How internet memes got weaponized in Montenegro
On Sunday night people in Montenegro went out in the streets to celebrate the elections victory. The 30 years long rule of the Democratic Party of Socialists is about to end as soon as the new majority agrees on the positions in the executive branch. They announced the finalization of the negotiations in just three weeks but many believe they would need more time to agree on the key positions in the government.
The strongest group within the opposition is a right-wing political organization whose activists went out in the streets on Sunday and Monday to celebrate by waving Serbian flags, singing World War II Nazi collaborators songs, and attacking minorities, most notably in the northern town of Pljevlja.
The new majority leaders immediately reacted by accusing the Democratic Party of Socialists of organizing “provocateurs” who were “hired to incite the panic and fear among the ethnic minorities”. In reality, the violence was a result of a months-long campaign that was targeting and presenting ethnic minorities in Montenegro as the “regime collaborators”.
The biggest part of this campaign was happening on social networks where anonymous troll pages created content that was accusing Albanians of the coronavirus spread, because they were “dirty people without the hygiene habits”, that Muslims are “breeding like animals” and that they will “overtake the country by their growing population”.
These pages became so popular they were endorsed and promoted by the church, and also by Serbian celebrities like the famous nationalist rap group “Belgrade Syndicate”. Some of the admins of those pages even became co-hosts of the popular opposition podcast created by a pro-Russian activist Stefan Đukić.
Mainstream media praised them. Vijesti, the most read newspaper in Montenegro called them one of the most important allies of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro. The opposition weekly “Monitor” reacted when some of the admins were arrested for inducing panic, protesting the arrests of the “satirical Facebook pages” praising them for their “brutal wit used to fight the corrupted government”.
What they avoided to mention is that those pages used well-known right-wing meme patterns. They were also using the alt-right logic and tactics to downplay racism and ethnic hatred in Montenegro and abroad. They used many known memes that were flagged as racist by the Anti-Defamation League, such as the anti-semitic “Happy Merchant” for example, to depict the “evil regime in Montenegro”.
When one of them was arrested for inducing panic, upon his entrance to Montenegro from Serbia, it was discovered he was a Serbian public servant. Immediately, all the opposition parties demanded his immediate release criticizing the government for the suppression of free speech.
Even though there were many reports by the NGOs about the threat of the hate speech used by these pages, there were still many civic activists who were openly supporting and endorsing their work.
After the violence on the streets took place, the most popular troll page, defended the genocide “that is about to happen”, and they even called for it if “those Muslims continue pushing their, Serbian patience”. The same page mocked the Srebrenica genocide numerous times, and it was never criticized by the opposition politicians, media, and activists. Instead, what they did is they praised, endorsed, and defended them.
Them most disappointing thing that happened is that this page was embraced even by the pro-European URA, a member of the European Greens, who even adopted and promoted the unofficial slogan of the opposition created by this page.