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Macedonia: Reactions to Kale Incident and Hate Speech

After the violent inter-ethnic incident involving mass fighting on Skopje Fortress – Kale, social media frequented by inhabitants of Macedonia buzzed with hate speech and reactions to it.

The team of Metamorphosis Foundation set to a task to document links to discussions about the incident by setting a dedicated group named Kale [MKD] on the interactive aggregator Ping.mk, providing a resource for activists, reporters and researchers.

On Monday, Feb. 14, the civic associations Media Development Center (MDC) and NGO Info-Centre issued an appeal titled “Stop Hate Speech and Inter-Ethnic Tensions and Incidents”:

In the last several days, we are witnessing high presence of hate speech in the traditional and new media, heating up the tension and inciting further violence.

Last Sunday’s incident at the Skopje’s Kale (the Old Fortress) is a serious threat to inter-ethnic relations in the Republic of Macedonia. The use of physical violence is just a representation of a complete lack of public debate and open and civilized dialog.

Media Development Centre and NGO Info-Centre appeal to all involved, political parties, non-governmental organizations, media and all citizens of Macedonia to retire their passions and abstain from further incitement of ethnic intolerance.

We appeal to the press to report and cover the incidents with thoughtfulness and care, and act responsibly in accordance with professional standards.

We ask the responsible institutions to follow the situation carefully and to sanction, according to the law, all calls to violence or ethnic and religious intolerance.

Black Book by FOSIM and MDCIn fact, Foundation Open Society Institute Macedonia and MDC recently published the “Black Book” (.pdf), which documents the rise of hate speech in Macedonia during 2009, in an attempt to warn the public about the top-down nature of this phenomenon and its possible consequences. As the book's editor and blogger Roberto Belichanec put it [MKD]:

Documenting of events has been done from the discourse of all participants in the public life… from broadcasting and print media, to participants in the new media and online social networks.
[…] this non-comprehensive collection of “pearls” […] attempts to warn that the level of public debate is problematic and represents a limiting factor in accomplishment of human rights in the country.

The book was promoted last Friday – two days before the Kale incident, alongside a discussion [MKD] about social and legal ramifications (full video available on the website of Citizens for European Macedonia). In an almost prophetic manner, the event was named “Hate Speech – an Announcement for Physical Violence.”

Grassroots anti-hate groups are also becoming more active and numerous on social media. One of them is “A Group Against Religious, Ethnic or Any Other Kind of Hatred” [MKD] with over 470 members advocating for…

…[stopping] of all gatherings on Skopje's Kale due to the possibility of escalation. The government should immediately take measures to prevent any further construction or demolition activity, and to prohibit any kind of gathering in the area.

Informal networks of local activists have also been trying to systematically report hate groups via Facebook's internal mechanism.

Viktor Arsovski informed [MKD] via IT.com.mk that on Feb. 15 the police also decided to address the hate speech issue and appealed to Facebook to close down the “aggressive Facebook groups about the church on Kale”:

MOI [Ministry of the Interior] asked Facebook to delete groups about the Kale church with aggressive content, spreading hate speech and calls for ethnic cleansing. These groups have become an arena for arguing and religious and ethnic bigotry after the recent incident on Skopje's Kale involving a fight between two ethnic groups.

[…] Considering Facebook's policy, one can expect the removal of such groups.

In its official statement, the Ministry of the Interior announced [MKD] that it…

…requested [from Facebook] provision of personal data about the persons, i.e. the IP addresses of the administrators who created these groups and pages.

Computer Crime Department also recorded and documented all members of the groups and their supporters, and profiles of the persons who accepted the invitations to participate in further fights on Kale.

MOI appeals to all social network visitors to refrain from hate speech and stop inciting violence, because it will take all necessary measures for their identification and prevention of their intents.

Some of the groups active until yesterday were indeed closed down, and the FB event scheduled for next Saturday – a gathering on Kale intended to “unite” ethnic Macedonian football fan groups from various cities (who were bitter rivals so far) has been “canceled.”

Facebook continues to serve as the main vehicle for more civilized on-line discussions about various aspects of the situation, but these events also shook up the sleepy Macedonian blogosphere. One of the frequent topics is whether the whole thing is a set-up, a staged performance by the main coalition partners, or a sign of a genuine conflict between them. Both options provide political points by presenting the politicians as defenders of their ethnic (often written as “national”) interests.

Pro-government social media users, such as blogger Kimi, promoted [MKD] a video clip which accuses an A1 TV cameraman for ridiculing ethnic Macedonian football fans during the Kale incident. Some of the comments on this post marked it as an attempt to shift the blame for the incident towards the TV station, which has been under various forms of pressure for some time, and away from the ruling political party.

Some ethnic Macedonian bloggers also addressed a spin-off scandal that involves a local employee of the Dutch Embassy: Artan Grubi, the president of the ethnic Albanian NGO “Wake up!” (Zgjohu!), was among the organizers of the counter-protest group on Sunday and participated in the rumble (caught on camera). This information was first spread by Vecher daily, and later reiterated by Sitel TV. These two media outlets have the same editor (Dragan Pavlovic – Latas) and are owned by the “oligarchs” close to the government. Both are businessmen and leaders of small political parties which are members of ruling coalition. The former heads the fringe Party of Justice of RM, and the the latter is an MP from the Socialist Party.

Blogger Zoriv linked the Sitel article, asking [MKD] whether the event could be considered a “diplomatic incident.” Roboto called [MKD/ENG] for an e-mail campaign, asking the Dutch Ambassador to react. This morning, Kosovo news portal Telegrafi confirmed [ALB] that Artan Grubi was “suspended from his post of a political advisor due to his role in Sunday's clashes.”

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