Antisemitic Discourse in the Western Balkans - A collection of case studies

Antisemitic Discourse in the Western Balkans: A collection of case studies

Copyright © 2021 International Republican Institute. All rights reserved.

The Authors

Iva Merheim Eyre – Editorial Supervisor and Research Methodology Design

Dr. Bojan Aleksov – Contributing Editor Historical Background

Jews and Western Balkans Societies

Dr. Bojan Aleksov – Principal Author

Albania Case Study

Dr. Blerjana Bino – Principal Author

Bosnia & Herzegovina Case Study

Dr. Anida Sokol – Principal Author

Dr. Ehlimana Memišević – Research Team

Croatia Case Study

Dr. Hrvoje Cvijanović – Principal Author

Kosovo Case Study

Skënder Përteshi – Principal Author

Montenegro Case Study

Biljana Papovic – Principal Author

Aleksandra Grdinić – Research Team

Tijana Velimirović – Research Team

Milena Gvozdenović – Research Team

North Macedonia Case Study

Alban Bokshi – Principal Author

Serbia Case Study

Ivana Nikolić – Principal Author

External Validation

Dr. Jelena Subotić – Professor of Political Science at Georgia State University in Atlanta

Dr. Bojan Aleksov – Associate Professor in South-East European History at the University College London

Dr. Florian Bieber – Professor of South East European History and Politics at the University of Graz

Publishing Coordination

Hannah Mont

Production and Editorial Team

Iva Merheim-Eyre, Brady Hills, Emina Ibrahimovic, Breanna Kerr, Biljana Ljubić, Ryan Mahoney, Hannah Mont, Joanna Rohozinska, Daniel Scaduto, Alison Schafer, Jan Surotchak, Alex Tarascio

Graphic Design & Layout

Michelle Neal

The purpose of this publication is to provide a complex analysis of antisemitism in the Western Balkans. In cooperation with a team of researchers, the International Republican Institute (IRI) conducted online media monitoring to determine the most common narratives related to antisemitism and the relationship between Western Balkan societies and the local and international Jewish community. The publication contains seven country case studies analyzing online media narratives in the light of each country’s specific historical, legal, and societal background. The aim is to provide information that can be used to assess resilience against antisemitism and hate speech and recommend solutions for identified policy gaps.

The seven countries covered in case studies are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania, and Montenegro. Locally based IRI partners were tasked with monitoring online media spaces in these countries and analyzing the content of selected online news sources, Facebook sources, and related readers’ comments sections published between January 2019 and May 2020. Furthermore, these partners hand-coded online media content, which allowed them to assess how widely spread particular types of antisemitism are.

Researchers examined more than 9,000 online media pieces. Although instances of antisemitic speech in online media did not exceed 4 percent of examined content, the research indicated several threats that might affect the increase of antisemitism, as well as susceptibility to other forms of extremism. The urge to assign responsibility for specific historical events and the establishment of common regional historical memory is the overarching context into which narratives related to Jews in the Western Balkans are fed. Antisemitic narratives were not substantially different from narratives seen in other parts of Europe and mainly contained familiar conspiracy theories about control of world financial markets, as well as modern conspiracies such as those claiming intentional development of COVID-19. Besides conspiratorial content, violent and vulgar antisemitic language was common. What seems to be specific to the Western Balkan region is the use of antisemitism (and often the use of a certain form of philosemitism) as a tool to sow or intensify regional conflicts.

Holocaust remembrance was often used as a pretext for criticism of crimes of one ethnic group against another, and Holocaust crimes were used in many online media pieces as a comparison for crimes committed during the 1990s. Narratives about wars of Yugoslav succession often link those conflicts with the events of World War II. As there is no common regional historical memory of the succession wars, the interpretation of events around World War II is also affected. Purposeful misinterpretation or utilization of historical events in populist narratives represents a threat to peaceful democratic transition in the region. This issue is even more serious in relation to insufficient attention to Jewish legacy and antisemitism in areas such as education or the preservation of historical sites.

Although the research didn’t find an abundance of antisemitic statements in examined sources, it did confirm the use of antisemitism in local politics and the utilization of international antisemitic narratives as a tool for amplifying other political narratives. Limitations in legal and law enforcement frameworks and the accessibility of extremist literature could contribute to the rapid increase of antisemitism. Public engagement of local Jewish communities is essential for achieving policies protecting the rights of minorities and cultivating public debate.

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