BIRN Documentary Shown to NATO Political Advisors

In early May, excerpts from BIRN’s latest documentary “Does Anyone Have a Plan?” were shown at a NATO conference in Skopje, which gathered political advisors from the Balkans to discuss regional issues.

One of the participants main preoccupations is border demarcation and they saw the part of the film which illustrates concerns over this matter.

Participants found the film very useful.

In Macedonia the film was also shown on TV Menada in Tetovo in early April and TV Nova in Kumanovo later that month. BIRN has since received praise for the film from residents of Tetovo and Kumanovo.

Who leads the LDK?

The death of Kosovo’s president Ibrahim Rugova created several vacuums in Kosovo’s political scene – not least in the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), the party that he led for 16 years.

BIRN Kosovo director Jeta Xharra recently hosted a debate on the LDK, examining its internal turmoil and speculating on who will emerge to lead the party – and when they will be elected to office.

The panel included four LDK members – its vice-president Eqrem Kryeziu; Besa Gaxherri from the Women’s Forum of LDK, Lulzim Zeneli from the Youth Forum and Ali Lajci, head of Peja/Pec municipality, representing the municipal divisions of the party.

The debate was preceded and advertised by two articles written in the Express daily newspaper as the first time that the LDK leaders would have the opportunity to raise their differences in a public forum since the death of Rugova.

Trying to define who is actually leading the LDK, Eqrem Kryeziu said that “based on the statute of the party, at the time when there is no president, the party is leaded by three vice-presidents and the secretary general”.

Kryeziu believes that internal party elections should be postponed. “We need more time to fill the gap after Rugova’s death,” he said, adding that the leadership also needed time to explain its reasons for removing high-profile party members Nexhat Daci and Adem Salihaj in the wake of Rugova’s death.

Kryeziu also said that the “LDK is not looking for an iconic leader, but for a leading mechanism” – an idea that was supported by all panelists in this debate.

Commenting on the creation of two factions within the LDK – one led by Kryeziu, Fatmir Sejdiu, Kole Berisha and Sabri Hamiti, and the other led by the discharged Daci and Salihaj – Kryeziu said that “these groups were made due to major institutional changes that happened recently, they are not factions of the same party but rather more like two different alternatives”.

Sitting next to Kryeziu, Besa Gaxherri described him as “hurried” when explaining the recent institutional changes, which she believed were “wrong” and “not according to the party protocols”.

Gaxheri said that she would not agree with the postponement of the party elections, stressing that the field operators of the LDK like herself expect elections to be held in already set time of early June and not be delayed further. She also expressed dissatisfaction with Kryeziu’s interim leadership.

“I have no idea [where the party stands on] important issues, such decentralisation and Mitrovica for example. Do we have a policy on that?” she asked Kryeziu.

Although the panelists tried to give an impression of unification, they seemed to split into two groups during the debate – those who want party elections to happen now and those who want to delay them after the deadline of June 2006.

Lulezim Zeneli said that if elections are postponed, the structures of LDK will be illegitimate. “With the election process we will [impose] legitimacy on the LDK leadership,” he said.

Commenting on the recently created divisions within the party, Ali Lajci described them as just alternative opinions. “There are no factions within LDK since there is no more than one programme and one platform,” he said.

In the other hand Lajci pointed out that LDK has its executive bodies such as general council and that “all these issues should be discussed and decided there”. But he stressed that the party hierarchy should decide soon if elections are to be held in June, or later in the year.

The Quality of Studies at Pristina University

The quality of study programmes and the current administrative mess at the University of Pristina, UP, were discussed at a BIRN-organised debate at the university’s Philosophical Faculty.

Since July 2005, university management and the ministry of education have failed to make decisions in a number of key areas, most notably the appointment of a rector.

Participants in the BIRN event included leading figures in the territory’s education sector, such as the deputy minister for education, Fevzi Berisha, the Kosovo premier’s education adviser, Dukagjin Popovci, and the former minister for education, Rexhep Osmani.

The audience was made up of students from a number of university faculties.

Adem Beha, a political sciences student, listed some of the major problems affecting higher education in the territory.

“Isn’t it wrong that professors only come to classes when they have free time; when exam papers are lost; and when professors are guilty of plagiarising their own MA and PhD theses,” he said.

Natyra Gjurgjeala, a medical faculty professor who had been working at the university since 1974, said that the academic criteria applied at the moment is one of the worst in UP’s history.

The panellists were questioned extensively on the mismanagement of funds and corruption.

Popovci said the lack of funds was just an excuse for low-quality teaching, pointing out that the real problem was bad planning.

“Of the 400,000 euro set aside for the university’s budget for the first three months of this year, only 100,000 have been spent,” he said.

Elbasan Hoti, a student representative, said the administration of UP is so bad that students have no idea who to approach for student projects.

Jusuf Thaqi, a psychology student, said that one of the biggest problems for students was self-motivation because of their poor employment prospects.

“Lack of motivation among students is one of our biggest concerns – even if you get straight A grades, it is highly unlikely you will get a job when you leave university,” said Thaqi.

One of the most controversial subjects tackled in the debate was the upcoming election of faculty deans and the future leadership of UP.

Sejdi Hoxha, a representative of student parliament, complained about the transparency of the former, claiming that students had been excluded from election commissions – a claim denied by Berisha, who insisted that the commissions were overseen by the OSCE.

The battle between two biggest political parties, the LDK and the PDK, for control over the university was another topic of discussion.

Commenting on the politicisation of UP, Gjurgjeala said “student engagement in politics and politicians’ encouragement of this should remain outside the university.

“University should be a place dominated by activities that increase the quality of studies.”

The Da Vinci Code

The BIRN-organised “Life in Kosovo” TV debate show, which is rapidly becoming the most popular current affairs programme in the territory, this week took a break from analysing news to examine Kosovars’ reaction to the bestselling novel the Da Vinci Code and the recently-aired film based on the book.

Adopting a format similar to the BBC’s cultural slot Newsnight Review, the programme asked why so many Pristina movie-goers were going to see the film and what religious and non-religious Kosovars felt out about the controversy surrounding it.

To discuss the issues thrown up by the book and the film, BIRN invited a panel of four prominent Kosovars: Dukagjin Gorani, from the Kosovar Institute for Journalism and Communications; Iliriana Loxha, an artist; Milazim Krasniqi, a writer; and Anton Berisha, an engineer.

Gorani said that the popularity of the film in Pristina, as in the rest of the world, was down to its incorporation of numerous religious dilemmas in a “populist thriller” format.

“For me as a Catholic, the Da Vinci Code is not interesting at all,” said Berisha. “This book has no facts and no analyses, nothing but unproved claims.” Berisha reckoned the book was an insult to Catholics the world over.

Gorani disagreed, saying it allows readers to question biblical stories, in particular whether Jesus was the son of God or an extraordinary human being with great leadership and oratory skills.

Discussing whether the controversial assertions made by the film could be defended as freedom of speech, Krasniqi said this right ends the moment it is used to offend, upset or ridicule others. He drew parallels with the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed which so enraged Muslims.

The panelists contrasted the big local interest the Da Vinci Code generated with the generally low turn-out for other cultural events in the territory.

Krasniqi pointed out that a bookfair held this month served to highlight the low level of interest in reading. “There is a huge cultural crisis happening in Kosovo at the moment,” said Krasniqi.

He described the Da Vinci Code as something of circus which will do little to encourage local audiences to buy books or go to the theatre and cinema more often.

* The RTK debates are moderated by Jeta Xharra, BIRN Kosovo Director.

Debate on Kosovo’s Economic Development

On 7 June, BIRN Kosovo broadcasted a debate that dealt with Kosovo’s economic development.

Albni Kurti, leader of Selfdetermination movement, which is lobbying for a boycott of Serbian products, participated in the programme together with Mimoza Kusari, head of American Chamber of Commerce, Baton Haxhiu, head of Express neswspaper and Avni Zogjani, head of the Cohu (Stand Up) movement, an NGO that fights against corruption.

This was a heated debate, with the main topics of discussion being the need to prepare for UNMIK’s departure and economic survival of Kosovo once its status is resolved.

How to Report From Courts Project Ends

The "How To Report From The Courts" project of BIRN Bulgaria
successfully ended last week, with participants producing more than 30
articles.

The dailies Dnevnik and Novinar, the weeklies Tema and Politica and
the online outlets Mediapool and Vsekiden took part in the
intensive training programme, which ended with journalists producing
analyses, which were published in local media.

Some of their articles have been published in Balkan Insight.

All of them may be seen at http://www.birn.eu.com/bulgaria/bulgaria_judiciary.php .

Supported by the State Department of the United States, it was the first BIRN Bulgaria project.

Nerma Jelacic Takes Part in an Expert Panel in the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina

BIRN BiH director, Nerma Jelacic, took part in an expert panel at a training session of young Bosnian lawyers in the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina on May 20.

Organised by the Criminal Defence Section, the conference gathered students of law from across the country and examined the role of the state court in trials for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Jelacic spoke about the need for open trials and the role of the media and civil society groups in the rule of law.

Other speakers were judges, prosecutors, defence lawyers and international experts on humanitarian law.

Nerma Jelacic Speeks at Budapest Conference

BIRN BiH director, Nerma Jelacic, was a speaker at an international conference in Budapest on May 17.

The conference, organized by the Hungarian Europe Society gathered Balkan and international experts to discuss social, political and security challenges in the region. Jelacic spoke about the media and war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia in the early Nineties.

She warned that many journalists who spread ethnic hatred during the war remain active in the media field. She called on the international community to see that the democratisation of the media is completed before pulling out of development programmes in this sector.

Other speakers included Dr Erhard Busek, Special Coordinator of the Stability Pact for the South East Europe; Sonja Biserko, director of Helsinki Committee for Human Rights Serbia; Goran Svilanovic, members of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia; Reinhard Priebe of the European Commission Enlargement Directorate General; Fernardo Gentilini, Council of the European Union; and Matthew Rycroft, Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Bosnia and Herzegovina.