Balkan Insight To Expand in Croatia

Balkan Insight is set to increase coverage of Croatia and the EU
integration process now that BIRN’s former regional network director,
Anna McTaggart, has began a new position in Zagreb, building a team of
contributors. “ Croatia’s development is key to the region, not least
because it is closest to EU membership,” said McTaggart. Croatian
journalists interested in participating in the project should contact
[email protected]

BIRN Romania Writers Awarded

Alina Constantinescu and Daniel Ganga, contributors to a BIRN Romania
local project, won honorary mentions in a journalism contest organized
by the Romanian Center for Resources for Roma Communities for fair
reporting on Roma issues. The two reporters are both regular
contributors to Divers (www.divers.ro),
a weekly online publication covering ethnic minorities issues, edited
by BIRN Romania with financial support from the Ethnic Diversity
Resource Center in Cluj, Romania.

RBF to help capacity-building of BIRN Kosovo and BIRN Serbia

Rockfeller Brothers Foundations has awarded BIRN a two-year grant to build capacity in Serbia and Kosovo and aid BIRN’s regional development and visibility. The grant will boost BIRN Kosovo high-profile local TV debates project, “Life in Kosovo” and BIRN Serbia’s drive to train more journalists in areas with a significant ethnic minority population.

BIRN Bulgaria Opens Office

BIRN Bulgaria opened a new office at 45 Tsar Simeon Street in Sofia, near the Dundukov Blvd. and Rakovski St. crossing.

This marked an important step in capacity-building for BIRN Bulgaria, enabling the organization to serve as a workplace and information center for Balkan Insight contributors and offer more professional support for journalists seeking to raise their standards.

BIRN Bulgaria is collecting a specialized library of reference materials and manuals that will be useful to all journalists interested in working on investigations or analyses. BIRN Bulgaria will host an opening party for donors, journalists and friends of the organization once final details are complete.

Life in Kosovo: Kosovo’s Economical Potential

Another episode of the BIRN-organised “Life in Kosovo” programme was broadcast on Kosovo public television, RTK, on June 7, looking at economic life in the region.

RTK, Pristina, June 7, 2006.

The issues raised in the discussion ranged from Kosovo’s economic potential to the sectors of the economy that offered the best prospects.

The debating panel comprised Albin Kurti, leader of Levizja Vetevendosje (movement for self-determination); Mimoza Kusari, head of American Chamber of Commerce in Kosovo, Avni Zogiani from Cohu (rise); and Baton Haxhiu, director of Express, a daily Kosovan newspaper.

At the outset, the predominant view of the panellists was that economic situation in Kosovo is poor and there were problems associated with fiscal policy.

Albin Kurti, who is currently running a campaign for a boycott of all products that come into Kosovo from Serbia, said that poverty here was growing and would not be halted unless local products were promoted.

“Our fiscal policy is only good for Serbia,” said Kurti. “Only by boycotting Serbian products can our economy begin to develop.”

Kusari Serbian products were cheaper than local ones because they are not properly taxed when they are imported. She disagreed that a boycott was the solution.

“Very little, or nothing at all is being done for proper economic development,” added Kusari.

Haxhiu said that civil society should put more pressure on international authorities and the Kosovo government to change fiscal policy.

“The root of the problem is that Kosovo institutions and ministers are building a corrupt political system,” said Haxhiu.

The debate also examined how Kosovo could extricate itself from the current economic situation.

Kurti said it was all the fault of political leaders and that his movement aimed to overthrow the system by revolutionary means, then hold a referendum on independence.

He said after this, he and his followers would seek to develop agriculture and invest in energy resources.

Zogiani suggested that there was unlikely to be a revolution, and unless there were practical solutions the situation would only get worse.
“As we wait for this revolution,” he said,
“politicians will create an inferior economy.

“We need to exert pressure on these men and show that they are not working properly.”

Kusari said that “the only factor that can save our economy is direct investment from abroad”.

MONTENEGRO SPECIAL

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