Since the Russian-Ukrainian crisis started, a propaganda war started on social media in our country, full of hate speech and “cheering” for one of the warring parties. Certain political and media circles have for years been accustoming the citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia that hate speech is something “normal” and that calls for violence are a “normal” part of the political discourse, as it is even presented as something “democratic”, Filip Stojanovski, Partnership and Resource Development Director at Metamorphosis Foundation told Lokalno in a conversation
On the contrary, Stojanovski emphasizes that our Criminal Code considers as crimes hate speech, calls for violence and justification of crimes against humanity, war crimes.
Unfortunately, the fact that our prosecution, judiciary and other state institutions are not completely reformed according to the European model allows impunity for such crimes, which is then reflected in the behavior of the citizens,” he underlined.
Regarding the war against Ukraine, according to him, it is clear that several sources of propaganda give an incentive to the citizens to approve bloodshed instead of a peaceful solution of the conflict, which is a precondition for the aggressor Russia to stop the aggressive behavior.
Such sources include several local political parties and individual politicians, media and respective troll armies, who have previously expressed anti-Western, anti-EU and anti-NATO orientations, and seek to impose an authoritarian rule in the style of Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship. Some media that are not visibly related to such centers of power can be seen to fall under foreign influence, from the way they report content from and about Russia,” he explained.
Stojanovski said that the influence on the media that copy news from Serbia and other neighboring countries is especially important in this case because they uncritically report political biases from the local media, explaining that these foreign influences hit the fertile ground in our country since our citizens are subject to conspiracy theories which have been confirmed by previous research by the Metamorphosis Foundation.
According to him, the level and especially the quality of education is one of the factors that make the citizen resistant or not to this type of manipulation.
This is one of the key reasons why our country is at the bottom of the European resistance to false news list. That is why it is important to promote media literacy and introduce it to all levels of education. Home education is also an important element. If parents fill their children’s minds with prejudice, if they do not support them in developing critical thinking skills, such children will find it difficult not to grow up in images of their parents. One of the main findings of Metamorphosis’ study on COVID-19 misinformation from 2020 is that political bias plays a huge role in the willingness to accept and spread misinformation. Many people in our country put themselves in the role of transmitters of the misinformation they think will help their cause, or they think that they are harming something they have a negative opinion about (cause, ideology, party, state, alliance…). The same psychological mechanisms are at work in relation to the current war. It is unfortunate that they often spread such misinformation without believing in them, but over time they adopt them and become victims of fraud, Stojanovski explained.
The same thing happens at the highest political level when decision-makers begin to believe in their own propaganda. And that’s a recipe for disaster, because it makes them incapable of facing reality.
He stressed that an urgent response is needed from all state institutions because the growing aggression of the Macedonian citizen is worrying.
It was the European experience with Nazism, which was defeated by unprecedented casualties in 1945, that led to the establishment of a system for the protection of human rights, which at the Council of Europe level considers hate speech a crime. And that experience shows that spreading hatred and promoting discrimination, inciting low passions leads to physical violence, attempts to exterminate dissidents and those that are “different”, which if allowed can lead wars and genocide. We witnessed this development during the wars after the break-up of Yugoslavia, when the ground was first prepared in the 1980s for nationalist propaganda justifying violence, culminating in the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, when thousands of people were executed only because of belonging to a certain ethnic group, Stojanovski explained.
In such a situation, according to him, each of us can ask ourselves whether what they are doing helps saving human lives and stops further destruction or not.
The fight for human rights is fought through the fight for the truth, so it is important to support professional journalists, especially those who check the facts and expose misinformation, like Truthmeter does in our country. “Many of us are misled by the propaganda that justifies the war of conquest started by Russia in 2014 as a means of solving problems,” he said.
Stojanovski said that each of us should face the fact that we have been taught to hate for years and that this problem requires not only personal self-examination but a systemic response from the state and the education and health system.
The misinformation bombing and hate speech also affects the mental health. Another thing each of us can do is ask ourselves what lies they have believed these days and why. For me it is normal not to trust someone anymore after they lied to me, so I believe that each of us can apply the same to the media and political figures, he said.