State needs to end hate speech and calls for violence in education system

Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) is shocked by outbursts of hatred and open calls for violence towards LGBT people and other minority groups which were posted in the last few days on the Facebook profile of a high school teacher from Novi Sad, as was reported by some media.

The teacher, Jelena Popović-Ivanović, among other things stated that people should stay away from, ignore and neglect LGBT people, and then also that LGBT people should “be silenced in any way, because of their propaganda of disease”, as well as that the best way to “teach a lesson” to people is “to punch them in the nose“, adding that the members of the LGBT population themselves cause the violence which they are subjected to. Her students approved of all these things in their comments, giving her their support.

GSA is convinced that the said teacher is unequivocally aware of the weight and influence of her words on her students, considering that she wrote in one of her latest comments: “don’t anybody criticize me just because I’m a teacher”. In addition to the hate speech and open calls for violence against LGBT people, teacher Jelena Popović-Ivanović expressed bigotry against national minorities, as well.

Such deliberate incitement of hatred towards different minority groups in our society is one of the many dangerous testimonials of the current state of education system of the Republic of Serbia, which does not recognise the importance of systemic, decisive and long-term approach to educating teachers.

Even though the education system is one of the pillars of every society, the education authorities are still not showing enough will to end peer violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation in schools. There are quite a few textbooks which present homophobic attitudes, while a lot of teachers reproduce such attitudes in communication with their students – which is something GSA has collected plenty of data on, from various elementary and high schools, as well as universities, in Serbia. These were the reasons why the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality gave her recommendations several months ago to remove statements and citations from textbooks which encourage intolerance towards various minority and endangered groups in our society, as well as to work on a systemic approach to educating teachers.

Regarding this case of hate speech and open calls for violence by teacher Popović-Ivanović, Sandra Čaušević, a member of the Advisory Board of Gay Straight Alliance and a teacher, had the following reaction:

„Primarily as a human being and then also as a teacher I must severely condemn the actions of teacher Jelena Popović-Ivanović. No teacher, who should first and foremost be a pedagogue, can allow themselves to spread bigotry and openly call for violence, regardless of their personal opinions. If a teacher can spread hate speech publicly like this, through a social network, it begs the question what such a teacher could be telling her students in a class that is not so public. As a consequence of this, we have an increasing number of very young violent people who, probably encouraged by the attitudes of those adults which should be their role models (parents, teachers…), literally leave their school desks to commit violence on the streets, without really being aware of why they are doing this but actually only reflecting the opinions and the behaviour which they are exposed to. Our job as teachers is to prevent such behaviour of young people on time, to educate them and teach them tolerance towards everyone who thinks differently, and not to incite them to violence. For, if we, as the representatives of an educational institution, fail to do this, I do not know who will. Maybe this task presents too great a challenge for certain teachers, but, then again, not everyone is cut out for this calling. I believe that all teachers should react and condemn such behaviour on the part of a teacher, and I also expect a reaction from the Ministry of Education.”

GSA appeals to all relevant state authorities to urgently and without delay begin combating hate speech, spreading hatred and calls for violence, against various minority social groups, within the education system. Unless in the next few days the public prosecutor reacts to the afore-mentioned hate speech and open calls for violence, the Legal Service of GSA is going to file a criminal law suit against teacher Jelena Popović-Ivanović for breaking the Law on the prohibition of discrimination.

GSA Info Center