Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence – Winners Chosen

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Polish journalist Maria Wilczek was awarded the first prize in the Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence at a ceremony held in Vienna in May.

Photo: BIRN

Wilczek won the 3,000-euro award for her story about the football ultras from Belarus who were inspired by their nationalist counterparts in Ukraine to rise up against their own Moscow-allied government. Her reporting, centred on a group of exiled hooligans, revealed how violent rivalries were cast aside in opposition to the Lukashenko regime. Announcing the award, Fellowship jury member and executive director of the Albanian Media Institute, Remzi Lani, praised “an elegant and complex story about an unknown game, played away – a tale of resistance against the last dictatorship in Europe.”

Czech journalist Anna Koslerova was awarded the second prize for her story about the Czech state’s failure to compensate thousands of Roma women who had been sterilised against their will. The award was given by the jury member and editor for the Swiss daily, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Elena Panagiotidis, who praised the story for showing the enduring suffering of the victims and for “giving them a voice, without being voyeuristic”.

The award for the third prize was shared between two journalists: Alexia Kalaitzi from Greece and Matea Grgurinovic from Croatia.

Kalaitzi’s story examined the impact of the war in Ukraine on a decarbonisation drive in Greece’s coal-mining heartland. Jury member Kristof Bender, deputy chairman of the European Stability Initiative, praised the story for taking the reader to “the people and places directly affected by this major economic and social transition” – uncovering a struggle that was “not only very relevant for Greece, but also for all of Europe and, actually, the planet as a whole.”

Grgurinovic’s story examined the failure to re-house the victims of an earthquake in Croatia’s long-neglected interior. Presenting the award, jury member and BIRN editor Gyula Csak said the story showed a depth of human suffering that cannot be revealed by numbers alone. By spending time with her subjects, Grgurinovic had revealed the impact “not just of the earthquake” but of the devastation wrought by war and by official policy after independence.

The ceremony celebrated the successful completion of the 2021 edition of the programme. The stories from the programme were published throughout 2022 under the topic, Transformation.

In addition to the awarded journalists, the 2021 fellows were Mateusz Mazzini (Poland); Eva Kubaniova (Czech Republic); Vojtech Berger (Czech Republic); Mateusz Kowalik (Poland).

Alongside Remzi Lani, Elena Panagiotidis, Kristof Bender and Gyula Csak, the jury was comprised of Milorad Ivanovic, representative of the FJE alumni network; Florian Hassel, Central and Eastern Europe correspondent for German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung; and Adelheid Wolfl, correspondent for Austrian daily Der Standard.

With the conclusion of this year’s programme, the 10 fellows join the FJE alumni network, which consists of more than 150 journalists from 14 CEE countries, who promote the highest professional standards.

The Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence was launched in 2007 to promote high-quality, cross-border reporting. The programme provides fellows with financial and editorial support, allowing them to travel, report and write their stories and develop their journalistic skills. In 2020, the fellowship programme expanded to include journalists from the Visegrad Four countries of Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

The Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence is implemented by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and supported by ERSTE Foundation.