June 8, 2020

Helsinki Committee: the health crisis must not turn into interethnic issue

The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights with great concern notes that the crisis caused by the emergence of the coronavirus, these days is intensively passing into the sphere of interethnic relations. In the first weeks of the state of emergency, discriminatory statements were made against those infected with COVID-19, through requests to publish personal data, violations of patients’ rights and similar forms of stigmatization. Tensions caused by restrictive measures gradually shifted to the realm of nationalism largely due to the fact that we are in a pre-election period. Unfortunately, all calls for solidarity and understanding in the face of the disaster that is affecting all citizens, become meaningless when the health crisis and the economic crisis are joined by the crisis in interethnic relations.

Many factors have contributed to this situation: the silence of institutions before the arbitrariness of religious authorities who acted contrary to all recommendations for the protection of public health, the functioning of the state with a technical government, selective media information and massive presence of misinformation, but also incitement of hate speech on ethnic grounds by public figures.

In this regard, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights today filed a denunciation against academic Katica Kulafkova for her statement on social networks, which incites intolerance among ethnic communities. Her tweet, ‘We are paying the price of coexistence with our lives’ implies that the reason for the spread of the virus is interethnic relations, and not the largely disregard of the public health measures. Given the fact that in our country hate speech is dominantly on ethnic grounds, the spread and incitement of such language has a special weight because it leads to hate crimes. It is especially dangerous when such language is used by intellectuals, politicians, journalists and other people with great social influence.

Although practice shows that the prosecution and the court almost never process cases of hate speech, we consider it necessary to condemn the actions of all public figures who influence the deepening of divisions and incitement to hatred. At the same time, we call on all citizens and other actors in society to show higher awareness and responsibility and not allow the escalation of these extremely negative phenomena.