Report: Antisemitism used as tool in Balkan disputes

Although there is a “low presence of antisemitism” and only a few thousand Jews remaining in Western Balkan countries, the issue is being appropriated for use in ongoing regional political disputes, says a new report published by the International Republican Institute NGO on Thursday.

“In a region where tensions between ethnic groups are often exacerbated by nationalist politics, both antisemitic speech and the fight against antisemitism are used as tools in regional or international political battles. Moreover, this is often done in concert with a deliberate adjusting of the historical facts to political needs,” the report says.

“Purposeful misinterpretation or utilisation of historical events in populist narratives represents a threat to peaceful democratic transition in the region,” the International Republican Institute argues.

The report, entitled ‘Antisemitic Discourse in the Western Balkans’, covers Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, and is based on human rights reports, interviews with relevant stakeholders and monitoring of selected online media from January 2019 to May 2020.

“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,” it says.

“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 [wars],” it adds.

The report notes that Croatia is “still trying to cope with the problematic legacy of World War II”, when the Nazi-allied Independent State of Croatia, NDH, founded by the fascist Ustasa movement, “was responsible for the mass deportation and killing of Jews, Serbs and Roma, among others”.

“The [Croatian] government promotes historical memorialisation and Holocaust remembrance through various commemorative activities and educational curricula, while inadequately and ambiguously addressing controversial issues surrounding Ustasa symbols and historical revisionism,” the report adds.

Serbian political leaders stress good relations with the country’s tiny remaining Jewish population ad with Israel, but the issue is sometimes used to also identify Serbs as victims during World War II and in the 1990s wars.

“It is used in a bid to express the extent of Serbian suffering in history, especially during the NDH [Independent State of Croatia] period [in WWII],” the report says.

However, the involvement of Serbia’s WWII-era Nazi puppet government in “sending Jews to their deaths” is often ignored, it adds.

In Albania, the report concludes that “the most prominent [antisemitic] narratives were rhetoric and conspiracy theories regarding [US billionaire financier and philanthropist] George Soros’s role in influencing and even controlling political processes in Albania”.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, monitoring results showed that antisemitism was expressed as “hatred toward local Jews, and Jews in general, for the actions of Israel against Palestinians”.

“The amount and severity of these antisemitic instances and hate speech against Jews were worrying and actions should be taken to address them,” it urges.

In Kosovo, the reports notes that “antisemitism is limited to certain more radical religious elements”, while in North Macedonia, antisemitic sentiments are rare and is mainly expressed in comments on social media that “often contain well-known conspiratorial stereotypes” about Jews, the report says.

In Montenegro, antisemitism is also “not a substantial presence in society or the media”, it concludes.

The report states that there are now fewer than 5,000 Jews living in the seven countries that were analysed.

Source: Balkan insight