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HRW Research Finds Media Freedom in Western Balkans Under Serious Threat

After almost a year of research in the region and in-depth interviews with over 80 journalists, editors, and independent media owners, Human Rights Watch released a report in July 2015 stating that media freedom in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia are under threat.

The report's findings include impunity and lack of action by authorities for threats, beatings, and even murders of journalists and media workers in these countries, citing that political interference and financial pressure through heavy fines and vague laws are often imposed on independent media in these countries.

In several cases journalists said they have continued to experience physical violence and abuse after their initial attack, again, often with impunity for their assailants. Journalists reporting on war crimes or radical religious groups in BiH, Kosovo and Serbia said authorities downplayed the seriousness of online threats they had experienced.[…]

Inefficiency and severe backlogs in the four justice systems impede timely adjudication of legal cases. Cases tend to drag on for years, creating an environment that can be used to the advantage of those who seek to stifle critical reporting through criminal acts of intimidation.

Human Rights Watch's key recommendations to authorities and governments in the four countries in question following this report include public and unequivocal condemnation of all attacks against journalists and media outlets and assurance of swift and thorough investigations into all such incidents, as well as prompt and impartial investigations into all attacks and threats against journalists and media outlets, including cybercrimes. The international human rights watch dog has also recommended that the European Union, to which all four of these countries are currently aspiring, the OSCE and the Council of Europe pay closer attention and take additional steps to urge relevant authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia to react appropriately to media threats and ensure a safe environment for journalists to work in.

Four Kosovars Walk to Brussels for Visa-free Travel Privileges

On July 17, 2014, four men from Kosovo completed a 78-day walk from eastern Kosovo to Brussels, Belgium. The goal of their trek was to incite EU officials to grant Kosovo visa-free travel throughout the EU, a privilege that has been available to all other Western Balkan countries for some time.

The four men began their trip entirely independently and with their own financing, but say that they received both financial and moral support from others throughout the countries of the region as they made their way to the headquarters of the European Union. Radio Free Europe reported after the men reached Brussels, where they met with EU officials:

Calling themselves The “Free Travellers” group (“Shtegtarët e lire”), the men walked under the slogan “5 million steps for one step” in the hope that Brussels will grant citizens of Kosovo the possibility to travel to the European Union without visas.

Léonarda, 15, Arrested During a School Trip and Deported

Léonarda Dibrani, 15, was on field trip with her schoolmates when she was detained by the french police, near Levier, France. She was later deported with the rest of her family [fr] to Kosovo as illegal immigrants. The Dibrani family fled Kosovo about five years ago because they are Roma. Léonarda tells the story of her deportation andthe conditions in which she lives now[fr], not being able to speak Albanian nor Serbian. In a social context where Roma population is frequently stigmatized, the french government has promised to conduct an investigation on the conditions of the arrest. The hash tag #Leonarda has been a trending topic on French social networks since the arrest and more 3000 people have already signed a petition for her return. Many observers have noted that the law has been applied appropriately in this particular case.         

E-Journal on Balkan History and Archaeology


Haemus journal Vol.1 (2012)

(more…) Crowdmapping Corruption in Kosovo

Responding to this discussion on the impact of crowdsourced anti-corruption initiatives, Alexis Franke of UNDP's Voices From Eurasia writes about, “a project that encourages citizens to report cases of corruption in Kosovo via a Ushahidi-based platform.”

Albania: Balkans Beyond Borders Short Film Festival

A poster for the Balkans Beyond Borders Short Film Festival 2012.

The Balkans Beyond Borders Short Film Festival 2012 opens in Tirana today. This is the third time that the festival is being held; this year's theme is “TALK TO ME – multilingualism and communication”; the program of the three-day event is here.

Kosovo: “Cinematic Darkness Knows No Nation”

At Kosovo 2.0 blog, Belgrade-based journalist Dušan Komarčević writes – here and here – about his July 2012 trip to Prizren, Kosovo, to attend the DOKUFEST International Documentary and Short Film Festival:

[…] The cinemas were filled with movie lovers from Kosovo, Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Croatia, Serbia, … Serbs and Albanians together!, will exclaim in unison ethnocentric builders committed to multiply the concept of the Berlin Wall in as many locations as possible. Unlike diplomats from Belgrade and Prishtina, who are seated around the same table by some Brussels bureaucrat […], moviephiles don’t need any intermediaries. Of course, with the exception of celluloid film. […]

Macedonia: Ethnic Tensions Rise Following Murders at Smiljkovci

At TOL's East of Center, Barbara Frye writes about the situation in Macedonia, following the recent murder of five men outside the capital Skopje.

Macedonia, Greece, Turkey: Bridging the Divides Through Multilingual Reporting

Two recent initiatives by civic-minded journalists added value to the e-content in local languages from Macedonia and nearby countries: Diversity Media is offering news analysis through text and audio podcasts in Macedonian and Albanian, and is enabling “peeking over the neighbors’ fence” in Macedonian, Turkish, Greek, and English. The former also started a competition for news bloggers [mk, sq], ending Jan. 31.

The Balkans, Norway: Anders Breivik and Srđa Trifković

Eric Gordy of East Ethnia writes about the Balkan dimension of the July 22 terrorist attacks in Norway: “[…] [Anders Breivik] has the revelation that his path to violent idiocy began with his shock at the Kosovo bombing campaign in 1999. So to the other sets of concerns he understands badly, he added the history of the Balkans, and his main, heavily quoted and cribbed source on that (as well as on some theological topics!) is one Srđa Trifković.”

Hungarian PM: Immigration Crisis Should be Solved by Building Wall along the Border with Serbia

While the European immigration crisis is not showing any signs of dying down, the EU has been taking some much needed measures related to saving the lives of the people who are trying to enter Europe trough the Mediterranean. Aside from the Mediterranean Sea, migrants have also been fleeing their home countries by way of the now familiar ‘Balkan Route’, traveling from Kosovo and war-torn Middle Eastern countries. One of the key entrance points to European grounds is the route from non-EU Serbia into neighboring EU member Hungary. Hence, to keep immigrants out of the European Union, the Hungarian PM is planning on erecting a 4-meter-high, 175-kilometer-long fence along the border with Serbia.

Victor Orban, prime minister of Hungary, said during the Globsec Bratislava Security Conference:

Mađarska ne vjeruje u europsko rješenje pitanja ilegalnih imigranata, a zid prema susjedima gradi jer je to “obaveza države”.

Hungary does not believe in the European solution of the illegal immigrant problem and the wall towards our neighbors is this country's obligation

There were more than 50,000 illegal entrances to Hungary since the beginning of January 2015. At the same time, 47,000 migrants have entered Italy. Austria and Germany will return 15,000 illegal immigrants to Hungary and, by the end of the year, there could be some 150,000 immigrants in that country by the end of the year, Al-Jazeera reports.

A podcast by photojournalist Mauro Prandelli describes first-hand what is it like to be an undocumented person and to stay at the immigrant camp in Hungary, an immigrant calling the country “a dead zone for immigrants”. The interview was recorded in Bogovajda bush, 70 kilometers from Belgrade, Serbia.

In global terms, illegal immigration is a growing issue and governments are searching for a permanent solution. According to UNHCR's report ‘Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2014′, displaced persons now roughly equate to the population of Italy or the United Kingdom. The top three countries of origin of the immigrants are the Syrian Arab Republic (3.88 million), Afghanistan (2.59 million), and Somalia (1.11 million). However, many do not see building a wall between countries in the 21st century as a proper solution.



Serbia Mourns British-Serbian Legend Timothy John Byford

Author, actor, educator, television and film director Timothy John Byford died in Belgrade on May 5, 2014, after a long illness. Born in Salisbury, England, Byford spent most of his life in Belgrade, where he moved in 1971 and later became a naturalized citizen of Serbia.

As news portal InSerbia reports:

He is best known for his children’s TV series: Neven (‘Marigold’), Babino unuče (‘Granny’s Boy’) and Poletarac (‘Fledgling’) (all for TV Belgrade) as well as Nedeljni zabavnik (‘Sunday Magazine’), ‘Musical Notebook’ and Tragom ptice Dodo (‘On the Trail of the Dodo’) (all for TV Sarajevo). ‘Fledgling’ won a Grand Prix at the Prix Jeunesse International Festival in Munich in 1980.

Byford marked the lives and childhoods of several generations in Serbia and other former Yugoslav states through his television shows and educational programs. His presence was also felt in everyday Belgrade life, where he once rallied to have Banjica Park protected because of its feathered wildlife, and the term “Byfordian accent” has for decades been a popular way of describing someone who speaks Serbian well but with a heavy English accent.

Byford was genuinely beloved by his vast audience and fellow Belgraders, which has been touchingly apparent on social networks since his passing. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and local media have been adorned with praise and gratitude to Byford and his contribution to culture and happy childhoods in Serbia and other former Yugoslav states. Enes Dinić from Serbia was among those who recounted Byford's wise words on Twitter:

"Life is an adventure, if you live it courageously." R.I.P. Timothy John Byford

— Enes Dinić (@eniko_neno3) May 5, 2014

Running 1,000 Miles for Europe's Trafficked Children

Run For Love 1000

This month, Rob Martineau, Tom Stancliffe, and Guy Hacking are running 1,000 miles from Odessa to Dubrovnik, via Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Croatia, as part of the Run For Love 1000 campaign, whose aim is to raise funds for Love146, a UK charity that “gives care and hope to trafficked children, and to raise awareness of the scale of human trafficking across Europe.” Follow their run on the RFL1000 website, on Facebook, and on Twitter; support the runners by donating here (215 donations have been made so far, with nearly £12,500 raised).

Presenting the Balkan Minorities

Face the Balkans subjects of stories

A screenshot of the Face the Balkans website.

Fifteen young journalists from six different countries have produced a series of personal stories about representatives of the minorities (in a broad sense) from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia, and Macedonia. The stories are available in English, German, and French on the Face the Balkans website.

Kosovo: Venice Biennale “Newcomer”

Facebook page “Southeast Europe: People and Culture” notes that “Kosovo is one of this year's newcomers to the [Venice Biennale]”:

The pavilion allows visitors to share their views on Kosovo's future design landscape.

More on the Kosovo Pavilion – here.

Kosovo: Prizren Comic Book & Cartoon Festival

Poster announcing Vesna Nichevska-Saravinova's participation at 8th Comic Book & Cartoon Fest in Prizren

A poster for the 8th Comic Book & Cartoon Fest in Prizren

Macedonian artist Vesna Nichevska-Saravinova blogged about her participation in the Prizren Comics Festival, organized by the Kosovo Comic Book Artist Association, Xhennet Comics [sq]. Four out of 15 featured artists at the festival were from Macedonia, Eddie Rebel reports [mk], alongside colleagues from Italy, Turkey, Cyprus, France, Kosovo, Bulgaria, and Bosnia.

Croatia: 2.8 Million “Inappropriate” Books “Purged” During the 1990s

In “Libricide,” Ante Lešaja has documented the process of “purging” of “unsuitable” books from Croatian schools and public libraries by the right-wing HDZ government in the 1990s. According to a Jutarnji List interview [hr] with Lešaja, the “purging” was based on ideological and ethnic criteria and affected books “written in Cyrillic [script], [Ekavian dialect], books by Serbian authors and publishers, by ‘suspicious’ Croats, by leftists…” As a result, 2.8 million books (13% of all the library material) and 3,000 monuments of the anti-fascist struggle were obliterated. Comments on the link by Macedonian Facebook users suggest that similar processes are taking place in other ex-Yugoslav states, with janitors throwing “obsolete” books into trash.

Serbia: May 6 Parliamentary Vote Roundup

Bill Kralovec posts a short roundup on the upcoming parliamentary elections in Serbia, scheduled for May 6, and shares his “political platform,” asking Serbian readers to help him “match which party most resonates with [his] opinions.”

Macedonia: Ajvar, Glorified

Jovana Tozija wrote lovingly about making ajvar, a traditional favorite winter provision in Macedonia and some other post-Ottoman countries.

Serbia, Kosovo, Russia: A Letter to Putin

Eric Gordy re-launches his East Ethnia blog, taking a close look, in one of the first posts, at the letter to the Russian PM Vladimir Putin, written by 21 Serbian “intellectuals”, who are asking “Russia to propose a resolution in the Security Council on the condition of Serbs of Kosovo.”

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