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Macedonia, Bulgaria: Facing Hate Speech

Categories: Eastern & Central Europe, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Ethnicity & Race, Freedom of Speech, History, Human Rights, International Relations, Media & Journalism, Politics

Two NGOs, Media Development Center [1] from Macedonia and Broadcast Training Center ProMedia [2] from Bulgaria, published an analysis of the Macedonian-Bulgarian hate speech in the traditional and new media.

The analysis was published in the book “Hate Speech in Bulgarian and Macedonian Media: Examples, Causes and Solutions” [3], which resulted from a project supported by OSI's East-East Program [4]; it is available for free download as a .PDF file [5], in Macedonian and English.

Stranglehold by Filip Stojanovski, CC-BY [6]

Illustration by Filip Stojanovski, CC-BY

The book informs about the national legal frameworks, provides analyses of the traditional media discourse by various media experts in July-August 2010, around the anniversary of the 1903 Ilinden Uprising [7], and of use of the new media for hate speech by influential Macedonian blogger [8] and social scientist Anastas Vangeli [9]. According to him:

The collisions between Macedonian and Bulgarian cyber-haters have escalated with the boom of the Macedonian blogosphere ever since 2004/2005 and the establishment of the most popular Macedonian blogging platform “Blogeraj” (www.blog.com.mk [10], later www.blog.mk [11]) in 2006/07. What has been striking from the beginnings of the blogging platform, is the intensity of the Macedonian-Bulgarian feuds. Due to the language proximity, Macedonian and Bulgarian blog wars have been going on with a very high frequency, very often occupying the front page of the platform, and eventually leading to the departure of many bloggers who refused to participate in that kind of communication. Often, the Macedonian-Bulgarian feuds on the platform have inspired various bloggers, primarily Macedonians (as they constitute the vast majority of the platform users, compared to the minority of Bulgarians, but also because the platform is conceptualized as “Macedonian”, so they act as hosts), to address the rest of the community to action to solve the problem. Sometimes, this urge takes the form of clear, hateful anti-Bulgarian hate speech, and sometimes it takes the form of public address to the editors of the platform to ban Bulgarian users.

These requests have been ‘justified’ as a reciprocal measure, since Bulgarian blogging platforms have been banning Macedonians. However, except in cases of clear violation of laws, such as publishing child pornography, Blogeraj management refuses to ban any users or moderate content, as part of their policy of supporting freedom of speech.

Vangeli, who has an MA in nationalism studies, continues:

Finally, there have been various “appeals to boycott” the content and comments produced by Bulgarian commentators, in order for the self-proclaimed patriots and online defenders of the nation not to lose their nerves. Others attempt to promote a peaceful and down-to-earth reasonable rhetoric. Mecheto Ushko [12], a Macedonian blogger [whose nickname is the Macedonian translation of the name of a Polish cartoon character Miś Uszatek [13] or Teddy Bear Floppy-Ears], has recently reflected [14] [MKD] on the topic, labeling it destructive and unreasonable:

On this blogging platform […] there are continuously new guys who don’t do anything else except spreading hatred and chauvinism through pejorative slang sentences towards Bulgaria and its citizens. I bet that […] the ones that are on this platform since its foundation will remember that destructive post that caused irritation even in Bulgarian media […]. They probably also remember that most commented post ever, containing more than 15 thousand comments on the Bulgarian nation and state. […]

The hate speech between Macedonians and Bulgarians manifests primarily as an extension of the existing historical feuds, but also the mutual stereotypes – Macedonians label Bulgarians “Tartars” [15] or “Mongols” [16] (which is an example of orientalist [17] rhetoric, in which Asian features are considered traits of backwardness) who look like horses, and whose women are very promiscuous especially with Macedonian men; Bulgarians denounce Macedonians as semi-retarded, brainwashed people who have been manipulated by the Communists. Needless to say, both of the rhetorics besides nationalistic, are machoistic, homophobic and highly sexist. For instance, the ones who engage in hate speech, often post pictures of homosexual intercourse, which in the value system of the radical nationalist subculture is seen as an utterly negative phenomenon, and aims to insult and emotionally harm the one to whom it’s addressed.

For paradigmatic examples of hate speech by Macedonian bloggers, see the so called LogBlog [18] whose motto is “Death for pro-Bulgarians, freedom to the world” and features an image of Adolf Hitler and says in German “Forbidden for pro-Bulgarians, sectarians and dogs”). Another blog that often utilizes hate speech against Bulgarians is Darvel [19]. On one occasion in a post titled “Tartars… Thieves, what else (they could be)?” [20] [MKD], Darvel argued that the authors of Bulgarian Wikipedia have stolen an image of his personal collection by stating the following:

“I can’t believe what kind of bastards these Tartars are… First, they are stealing our national history, then they are stealing my family history, and now they are stealing my photographs. Damn you Tartaric bastards, couldn’t you at least crop this picture? […]”

Another blog entry, by Lavot [21] [The Lion], discusses the historical role of the Bulgarian Exarchate [22] as primarily negative. The entry is titled “Tartars are only Tartars!” [23] [MKD] and goes on to quote the founder of the Exarchate [Teodosij Gologanov [24]] [updated: see comment bellow – F.S.] who argues that the Exarchate attempted to culturally assimilate the people of Macedonia more than a century ago (it was founded in 1870 and was active in Macedonia up to 1912). This is a very vivid example of how sometimes (mis)interpretation of historical documents can lead to using offensive words and slurs. An exchange of hate speech in the comments goes on:

A Bulgarian commentator says the following in English, using the adjective “FYROMIAN” as a slur word, and thus implying that Macedonian is not a human language; [“FYROMIAN” derives from FYROM, a shorthand for the provisional name that the Republic of Macedonia accepted for use within the UN, but which is considered offensive by Macedonians because it fails to mention the word “Macedonia,” present in the long form, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia]:

I don’t speak FYROMIAN:(((
Do you speak any human languages???
Like English, Bulgarian???

A Macedonian commentator replies in Macedonian, playing the homophobic card:

You can easily see that all Bulgarians are fags by soul and heart and they can read and see only what they want to see, but not the things that do not fit their perception. You Tartar whore, the solution for you is only Hitler to come back and to exterminate all whore-souls like you.

Further on, after several exchanges of insults and hate speech, a Macedonian commentator calls to arms:

It was enough silence [by the Macedonians] and this is the case with all of our neighbors. If we do not start [the war, conflict or similarly], then we will have to defend ourselves and only after that attack with our full force. By the way, I found out why the Bulgarians are so mad at us… we have f*cked the Bulgarian women too often, in the past for a very cheap price and nowadays just for fun […]

Recent examples of blog posts that fit the descriptions above include gloating [25] [MKD] over the news [26] about Bulgarians who were caught stealing potatoes in Greece, or wishing [27] [MKD] there were no “frustrated” Bulgarians on Blogeraj who bother with name-calling based on the acronym FYROM.

Vangeli also noted that other social media have been used for politicized hate speech, from YouTube to Facebook groups, and concludes:

What remains an open question, is how to tackle this obviously seething problem? One positive aspect is that at least the hate speech now is not hidden under the carpet, but becomes publicly visible through the new media. However, the challenge of how to solve the issue will inevitably open a debate on possible censorship, tighter regulation and sanctions for the ones who engage in acts of hate speech. Yet, one must not forget that the new media contents are a mere copy of our everyday life. Sanctioning hate speech online will not prevent the individuals to hate and to say hateful things away from the keyboard, and in the long run will not solve the problem. Therefore, the problem of hate speech in the new media is primarily a problem of the existence of hate speech itself. Civil society and media campaigns, as well as mutual actions might have better odds in combating it. In the attempts to influence the culture and the attitude of the online community, a Macedonian blogger writing about everyday life in Sofia, or a Bulgarian blogger writing about everyday life in Skopje will certainly have a better chance than a strict censoring policy.