Hate speech in public life

TransConflict Serbia – in conjunction with the Cultural Centre DamaD and with the support of the Embassy of Switzerland in Belgrade – organized a panel discussion in Novi Pazar, entitled ‘Hate Speech in Public Life’.

TransConflict Serbia – in conjunction with the Cultural Centre DamaD, and with the support of the Embassy of Switzerland in Belgrade – organized a panel discussion on Friday 18th November in Novi Pazar, entitled ‘Hate Speech in Public Life’.

The panel – which was comprised of representatives of academia, civil society and the judiciary – addressed the forty-strong audience on two core issues – ‘how to define and identify hate speech?’ and ‘how best to combat hate speech?’.

In explaining the rational for the debate, TransConflict Serbia’s executive director, Mirjana Kosic, emphasized how, “various forms of hate speech – particularly those centred upon ethnic, national or religious differences – have become an integral part of public discourse in Serbia and the wider region. Such a discourse is often characterized by inflammatory and offensive statements targeting specific individuals or groups, which often fuels various forms or discrimination and even violence. We hope that this debate will help improve understanding about, and raise awareness of, what constitutes hate speech and how it can be combated.”

Zibija Šarenkapić, executive director of Cultural Centar DamaD, opened the proceedings by stating how overcoming hate speech is an obligation for every society. Though civil society and independent intellectuals tackled the issue during the nineties – when hate speech was rampant and one of the main drivers of conflict throughout the region – the perceived ‘arrival of democracy’ after 2000 led many to believe that the problem was settled. Ten years on, however, “we are witnessing the consequences of our complacency.” Ms. Šarenkapić asserted that, “there are no quick fixes for this issue, and since multi-ethnic communities are especially fragile and susceptible to this phenomenon, the best protection against hate speech is continuous public discussion and awareness, and that is where we will be focusing our efforts.”

Borka Pavicevic

Borka Pavićević, from the Center for Cultural Decontamination (Centar za kulturnu dekontaminaciju) in Belgrade, spoke in length about the pernicious role of religious leaders and the need to promote the secularisation of society. Whilst hate speech contributes to creating fear, fear itself generates further acts of hate speech. Mrs. Pavićević emphasized the importance of culture in tackling the prevalence of hate speech.

Mirjana Matović, a psychologist, delivered a comprehensive presentation on the definitions and characteristics of hate speech, and how understanding of the concept emerged and has evolved. Ms. Matović provided insights into a variety of examples of hate speech – especially those targeting female leaders of the non-government sector – as a mechanism of social control, which endeavours to homogenize, lead and govern a group. The object of hatred is typically anything deemed ‘other’, ‘different’ or ‘foreign’.

Filip Pavlović, from the NGO Fractal in Belgrade, spoke about the prevalence of ‘hate silence’; namely, the refusal of others to speak out against acts of hate speech, despite being aware of their existence.

The panel then fielded a variety of questions from the audience, which touched upon a variety of issues, particularly the relationship between the Bosniak and Serb communities in Sandžak, and tacit approval of hate speech deriving from a feeling of impotency amongst citizens and the passivity of local authorities.

The panel discussion was organized as part of TransConflict’s newly-launched initiative, Understanding Extremism, which aims to improve understanding about the concept of extremism itself, plus the groups and ideologies that manifest extremism in their aims, rhetoric and activities.

This public discussion was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Embassy of Switzerland in Belgrade.

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