Meet the People Behind BIRN: Milica Stojanovic

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Each month, BIRN introduces you to a different member of its team. For February, meet Milica Stojanović, journalist at Balkan Insight.

Milica Stojanovic, Photo: BIRN

Milica Stojanović, 33, is based in Serbia and has been working as a journalist for Balkan Insight for the last four years. As a child in the 1990s, she remembers the grownups complaining about Yugoslavia’s and Serbia’s then leadership. Her dream then was to ask these people why they are so mean. Her dream did not come true, but she did learn that people who ask questions are called journalists, so she became a journalist and started writing stories among others and about multi-ethnic coexistence in Kosovo and Serbia.

Together with her colleague Serbeze Haxhiaj, in the context of the Peaceful Change Initiative competition, Milica won first prize for their article “Serb Monastery Shelters Kosovo Albanians”, which told of how a Serbian Orthodox Monastery provided shelter for Albanian civilians during the 1998-99 war in Kosovo.

That story is part of Balkan Insight’s new project, called “Solidarity Stories”, presenting stories of human compassion across the ethnic divides during the conflicts in former Yugoslavia.

Let’s meet Milica!

  1. Why did you decide to become a journalist?

When I was little, during the Nineties, the situation in Serbia was quite bad and chaotic looking from a child’s perspective and the grownups were mostly complaining about the Yugoslav and Serbian then leaderships. I wanted to grow up and ask these leaders why they are so mean and why they do not do better for us all. Later, I found out that the people that can ask them such things are called journalists. Later still, in the first years after the political switch in Serbia in 2000, the media scene was quite alive, and I liked the idea of being part of it. Unfortunately, the media scene by the time I started working was already broken, so my childhood wish did not come true, but my current job came out as even better.

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

What I like the most in BI is two things: the scope of topics I can work on and the freedom to do it. When it comes to scope of topics, a big part of my job is working on Balkan Transitional Justice program, one of BIRN and BI trademarks in this region and in Europe. On this program, I cover things like war crimes trials in Serbia but also wartime-related political life problems. Also, I am working on features, analyses and investigations about still unprosecuted war crimes as well as about the lack of responsibility either to prosecute them, or to compensate the victims and/or their families in any way.

Since the war in Ukraine broke out, we were also trying to cover some aspects of that for our audience, where our most important project is Eyewitness Ukraine.

  1. Solidarity Stories is BIRN’s new project, presenting stories of human compassion across the ethnic divides during the conflicts in former Yugoslavia. Tell us more about this project and your contribution.

Among hundreds of BTJ stories about crimes, perpetrators, suffering and lack of responsibility of any kind, Solidarity Stories is different. It is a series of stories about people who were brave and aware enough to help their neighbours and fellow residents, or even people they saw for the first time in their lives, risking their own security and in some cases losing their lives, like Refik Visca, Predrag Dacic or Tomo Buzov.

  1. Together with your colleague Serbeze Haxhiaj you have been awarded for your solidarity story ‘Serb Monastery Shelters Kosovo Albanians’. Tell us more about this story and the award.

Serb Monastery Shelters Kosovo Albanians” is about the Visoki Decani Monastery, near Decani/Decan in Kosovo, which sheltered Albanian families who’d fled their homes before Serbian paramilitaries at the very end of the NATO bombing in June 1999. Although this is the lead of the story, it is really a story about the longer-term efforts of Decani monks to protect endangered civilians in the area, which in different times from the summer of 1998 to the summer of 1999 were Albanians, Serbs and Roma. Shaban Bruqaj and his family were among the families saved in June 1999 and he still remembers Abbot Sava Janjic as person who helped them, so this is also a story about gratitude.

This story, together with another BIRN story, “Serb Saves Albanian Neighbours in Kosovo”, won first prize in the media award competition of Peaceful Change initiative. The ceremony is on March 16.

Serbeze and I have worked jointly on stories basically since I started working for Balkan Insight. For example, we were dealing with problems with opening wartime archives, problems of shielding commanders from Kosovo war atrocity cases in Serbia and still unprosecuted war crimes committed in the Kosovo villages of Meja and Korenica in 1999. We have experience in joint work and it has always been a pleasure.

  1. How difficult or easy is it for a Serbian journalist to report on such a sensitive period and collaborate with a Kosovar journalist?

I am not sure if there is any period in my life that was/is not sensitive when it comes to Serbia and Kosovo, so sensitivity is kind of permanent. Belgrade Balkan Insight’s team works very closely with Pristina Balkan Insight team both on today’s sensitive topics as well as on these from the war.

When it comes to BTJ stories especially, I would not say this is difficult, since I have many resources to do this type of job, and the most important would be editorial support and understanding. I cannot call it easy, either, because reading, watching or listening about people’s suffering, with a frustrating lack of responsibility for that, comes pretty hard.

  1. In the coming weeks, Serbia and Kosovo will attempt to finalize a deal to normalize their relations. Do you believe journalism like yours and Serbeze’s has any impact on how politicians and people think?

When it comes to politicians – and I have to emphasize especially this generation of politicians – I don’t think any journalism itself can impact them. They can be impacted only by the possibility of not being officials anymore, but with such lack of confidence in media these days, I am not sure journalism can contribute there, no matter how high quality it is.

On the other hand, I believe it can impact people. I think people, in general, are good and empathetic and that hate is not something immanent but is adopted due to campaigns via politics, culture and media, which all started years before the war itself. So, when they read something like our Solidarity Stories, I think they can realize our “heroes” do not have to be exceptions. A world in which they are standard is possible.