A special edition of Balkan Insight examining critical issues facing post-independence Montenegro was published on June 23. The edition, Montenegro Special, comprising seven articles by BIRN journalists, followed a four-day workshop on the subject in Budva at the beginning of June, organised by BIRN Serbia

The articles dealt with issues ranging from the economy, relations between groups of different ethnic backgrounds, tourism, the question of refugees, forthcoming elections and achieving the long-term goal of joining the European Union.

Nedjeljko Rudovic, Vijesti, looked at Montenegro’s European aspirations; Petar Komnenic, Monitor, assessed upcoming elections and the fact that independence will no longer represent the major campaign issue; Bojana Stanisic, Dan, revealed Serb intentions to sell their property and move to Serbia; Sead Sadikovic, freelance journalist, explained how the independence poll created ethnic divisions in Bijelo Polje. Izedina Adzovic, Radio Tuzi, and Zeljko Madzgalj, Polje, explored the economic potential of an independent Montengro. Tufik Softic, Radio Berane, reported on the plight of refugees; and Nikola Doncic, Monitor, profiled Montenegrin tourism.

In a separate article, Samir Adrovic, Vijesti, examined whether the independence poll had been manipulated by Albanians.

Gordana Igric, BIRN director and editor-in-chief, Nedjeljko Rudovic, a Vijesti journalist and BIRN representative in Podgorica, as well as Dragana Nikolic Solomon, BIRN Serbia director and editor, worked intensively with the journalists who contributed to the Montenegro Special, providing them with on-the-job training and editorial support for their articles.

Montenegrin journalists were delighted with the BIRN mentoring programme and the subsequent package of stories.

Sadikovic said the workshop was very important to him and represented right way forward, “I was happy that I had the opportunity to exchange views with my colleagues and by working on the articles together, we were able to help each other.”

Debate on Custom Service in Kosovo

A BIRN-organised RTK debate at the Pjeter Budi Institute on July 3 looked at the problems facing the Customs Service of Kosovo, which collects 70 per cent of the revenue of the Kosovo govenment budget.

RTK, Pristina, July 3, 2006.

To discuss issues such as the battle against corruption within the service and the education of it staff, BIRN invited a panel consisted of Naim Huruglica, deputy director of UNMIK Customs; Ekrem Hajdari, head of special services within the customs service; Allma Shabi, chief of the service’s anti-smuggling unit; Hans Turner, head of the EU Customs and Fiscal Assistance Office; Avni Haxhiu, owner of a fast forwarding company; Sofronija Miladinoski, professor of international marketing in Pjeter Budi Institute, which educates Kosovo customs officers; and Baki Koleci, board member of the same institute.

The debate, which took place in front of a student audience, initially centred on the customs service’s important revenue-raising role, but Huruglica pointed out that it also played a key part in securing the borders and watching out for smuggled goods.

Hajdari said Kosovo was no longer part of the drugs distribution network as was the case in the immediate post-war years, although he admitted that contraband cigarettes were still a problem.

“Recently the presence of untaxed cigarettes in the Kosovo market today has increased to 20-30 per cent of the total number of cigarettes in Kosovo,” he said.

A recent success in combating cigarrette smuggling was a crackdown on illegal sales by some members of the NATO mission in Kosovo, KFOR.
Huruglica said KFOR help was crucial in this operation as the civil customs service has no access to international military personnel.

Turner said the “custom service in Kosovo is the best such service in Balkans”.

Miladinoski said the inefficiency of the legal system and the courts constituted a problem for the customs service today.

Shabi gave an example. Once her team confiscated 70 thousand litres of ethanol – which can be very dangerous – that was designed for production of counterfeit alcoholic drinks, but were forced to hand it back by the public prosecutor.

The student audience was mostly concerned with the service’s employment policies.

Huruglica said none of its officers have any college qualification for customs work as there was no higher education institute providing diplomas in this field when the service was set up.

Commenting the importance of proper education, Miladinoski said that “when people are properly educated, it won’t be easy for politicians to manipulate with them”.

Koleci said that Pjeter Budi Institute had started cooperating with a university in Macedonia to provide a special education programme for customs officers in Kosovo.

Turner stressed that one of the strengths of Customs Service in Kosovo was that it had started from scratch with mostly young officers – and so had not inherited the vices of previous customs services in the Balkans.

The debate was moderated by Jeta Xharra, BIRN Kosovo Director

BIRN BiH Guest on “Arena” Talk Show

An editor of BIRN’s Justice Report magazine, Nidzara Ahmetasevic, made a guest appearance on the political talk show ARENA, in Belgrade on June 29.

The topic of the show was the Hague fugitive Radovan Karadzic. There was discussion of a number of issues, including the local consequences if he remains on the run and, more generally, the influence of the Hague tribunal on the region.

The show was hosted by the Forum for South-eastern Europe, a non-governmental organisation with headquarters in Zurich.

Other guests on the show were Biljana Kovacevic – Vuco, president of the Committee of Attorneys for Human Rights, Serbia; Djordje Mamula, senior official in the Democratic Party of Serbia; and Jelena Markovic, spokesperson of the Democratic Party.

BIRN Kosovo: Mythologising History Debate

Kosovo television, RTK, broadcast a BIRN-organised debate on July 19 on how politicians in the Balkans mythologise historic events, looking specifically at the Battle of Kosovo, June 28, 1389 – local Serb celebrations of which were this year attended by Serbia’s prime minister Vojislav Kostunica.

RTK, Pristina, July 19, 2006.

The debate follows the publication of an in-depth report from Gracanica,

Gazimestan and Pristina which concluded that the event has become less politicised since Slobodan Milosevic’s infamous attendance of the 600th anniversary in 1989, at which he delivered a fiery nationalistic speach.

Panelists in the debate were Rada Trajkovic, vice-president of Serb National Council; Jelena Bjelica, editor-in-chief of the bi-monthly Kosovo Serb newspaper Gradanski Glasnik; Ylber Hysa, vice-president of ORA, the Albanian opposition party; and Kaqusha Jashari, president of Social Democratic Party of Kosova.

Bjelica said that “the fact that Kostunica does what Milosevic did, visiting Kosovo on [the anniversary of the battle] and saying ‘this is Serb land’ – knowing how many dead and displaced this type of politics has caused – shows that Serbian society hasn’t yet been able to deal with its past”.

Trajkovic said “I feel very uncomfortable that we look at this [anniversary], as something strictly associated with Milosevic and use it to criticise Serb society….What I want to talk about is how little freedom I have today to walk freely in Kosovo as a Serb, enter a shop and speak in Serbian”.

Bjelica responded with a question, “Why is it possible for me as a Serb to live in Pristina and enter a shop without any consequences?
Because I am prepared to say ‘Good day’ in Albanian and you are not.”

Hysa stressed that, despite Kostunica’s visit, the anniversary celebrations this year were more restrained than in previous years, “
Serbs…are looking at this day with more realism and calmness than some years ago.”

Discussing the need for Kosovo communities to commemorate events without antagonising other groups, Hysa said it was very important that Kosovo Albanians celebrate independence in a way that does not resemble a “rowdy booze-up”, so so that it is really experienced as “a moment of freedom rather than as a threat to anyone else”.

The debate was moderated by Jeta Xharra, BIRN Kosovo Director, while the in-depth report was compiled by BIRN’s multi-ethnic investigative team, Krenar Gashi and Tanja Matic.

Media training for Kosovo human rights workers

Jeta Xharra, Kosovo BIRN Director, held a training session for 17 young human rights activists in Vucitern/Vushtrri on July 15, focusing on how to communicate with the media and pitch stories of human rights interest.

Labinot Berisha, coordinator of anti-trafficking projects within the youth department of the ministry of culture, said the session would help contribute to more sensitive coverage of issues such as child labor, and victims of trafficking and abuse”.
The event was organised in partnership with Management & Development Associates and was held in the Kosovo Police Service school. The activists who took part in the session were:
– Bujar Thaci, Institute of Social Policy
– Linda Loshi, Handicap Kosova
– Majlinda Pirkuqi, human rights volunteer
– Rrezarta Dreshaj, human rights volunteer
– Nerxhivane Haziri, human rights volunteer
– Albana Bytyci, human rights volunteer
– Sylejman Maloku, human rights volunteer
– Bashkim Pacarizi, Kosovo Youth Network
– Labinot Berisha, coordinator for anti-traficking projects, Department ofYouth, Ministry of Culture
– Bekrije Maxhuni, human rights ambassador
– Yllza Jusufi, human rights volunteer
– Besa Shala, human rights volunteer
– Gyltene Retkoceri, human rights volunteer
– Violeta Zefi, human rights volunteer
– Kaltrina Osmani, human rights volunteer
– Arta Buzhala, human rights volunteer
– Manushaqe Vila, human rights volunteer


The BIRN team was featured in the June issue of the women’s magazine Gracija. Entitled “Women lead in Balkan Investigative Reporting Network”, the picture story presented the BIRN BiH team and its Justice Report service which is produced in Sarajevo.

For more about Justice Report or other BIRN BiH activities please contact its director, Nerma Jelacic, at [email protected]

Birn hosts third meeting of court reporters association

Members of the Association of Court Reporters who cover the Court of BiH held their third meeting on June 27. A list of proposals and suggestions aimed at improving the outflow of public information from the state judiciary was agreed and will be presented to the Court of BiH.

Members of the association, which is chaired by BIRN BiH, agreed on the following proposals:

* The possibility of introducing a live internet feed from
the courtrooms of the War Crimes Chamber should be explored. The system could follow the example set by the Hague tribunal. Such a service would not only help the electronic and non-Sarajevo based media to better cover the trials but would also make the justice process more open for the general public in BiH, the region and internationally.
* A rule book for journalists covering war crimes trials
should be produced in order to prevent misunderstandings and mistakes that jeopardise trials. It should be put together in cooperation with the Press Council and the Regulatory Communications Agency, as well as the Court of BiH.
* The importance of timely statements from court and
prosecution officials or their public information departments is once again reiterated. One of the reporters’ objections during the association meeting was that they do not receive the statements they request of the court officials on time, which diminishes the value of their report or results in stories being spiked.
Association members also repeated some of the previous suggestions to which they have not yet received a response from the Court of BiH.
* It is once again suggested that photographs from each
hearing are put on the appropriate section of the website which would contribute to the dynamics of reporting and increase the effectiveness of information coming out of the court.
* The association urges the court to adopt the practice of
publishing a weekly index/listing of motions and records filed in each case. While it is acknowledged that all public documents are available on request, it is clear that reporters and members of the public cannot make an informed decision on what motions are available to them without a listing. A similar procedure is already in practice at the Hague Tribunal.
* The association once again reiterates the need for the
introduction of weekly press briefings for the media where an update on events at the court is given to the public. This would improve the efficiency of communication between the media and the court as well as the quality of reporting. This proposal is also based on experiences of the Hague tribunal.

About the association:
The Association of Court Reporters was founded in 2005 in order to improve communication between the media and Court of BiH.

The work of the association is supported by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

If you have proposals for the association’s further work, please write to [email protected] or [email protected] . Find out more about the association on

“JR” editor at media seminar in Sarajevo

An editor with BIRN’s Justice Report, Nidzara Ahmetasevic, spoke at the conference “War crimes and media:
possibilities of establishing trust” held on May 18 and 19 in the Mediacentre Sarajevo.

The media representatives from the region who gathered at this two-day round table organised by Transitions Online talked about war crimes reporting, the challenges in war crimes processes and violation of human rights.

In her speech, Ahmetasevic stressed the importance of regular and detailed reporting on war crimes trials before local and international courts, which can be helpful in the process of establishing trust and facing the past.

Other speakers were Dejan Anastasijevic, reporter from Vreme magazine, Belgrade; Boris Vlasic, reporter form daily paper Jutarnji list – Zagreb; Drago Pilsel, columnist and reporter of the daily paper Novi list – Rijeka; Sabina Cehajic, University of Sussex, Brighton; Zoran Pajic, Kings College London; Nevena Rsumovic, editor of web publication NetNovinar, Mediacenter Sarajevo.


A leading Bulgarian court reporter has praised BIRN Bulgaria’s
Reporting from the Courts project which ended last month.

BIRN Bulgaria director Albena Shkodrova announced the successful
completion of the project in an interview on June 29 with the Studio
Bulgaria programme of Radio New Europe.
host of the programme Vasil Chobanov, himself a prominent legal
journalist, praised the project as one of "great importance to the
Bulgarian media world".

Krassen Nikolov of, who participated in the project, told the radio programme
that he got a lot out of the training programme. "It was a remarkable
experience," he said.
The three-month project, supported by US State Department, trained 6
reporters from Bulgarian print media to analyse the work of the
Bulgarian judiciary.
participants produced nine stories, covering topics such as the
probation service, the performance of the ombudsman and punishment of
petty crime.

The stories can be found in Bulgarian, English versions of some of them are available on the same site.

BIRN Macedonia selects first trainees

BIRN Macedonia has started the first part of its primary level journalism training course with an open invitation to young Macedonian journalists to develop their talents.

Applicants will be tested on October 17 at BIRN Macedonia’s Skopje office.

The project seeks to develop and improve the quality of journalism in different regions of Macedonia and to build a wider network of young journalists working in line with BIRN’s internationally recognised reporting standards.

The on-the-job training project will result in six special report packages on critical issues affecting Macedonia’s transition process, such as decentralization, corruption, minorities, and the EU accession process. They will be published monthly in Macedonian and Albanian, and a selection of articles will be reprinted in English.

For more information on how to get involved, please contact Ana Petruseva