Watch your tongue


Human rights organizations are sounding the alarm over more frequent attacks on foreign nationals. Statistics show that for people with a non-Slavonic appearance it is becoming more dangerous to walk about the streets of the capital. For example, just in January this year there were three racially-motivated attacks, including the murder of an 18-year-old refugee from the Congo on 28 January, as well as an attack by two students on a person from Cote d’Ivoire and an attack on US national and basketball player for the “Kyiv” team Marcus Feison.

Of course, we can shut ourselves off in our own space and talk simply of radical neo-Nazi groups. It’s always easier to blame others and not see how we ourselves are implicated. Yet one of the reasons for such intolerant behaviour is journalist practice which promotes and helps entrench stereotypes about other ethnic groups.

Studies over recent years have given an understanding of the cognitive processes involved in forming stereotypes and the ways in which they develop. These include the tendency humans have to divide the world into them and us, attribute positive features to “us”, exaggerate the negative features of “others” and pin the same labels on all representatives of a racial or ethnic group.

This state of affairs is reflected in the mass media. Linguistic manifestations of ethnic or religious intolerance are often called hate speech. 

The author speaks of three forms of hate speech:

1.  Extreme, involving veiled or overt calls to violence, discrimination (both with relation to a specific situation or general), calls to prevent allowing migrants in a region (for example, protests against the building of a mosque in an “Orthodox” city).

2,  Medium-level, including attempts to excuse historical cases of violence or discrimination (like “The Turks murdered Armenians in 1915 for motives of self-defence”), making statements about historical facts involving crimes by a particular ethnic or religious group as though demonstrating the criminality of the group as a whole, or publications which question historical cases of violence of discrimination (for example the scale of the Holocaust)., denial of citizenship (identification of Russians as foreigners because of their ethnic group).

3.  Mild forms include creating a negative image of an ethnic group, claims of their inferiority (assumptions that “Azerbaijanis only work at markets”), moral failings, and derogatory ways of speaking about a particular group (including criminal chronicles), quoting xenophobic statements or texts without commentary to distinguish the position of the journalist from that of the person making the remarks.

The author points out that Ukrainian journalists do not balk at any of these forms.

Extreme hate speak

a) The author cites an example of a call to violence which did not in fact take place.  The remarks in question were so offensive about Jews and Russians that they are better not repeated, since investigations by the Zaporizhya prosecutor’s office and the SBU [Security Service] confirmed the statement made by Vasyl Tymchyna, the alleged culprit that he had not said anything of the kind. UNIAN was one of the media outlets which correctly reported the story, and later published our article in Ukrainian, however the URLs here will show quite clearly how many media outlets for their own reasons, presumably, have been willing to repeat the scurrilous lies first reported by MIGnews

b) Indirect, veiled calls to violence. On 11 February 2008 the journal Glavred, in material on the problem of growing xenophobia in Ukraine and the skinhead movement, says about skinheads that “their interests and their fate must nonetheless mean something for the country. even if their views do not coincide with the official point of view. Is the State prepared to ban their values (sic! – the author),albeit chimerical and often in youthful fashion hyperbolic and radical?”

c) Calls to discrimination: The quote from on 02.03.08 reports a member of the authorities saying that they’re often asked why they don’t detain the black people who loll about the area in crowds, but how can they if they have an official “paper” confirming their legal stay in the country.

Medium forms of hate speech

a) statements linking criminal behaviour to a particular ethnic group. A number of such statements, including those made by senior police officers, involve people from the Caucuses.

b) accusations against a group of trying to seize power or territorial expansion.

The author gives examples which may in fact simply be a statement of fact, for example, that border guards stopped so many people from Moldova or Chechnya.  The need sometimes to mention ethnic origin can, however be questioned.  .

Mild forms of hate speech

a) Reference to representatives of an ethnic group in a belittling or offensive context. A good example of this is the tendency journalists have (often, unthinkingly, just repeating police reports) to mention a person’s ethnic background if they are not Ukrainian, or sometimes Slavs. The author cites a number of examples where the suspect or perpetrator is identified as Georgian, Moldovan, “Gypsy”, while in cases where the person was a Slavonic Ukrainian, nothing at all is said.

b) suggestions of moral failings of certain ethnic groups.

c) the creation of negative images of ethnic groups which are not linked with the specific methods above, but rather presented by the tone of the text.  An example is given of a news items on the television channel Inter about conflict in Bakhchysarai between businesspeople and Crimean Tatars which led to a brawl.  It would be difficult to explain all the nuances in the given transcript, however even the fact that after talking about those hospitalized, the question is whether all those injured are Slavs makes the general position clear (in marked contrast to the actual events.)

The author stresses that the stereotypes and ways of presenting things in the media present a double risk since they are extremely difficult to eradicate from the mass consciousness. Any discourse using their elements generates aggression. This is destructive for society as a whole, as well as for journalism as a profession since the latter’s main function of providing information turns into a retransmission of inter-ethnic hatred.

The above is rather a report of the article by Tetyana Pechonchyk, than a translation.  This is to avoid serious overlap with material we have covered, as well as to not become bogged down in examples which are not especially accessible for an audience beyond Ukraine. 

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