and optimism among the negotiation structures in the region, which are the backbone of the process, are at a minimum.
Daliborka Uljarević expressed her concerns about Montenegro’s progress in EU integration and the lack of commitment to the process in the past few years. She mentioned that Montenegro is witnessing the departure of its second government in the last three years that, unlike the governments of the previous regime, has not demonstrated dedication to the European integration process. Uljarević explained that it will quickly become apparent in which direction the new government is heading, but the current indications are not encouraging for what should be a qualitatively different approach.
She highlighted that amidst regional instability and political upheavals where agreements are not based on values but on a struggle for survival, the topic of European integration remains on the sidelines. Despite the 20 years that have passed since the Thessaloniki Summit, Montenegro still finds itself in the same waiting room, as there has not been a convincing political will for reforms. This lack of political will, combined with chronic understaffing, a lack of knowledge, and inertia, as well as an excess of empty but dangerous ambitions, has impeded progress.
Uljarević pointed out that the current geopolitical circumstances offer a favorable wind for the region, as there is greater attention from the European Union, its institutions, and officials regarding the enlargement process. She emphasized that this opportunity must not be missed, and the EU integration process should not become a series of unmet expectations.
She also stressed the need for the EU to react more promptly and proactively by providing support in achieving the standards the region aspires to and eliminating factors that push society away from progressive values.
Uljarević believes that political responsibility is at the core of the process. She explained that this responsibility should bring with it the willingness to replace populism with hard work and credible results. Once this is achieved, it will be possible to talk about a clearer EU perspective for the countries seeking EU membership and reducing existing frustrations due to the lack of progress.
Regarding Montenegro’s commitment to EU integration, Uljarević mentioned that the symbolic fact that the country has been without a chief negotiator with the EU for nearly a year speaks volumes about where EU integration currently stands on Montenegro’s agenda.
Rene Schle, the Director of the Regional Office for Southeast Europe of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), reflected on the 20th anniversary of the Thessaloniki Summit and its impact on the European integration process in the region. He acknowledged that the ambitions and ideas presented at Thessaloniki were different from the current reality. However, he emphasized that it would be inaccurate to claim that no progress has been made during this time.
According to Schle, some progress has been achieved, as negotiations are underway with certain countries, while processes with others, like Albania and North Macedonia, are just starting. He noted that it is challenging to label this progress as a significant breakthrough because the term “enlargement” naturally leads to high expectations. Looking back over the past 20 years, it’s difficult to say that many of these expectations have been fully realized.
On the other hand, Schle acknowledged that there is a lot happening, with new ideas and initiatives emerging. There are sometimes conflicting ideas on how to continue the enlargement process. The Friedrich-Ebert Foundation aims to bring together representatives of governments, civil society, and the academic community to engage in discussions about these ideas. The synergy among these various stakeholders is considered essential for addressing the challenges and complexities of the enlargement process.
Aleksandar Spasov emphasized that the European Union is in a different geopolitical position today. He expressed the importance for the EU to ensure that this potential is not missed and that it doesn’t become an isolated island separated from its European neighbors. In the context of the Western Balkans, maintaining a path toward EU integration is crucial for stability and cooperation in the region.
Borko Stefanović, the Vice President of the Serbian Parliament, stressed that there is a consensus that it’s time to move forward towards the EU, but the challenge lies in determining how and in which direction to proceed. He mentioned that there is a formal invitation from Brussels for all countries in the region, and there is a formal and open desire from the nations to join the EU. However, he highlighted that there is a loss of energy and time while trying to understand the current situation.
Stefanović pointed out that 44% of Serbia’s citizens support EU accession, even amid the challenging circumstances in the country. He expressed his surprise at this level of support, given the open autocracy, the facade of democracy, a lack of media freedom, corruption, and links to organized crime. He stressed the importance of a merit-based approach, indicating that both Serbia and the EU need to do their homework to ensure progress and accession. In essence, this requires substantial reforms in both Serbia and the EU’s approach to enlargement.
Borko Stefanović highlighted the importance of regional cooperation and reconciliation in the Western Balkans. He suggested the need to establish joint secretariats or similar structures to address mutual concerns and foster unity among the countries in the region. He emphasized that a collective voice and solidarity are essential, as standing together is crucial for achieving shared goals. He also emphasized the importance of not being divided by political differences, as this would only lead to mutual condemnation of each other’s governments and actions.
Elvira Habota, the Director of the Directorate for European Integration in Bosnia and Herzegovina, acknowledged the progress that Bosnia and Herzegovina has made in implementing important laws in priority areas, even before gaining candidate status for EU membership. She stressed the significance of political will in driving progress, as well as the need for a constructive approach to address technical and expert issues that sometimes become subjects of political contention.
Fitor Murati, Acting Director of the Directorate for Europe and the EU in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora of Kosovo, emphasized that Kosovo is committed to its path toward EU integration, as there is no “Plan B” or “Plan C” for Kosovo. He reiterated Kosovo’s strong desire to be part of the Euro-Atlantic community. He also addressed the geopolitical context and the role of geopolitics in the integration process, pointing out the challenges posed by the aggression of Serbia and Russia’s support for paramilitary actions.
Gazmend Turdiu, the General Secretary of the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs of Albania, underscored the importance of taking European Commission reports seriously, as they serve as indicators of real progress. He discussed the historical significance of the Solun Summit and the journey of the Western Balkans back to where they belong – Europe. He warned against the region being left in a vacuum, as other actors like Russia, China, and the Middle East are ready to fill any void left by the EU’s distance. Turdiu emphasized that a delayed EU engagement in the region would worsen the situation.
Josip Juratović, a member of the German Bundestag, mentioned the geopolitical and security significance of EU enlargement in the context of a relatively unstable political landscape within the EU. He noted the rise of right-wing structures and the growing importance of democratic values. Juratović emphasized that simply focusing on economics and economic questions will not resolve the challenges before Europe. He called for more solidarity and a shared political platform within the Western Balkans to make progress toward EU membership.