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The normalization of speech that celebrates both war crimes and their perpetrators is reaching alarming proportions. This was the unanimous consensus among participants in a recent panel on the negative consequences of genocide denial and the glorification of war criminals, which was part of the Internet Governance Forum.
The revisionist narratives surrounding the violence committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) did not originate with the widespread availability of the internet. As Tarik Moćević from the Sarajevo Mediacenter pointed out, the denial of these atrocities began immediately after they were committed.
Describing the conclusions of a recent report on genocide denial on the TikTok social network, Moćević stated that “the narrative of denial has become part of popular culture and a trend among young people. They spread hate speech, deny genocide, and glorify war crimes, with triumphalism.” He added that figures like Ratko Mladić are being romanticized and portrayed as victims in a manner that appeals to young audiences.
During his presentation, Moćević underscored the real-world consequences of TikTok videos in which genocide is denied and the perpetrators of atrocities are celebrated.
Edin Ikanović, a representative of the Srebrenica Memorial Center and an author of the report, expressed his lack of surprise that such content isn’t being reported in BiH, given that, more than a year since the criminalization of denial, there has yet to be a single indictment in the country for this offense. For him, the fact that elected officials are among those denying the genocide is most troubling.
Ikanović emphasized the impact that online denial has on the returnee community in eastern BiH, stating, “There’s definitely fear and panic because everyone interprets each message sent to the returnees differently, and we are also seeing frequent physical attacks. When organizations make posts supporting war criminals and publish congratulatory messages, it’s impossible for a returnee in Bratunac to remain indifferent. On online platforms, we have brutal threats, terrible hate speech, which we can detect.”
The holdup in the prosecution of genocide denial results from a mixture of political and judicial influences, according to Hikmet Karčić, a research associate at Sarajevo University’s Institute for Research on Crimes Against Humanity and International Law.
Karčić doesn’t believe that this is a matter of incompetence on the part of the staff at the state Prosecutor’s Office. Instead, he suggests that they avoid dealing with denial-related charges because it isn’t worth the potential threat to their careers.
“A number of prosecutors at our Prosecutor’s Office respond primarily to pressure. I think that’s the key issue – a mixture of politics and prosecutorial inaction. Unfortunately, this topic has become normalized in our area. Today, there is a polarization of society, where denial is normalized because you have 50 reports filed against Milorad Dodik and not a single indictment,” said Karčić. He adds that in Republika Srpska, denial has become “mainstream.”
According to legal advisor and researcher Lejla Gačanica, denial and glorification of genocide and war crimes can be proved, but there is a lack of commitment to pursuing criminal charges. She clarified, “The norm itself makes clear that not every denial is a criminal offense, but these actions can incite violence and hatred. And that shouldn’t be difficult to prove at all.”
Gačanica pointed out that there are similar regulations in other European countries, arguing that the issue has become political rather than legal. She added that while denial was present before its classification as a criminal offense, the situation has become worse because now the law and positive norms exist, but state institutions fail to implement them.
Bojana Kostić, a researcher and advocate specializing in human rights and technology at Pen to Paper, highlighted the lack of knowledge about the strategic priorities for cooperation with social network companies. She pointed out that recent research revealed that social networks are more inclined to remove content reported by trusted organizations rather than ordinary citizens.
“The topic of denial and glorification should be a top priority for all those who are dealing with it. By consolidating cases, we can affect movement and believe in our ability to do so. We need to move away from a merely observational position,” stated Kostić.
She stressed that supervising a child’s online activities is crucial, not just the amount of time they spend on the internet. It is essential to monitor what children are exposed to online and approach the subject without frightening them.
The participants agreed that combating genocide denial requires a multi-faceted approach, emphasizing the necessity of educating citizens and rebuilding trust in the functioning of the judiciary and institutions.
While acknowledging a decrease in instances of denial due to the amendments to the Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the participants argued that convictions would have reduced these instances to a minimum or diminished their presence in public discourse. Additionally, they emphasized the need to regulate the digital media space and enact media-related laws to enhance the accountability of editors and journalists.
The panel’s conclusions will be presented at the upcoming Internet Governance Forum in Kyoto.
The organizing committee of the 2023 Forum in Sarajevo includes the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network of BiH, the Cyber Security Excellence Center, BHNIX.ba, the Center for the Education of Judges and Prosecutors of the Federation, the Faculty of Political Sciences in Sarajevo, and Logosoft. This event is supported by the Internet Society Foundation, the British Embassy in BiH, and the Hanns Seidel Foundation in Sarajevo.