Meet the People Behind BIRN: Gordana Andric

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Gordana Andric is executive editor at BIRN Serbia.

Photo: Personal archive

She first joined BIRN as a journalist in 2010 and later worked as the managing editor of BIRN’s flagship English-language website Balkan Insight.

Before embarking on a journalistic career, she was preparing for university entrance exams to study history and psychology. She says she doesn’t know why she eventually opted for journalism, but is glad she did. Recently, she won the prestigious Dejan Anastasijevic Investigative Award and received a special commendation from the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia.

  1. Did you always know that you wanted to be a journalist?

You caught me off guard – I can’t even remember why I decided to study journalism. I remember I was also preparing for entrance exams in history and psychology, but I don’t know how and why I eventually opted for journalism. I am, though, glad I did.

  1. You and our colleague Aleksandar Djordjevic were recently awarded first prize at the prestigious Dejan Anastasijevic Investigative Awards for your reporting on a network of fake NGOs that got millions of euros from the state budget that were supposed to help vulnerable groups in Serbia. Can you tell us more about this investigation, which you worked on for years?

Yes, it was literally years in the making, as my colleagues from BIRN and our partner organization, Civic Initiative, have been monitoring state transactions to civil society for years. About three years ago, they were alarmed to see that unusually high amounts were being awarded to the same group of completely anonymous organisations over and over again. We started writing about them soon after and eventually, last year obtained reports and uncovered data revealing that a network of fake NGOs that got millions of euros from the state budget, envisaged to help vulnerable groups in Serbia, was linked to Aleksandra Camagic, a senior Belgrade official and close associate of the Belgrade mayor, for almost a decade. The network was submitting fabricated financial reports and pretending it had organised mass lectures across the country, mainly on school and domestic violence. The story is based on an enormous amount of data that we have been sorting for quite some time with colleagues Lada Vucenovic, Tara Petrovic, Dejana Stevkovski and Ivana Teofilovic. Although we spent an unhealthy amount of time in Excel sheets, I really enjoyed working on this one, because I was spending all this time with some of the funniest and wittiest women I‘ve met.

  1. This investigation’s publication had a major impact on the Serbian public, but the government has still not responded. Did you expect this lack of reaction by the Serbian authorities? How does it make you feel?

The instances when someone either took political responsibility and resigned or has been prosecuted are almost non-existent, so I knew this would not be an exception. While two prosecution offices have opened some sort of investigation into the case, I do not have high hopes someone would actually be held responsible. But I am ok with writing simply to expose wrongdoings; it’s like a testament of time – regardless of how politicians are trying to paint themselves and our reality, we are here to show and preserve how people actually lived and what this state really was.

But in this specific case, I do believe our work can bring a change in practice. Pressure from the public and international donors – who provide part of the fund to the Serbian government – can enforce the state to award money to proper civil society organisations for projects that can bring change.

  1. BIRN also received special commendations from the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia for the story ‘Domestic Violence Against Children: Invisible Victims’. It was written by Dragana Prica Kovacevic, Teodora Curcic and yourself in collaboration with media outlets 021, Juzne vesti, Bujanovacke, Glas Sumadije and Ozon. What do awards like these mean to you?

It’s nice to get praise from and with people you respect and whose work you hold in high regard. For this specific story, I was quite proud of the whole team – a group of absolutely awesome women – who put it together. What makes this commendation a bit more special than any other is that it went to a story done in collaboration with local media. Dragana, whose byline stands first, is working for 021, local media from the Serbian city of Novi Sad. Journalists from local media and their achievements are often overlooked while facing complex pressures and obstacles in their work.

  1. As we can see, you work on various topics. Which do you prefer? And which of your stories are you proud of?

In the last decade, I wrote quite rarely, as I primarily work as an editor. This also means I work on all the topics my team is interested in covering. As a newsroom, our policy is to cover stories that are in the public interest, so I do believe I am rather privileged to be able to work only on stories both my colleagues and I find important. However, for me personally, the stories of the most vulnerable are the stories I would invest most.

  1. What do you like most in your job, and what is the most challenging thing?

As I mentioned in the previous answer – I think it’s quite a privilege to be able to work day in and day out on something relevant (or at least relevant to you personally), so I would say that privilege and the great people I spend my time at work are what I like most. The most challenging things are all the obstacles we face in obtaining information and answers from people or institutions that are actually legally obliged to provide those answers… One of the rather frustrating things is how normalised these difficulties are – it’s normalised for the institutions to ghost journalistic questions and for politicians to call us liars, disregard our work and ignore findings.

  1. What would you advise young journalists from the region – what is most important when it comes to investigative journalism?

Preparation, pre-research and persistence. In other words, I think it’s crucial to learn and read as much as you can about the topic you are researching, and once you have a rather clear picture, it can take quite some persistence to get all the data and answers one might need. But in our line of work, it’s usually worth it.