Disclaimer: This blog post solely reflects the opinion of the authors and should not be taken to represent the general views of IPPR’s management/ editorial team or those of fellow authors.
In mid-January, Serbian actress Milena Radulović began what has arguably become the first #MeToo movement in the Balkan region. In an interview with tabloid Blic, Radulović revealed that she had been raped at 17 by the highly respected Serbian acting coach Miroslav Aleksić.
Several actresses came forward after Radulović’s revelation. Iva Ilinčić, one of an estimated 3000 students to have passed through Aleksić’s acting school during its 35 years of operation, claims Aleksić sexually harassed her for years on end.
But the revelations of sexual harassment and rape did not stop with this group of women. Spanning not only Serbia but the Ex-Yugoslav region as a whole, women started coming forth on Twitter and other social media platforms such as Facebook with posts including the hashtags #NisiSama (You are not alone) and #NisamTražila (I didn’t ask for it).
The role of social media in facilitating the #NisiSama movement cannot be understated. While social media undeniably poses a myriad of societal risks which must be addressed with appropriate policies, it has, nonetheless and in this case at least, served as a positive platform for three reasons. Firstly, through social media, women have supported each other in coming forth with stories of trauma. Secondly, social media allows for grassroots movements that support women against sexual violence and Gender-Based Violence (GBV). Finally, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have allowed women to join hands across borders in speaking out about sexual assault and GBV. This final point is potentially the most important: while it is useful for a movement such as #NisiSama to occur in any country, the effect is multiplied when the issue, which knows no borders, crosses seemingly impermeable divides as it does through social media.
Through social media, women revealed, some for the first time, the sexual violence they have experienced. Others pointed to the lack of economic and political power that silenced women against wealthy and powerfully-connected offenders such as Aleksić. Women also mentioned the other types of violence levelled against women in the region (indeed globally) every day: everything from street harassment to domestic violence.
The movement took to Facebook too, where a group entitled Nisam Tražila now has nearly 38,000 likes, providing a platform for people to talk about their personal experiences and express support to survivors of GBV. On Instagram, Radulović’s original post, showing her interview with Blic, has gained over 114,000 likes.
Such a democratic force is needed worldwide. Indeed, the precedent of the #MeToo movement in North America and Western Europe has doubtlessly set a social media trend where women know they are not alone in recounting their experiences to the online community.
The need for such movements is deeply felt in regions such as Ex-Yugoslavia, where the most popular media outlets do not focus on women or issues particular to their life experiences. For the most part, when women are mentioned in the most-read daily newspapers such as Blic, Kurir, Večernje Novosti, Dnevni Avaz and more, they are portrayed in relation to the entertainment sector, children or housekeeping, and as sexual objects (Isanović, 2006).
Thus, in a culture where women are given public attention more so as mothers, house-keepers, and entertainers, the mainstream media in the region cannot be relied upon to properly showcase nor give justice to issues, such as sexual harassment and rape, which affect the economic, political and social trajectories of half the Ex-Yugoslav population. And this is true regarding its coverage of the #NisiSama movement, which has recently started to lose the attention of the mainstream media’s eye as those daily newspapers re-focus on more frequented themes such as organised crime and war traumas, areas in which male figures happen to dominate. Moreover, although Aleksić currently faces charges of rape and illegal sexual acts, which could mean spending up to 15 years in prison, the survivors of his violence now have to face the gruelling and demeaning court processes in their efforts to bring him to justice. Survivors will have to recount in detail the violence they experienced as children. It is doubtful that the mainstream media will provide dignified and respectful coverage of the proceedings; it is more likely that they will report on the proceedings when they can provide a sensationalist approach to them.
This means that the women’s stories will not initiate public debate through the mainstream media. They will only be used to shock the public, without forcing them to question the underlying issues at hand.
Finally, in a region where war-time divides are still present, and ethnicity, language, religion and/ or nationality are all exploited to distinguish the Self from the Other, women supporting each other on common issues through social media can overcome these differences. Indeed, on the platforms themselves, women from the Ex-Yu countries have bonded on the many things they do have in common, initiating a domino effect of empowerment that has grown to be larger and more robust than one person in one country.
Social media acts as an essential conduit for exchange, and if used correctly, should continue to keep the conversations, which Radulović and others have launched, current and fruitful.
Bamburać, Nirman Moranjak, Tarik Jusić, and Adla Isanović. 2006. “Media Discourse as a Male Domain: Gender Representation in the Daily Newspapers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia.” In Stereotyping: Representation of Women in Print Media in South East Europe, Sarajevo: Mediacentar.
Gec, Jovana. 2021. “Serbian Rape Charges Spur Cross-Region #MeToo-like Response.” CP24. https://www.cp24.com/world/serbian-rape-charges-spur-cross-region-metoo-like-response-1.5297177?cache=qvgncofycg%3FclipId%3D64268 (February 20, 2021).
Savic, Dragana, and Natasa Djulic Banovic. 2021. “#MeToo Hits Serbia as Drama Teacher Is Arrested over Rape Allegations.” euronews. https://www.euronews.com/2021/01/21/metoo-hits-serbia-as-teacher-at-acting-school-is-arrested-over-student-rape-allegations (February 20, 2021).
“The Balkans Face Their #MeToo Moment | DW | 07.02.2021.” DW.COM. https://www.dw.com/en/the-balkans-face-their-metoo-moment/a-56469884 (February 20, 2021).
by Dolores Cviticanin
Dolores Cviticanin completed her Bachelor degrees at Sciences Po and UBC before finishing her MSc in International Public Policy at UCL in September 2020. She has written for the United Nations Association of Canada and e-International Relations before. She is currently the Project Coordinator at the Canadian Network for International Surgery. She is passionate about feminism, health and public policy.