Hamdi Firat Buyuk

Hamdi Firat Buyuk is a political analyst who joined BIRN in 2016 as a correspondent and he has been covering Turkey and occasionally Bosnia and Sandzak region for Balkan Insight.

Before joining BIRN, Firat worked in think tanks and media as a political analyst, journalist and editor and joined several projects on his areas of expertise. Firat’s pieces and comments on Turkey, Turkish foreign policy and the Balkans have appeared in Turkish, Balkan and international media houses including Radikal, Gazete Duvar, PolitikYol, Euronews, Aljazeera Balkans, The Economist and Foreign Policy.

His academic work includes a book chapter entitled “Partners or Security Challengers? The Implications of the Presence of Turkey, the Gulf States, and Iran in the Western Balkans” at the Peace and Security in the Balkans published by Routledge and an academic article entitled “Measuring Turkey’s contemporary influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina: myth and reality” in the Journal of Southeast European and Black Sea Studies.

Firat holds an MSc degree in international relations from the University of Essex, England.

Firat speaks Turkish, English and Bosnian.

Ivana Nikolić

Ivana joined BIRN in 2020. Based in Serbia, she is responsible for managing and coordinating all activities within the BIRN Investigative Reporting Initiative programme, including BIRN Summer School of Investigative Reporting.

Since February 2020, Ivana has worked as a Programme Manager for IRI, currently coordinating two projects: Paper Trail to Better Governance and Spheres of Influence Uncovered. This programme primarily deals with the production of cutting-edge country-based and cross-border stories, training of journalists and developments related to the freedom of information sphere in the Western Balkans.

Ivana joined BIRN in 2014 as a Balkan Insight correspondent for Serbia. She also contributed to Balkan Insight’s Transitional Justice programme and was a coordinator for BIRN’s bi-weekly newspaper, Belgrade Insight. She also worked as a researcher and journalist on three documentaries produced by BIRN: The Unidentified, Your House Was My Home and the latest one, Forgotten Victims, published in 2023.

In recent years, Ivana worked as a freelance journalist for various media outlets in Serbia, including BBC News in Serbian as well as several LGBT+ and popular science magazines in the country.

As a student, Ivana was awarded a European Commission scholarship for a student exchange programme at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. She also received grants from Serbia’s Ministry of Education on several occasions.

Ivana holds a BA degree in Journalism from the University of Belgrade’s Faculty of Political Sciences.

She is currently working on her master thesis about culture of remembrance at the same Faculty.

Ivana speaks Serbian and English and has a basic knowledge of Spanish.

Call for EU Investigative Journalism Award 2023 is now closed

Journalists from the Western Balkans and Türkiye submitted more than 260 applications to the Call for EU Investigative Journalism Award 2023.

A total of 267 applications have been submitted for the EU Investigative Journalism Award 2023, encompassing both national and regional categories. These applications came from seven different countries. This prestigious award honours exceptional investigative stories published in the preceding calendar year.

From the pool of received applications, the evaluation jury will choose the top three stories from each of the seven countries, resulting in 21 selected stories. This selection process ensures that the most outstanding works from each country are recognized and acknowledged.

This year, the EU Award has introduced an exciting addition in the form of a regional award. This category seeks to recognise the finest stories that transcend national boundaries and address issues of significance to the entire region. By creating this new category, the award aims to inspire journalists to broaden their perspective and tackle matters that have a broader impact.

A separate evaluation jury will be established to evaluate the regional award submissions. This dedicated panel will review all entries and select the three stories that have the most substantial regional impact. This initiative will foster a sense of collaboration among journalists and encourage them to delve into regional matters that affect a wider audience.

The annual award fund for each of the countries is 10,000 euros and the prize fund for regional awards is also 10,000 euros. The three best stories of the year are awarded, and the amount for national and regional prizes is 5,000 euros (first place), 3,000 (second), and 2,000 (third).

In the past four years, 84 investigative stories from the Western Balkans and Türkiye produced by 124 journalists were awarded. These stories contributed to resolving cases of power misuse, corruption, organised crime, pollution of the ecosystem, and other wrongdoings.

The organiser of the award is Thomson Media, an organisation with decades of experience in media development and the promotion of media freedom on a global level.

The EU Award for Investigative Journalism 2023 is part of the project “Strengthening Quality Journalism in Western Balkans and Türkiye II”. This aims to recognise and promote outstanding achievements in investigative journalism as well as improve the visibility of quality journalism in the Western Balkans and Türkiye.

The project is funded by the European Union, and it is implemented by a consortium composed of Balkan Investigative Reporting Network – BIRN Hub, Central European University (CEU) – Hungary, the Association of Journalists (AJ) – Türkiye, Thomson Media (TM) – Germany, University Goce Delcev Stip (UGD) – North Macedonia, The Independent Union of Journalists and Media Workers (SSNM) – North Macedonia, Media Association of South-East Europe (MASE) – Montenegro, and Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Kosovo (BIRN Kosovo).

For more details check here.

BIRN Hosts Internet Freedom Meet in Belgrade, Serbia

BIRN hosted Internet Freedom Meet, a four-day conference, in Belgrade, Serbia, from June 26 to 29. The gathering brought together 18 speakers and more than 30 participants – journalists, researchers, media freedom and human rights activists, fact-checkers, and tech enthusiasts working in digital rights.

The four-day event started with a keynote address by Caroline Sinders, a machine-learning-design researcher and artist. Sinders, founder of Convocation Design + Research, has developed expertise at the nexus of machine learning, user research, and public good design through collaborations with such esteemed entities as Amnesty International, IBM Watson and the Wikimedia Foundation.

The first day also featured an engaging roundtable discussion, “Enhancing Internet Freedom Through Digital Rights Activism,” moderated by Sinders. Joining the panel was Rima Sghaier, a respected name in digital rights advocacy, Amar Karađuz from the citizens association “Why Not,” and Bojan Perkov, a digital policy coordinator at the SHARE Foundation. They exchanged thoughts and strategies on bolstering internet freedom through digital rights advocacy. To close the day, Sghaier led a hands-on workshop on “Engaging in Digital Rights Activism.”

The second day shed light on the pressing concern of online-to-offline violence. Carlos Guerra, Technical Advisor on Digital Security at Greater Internet Freedom Project, led the day by giving an introductory address and later moderating a discussion featuring Katarina Golubović, from the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights (YUCOM), and Hristina Piskulidis, a Communications Officer at ASTRA.

Both women, experienced in human rights advocacy and eradicating human trafficking, respectively, shared perspectives in the roundtable discussion titled “Preventing Violence: Online Extremism and Offline Consequences.”

Guerra’s afternoon workshop on digital safety in the time of remote work was particularly inspiring to participants who learned how to protect themselves in the work-from-home era.

Later in the day, Anđela Milivojević, an investigative reporter, led a thought-provoking workshop addressing cyberbullying and online harassment in investigative journalism based on her investigative article published by BIRN’s Balkan Insight, which prompted a reaction by Telegram, a 700-million user instant messaging app.

Day three showcased BIRN’s regional research report “Hidden in Plain Sight,” which focuses on the accountability of Balkan telecommunication companies, using the Ranking Digital Rights’ methodology. Dragana Žarković Obradović, BIRN Serbia country director, presented the main findings and led the discussion about the report’s results.

L-R: Dragana Zarkovic Obradovic, Tanja Maksic, Bojan Stojkovski, Ana Toskic-Cvetinovic, Leandro Ucciferri (on screen)

The panel included Leandro Ucciferri, global partnerships manager at Ranking Digital Rights, Tanja Maksić, a researcher and project coordinator from BIRN Serbia, Ana Toskić-Cvetinović, executive director of Partners Serbia, and Bojan Stojkovski, who was one of the researchers for the report.

To close the day, Ivana Jeremić, an editor at Balkan Insight, hosted a workshop that looked closer at BIRN’s recent investigation on so-called “free roaming” in the Balkans.

The final day of the Internet Freedom Meet in Belgrade was dominated by discussions on artificial intelligence, AI. Ljubiša Bojić, a senior research fellow at the University of Belgrade’s Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory and a coordinator of Digital Society Lab, gave a thought-provoking keynote address.

A round table discussion on AI accountability, the EU AI Act, and responsible use of AI followed, moderated by Bojić. The discussion was enriched by insights from Deniz Wagner, an adviser to the world’s only intergovernmental media freedom watchdog – OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Predrag Tadić, an assistant professor at the University of Belgrade’s School of Electrical Engineering, and Branka Anđelković, programme director of the Public Policy Research Center.

The last session of BIRN’s Internet Freedom Meet in Belgrade was Wagner’s workshop, which equipped attendees with tools for advocating responsible AI policies.

Speakers and participants agreed that BIRN’s Internet Freedom Meet in Belgrade propelled the dialogue on a variety of critical issues by facilitating the platform for timely and much-needed discussions revolving around internet freedom and digital rights, setting the stage for future discussions and collaborations aimed at safeguarding these integral aspects of our lives in the digital era.

Goce Delchev University

Goce Delchev University in Shtip was established in 2007. It was founded initially with seven faculties and one higher school. Nowadays, it offers studies in the following fields: Law, Economics, Mining, Geology and Polytechnic, Agriculture, Computer Science and Information Technology, Music and Higher Medical School, Medical Science, Philology, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, Technology and Faculty of Tourism and Business Logistics.


Its aim is to create and transfer knowledge to develop social and economic wellbeing and progress in society, preparing students for professions in which the application of scientific discoveries and professional knowledge, cultural and language diversity, the promotion of technological development and the development of arts, technical culture and sport is required.

Web: https://www.ugd.edu.mk/index.php/en/



BIRN Holds Training on Data Journalism, Digital Security, in Georgia

As part of the project exploring foreign influences in the Balkans, South Caucasus and Central Asia, Balkan Investigative Regional Reporting Network and its partners organized a workshop in Tbilisi, Georgia, to boost skills and foster networking among participants from the three regions.

A three-day training on storytelling, digital security and data journalism took place in the Georgian capital on February 21-23, gathering around 20 journalists from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Georgia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The workshop is part of the project “Spheres of Influence Uncovered, jointly implemented by BIRN, German NGO n-ost, Uzbek’s Anhor and Georgian JAMNews media outlets.

The workshop aimed at equipping participants with journalistic knowledge and skills needed not only for the sake of the project – during which they will map foreign influences and produce country-based and cross-border stories – but in their everyday work as well.

During the storytelling training, held by the managing editor of BIRN’s Balkan Insight, Dusica Tomovic, participants learned about what makes a good story, what are major reporting phases and the importance of knowing your audience.

BIRN journalist and digital security trainer Milica Stojanovic walked the participants through security of communication, types of danger, encryption and useful apps. Aleksandra Shalibashvili, a researcher and a project coordination at Tbilisi-based ForSet, an enterprise strengthening change-makers is use of data, design, and technology, talked about using data in an effective manner, must-have data tools as well as data visualization.

Apart from the official training sessions, participants spent time sharing experiences and spotting similarities between their three regions in relation to China, Russia, the EU and other actors. Part of the workshop was also a guided walking tour around Tbilisi, focusing on the various influences on Georgia over time, as well as on the current foreign direct investments and foreign economic activities in the South Caucasus country.

The project “Spheres of Influence Uncovered” 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, participating journalists will map economic activities among these three players and identify the main challenges and consequences for their countries. This project is partly a follow-up on BIRN’s previous work in the sphere of foreign economic activities, explored in the interactive map China in the Balkans.

In the coming months, more skills-building activities will take place in the Balkans and Central Asia, while the first country-based and cross-border long reads are to be published soon.

Meet the People Behind BIRN: Igor Vujčić

Each month, BIRN introduces you to a different member of its team. For January, meet Igor Vujčić, BIRN’s graphic designer.

Igor Vujčić, 37, comes from Serbia and has worked for BIRN as a graphic designer for the last three years. His natural gift in arts guided him to study at the College of Fine and Applied Arts in Belgrade.

Balkan Insight’s biggest investigative and long-form stories have his visual signature. His style has formed Balkan Insight’s unique visual identity.

Igor prefers to illustrate investigative stories, as they are more personal and include a human factor, unlike global news stories.

He believes that illustration is powerful, as it conveys the message that journalists want to transfer to the readers through their words, while simultaneously working as a tool to attract readers.

  1. Why did you become a graphic designer/illustrator? Who is your favourite artist?

As it usually goes with artists, from the first day I could hold a pen in my hand it was clear that I would become an artist, or something close to that. Throughout my childhood, I would sit for hours and draw superheroes and other favourite cartoon characters, so my natural choice after elementary school was the Design School in Belgrade, and the best fit to meet my passion for illustration was the Graphic Design department. There is certainly a bit of genetics in all that, as both my father and mother, though an electrical engineer and a medical worker, always had talent for drawing. Now my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter can already draw faces and details like at least a four-year-old kid.

Illustrator Bob Zivkovic was my childhood “hero”, while now that I’ve dived into the world of illustration, I cannot single out one favourite artist.

  1. Why did you decide to work as an illustrator for a media company, namely Balkan Insight?

Working for a media company like Balkan Insights enables a lot of freedom in expression, creativity and participation in diverse projects. It’s not only about getting the work done; I must also immerse myself in the topic and think metaphorically, finding new relations between objects and themes to convey the right message to the viewer. It is never boring and is quite challenging.

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

The possibility to experiment with styles is a big plus in this job; depending on the subject, I need to find the appropriate style which best fits the context. It enables me to make an authentic design that makes me also satisfied with my work. That is challenging at the same time, as I don’t use the same template and “recycle”, but always start from scratch.

  1. How difficult or easy is it to illustrate a media story and an in-depth investigation for Balkan Insight? How do visual elements contribute to media stories?

If done right, illustration is a powerful tool to attract readers and convey the message as, along with the headline, they tell part of a story, but still not enough, so they trigger a viewer’s curiosity, and our urge is to understand the whole story and not leave it “half-baked” in our minds. There is an expression that “people are visual creatures,” so the illustration for a media story makes a long-standing mark and adds to the expression of the journalist. That is at least what I hope is my contribution to an article.

  1. What kind of stories do you prefer to illustrate? Which is your favourite illustration you have done for Balkan Insight?

I mostly enjoy doing illustrations for investigative stories, as they are more personal and include a human factor, unlike global news stories. That means I can better relate to them and put myself in the correspondent’s shoes, and as a result provide a better visual for the story.

As for my favourite illustration, it is better to ask my colleagues and readers – what made the greatest impression and what triggered the conversation?

  1. Do you believe media should have visual identity? Can you tell us about Balkan Insight’s visual identity?

As the case is with any organization, visual identity makes a brand recognizable and enhances the credibility of the news piece.

When it comes to the visual identity of Balkan Insight, there is a good balance between excellent quality photography and illustration, which puts it on a par with major worldwide media.









Meet the People Behind BIRN: Eleni Stamatoukou

Each month, BIRN introduces you to a different member of its team. For
December, meet Eleni Stamatoukou, BIRN’s Communication Manager and Journalist at Balkan Insight.

Eleni Stamatouku, 41, has been working for BIRN’s flagship Balkan Insight for the last two years as our correspondent from Greece as well as Communications Manager in BIRN.

Based in Athens, she has a BA in Balkan Studies and MA in Social Anthropology and wanted to be a journalist since she was a young child. For her, journalism allows people to “live” different lives by meeting people from all cultures.

She always tries to include the human side in all the topics she reports on, so it is even easier for the readers to relate. She has led BIRN’s investigation into the harassment of Greek women journalists in their workplaces. The investigation covered incidents from 1993 to 2021, revealing that female journalists in Greece do not feel safe reporting incidents.

1. Why did you decide to become a journalist?

 When we were in the first grade, our teacher asked us to write down what we wanted to become when we grew up. I still have this composition. I wrote that I wanted to be a teacher or a journalist. I chose to be a journalist because I like listening to and writing stories. Through journalism, you can “live” different lives and meet extraordinary people and cultures. That’s the good part of our profession.

2.  Do you have a quote, it can be directly about journalism or not, that you keep in mind during your work? If yes, share it with us and explain why you picked it.

After finishing reporting (reading, interviews, transcriptions, meetings, etc.), the best part is the writing process, as I listen to music to concentrate and write. In her book “Girl in a band: A Memoir” Kim Gordon, who formed Sonic Youth together with Thurston Moore, narrates a conversation she had with her friend, an artist called Dan, who confesses to her that he wishes he could make art that was like a Kinks’ song. Gordon questions herself, saying: “A lot of artists listen to music while they work, and many think, ‘Why can’t I make art that looks as intense as the sounds I’m hearing’? I don’t have an answer.” I wish my journalism could be as intense as the sounds of my favourite songs – a difficult task.

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

I am very proud to be part of BIRN’s family and have the chance to collaborate with many people from different backgrounds and cultures. The thing that I like is that I am always learning something new. The most challenging thing in my everyday work is the deadlines and the obstacles, when companies, state bodies, and people do not answer my questions.

4. On what kind of stories do you prefer to work and why? Which is your favoirite story you have written for Balkan Insight so far?

I like to write primarily human stories because I feel like that’s the only way readers can feel some connection and relate. Even in the most difficult investigations, I always try to get people talking first.

One of my favorite investigations is “No Refund: How Greece Made Passengers Pay to KeepAirlines Alive,” which is about consumers in Greece and abroad who were waiting to get their money back from three Greek airlines (Aegean Airlines, Sky Express, Ellinair) when their flights were canceled due to the pandemic. The Greek government supported a voucher-only compensation scheme at the expense of consumers, and contrary to European law. I should note here that the Greek media refused to publish this research at first. Aegean Airlines is one of the largest companies in Greece and has a big influence.

5. Recently you published an investigation into the #metoo movement in Greek media. Would you like to tell us more about this story and its importance?

Due to the lack of a media watchdog in Greece, BIRN investigated the harassment of Greek female journalists in their workplaces.

The BIRN investigation disclosed that female journalists are often afraid to report such abuse and harassment and ignore the procedures. At the same time, most media in Greece do not even have the means to handle such cases.

BIRN’s research covered incidents over almost 30 years, from 1993 to 2021, documented through interviews with current and former media industry workers

The investigation was republished in Greek by the EFSYN newspaper and presented by several Greek media, such as Lifo, In.gr, ERT3, Proto Thema, Marie Claire, TVXS, Ladylike.gr, Popaganda.gr etc.

BIRN’s investigation helped open up a long-needed debate on the abuse and harassment of female journalists in the Greek media.

6. What were the main obstacles during this investigation?

 I want to thank my editor-in-chief Dusica Tomovic and all my editors and colleagues at Balkan Insight. Without their support, I could not have done this research. The biggest difficulty was how to approach the female victims who agreed to meet in person. I was very anxious how to make the interviewees feel safe so that they would trust me and share their stories with me. Then there were various other small “difficulties” such as the reactions of the Greek media – some of which were exaggerated – when we asked to see if they have procedures where victims can seek help and report their abuse / harassment. A second investigation could certainly be written about the reactions of the Greek media. I hope our report helps in some way to slowly change things in the Greek press.

7.  What is your advice to aspiring journalists who want to work as correspondents in our region?

 Read as much as you can (books, investigations, etc.,) write as much as you can, work hard, travel, be open, ask questions, don’t give up, and dream.


Open Call: Third Cycle of the Digital Rights Programme for Journalists

Journalists from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Kosovo are invited to apply for the third edition of BIRN’s Digital Rights Programme, which seeks to analyse threats to digital rights and freedoms and to document, explore and communicate to the wider public the abuses of digital tools to undermine democracy and human rights.

BIRN is looking for people who want to create engaging and informative content focusing on technology and the opportunities and challenges it poses to democracy and human rights, in particular:

  • Freedom of expression,
  • COVID-related tech regulations,
  • Content blocking and removal,
  • Artificial intelligence, machine-learning and algorithmic decision-making processes,
  • Transparency of processes of digital transformation in the region,
  • Hate speech and discrimination in the digital environment,
  • Gender issues,
  • LGBTI+ issues,
  • Digital security and phishing campaigns,
  • Privacy and data protection,
  • Surveillance practices,
  • Accountability of the major internet platforms and online safety of users,
  • Information security,
  • Disinformation and misinformation,
  • 5G technology in the region,
  • Cryptocurrencies/blockchain,
  • Social media bots and troll farms.

BIRN offers a comprehensive six-month programme for all accepted applications, which includes:

  • Financial support ($1,325 gross),
  • Regular networking opportunities,
  • Meetings with relevant stakeholders dealing with digital transformation challenges and freedom of expression,
  • On-the-job mentoring and editorial sessions to produce high-quality journalism and educational sessions focused on digital security for media.

Support is available for professional freelance or staff journalists to cover local, national and cross-border topics. The stories produced under the programme will be published by Balkan Insight and by prominent European, regional and international media outlets.

Click here to apply for the programme.

The call is open until October 31, 2022.

Who can apply?

The programme is open to all journalists who believe they have a good story concerning the health of the digital ecosystem in the Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Kosovo . We also welcome applications from staff reporters from local and national media who wish to co-publish the story with us.

Formal applicants can be:

  • Individual journalists (working as part of newsroom structures or as freelancers),
  • Teams (eg. reporter, producer, photographer, video editor) with a designated team leader as the contract signatory.

BIRN is committed to gender diversity and freedom from prejudice on any grounds.

Story requirements

  • The story must focus on at least one of the topics listed above,
  • It must be relevant and current to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Kosovo ,
  • Stories that cover more than one country will be given an advantage,
  • Only in-depth, investigative stories will be taken into account,
  • Each story should be around 2,000 words long,
  • Each selected story must be published within six months of receipt of the first instalment.

How to apply?

Fill out the application form and follow the instructions.

Attach the signed declaration document.

Evaluation and selection:

Step I: Technical evaluation will be carried out by BIRN staff to ensure the applicants have followed application procedures and submitted all the required documents.

Step II: Evaluation will be carried out by the editorial board to select applicants based on the evaluation criteria, including:

  • Quality of the proposed idea,
  • Feasibility of the proposed plan,
  • Ability to reach the general public,
  • Relevance of the proposed idea.

Step III: Notification of applicants.

For additional information, please contact marjan.maruna@birnnetwork.org

The Digital Rights Programme for Journalists is made possible through support from the UN Democracy Fund, Internews and Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

BIRN, n-ost, Hold Workshop in Ohrid on Environmental and Climate Reporting

BIRN Hub and partner organization n-ost held a workshop from September 20-23 in Ohrid, North Macedonia, on cross-border environmental and climate reporting for 18 journalists from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

Over three days, participants learned from trainers Besar Likmeta and Dragan Gmizic how to form teams and investigate environmental issues in their countries.

The trainers shared what it takes to establish a research team, publish and follow up on your investigation.

“When you investigate and publish about sensitive issues, for example on some public officials breaking the law, it’s better to have a network of journalists standing behind you,” said Likmeta, on the importance of cross-border journalism.

On the second day of the workshop, the participants learned more about climate journalism from guest lecturer Angelina Davydova. “Climate journalism is complicated, but allows for international cooperation, cross-border reporting and many training opportunities,” Davydova said. Participants then discussed how to address climate change in stories they’re interested in.

Finally, participants discussed local environmental issues related to nearby Lake Ohrid with Vladimir Trajanovski, from SOS Ohrid, a citizens’ initiative, which is active in protecting the area and its environment.

“Investigative journalists in North Macedonia helped us a lot by writing in their way about topics we pointed out to them, and had a crucial role in exposing problems,” Trajanovski said.

At the end of the workshop, participants formed cross-border research teams and will work on stories in the next two months until they gather again.

This was a first workshop organized as part of the project entitled Going Environmental, which is financed by the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development.