Chocolate, identity, and extreme speech online

An analysis of linguistic means in online comments in Croatia and Serbia


  • Tatjana R. Felberg OsloMet–Oslo Metropolitan University
  • Ljiljana Šarić University of Oslo



In this article the phrase “extreme speech” is used to encompass both hate speech and impoliteness. Legislation against hate speech has been passed in many countries, while work on defining phenomena related to hate speech is still ongoing. As a rule, there is no legislation prohibiting impoliteness, and thus impoliteness is often perceived as a less serious verbal offence. There is, however, a grey zone between the two phenomena, which depends on contextual factors that must be constantly explored. In this article, we explore the gray zone between hate speech and impoliteness by looking at user-generated posts commenting on seemingly uncontroversial topics such as giving chocolate to children. The context we explore is the political relationship between Croatia and Serbia, two neighboring countries in the southwest Balkans with a history of recent military conflicts that ended in 1995. The relationship between these two countries can still be described as periodically troubled. The comments we analyze were posted on two online newspapers, the Croatian Jutarnji list and the Serbian Večernje novosti. Using impoliteness theory and Critical Discourse Analysis framework we identify and analyze various linguistic means that serve as extreme speech triggers, connect them to relevant contexts and highlight the grey zone that exist between hate speech and impoliteness. Our findings show that, in their discussions, the posters used a number of linguistic means for constructing national identities that at times resulted in extreme speech. The posters often targeted individual co-posters first and very quickly moved on to target ethnic groups, thus fluctuating between impoliteness and hate speech.


Alaburić, V. Sloboda izražavanja i govor mržnje: Gdje je granica? (2019, February 12). Medijska Retrieved from

Assimakopoulos, S., Baider, F. H., & Millar, S. (2017). Online hate speech in the European Union: A discourse analytic perspective. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.

Baron, R. A., & Richardson, D. R. (1994). Human aggression. New York: Plenum.

Benesch, S. (2014, February 11). Countering dangerous speech: New ideas for genocide prevention. Working paper, Dangerous Speech Project. Washington, DC: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Bieber, F. (2002). Nationalist mobilization and stories of Serb suffering: The Kosovo myth from 600th anniversary to the present. Rethinking History, 6(1), 95-110.

Briza, R. (2016, November 15). DOKLE? Još tri "Juvitanine" kašice s pesticidima! (UNTIL WHEN? Three more "Juvitana" portions of porridge with pesticides!) Alo Online.

Bugarski, R. (1995). Jezik od mira do rata. Belgrade: Slovograf.

Buss, A. H. (1961). The psychology of aggression. New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons.

Buyse, A. (2014). Words of violence: "Fear speech," or how violent conflict escalation relates to the freedom of expression. Human Rights Quarterly, 36(4), 779-797.

Culpeper, J. (2011). Impoliteness: Using language to cause offence. Studies in Interactional Sociolinguistics, vol. 28. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Culpeper, J. (2016). Impoliteness strategies. In A. Capone & J. L. Mey (Eds.), Interdisciplinary studies in pragmatics, culture and society (pp. 421-445). Heidelberg, Germany: Springer.

ECRI Secretariat (2018). ECRI report on Croatia: Fifth monitoring cycle. Strasbourg, France: Council of Europe. Retrieved from

European Commission. (2014). Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the Implementation of Council Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law. European Commission report. Retrieved from

European Commission. (2016a). Standard Eurobarometer: Immigration and terrorism continue to be seen as the most important issues facing the EU. European Commission press release. Retrieved from

European Commission. (2016b). Code of conduct on countering illegal hate speech online.

European Commission document. Retrieved from justice/fundamental-rights/files/hate_speech_code_of_conduct_en.pdf

European Parliament. (2017). Motion for a European Parliament resolution on establishing a common legal definition of hate speech in the EU. European Parliament document. Retrieved from

Gagliardone, I., Gal, D., Alves, T., & Martinez, G. (2015). Countering online hate speech.

UNESCO Series on Internet Freedom. Paris: UNESCO. Retrieved from

Hall, S. (1996). The question of cultural identity. In S. Hall (Ed.), Modernity: An introduction to modern societies (pp. 595-634). Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Hardaker, C. (2010). Trolling in asynchronous computer-mediated communication: From user discussions to academic definitions. Journal of Politeness Research, 6(2), 215- 242.

Hoff, L. A. (2014). Crisis: How to help yourself and others in distress or danger. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jackson, N. (Ed.) (2007). Encyclopedia of domestic violence. New York: Routledge.

Kamra, L., & P. Williams (2019). Strategies to tackle extreme speech on WhatsApp must bring together socio-political, digital worlds. political-digital-worlds

Kienpointner, M. (1997). Varieties of rudeness: Types and functions of impolite utterances. Functions of Language, 4(2), 251-287.

Klain, E. (1998). Intergenerational aspects of the conflict in former Yugoslavia. In Y. Danieli (Ed.), International handbook of multigenerational legacies of trauma (pp. 279-296). New York: Plenum.

Kolstø, P. (Ed.). 2009. Media discourse and the Yugoslav conflicts: Representations of self and other. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Kurspahić, K. (2003). Zločin u 19:30: Balkanski mediji u ratu i miru. Belgrade: Dan Graf, SEEMO.

Lani, Remzi (ed.) (2014). Hate speech in online media in South East Europe. Tirana: Albanian Media Institute. hate-speech-in-online-media/

Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights (YUCOM). (2018). Processing hate crimes and hate speech in Serbia's law and European standards. Retrieved from

Lorenzo-Dus, N., Blitvich, P. G-C., & Bou-Franch, P. (2011). On-line polylogues and impoliteness: The case of postings sent in response to the Obama Reggaeton YouTube video. Journal of Pragmatics, 43(10), 2578-2593.

Marković, T. (2014). Memorising battle musically: The Siege of Szigetvár (1566) as an identity signifier. LiTheS, 10, 5-17. Retrieved from

McGonagle, T. (2013). The Council of Europe against online hate speech: Conundrums and challenges. Council of Europe expert paper. Retrieved from

Mechanic, M. B., Weaver, T. L., & Resick, P. A. (2008). Mental health consequences of intimate partner abuse: A multidimensional assessment of four different forms of abuse. Violence Against Women, 14(6), 634-654.

Nicholson, C. (2018). From past politics to present myths: Moving on, looking back and staying still. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 53(1), 76-85.

Obradović, S. (2017). Who are we and where are we going: From past myths to present politics. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 53(1), 57-75.

Paludi, M. A., & Denmark, F. L. (2010). Victims of sexual assault and abuse: Resources and responses for individuals and families. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Pastor, J. F. (2007). Security law and methods. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Paterson, J., Feehan, M., Butler, S., Williams, M., & Cowley-Malcom, E. T. (2007). Intimate partner violence within a cohort of Pacific mothers living in New Zealand. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 22, 698-721.

Pentagon report: Serbia has intensified relations with Russia since 2012. (2019, November 28). European Western Balkans. Retrieved from

Pohjonen, M. (2017). Co-organising global digital media cultures and "extreme speech" workshop. Matti Pohjonen blog.

Roth, C. (2018). Why narratives of history matter-Serbian and Croatian political discourses on European integration. Baden-Baden, Germany: Nomos.

Santana, A. D. (2014). Virtuous or vitriolic: The effect of anonymity on civility in online newspaper reader comment boards. Journalism Practice, 8(1), 18-33.

Šarić, L. (2017). Impoliteness in online comments in Croatian and Serbian newspapers.

Panel: The new normal: (Im)politeness, conflict and identity in digital communication. Paper presented at the 15th International Pragmatics Conference, Belfast, Ireland, July 16-21, 2017.

Šarić, L., & Felberg, T. R. (2017). "Cyrillic does not kill": Symbols, identity, and memory in Croatian public discourse. Družboslovne razprave, 85, 51-72.

Šimleša, B. (2018, January 20). Razlika između slobode govora i govora mržnje kristalno je jasna. Ne smijemo okretati glavu. Ne više. Jutarnji list. Retrieved from

Stojković, M., & Pokuševski, D. (2018). Anonimna mržnja: Mehanizmi zaštite od govora mržnje na internetu. Belgrade: Beogradski centar za ljudska prava.

Sveningsson, M. (2004). Ethics in internet ethnography. In E. A. Buchanan (Ed.), Readings in virtual research ethics: Issues and controversies (pp. 45-61). Hershey, PA: Information Science Publishing.

Titley, G., Keen, E., & Földi, L. (2015). Starting points for combatting hate speech online.

Strasbourg, France: Council of Europe. Retrieved from

Todorova, M. (2004). Introduction. In M. Todorova (Ed.), Balkan identities. Nation and memory (pp. 1-24). London: Hurst.

Toma, I. (2019, February 10). Hrvatska je potala zemlja nasilja huligani napadaju sportaše, mladićima je postalo normalno išamarati djevojku, govor mržnje je sverprisutan.

Jutarnji list. Retrieved from normalno-isamarati-djevojku-govor-mrznje-je-sveprisutan-8362082

Tompson, M. (2000). Proizvodnja rata: mediji u Srbiji, Hrvatskoj i Bosni i Hercegovini. Belgrade: Medija centar.

Udupa, S., & Pohjonen, M. (2019). Extreme speech and global digital cultures introduction. International Journal of Communication, 13, 3049-3067.

Vehovec, T., Kišjuhas, A., & Vehovec, R. (2016). Govor mržnje i verbalne agresije na internetu. Centar za nove medije Liber. Retrieved from (2013) Addressing online hate speech in South East European media. UNESCO Communication and Information. Retrieved from

Wilmer, F. (2002). The social construction of man, the state, and war: Identity, conflict, and violence in the former Yugoslavia. New York: Routledge.

Wodak, R. (2015). Saying the unsayable: Denying the Holocaust in media debates in Austria and the UK. Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict, 3(1), 13-40.

Wodak, R., de Cillia, R., Reisigl, M., & Leibhart, K. (2009). The discursive construction of national identity. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Zubčevič, A. R., Bender, S., & Vojvodić, J. (2018). Media regulatory authorities and hate speech. 2nd ed. Strasbourg: Council of Europe Retrieved from




How to Cite

Felberg, T., & Šarić, L. (2021). Chocolate, identity, and extreme speech online: An analysis of linguistic means in online comments in Croatia and Serbia. FLEKS - Scandinavian Journal of Intercultural Theory and Practice, 7(1), 15–25.

Cited by