Controversial Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic has made disparaging remarks towards Albanians in Kosovo at a press conference, which the Kosovo Foreign Minister Behgjet Pacolli has called “racist”.
Speaking to reporters in Belgrade, as EU Ambassador to Serbia Sem Fabrizi looked on unfazed, Brnabic said: "My fear is that we have to deal with the worst type of populists, with people who literally came out of the woods," in reference to the representatives of Kosovo.
Kosovo President Hashim Thaci called out the language in the face of EU silence saying: "The racist language used by the prime minister of Serbia, a country which committed genocide and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, is further evidence of the pathological hatred of the current Serbian regime toward the citizens of Kosovo."
Online social media users, however, sought to make light of the situation and the dehumanising tropes that have often emanated from Serbia against Albanians.
One Albanian academic used the opportunity to speak about the wild garlic available in the beautiful forests of Kosovo.
Soon after, the hashtag “#LiterallyJustEmergedFromTheWoods” and “#PeopleFromtheWoodsstarted” started trending on Twitter as more Albanians with humour sought to mock the Serbian prime minister.
Brnabic is a close ally of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic who was the former minister of information during Slobodan Milosevic's government's ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Kosovo.
Using the illustration from the famous book Where the Wild Things Are, which is best known for teaching children to adapt and master their emotions, this Twitter user describes the almost comical caricature that the Serbian government has built with regard to Albanians.
Others posted pictures of themselves running through one of Kosovo’s beautiful meadows while others with humour brought babies out from the forest.
Other Albanians were more serious with their criticism. While Brnabic’s comments may have inspired some humour, the underlying discriminatory rhetoric is a dangerous escalation given that in the very recent past Serbia sought to ethnically cleanse Bosnians and Albanians for their faith and ethnicity.
Others, like Journalist Gjeraqina Tuhina, expressed their dismay at the reactions many like her receive from their Serb counterparts who assume that being Albanian and educated is a contradiction in terms.
“But you don't look like an Albanian," is an oft used expression that reinforces racism.
On May 3, the Serbian Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin used a derogatory term to refer to Albanians. While for Albanians use the “Shqiptar” to refer to Albanians, Serbs use a tweaked version, “Shiptar” as a racial pejorative against Albanians.
Anti-Albanian rhetoric, far from being isolated in the Serbian political arena, is also pervasive in the media. The anti-Albanian language in the Serb media regularly flares up when tensions increase and have been described as “an explosion of hate.”
The recent war of words between the two neighbours escalated when Kosovan authorities carried out several raids to combat organised criminal networks in the north of Kosovo, an area that contains Serbs.
Serbia’s reaction has been to put its military on full alert, viewing Kosovo’s actions as provocative. Kosovo broke away from Serbia in 1999 after a short NATO intervention to halt Serbian ethnic cleansing of Albanians. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, a move Serbia does not recognise, but 113 other countries do.
In the meantime, social media users will continue to make light the issue.