Xhorxhina, 26, comes from Albania but is based in Kosovo. She studied applied arts and sciences, but journalism won her heart as a child when she co-created a school magazine.
Xhorxhina has been working for BIRN for the past three years. She likes to report on marginalised groups, Kosovo-Serbia relations and transitional justice issues.
This spring she reported from The Hague, where she attended the opening of the war crimes trial of Kosovo’s ex-President Hashim Thaci and three other former Kosovo Liberation Army leaders.
1.Why did you decide to become a journalist?
Since I was in elementary school I have wanted to hold people with more authority accountable for not keeping promises or not trying to make citizens’ daily life easier. I grew up in the suburbs of Tirana, around 15 minutes away from the city centre. However, as a child and then a teenager, finishing high school close to the city centre, I constantly witnessed two different realities. Conversations were a mixture of everyday politics and the struggle of not having drinking water or having electricity cuts. At the same time I grew up with histories of struggles from communist Albania and often was shown two sides of the same history – nostalgia and traumas from poverty and fears of the dictatorship. Slowly, I realised that journalists could be powerful voices of the community. When I was in eighth grade, together with a couple of friends, we established a school magazine in which we tried to include as many pupils as possible and publish their creations and ideas. However, the magazine failed due to a lack of funds but I did not stop wanting to become a journalist. I believe that journalists have the power to hold policymakers accountable by showcasing the everyday difficulties citizens have, while pointing out what institutions are not doing. I became a journalist because I always believed that journalists could be the voice of the citizens who were ‘fighting’ to make ends meet while simultaneously trying to move on from the past.
2.What do you like most in your job at Balkan Insight, and what is the most challenging thing?
Being a journalist often does not feel like a job to me because it is something I have wanted to do for as long as I remember. At Balkan Insight, I have found very good colleagues who have turned into important friends who have supported and helped me a lot. I learn new things from my colleagues constantly and due to that I understand the differences and similarities between our countries even better. One of my favourite things is talking to people about the difficulties they have in their everyday life in different parts of Kosovo and to see how despite everything, they somehow thrive. When talking to people I always have in the back of my mind the history of Kosovo as a former province of Serbia within the former Yugoslavia, the war at the end of the 1990s, and the creation of a state from scratch. There are many problems in Kosovo, socially, politically, and economically, however it is nice when I hear successful stories from young people or how older ones have not lost hope or the will to create a better life.
One of the challenges remains the digital decentralisation of information and sometimes the difficulty of getting answers to requests for information from government institutions and agencies.
3.What kind of stories do you prefer to report?
I like reporting about less favoured groups of society and the violation of their human rights, but also about reconciliation and transitional justice, international affairs that directly affect the country domestically, such as Kosovo-Serbia dialogue or regional Balkan agreements for example, and economic development.
For example, collaborating closely with the colleagues in Belgrade, I have worked on articles that explain the violations of human rights of ethnic Albanians from the south of Serbia or the difficulties faced by ethnic Serbs from North Kosovo due to unilateral governmental decisions of non-implemented agreements between Kosovo and Serbia.
4.Balkan Insight reported on the war crimes trial of Kosovo’s ex-president Hashim Thaci and the three other former Kosovo Liberation Army leaders in The Hague. We ran a live blog, and you were there and attended the trial. Can you tell us more about this journalistic assignment?
I have been reporting on developments at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers for Balkan Transitional Justice since the first arrests in 2020. The opening of the war crimes and crimes against humanity trial of former Kosovo President Hashim Thaci and his three co-defendants Jakup Krasniqi, Kadri Veseli and Rexhep Selimi was a historic event because it is one of the most important trials to come out of the Yugoslav wars.
I had the opportunity to witness and report live on what was happening inside the court and on the support the defendants have received since their detention in 2020 in Kosovo, and also the support they received during the opening statements of the prosecution from the Albanian diaspora who came from all over to The Hague. It is important to note that reporting live from the opening of the trial in the Hague was a teamwork, I had the assistance of our colleagues, the head of the legal office of the Kosovo office, Labinot Leposhtica, and the producer Valdet Salihu in The Hague as well as the help of our colleagues from Balkan Insight in publishing the updates in a timely manner in the live blog in order for me to able to follow the trial live and simultaneously report live.
5.What was the most challenging part for you while reporting on such an important trial? What are Balkan Insight’s next steps regarding the covering of the trial?
The most challenging part was the high level of security within the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, as no electronic devices were allowed in the court areas where the trial could be followed live. Therefore we had to take notes by hand and I had to go through security checks multiple times a day. This was very different to how Kosovo courts located within the country function.
Balkan Insight will continue to follow and report on all the current and future cases at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers as it has done so far by following the hearings and also asking for information from the court and the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office. Currently, the main obstacle to reporting the developments at the KSC is that witnesses are being mainly heard in private sessions in the Thaci et al case but also in the war crimes trial of Pjeter Shala.
- Would you like to give any advice to aspiring journalists who want to cover transitional justice topics?
I think aspiring journalists should not be discouraged if someone doubts their ability to report on transitional justice due to their age, personal life experience or gender. It is very important to read different perspectives on the war and then to read books that offer historical facts about the events, watch documentaries and read reports on events on the ground. Talking to people who have lived in the former Yugoslavia and may or may not be survivors of various massacres is also very important in order to be able to properly report on experiences. Also, reading verdicts from the ICTY is very helpful in understanding how international tribunals work.