Experts say the roots of such abuse can be found, in part, in the largely conservative, patriarchal nature of Montenegrin society and the lack of gender equality.
Uljarevic, who has faced similar abuse, also cited the prominent role played by the church and what she called “pop religiosity” in Montenegro that seeks to confine women to certain gender roles.
“We had dirty campaigns against civil society activists under previous governments and the radicalisation and extremism of society creates a climate in which it is ‘normal’ to insult a woman when you don’t like what she stands for in public,” Uljarevic told BIRN.
A Twitter user making misogynist comments in Draginja Vuksanovic-Stankovic’s regard. Screenshot: Twitter.com
Then there is the emergence of social media, a major political battleground in Montenegro.
“Social networks have contributed in particular to the low level of spoken public culture in which women are exposed to brutal insults and attempts at humiliation,” said Uljarevic.
“Such examples create a climate of intimidation, fear and insecurity and tend to legitimise violence against women, which is unacceptable in a democratic society.”
“These are also forms of violence against women that are happening before our eyes and with the goal of collectively discouraging women from getting involved in the sphere of political decision-making.”
“The consequence is that we have to fight again and again for certain basic human rights, especially for the rights of women.”
Sociologist Andrija Djukanovic said women’s engagement in politics was always viewed negatively in Montenegro, where, he said, many believe that “politics is for ‘people’, not for women.” But it is getting worse, he told BIRN.
“Let’s just look at what Draginja Vuksanovic-Stankovic or Daliborka Uljarevic have been exposed to because of their political views,” Djukanovic said.
“Immediately, the tried and tested arsenal of sexist statements is used as an argument, which is in line with public opinion and the already established attitudes of the majority of the population.”
“This is misogyny,” he said. “We have to say that this kind of behaviour is more common today, at least in public speech, than ten years ago, which does not mean that there were no misogynistic attitudes before. However, today, this speech is increasingly present.”
On January 11, Jovan Markus, a 73-year-old historian, politician and member of Montenegro’s National Commission for UNESCO, took to Twitter with a vulgar remark in reference to a picture of Vuksanovic-Stankovic.
Responding to criticism, Markus told media that, as an MP and not a protected “polar bear,” it was only right that Vuksanovic-Stankovic should be subject “to public criticism as well as public praise.” His tweet contained neither, but was a vulgar remark of a sexual nature.
Vuksanovic-Stankovic, a jurist and professor of law, said that she pitied those behind such abuse whom she said suffered from “complexes” rooted in their upbringing.
But, she told BIRN, “According to all judgments of the European Court, public figures should suffer more. I am not obliged, but I need to suffer more than other citizens and I am ready for that.”
Asked why she did not press charges over such abuse, Vuksanovic-Stankovic replied: “I think that I should dedicate my time to my family, to my students, to my political activities, and not to spend it in court with psychopaths.”