Jetmir Hoxha

Jetmir Hoxha was first hired as an intern in August 2019.

Through hard work and dedication, he managed to become a junior camera operator and editor in the BIRN Kosovo team. Hoxha has completed economics school and has a passion for football and cameras.

Fatrion Ibrahimi

Fatrion Ibrahimi started his career as a camera operator at KTV in Prishtina in 2009, before working for four years as a freelancer in collaboration with various local and international productions.

He has also participated in many shoots of an artistic nature, including documentary films, long and short films, etc. Ibrahimi joined the BIRN Kosovo team in 2016.

Altin Morina

Altin Morina has completed the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) training at the American University of Kosovo (AUK) and is pursuing his bachelor’s studies in Management and Informatics at ILIRIA College.

From a young age, he has had a passion for technology and the latest technologies. He currently works as an IT assistant at BIRN Kosovo.

Afrim Ejupi

Afrim Ejupi studied Management and Informatics at the University of Prishtina.

As a camera operator and editor, he started working in local television before joining the KALLXO.com team in June 2022. Ejupi’s passion is photography.

Arlinda Mehmeti

Arlinda Mehmeti completed her master’s studies in Local Government and Democratic Society at the University of Gjilan.

She is a lawyer who graduated from the “Ukshin Hoti” University of Prizren.

Mehmeti has been part of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) since June 2021, when she started working as an intern before continuing as a junior monitor and researcher in the Prizren region.

Before joining BIRN Kosovo, she worked at the NGO Ec Ma Ndryshe, the University of Prizren, USAID’s Justice Sector Strengthening Program (JSSP) and the Basic Court in Prizren.

Mehmeti has also volunteered at the website design organisation ECD Kosovo and at the American Corner in the National Library of Kosovo. She has completed several professional training courses in drafting legal documents.

Bellingcat and BIRN Albania Hold Training on Far Right and OSINT

Two dozen journalists from national media in Albania participated on October 19 and 20 in a two-day training course on investigating far-right extremism and open search research methods.

The training was organized by the Bellingcat international collective of researchers, investigators and citizen journalists and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network BIRN in Albania.

The training in Tirana was delivered by Bellingcat journalist Michael Colborne and investigator and researcher Foeke Pastma.

Colborne leads Belllingcat’s project to research and monitor the far-right in Central and Eastern Europe. He shared with local journalists in Albania his experience on how to understand the far right in international and different domestic contexts and how to apply open source intelligence OSINT techniques in researching extremist groups.

Meanwhile, researcher Foeke Postma spoke on geolocation and open search techniques in the internet and how to set up passive research accounts on social networks.

Among the topics covered were also facial recognition and social media networks research, as well as archiving and digital footprint tracing.

BIRN Holds Visual Storytelling Workshop for Youngsters Interested in Transitional Justice

Eleven youngsters from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo, and Serbia met in Sarajevo to learn about using war crimes archives in visual storytelling.

From 20-21 October, 11 youngsters from all over the Balkans met in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo for the “Visual Storytelling Using War Crime Archives” workshop organised by Balkan Insight’s Transitional Justice program.

With the help of Denis Dzidic, director of BIRN BiH and Lamija Grebo, journalist for BIRN BiH, and Nejra Mulaomerovic, programme associate for BIRN BTJ, they learned how to use war crimes archives and how to conduct interviews. Azem Kurtic, journalist for BIRN Hub, held a full-day workshop covering visual storytelling and video-making principles.

With the help of the trainers, the participants watched and analysed previous work that BIRN published on this topic, like “44 Months Under Siege” and “Lives Behind the Fields of Death”.

“These stories are a way to heal together beyond borders and nationalities. It’s nice to see people doing these kinds of projects, and putting in the effort, it’s inspiring. But it makes you wonder why nobody else is doing this,” reflected a participant. 

All these tools and knowledge will come in handy for the second part of the workshop, which starts when they travel back home. Each of them will produce two short video interviews with people who survived the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

The best five applicants will be selected for a one-month exchange programme in 2023 in Sarajevo. This will enable the participants to foster closer networks, learn more about different facets of the war, gain skills and do more research into court archives.

In the previous edition of this project, held last year in Tuzla from July 25-29, 2021, ten young people from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia also produced interviews with war crime survivors. The whole playlist can be found here.

 

BIRN Grantee Trains Kosovo Journalists to Research War Crime Archives

A BIRN grant recipient trained journalists in Kosovo how to explore the archives of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and domestic courts in ex-Yugoslav countries that deal with war crimes cases.

Amer Alija, one of 13 recipients of grants from the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network to create small projects based on the archives of the UN war crimes tribunal, held a workshop for young journalists in Pristina on Thursday about how to research Kosovo war crimes in court archives.

“Documents administered by courts provide many details and insights into historical events that researchers and journalists can use to tell the truth, using official documents and sources,” Alija, a legal analyst at the Humanitarian Law Centre Kosovo, told the journalists.

His workshop was divided into two sections: lectures on the history of trials for crimes committed during the 1998-99 Kosovo war, and training on using the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY’s database and the databases of Kosovo and Serbian courts dealing with war crimes cases from the Kosovo war.

Alija talked through the events of the Kosovo war, the forces involved and the difference between war crimes and crimes against humanity.

He explained that crimes related to the Kosovo war have been tried in five different types of courts including the ICTY, Kosovo’s domestic courts, Serbian courts, Montenegrin courts and the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, a hybrid court that exists within Kosovo legal system but is located in The Hague and is trying former KLA members.

He said that there are 11 cases currently ongoing in Kosovo’s domestic courts and three at the Specialist Chambers.

He also said that contrary to common belief and reporting in Kosovo’s media that such cases are unpunished, five people have been convicted of bearing responsibility for sexual violence during the Kosovo war.

In the second part of the workshop, Alija showed the journalists how to do research in the ICTY’s database of court documents that include indictments, testimonies, official state documents, photographs and other documents admitted in court.

He also provided documents and step-by-step guides for using the ICTY database and domestic courts’ and non-governmental organisations’ databases in former Yugoslavi countries.

Alija showed the journalists how, by opening an account for the ICTY database, they can find more information about specific massacres during the war or particular war crimes by reading the indictments of individuals who have been tried already and the evidence from their trials.

Nejra Mulaomerovic, programme associate at BIRN’s Balkan Transitional Justice programme, said that archives play an important role in ensuring that the past is properly documented.

“The archives themselves are not a guarantee of the non-recurrence of conflicts, but if they are used by various actors from different research and academic backgrounds, they can contribute to raising awareness and can be used as tools to spark dialogue and inspire others to continue their efforts to seek justice and truth,” Mulaomerovic said.

BIRN’s other grantees have been exploring topics such as gender-based violence, Roma war victims, wartime sexual violence, the experience of women in conflict and the role of photography in prosecuting war crimes.

 

 

Freedom of Information in the Balkans: No Access and no Progress

Regional public institutions still need to improve their records on freedom of information and their transparency and accountability. Institutional silence remains a widespread problem, a BIRN panel discussion heard.

Even though almost all Western Balkan countries have excellent written Freedom of Information laws, they are mostly on paper. State institutions still need to improve regarding Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, speakers from the region told BIRN’s panel discussion, “Freedom of Information in the Balkans: No political will, no access, no progress”, held on Wednesday.

Political will is as important as laws, and public authorities need to make more progress with FOI requests, agreed speakers at the event, at which BIRN’s annual freedom of information report was officially launched.

 Saša Dragojlo, a BIRN journalist from Serbia, told the panel discussion that the laws are good only in theory. „The key word is political will. In our societies, it is much more important than laws”, Dragoljo said. Although the new law Serbia implemented last year is an improvement, if public institutions do not answer FOI requests, journalists will submit fewer of them. They will try to gather information unofficially, and that is a danger, he told the panel.

Helen Darbishire, executive director for Access Info Europe, said political will is often an individual decision, which leads to different reactions from even the same institutions. „In some countries, we have seen progress. Journalists tend to ask for more controversial pieces of information, therefore, have different impressions than the rest of the public. That’s not the way it should be,” Darbishire said.

Elona Hoxhaj, General Director of the Right to Information in Albania, told the panel that, „although much progress has been made towards transparency, civil servants are still unaware of their obligation towards the press and the public, so they question the requests”. The Information and Data Protection Commissioner’s Office is actively working with the Albanian school of public administration.

The Agency for Personal Data Protection and Free Access to Information in Montenegro also helps public servants and journalists. But it is struggling to deal with more than 6,100 appeals, the Head of the Department for Free Access to Information said. „Some first-instance bodies don’t have enough money to have websites, so despite their goodwill, they are unable to publish public information”, Biljana Božić described the situation.

All Western Balkan countries have problems, the panel heard. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, there is a need for a strong, independent body monitoring the implementation of a new law submitted last year. In Kosovo, the local agency aims to raise awareness of public institutions that providing access to public information is obligatory.

In Serbia, one of the most significant problems is the so-called „silence of the administration”. „The common goal for all of us, both in the region and in Serbia, should be zero tolerance”, Serbia’s Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection, Milan Marinović, wrote in a statement sent to the panel.

According to BIRN’s annual Freedom of Information report, this institutional silence is one of the most critical problems in the region. Monitored institutions from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia continue to struggle with implementing their own Freedom of Information laws. They are failing to become more transparent and accountable to their citizens.

BIRN’s annual FOI report is part of the „Paper Trail to Better Governance” project, funded by the Austrian Development Agency.

 

 

Spheres of Influence Uncovered

BIRN Hub

This project aims to contribute to a better understanding of the roles that three key international players – the EU, Russia and China – have on the seven project countries’ economies. In the course of this, journalists from the seven countries – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Georgia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan – will map Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), coming from these three players and identify the main challenges and consequences for their countries. They will also produce investigative country-based and cross-border reports while their skills will be upgraded with a series of capacity-building activities.

Summary:

At the core of the project is the struggle for spheres of influence on the Eurasian continent, which has been going on between Russia, China and the EU for around a decade. Among other things, the project aims to identify Russian, Chinese and EU economic activities in these two broad regions, expose their consequences and downsides and inform the general public about its findings.

Political, economic and cultural ties with Russia, “inherited” from the Cold War, are still operative to varying degrees in these countries. However, the binding and integrating power of an economically weak, revisionist Russia, which relies above all on military strength, is clearly declining – and even driving away some former partners (Georgia).

The EU meanwhile is struggling to maintain its attractiveness because the demands that Brussels places on recipients of its financial support are high and often involve lengthy reform and adjustment processes that often cause frustration and disappointment among partners (Western Balkans, Georgia).

The main beneficiary of this frustration is China. By offering to finance large investments in long-awaited infrastructure projects, quickly and easily, it has found a willing audience in all the project countries. Although capital from China entails considerable risks and disadvantages for the recipient countries, the potential ecological, social and political consequences of cooperation with China in the recipient countries is barely publicly discussed.

Donor:

German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development

Main objectives:

 Objective 1: Strengthen the capacities of independent and public media in the project countries, as they are the main pillars of a critical public discourse on the effects of economic cooperation with China, Russia and the EU.

Objective 2: Increase skills and strengthen the capacities of independent and public media in the project countries to continuously inform a broad public with high-quality reporting about the background and consequences of international economic cooperation.

Objective 3: Increase the capacities of participating journalists to join cross-border projects and engage in data journalism.

Objective 4: Advance the reporting and publishing of complex investigative stories achieved through interesting and understandable preparation and a strategic public relations campaigns with a wide audience.

Objective 5: Increase the capacities of the participating journalists to become parts of international networks whose members support each other in researching and analysing global economic relationships.

Main Activities:

  • Hold several meetings and trainings throughout the project duration (in Tbilisi, Belgrade, Tashkent, Podgorica, and Sarajevo).
  • Organise and conduct online capacity-building workshops and sessions.
  • Work on a database and an interactive map to present the spread of FDIs in the project countries.
  • Produce country-based and cross-border long reads and investigative reports.
  • Develop curricula for self-study.

Target Groups:

  • The direct target group includes 25 journalists from the seven project countries who deal with questions of international economic cooperation either as freelancers or as permanent employees.
  • The indirect target group consists of two subgroups:
  • group of experts from diverse Non-Governmental Organizations (around 150 people involved in the project through trainings, researches and publications)
  • general audience in the participating countries.

Main implementer:

n-ost

Partners:

BIRN Hub

Anhor.uz, Uzbekistan

JAM News, Georgia