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“Why the movement against hate speech matters to me and what I plan to do about it…”

Our weapon is to spread love speech, encourage argumentation during debates, look at the stories rather than the statistics, be human, be vulnerable and be an example.

Eleonora Zbanke
29 January 2016
wfd

If you ask me who am I, you can get multiple answers. It all depends on which side of my story you take. It depends on what I tell you and what I decide to withhold. 

I’m a 29 year old independent film maker, I speak five languages, and I currently live in France. Nothing much to hate. On the contrary, I bet a lot of people would even love to have such a description.

Now you have this image of me: a young woman with an interesting life — scripts, shoots, actors, and international relations.

But what if I gave you another description instead.

I was born in the poorest country in Europe, I’m black, I’m a lesbian and I’m currently unemployed. You created another image very different from the first one.

Which one is the right one?

We create the pictures in our heads based on information we have, our background, and our educational level. We very often jump to conclusions and make judgments. With the Internet, we can access people all around the world and we have more information, but we take less time to understand it or to know the stories behind the avatars.

With new technology and social media, we feel in control. We can add friends if we wish, we can delete them if we wish. We can leave comments and ‘like’ images. It’s easy. We have no one in front of us, just an LCD-screen.

Train arrival.jpeg

A train I used to take at Moldava,Drochia station. Author’s pic.

When I was a child, there was no Internet. I was bullied offline. Growing up in a 100% white country, I was the only “black”, “monkey”, “nigger”. I struggled with this hostility for years and it seemed to get worse than ever, but then at the age of ten we moved to Russia. I didn’t speak a word of Russian at the time, so now I was a “dumb monkey”, lonely and starving for acceptance and love. I wanted to be seen as a personality, as someone who had a lot of abilities and just the language barrier stopped my being on an equal basis with others. But people around me couldn’t care less. I had no friends but with time I got used to it and even thought it normal to be invisible if you are different.

During my adolescence, I discovered my sexual orientation and that led me to a hard break up with my parents, and another round of hate. I wanted to die. I had no friends, no family, no support. At the same time, I had no Internet so no extra-haters: but I hated myself quite enough…

***

Now we are all connected in good and bad ways. We have access to people’s lives in one click. But do we have enough responsibility for the words we say, the judgments we make? We have freedom of speech, but some people confuse freedom of expression with insult.

We are much more than a photo on Instagram, a misspelled word on Facebook, or a political point of view. Each of us has a real personality and our own story to tell. We want to be heard, not judged.

The movement against hate speech is important to me because I know how words can hurt, upset, detract, and poison a life. I want to be on the side of those who can’t stand up for themselves, because I was once in the same position.

On December 25, 2015, an 18-year-old Russian boy who suffered a major public backlash after criticizing Russia's policies in Ukraine, committed suicide. Vlad Kolesnikov had fallen victim to both online and offline harassment campaigns for his outspoken political views.

This kind of story is sad and unfortunately very common in countries with authoritarian regimes. Countries where public opinion is manipulated and totally controlled by media. If you have different points of view, you cross this invisible line and became an “enemy” , so society feels the moral right to humiliate you. 

These are other types of hate speeches. Their objectives are to hurt and insult people that have different political or social views. In such cases, we are talking about well-planned campaigns. People who do this know exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it and very often they are paid for this “job”. They are an invisible army of haters as well as trained hunting dogs that serve local authorities. When the Internet appeared, we did not see this coming. After the tragic death of this young man, I was thinking, am I responsible for this? We all knew he was bullied, but we see so much bullying online that we are almost used to it.

***

We can all be hated in one way or another, so it’s important to do something against hate speeches.

Over time, I realized that we can’t beat hate with hate; we should beat hate with love. There is no other way. Hate is fuelled by ignorance, lack of information, and an inability to listen. So our weapon is to spread love speech, encourage argumentation during debates, look at the stories rather than the statistics, be human, be vulnerable and be an example.

As a filmmaker, I found my way to tell stories, give voice to people that we can’t hear in the cacophony of information. I find characters that have a strong,  important story, that bring diversity to our world. I give them a platform. This year I’m planning on working with NGOs around the world, developing strategies of storytelling and producing various pieces of video content that will help raise awareness about what amounts to democratic issues. Through art, I hope to contribute to the education of a new generation of thinkers. People who will take time to listen before pressing the ‘Enter’ button. I will share my story, even if it is hard to do so. The only way to learn tolerance is to see examples. 

You can do the same. Tell your story, make yourself visible, support people who struggle with haters. Every word matters.

There is an acute and growing tension between the concern for safety and the protection of our freedoms. How do we handle this? Read more from the World Forum for Democracy partnership.

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