Wisdom: The True Weapon Against Hate Speech
June 15, 2023
In Albania, whispers of wisdom echo through the ages. "Words hurt as a hammer," they say, capturing the profound truth that language holds. Within this simple saying, lies a recognition of the immense power wielded by words, capable of chiseling away at our hearts.
Whether through hurtful words, reactions, or body language, the impact of hate speech is massive. It is deeply personal and far-reaching, touching the lives of countless individuals, including my own.
Hate speech has the power to dampen aspirations and erode the foundations of our dreams. As you read this piece, I am certain that you, too have felt its weight and witnessed its cruel force at least once, like Nadja has.
Nadja, a gifted artist, faces the challenges of living with stunting, which often leads people to underestimate her abilities. Introduced to her by a neighbor, I wanted to see Nadja's artwork firsthand. Stepping into her painting workshop, I was immediately captivated by the vibrant colors that brought nature's beauty to life. Nadja's canvases seemed to invite the viewer to touch the exquisite scenes she had crafted with her brush.
During our conversation, Nadja shared her challenges in establishing the workshop, particularly the financial obstacles she had to overcome. However, she emphasized that the most difficult thing to handle was the attitude of those around her. Even her neighbors who resided in the same apartment block, failed to perceive her endeavor seriously and never set foot inside her workshop. However, once people saw her artwork, they were entranced by its profound beauty, continually returning to appreciate her remarkable talent.
“In a world where words hold such power, hate speech can inflict deep wounds on one's soul. It reaches beyond the surface, seeping into the very core of who we are. It breeds anxiety, depression, and steals away our self-confidence. But I choose to rise, to defy the limitations imposed by hateful words, and let my art speak louder than their whispers” - Nadja told me.
Nadja's story left a lasting impact on me, underscoring the destructive power of hate speech. The journey to combatting this issue requires efforts coupled with strong commitment to changing attitudes.
I made a promise to Nadja to help her exhibit her paintings, connecting her with exhibition owners who could provide the platform she deserved. And I never stop telling people about Nadia’s talent and workshop.
But Nadja's story is just one among many. As UNDP brought together a group of talented artists with disabilities to perform a renowned Albanian song last year, they graciously shared their personal stories with me. These narratives shed light on the profound challenges they face living with disabilities, including the unfortunate lack of confidence bestowed upon them by others and the frequent experiences of bullying. I was deeply moved as I listened to their accounts of encountering hate speech.
Hate speech continues to dominate in Albania, as indicated by a study involving over 1,800 respondents prepared by Anti-discrimination commissioner and Council of Europe.
The study showed that 60 percent of participants believed hate speech to be widespread in the country, with an even higher percentage among marginalized groups. The research identified political debates as the main source of hate speech, fueled by motives such as poverty, social status, political opinion, and physical appearance. Women considered physical appearance as a significant trigger, while men pointed to political opinion. The study also revealed that hate speech manifests in various forms, including reputation tarnishing, incitement of hatred, ethnic slurs, and insults, with social media, schools, universities, and workplaces being common platforms for its dissemination. Approximately 70 percent of respondents perceived hate speech targeting ethnic minorities as prevalent.
To address this alarming issue, a regional United Nations project named 'Youth 4 Inclusion, Equality & Trust' supported by the UN Secretary-General's Peacebuilding Fund came to life. Implemented as a collaboration of UNDP, UNFPA, UNESCO and UN Women, the project aims to empower young people in the Western Balkans, including Albania. Through constructive narratives, intercultural dialogue, and increased understanding and trust, the project seeks to create a more inclusive and equal society.
In Albania, the project led by UNDP and implemented in partnership with UNFPA aims to enhance the role of young people in promoting respect for diversity and countering hate speech. By amplifying fact-based storytelling and combatting fake news and conspiracy theories, the project aims to foster social cohesion and address toxic masculinities and gender inequality. It recognizes the power of youth in shaping public discourse and leveraging their potential to build bridges across communities. By leveraging existing capacities, diverse partnerships and mechanisms, the project strives to reach marginalized youth, providing them with the tools and support needed to drive positive change.
How have we taken action to address this issue?
A total of 315 young individuals acquired valuable knowledge and skills aimed at combating hate speech, discrimination, and bullying. Two innovation boot camps provided a platform for around 100 young minds to showcase and compete with their project ideas dedicated to countering the scourge of hate speech. Among the participants, 25 talented individuals were selected to receive group mentorship and financial support, enabling them to bring their visionary small-scale projects to life. These projects encompassed the creation of animated videos, podcasts, and electronic platforms, all aimed at promoting youth engagement in democracy and the voting process. The animated videos, crafted with passion, found their way across various social media platforms, while the inclusion of social experiments and thought-provoking graffiti further enriched these inspiring youth-led initiatives.
Through a partnership with Special Olympics Albania, the transformative impact of sports will be utilized to promote messages of tolerance and inclusivity. This initiative will reach its pinnacle with a national basketball tournament that will involve around 80 young participants, both with and without disabilities. Additionally, Albania's hosting of a regional tournament presents a unique opportunity for youth from the Western Balkans region to foster mutual understanding, dismantle barriers, and challenge prejudices perpetuated by familial narratives, media, politicians, and other sources. This endeavor aims to counteract divisions among diverse ethnicities within the region.
A partnership with the Faculty of Journalism has been established to analyze media content, challenge stereotypes, and provide students and young journalists with the necessary tools to promote constructive narratives and avoid perpetuating harmful stereotypes.
Furthermore, a recently launched awareness and behavior change campaign seeks to address hate speech and shed light on its detrimental impact on individuals' lives. Over a span of 12 months, the campaign will focus on various aspects of hate speech, fostering empathy and understanding.
Nadja's story serves as a poignant reminder of the profound impact of hurtful words. Now is the time for us to come together and wage a battle against hate speech.
The journey towards an inclusive society starts with us. Today!