The hate speech phenomenon is once again the focus of the general public in North Macedonia and its use increased with the start of the coronavirus pandemic, writes Portalb.mk. With the increase of the number of people infected with COVID-19, the propaganda machinery, which consists in part of numerous influential media partially owned by Hungarian companies, these days have been criticizing with great intensity the Muslims, especially the ethnic Albanians and the Roma people, as the main carriers of the coronavirus, i.e. the ones to blame for the surge of the epidemic.

Still, there were more bitter reactions that overflowed the public when a member of the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts (MANU), Professor Katica Kulavkova (sometimes written as Kjulavkova) joined the hate speech of the current narratives. Her tweet “The price of coexistence is paid with [sacrificing our] lives,” was criticized by the public and was seen as an incentive for intolerance among ethnic communities.

The civic organizations, condemning this act by Kjulavkova, say that this escalation of hate speech is happening because the country is in a pre-election period.

The Helsinki Committee issued a press release saying that the tensions caused by the COVID-19 restrictive measures  are gradually being transferred into nationalism’s yard. According to them, many factors have contributed to this situation: the silence of the institutions against the will of the religious leaders that acted contrary to all recommendations for the protection of public health, the functioning of the state with an interim government, selective coverage on part of the media and the mass presence of disinformation and instigating hate speech based on ethnicity by public figures.

Photo: Helsinki Committee of Human RightsAt the same time, the Helsinki Committee has filed a lawsuit against Academic Kulavkova.

“The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights has filed a lawsuit against Academician Katica Kulavkova for her statement in the social media, as it instigates intolerance among ethnic communities. Her tweet “The price of coexistence is paid with [sacrificing our] lives,” implicates that the cause of the spread of the coronavirus are the relations between ethnic communities and not the general disobedience of the protective measures. Taking into account that hate speech based on ethnicity is dominant in this country, the spreading and instigating such speech has a special weight as it leads to hate crimes i.e. the firing up of the nationalistic tempers. It is especially dangerous when such speech is used by intellectuals, politicians, journalists and other persons with a greater social influence” wrote the Helsinki Committee.

In the meantime, Xhabir Deralla from Civil – Center for Freedom stated that this isn’t the first time for Katica Kulakova to state her nationalistic opinions.

“It’s not the first time that we see Academician Kulavkova in this light. Still, since this is a pre-election period and taking into account that the social, political situation including the situation with the public health are very dominant during this period, her activity on social networks with a message such as this is revealing that apart from being a nationalist, Kjulavkova is also politically active. Proof of that is that she has chosen a very delicate social-political moment in the country when to renew her nationalistic messages in the public” said Deralla.

According to Metamorphosis’ Director, Bardhyl Jashari, even though hate speech is used by even public persons and is proliferated by unprofessional media, unfortunately, all of the governments in Macedonia turned a blind eye to the spread of hate speech even though by law it is a felony.

Бардуљ Јашари, Фото: Ванчо Џамбаски CC BY

“No one has tried to deal systematically with this serious problem and hasn’t even tried to block the sources and the reasons for the use of hate speech. You start with this at school and home. With several exceptions, no one has been punished for the use of hate speech and this has additionally encouraged those that use and promote hate speech to continue to do so without any fears of punishment. The situation is worse when we see public figures, politicians, academicians and many others use hate speech, and then it is spread by irresponsible and unprofessional media. It is a bad and shameful example that is followed by citizens and with it begins the spiral of the hate speech that can escalate into violence. Therefore, the first step in combating hate speech is the educational system and domestic upbringing and then it is up to the competent institutions to fulfill their duties and punish those that use hate speech and instigate violence” said Jashari.

Screen capture of the hate speech tweet by Academician Katica Kulavkova, member of the Macedonian Academy of Arts and Sciences.

On 6th of June, Kulavkova tweeted on her Twitter account “The price of coexistence is paid with [sacrificing our] lives,” that stands in line with the narrativen spread by nationalistic and chauvinistic circles in North Macedonia. According to them, the ones to blame for the COVID-19 widespread are communities that aren’t ethnic Macedonians and Christians.

Still, after the numerous reactions, Kulakova erased the tweet, and soon after she wrote: “The tweet was a personal opinion and has nothing to do with the situation between ethnic communities in Macedonia”.

Abdulmenaf Bedzeti, a Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts member also reacted to Kulavkova’s tweet and condemned his colleague’s opinion as racist, saying that she doesn’t represent the academy’s institutional stances.

Abdulmenaf Bedzeti

“I hope all of our citizens will distance themselves from her opinions that contain a pathological hatred towards her fellow citizens blaming them for such planetary problems as the  COVID-19 pandemic! Otherwise, she cannot and she doesn’t represent MANU’s institutional viewpoint because when she tried twice to be elected as Vice-president, 6 months ago, she failed to gain the support of at least 1/3 of the members! Fortunately, she remains a lone voice and maybe a part of a small group of academics, and hopefully, she will leave to “another world” with an epithet as a folk patriot! This will not relieve the Academy nor it will amnesty us the members for tolerating this racist phenomenon” wrote Bedzeti on Facebook.

In the meantime, the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts still didn’t distance itself from Professor Kjulavkova’s stance.

In February 2014, new legal measures were introduced that ban and sanction hate speech online and the spread of internet materials that promote or instigate hatred, discrimination or violence against anyone or a group, on any basis of discrimination in North Macedonia (Official Gazette excerpt).

According to the statistics published by govornaomraza.mk webpage, during the period between 5-27th of May, 846 reports of hate speech were registered, out of which 418 were based on ethnicity.

However, since these new legal changes for the hate speech in the Criminal Code went into force i.e. in February 2014, the number of penalties is very low, compared to the reports received by the digital platform “Report and resist the hate speech”.

The police are not very expedient to investigate the hate speech, while the judiciary isn’t passing any sentences regardless of the large number of reports that were submitted to the the digital civic platform for reporting hate speech.

Apart from that, in Macedonia, especially during the VMRO-DPMNE’s rule, according to the analysis conducted by Portalb.mk, the hate speech was very evident with examples when certain people and groups were publicly exposed to this act that is a felony, but as it is, no one has been punished by the state organs for executing the law.