Anja Vladisavljevic

Anja Vladisavljević joined the Balkan Insight team in May 2018.

Anja worked as an editor for the Croatian edition of the French monthly newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique from 2015 to 2017. She also worked as a journalist, editor and translator for regional website from 2017 to 2018.

She graduated from the Department of History of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Zagreb University.

Ban on BIRN Covering Erdogan Rally Left Unexplained

No explanation has been given why BIRN and other media outlets were denied accreditation to cover the rally held in Sarajevo by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Turkish embassy in Bosnia and the Union of European Turkish Democrats, UETD – which organised the sixth assembly meeting of the UETD in Sarajevo – have yet to explain why BIRN and some other media outlets were denied permission to cover Sunday’s event at which the Turkish President was the star.

BIRN and several other media outlets were not given accreditation to cover the mass rally in support of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

BIRN first contacted organisers seeking accreditation on May 7, the same day the UETD said that press accreditation would be needed.

After receiving additional information on the documents journalists must submit, BIRN sent accreditation requests using the email address provided by the UETD for three of its journalists on May 8, and an additional request for one more of its reporters six days later.

BIRN delivered the complete documentation for all four journalists to the organisers by May 14.

The UETD confirmed on the same day that it had received all the documentation needed and would inform BIRN about the next steps.

However, no further email with information about where or how to get accreditation was ever received.

Contacted again by BIRN ahead of the rally, Ezgi Aslan, the UETD Secretary General’s Executive Assistant, responded by email on May 19, saying that “there were apparently small communication disruptions. You can now contact the same address again,” adding that “our colleagues will contact you as soon as possible.”

However, Lemija Demirbas, who was in charge of press accreditation, told a BIRN correspondent in Sarajevo on Sunday” “You are not on the list and this list is approved by the government …  and the embassy of Turkey,” leaving him unable to report from the rally.

Michael Colborne, a freelance journalist from Canada, had the same experience and told BIRN that it was never clear who was in charge of accreditations.

Bosnia’s Journalists’ Association has not made any official comment about this situation since, as it explained in a statement to BIRN, Bosnian institutions were not in charge of the event.

Neither the Turkish embassy nor the UETD and UEBD had responded to BIRN’s further inquiries by the time of publication.

The UETD’s headquarters is in Cologne, home to one of the biggest Turkish communities in Germany, and the organisation is close to Erdogan.

It has branches in other European cities with significant Turkish populations, and recently established a sister lobby organisation in Bosnia, the Union of European Balkan Democrats, UEBD.

Zafer Sirakaya, president of the UETD, earlier told BIRN that his organisation was an NGO and has no direct links to Erdogan or his party – but conceded that a bond of love existed between the UETD and the Turkish President.

Read more:

Journalists Barred from Covering Erdogan’s Sarajevo Rally

Matt Robinson

Matt Robinson is a journalist, translator and former Reuters Bureau Chief for the Balkans and Special Correspondent for Central and Eastern Europe.

Matt started in journalism with Belgrade’s Radio B92 in 2001, before spending 14 years with Reuters in the Balkans, the Middle East and former Soviet Union. He has reported from more than 20 countries, including Georgia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Turkey, Ukraine, Egypt and Greece.
In 2016, Matt was editor of the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence. He re-joined BIRN in May 2018.

Resonant Voices Initiative Launches Anti-Radicalisation Projects

Ten pilot projects from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia have been launched as part of Resonant Voices Initiative, all aimed at challenging polarising, inflammatory and radicalising narratives.

Among the ten pilot projects launched as part of Resonant Voices Initiative, the team from Sarajevo have used a creative approach to create a ‘fake news’-busting game to combat misinformation and propaganda and to prevent the sharing of potentially dangerous content among young people in the Western Balkans.

“Nobody wants to be lied to and everyone wants to have fun” is the simple premise on which the team behind Provjeri.Me based their prototype.

Their online game ‘Faketective’ is an educational and entertaining tool which will help people to learn how to recognise and verify problematic content online. The player is put in the shoes of a young journalist who has several tasks before she gets a coveted job with a respected new media outlet.

In order to win the Faketective game, players must successfully debunk incidences of ‘fake news’. The project aims to improve the digital media literacy skills of young people in the Western Balkans.

The Ordinary Heroes project, also from Sarajevo, utilises the video content of oral histories of wartime inter-ethnic rescues to create short videos that look at the present day inter-ethnic tensions through the prism of these positive stories from the past, tackling the prevailing divisive narrative based on glorification or vilification of war-time political and military leaders.

The Post-Conflict Research Center (PCRC)’s Ordinary Heroes video project changes the focus away from negative stories about wartime political and military leaders, focusing on positive stories of ordinary people who showed bravery.

Its videos target an audience that includes football fans or groups on social networks that have ties to nationalism.

Humans of the Balkans is a crowd-sourced platform for photos and stories of ordinary people from all over the region, to celebrate its diversity, beauty and potential.

The basic idea is very simple: building a common online space for ordinary people and their stories. While focusing on collecting and sharing positive and inspiring life stories, it also encourages contributors to identify problems and issues they see around them and suggest how they can be solved, so that injustices and grievances can be addressed.

Portal Kultura connects young bloggers and theatre enthusiasts who produce culture and arts focused content.

Portal Kultura’s tag line, which translates as “a generational scream against the reality in which we are growing up”, is both the inspiration for the project’s name (KRIK [Scream]) and captures its philosophy and strategy – giving young people a space to express themselves as bloggers, writers, creators and critics, encouraging them to think independently, embrace alternative views and speak out against divisions and hate in their communities.

The portal is run by a group of volunteers from Banja Luka who in the recent months organised workshops in Drvar, Kostajnica, Derventa and Kotor Varos as well as contributed to the organization of Applause Fest, a theatre festival in Banja Luka showcasing performances from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In the portal’s own words: “We are bringing you stories from different parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. How did our peers overcome hate speech? How have they resolved existing problems? How did they act preventatively in their local communities? You can find out all this by following our portal. We bring you stories that will not leave you indifferent. Stories that will make you think.”

Story2Tell, a project by the Skopje-based NEXUS Civil Concept, uses the power of human stories to shed light on the experience of one man who regrets his journey to Syria to participate in the war, and engages in positive messaging amid the prevalence of vulgar and violent content online in Macedonia. Story2Tell collected information about reactions to its video pilot project and found that the video drew strong emotional responses from viewers.

Pristina-based project Women of Resilience is an initiative determined to tip the balance in the public discourse and policy discussion about foreign fighters, currently dominated by male voices and experiences.

The Institute for Dialogue and Nondiscrimination strategically and sensitively brings women’s stories into the mix, focusing on empowering those left behind and those who followed their husbands to the conflict zone, giving them a platform to share their experiences to prevent future departures and build these women’s resilience to extremist propaganda and recruitment.

The Jasmine project, in collaboration with Gazeta Mendimi and the Women’s Center for Development and Culture Albania from Elbasan, works to train a new generation of journalists in writing about violent extremism to improve both the quantity and the quality of articles written on the subject in the Albanian language.

CVEinfo.AL is another initiative supported by Resonant Voices, which has developed a web portal and a virtual library of existing resources related to the fight against violent extremism in the Albanian language, as well as news, updates and information about ongoing and new initiatives in this field, to support Prevention and Countering of Violent Extremism practitioners.

In Macedonia, statements that provoke hate among religious groups and issues between the religious groups themselves have been a longstanding issue. The Partnership for Actions on Cohabitation and Tolerance, or PACT, tackles the use and misuse of religion, religious messages and religious communities head-on by bringing together 20 future leaders from both communities to get to know one another.

No Hate Speech seeks to educate citizens in Presevo about the harmful effects of use of hateful propaganda and to promote the use of respectful and tolerant terms, targeting those who produce and distribute fake news, misinformation, or hate speech on the internet.

Resonant Voices Initiative is a joint programme run by CIJA US, BIRN and the Propulsion Fund to challenge extremist narratives in public discourse throughout the Western Balkans – in particular those disseminated online.

The programme aims to equip critical voices in the target countries with the skills, know-how and resources to counter radicalisation, the recruitment of foreign terrorist fighters and violent extremists, and other dangerous trends. It empowers a diverse group of civil society actors – activists, journalists, bloggers, educators and other online (and offline) influencers – to become resonant voices, able to counter violent extremism, to push back against extremist propaganda and to increase and amplify alternative, positive messages.

Impact Map – 2017

BIRN’s journalistic work produced in 2017 some very tangible social and political changes, both within the region and internationally, showing that non-profit media can influence the work of public institutions and authorities when applying high professional standard to their work.

Please click on the pinned locations on the map to read about the impact of BIRN’s reporting.

BIRN Cited in International Reports

Monitoring reports produced by BIRN and articles published in its regional publication Balkan Insight continue to be quoted in international reports about media, human rights and politics in the region.

Freedom House’s annual country reports for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Moldova, published in Nations in Transit 2018 under the title ‘Confronting Illiberalism’ in April this year, quote Balkan Insight articles on transitional justice, inter-ethnic relations, politics, the economy and the situation in the media

The Media Sustainability Index for 2017 published by IREX in May, in its Europe and Eurasia section, mentions BIRN when describing the media situation in the region, specifically media freedom, lawsuits against media organisations and journalists, as well as BIRN’s reporting on corruption and its training programmes.

The US State Department report for 2017 on human rights in Albania, published in April, quotes BIRN Albania’s research about media censorship in the country. The report also mentions that in 2017 a member of the High Council of Justice, Gjin Gjoni, filed defamation lawsuits against two BIRN journalists and two journalists from for their coverage of his asset declaration, which was being investigated by prosecutors.

In the Media Landscape – Serbia report, published by the European Journalism Centre in May, the results of the Media Ownership Monitor carried out by BIRN and Reporters without Borders Germany, as well as articles related to media published by Balkan Insight, are quoted throughout the.

Read more:

BIRN Articles Quoted in International Reports

BIRN Cited as Source in International Reports

Montenegrin Journalists to Investigate Environmental Issues

Three journalists from Montenegrin media have been selected to carry out multimedia journalistic investigations on the subjects of environment and sustainable development, which are covered by the Chapter 27 in the EU negotiation process.

Irena Rasovic, a journalist from public broadcaster Radio and Television of Montenegro, Matija Otasevic, a journalist from TV Vijesti, and Mustafa Canka, a freelance journalist from Ulcinj, were selected at the training course held in Podgorica after presenting their investigation proposals.

The investigative stories that were selected have a regional character and will deal with issues affecting not only the environment in Montenegro, but in neighboring countries as well.

A mixed domestic and international team will work with the selected journalists. All the stories will be published in the local and English language and will have multimedia component.

A call for investigative stories with an environmental angle was launched in March as part of a project to strengthen investigative reporting in Montenegro, which is being implemented by BIRN, CIN Montenegro and Monitor magazine. The project was funded by the EU Delegation in Podgorica.

Along with selected stories, journalists from CIN Montenegro and Monitor will publish a number of other investigations related to the environment and sustainable development within the project Media Investigations: Stop to READ (Regional Environmental Acts of Devastation).

Through intensive training, international mentoring and an investigative approach, this project aims to increase the capacities of CIN Montenegro, Monitor, and other media outlets whose journalists are taking part.

The project started on March 1 and will continue for 14 months.

BFJE 2018 kicks off in Vienna

Fake news merchants, corrupt officials and political thugs are just a few of the targets in the crosshairs of journalists chosen for the 2018 Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence.

In its 12th year, the fellowship began with a four-day seminar in Vienna that brought together 10 new fellows from across the region, all committed to tackling this year’s theme: TRUTH.

Chosen from around 100 applications, they come from Romania, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania and Greece.

Supported by ERSTE Foundation and Open Society Foundations and run in cooperation with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, the fellowship aims to promote the highest standards of journalism. It gives mid-career reporters the funding and editorial support to pursue investigative stories that cut across borders.

Over the next four months, fellows will carry out in-depth reporting as they try to untangle the webs of power, influence and money that envelope their proposed stories.

In Vienna, they received practical tips from BFJE Editor Timothy Large on how to research, report and write long-form articles for international impact.

They then hammered out story ideas and reporting strategies during intensive editorial sessions with Timothy Large, Balkan Insight Editor Gordana Andric, BIRN Regional Network Director Marija Ristic and BFJE Programme Manager Dragana Obradovic.

The seminar also included a visit to the newsroom of Austrian daily Der Standard, a media partner of the programme, and a session on cross-border collaborative journalism by Brigitte Alfter, Managing Editor of

Barbara Trionfri, Executive Director of the International Press Institute, spoke on global press freedom and trends in media development while Gordana Andric from Balkan Insight shared pointers on multimedia storytelling.

This year’s fellows are Arlis Alikaj (Albania), Iona Burtea (Romania), Claudia Ciobanu (Romania), Alexander Clapp (Greece), Ivana Jeremic (Serbia), Lorelei Mihala (Romania), Andrea Milat (Croatia), Andjela Milivojevic (Serbia), Leonida Molliqai (Kosovo) and Dusica Pavlovic (Montenegro).

BBC and Al Jazeera English release BIRN-backed documentaries

The BBC and Al Jazeera English have produced investigative documentaries in recent months working alongside BIRN’s in-house investigative team.

BIRN has collaborated with the BBC and Al Jazeera English in recent months to investigate the far-right in the Balkans and a secretive arms pipeline to Syria.

The Al Jazeera English probe built on BIRN and OCCRP’s award-winning series of investigations, Making a Killing, which delved into how Balkan weapons were flooding the Syrian battlefields.

The “America’s Guns: Secret Pipeline to Syria” documentary was first broadcast in March on Al Jazeera’s People and Power show and involved filming in Croatia, Bulgaria and the US.

The report brought BIRN’s findings to a wider audience, revealed the human cost of the scramble to train and equip US-backed Syrian militia.  BIRN published two articles on the back of the research:  Death in Bulgaria: Pentagon Contractor’s Widow Fights For Truth and US Splurges More Cash on Balkans Arms for Syria.

On May 1, the BBC and BIRN published the fruits of its collaboration into the British nationalists operating in the Balkans. The BBC produced television and radio documentaries focussing on “the invisible man of Britain’s far right” – Jim Dowson – and his activities in Hungary, Bulgaria, Serbia and Kosovo: Is this Britain’s most influential far-right activist?

BIRN released its own investigation, focussing on how Jim Dowson and an organisation he is closely linked to are increasingly active in Serbia: British Nationalist Trains Serb Far-Right for ‘Online War.

As part of the research, BIRN also employed a cyber forensic expert Andrej Petrovski of the Share Foundation, who is helping journalists improve their investigations by using cutting edge technologies.

These collaborations are part of BIRN’s Paper Trail to Better Governance programme, funded by the Austrian Development Agency.

BIRN Reports Nominated for Investigative Awards in Serbia

Two BIRN reports have been nominated for this year’s Investigative awards from the Independent Journalistic Association of Serbia in the categories for on-line media.

The first is The Coyote’s Trail – A Machine Gun’s Path from Serbia to Syria, produced within BIRN Hub’s project Paper Trail for Better Governance and in cooperation with OCCRP, and written by Ivan Angelovski, Jelena Cosic, Lawrence Marzouk and Maria Cheresheva.

It explores how heavy machine guns travelled from a Serbian state-owned factory to Syrian rebels, via a Bulgarian arms tycoon and a Saudi training camp.

The second is BIRN Serbia’s investigative story (part one and two) about illegal construction at the Kopaonik National Park, written by Slobodan Georgiev.

The report shows that a building under construction did not fall into line with the directions of the Institute for Nature Conservation of Serbia.

The report initiated a rapid-response inspection by the Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure of Serbia, which ordered the investor to knock down the building and clean up the area, which lies at the highest point of Kopaonik mountain. A restaurant was built at the site despite the order, but the case is still ongoing.