PCi’s Western Balkans project “Amplifying local voices for equitable development” – ALVED, hosted a series of Media Consultation Dialogues which brought together media professionals from Serbia and Kosovo to discuss and reflect on challenges and opportunities to improve the media scene, reduce divisive narratives, and increase cooperation between journalists and media across the ethnic divide. The Dialogues included topics such as the work of media regulatory bodies; the importance of local media; independent media sustainability; what are the roots and causes of divisive narratives and why is there a lack of empathy for “the other”.
One of the Media Consultation Dialogues focused on “Women in the Newsroom” and looked at the positioning of women in media and the level of (in)equality with their male colleagues and the ways this affects the way that women are represented in the media. A comprehensive questionnaire was sent out to close to a thousand media professionals in both Kosovo and Serbia and PCi is proud to present the results of this study together with a set of recommendations on how these worrying findings can be addressed.
In 2023 it is utterly unacceptable to find out that one in three women working in Serbian media and one in four in Kosovar media have been victims of sexual harassment. Or that around close to 30% of women working in Kosovar and Serbian media have been discriminated due to their age or appearance. The fact that seven out of ten women are considering changing jobs and professions is certainly not a result of a satisfactory status of women in Kosovar and Serbian media.
The comprehensive Report Survey can be accessed below:
PCi’s second Media Award shines a light on positive stories of multi-ethnic coexistence in Kosovo and Serbia.
Peaceful Change initiative celebrated the winners of the second ‘Media Award for stories on multi-ethnic coexistence in Kosovo and Serbia’ in a ceremony which took place simultaneously in Pristina and Belgrade on 16th March 2023.
Nowadays, the news is almost always associated with the negative sides of life, particularly these past years of pandemic, and now war in Europe. Through this award, Peaceful Change initiative aims to promote and reward media content from Kosovo and Serbia which emphasise the positive, particularly when it comes to depicting the reality of multi-ethnic co-existence of communities. Ultimately, the goal is to contribute to the narrowing of the present divisive narratives in the media in Kosovo and Serbia and encourage the production of more stories centred around the real experience of communities.
The first prize in the Albanian language written category was awarded to Serbeze Haxhiaj, investigative journalist and news editorfor her piece in Balkans Insight. She commented: ‘for me, honestly, it’s not about individual accomplishment or an individual award. It’s about what I’ve got to do and how I can contribute to the peace and reconciliation process in my Kosovo and help to lay down the heavy burden of the painful past’.
Journalist and writer Ilir Gashi is the recipient of the first prize in the Serbian language written category for his piece in Kosovo 2.0. He added: “all of us who work in these scorched fields of no-man’s land, between the long lines of deeply dug tranches, also have the privilege of witnessing life as it grows out of cracks, everywhere.”
Dr Ismet Hajdari, journalist and member of the Albanian language jury, said: ‘the importance of this project consists in encouraging journalists to deal with topics that are rarely written and reported on. Taboo topics must not exist. The media has an obligation to illuminate all issues that are considered to be of interest to Kosovo society.’
When speaking about this year’s entries, Serbian language jury member Milivoje Mihajlović said: ‘the greatest quality is maybe the fact that these stories are so different from mainstream reporting and that from each and every one of the stories you can see the huge desire people have for living a normal, humane life’.
Participants of the Media Award, Pristina
Media Award, Pristina
Media Award, Belgrade Media Centre
Winners, Media Award, Belgrade Media Centre
Media Award prize certificate
This award was organised by Peaceful Change initiative as part of the ‘Amplifying Local Voices for Equitable Development’ (ALVED) project, support by the United Kingdom Government Fund for Conflict, Stability and Security (CSSF).
Civil society organisations from Kosovo and Serbia speak out together to emphasise the importance of building goodwill and trust in order to make it possible for political agreements to take hold, bring peace and benefit their societies.
The so-called status quo is taking communities on a collision course, deepening divides and entrenching misery. People don’t know where they stand, nor what they can expect for their societies. The only predictability is frustration and disappointment.
The narrative of coercive diplomacy – that agreement is being forced upon us – only undermines the sense that implementation will happen in good faith. We need to be able to believe that the stakeholders are dedicated to their process for the right reasons. They must stand up for the commitments they enter into on our behalf.
Ambiguity can no longer be constructive. Uncertainty breeds uncertainty. People don’t know how moving to the next stage will affect their everyday tangible needs, including implications for their own jobs and access to services. This is not simply a question of transparency. Decision-makers must be proactive in addressing the legitimate concerns of citizens whilst emphasising the benefits that can and must be grasped.
Any agreement must also be underpinned by specific guarantees. To create certainty in and for the future, steps forward need to be irreversible. We must cease to live in a cycle of integration and disintegration. People must have the confidence to invest in themselves and their careers, and ultimately their communities.
Many people already feel that the system does not work for them. Reforms that address essential needs, including the fight against corruption and developing an effective judicial system, cannot be addressed effectively. Civic voices are not as strong as they should be in public policy, and the possibility to build civic alliances is compromised. Issues of concern to the public are politicised in a way that they cannot be brought up by civil society.
Narratives among politicians and in the media too often emphasise difference and separation. The tangible result is outward migration, further depleting our societies of the very human capital on which we depend. Instead, we want to live in societies that celebrate diversity and see it as a strength. Trust between people is a necessary condition to move beyond the obstacles that our communities have been experiencing for many years.
Whilst integration into the European space will dissolve some of the divisions that we see today, reform must be pursued as an end in itself, not simply as a means to enter the EU. The dialogue is an essential but insufficient part of this journey. It must be supplemented by complementary processes that transform relations within and between communities and lay the foundations for a peaceful and prosperous future. Without this, we risk repeating the mistakes and missed opportunities of the past decade and more.
On International Women’s Day, civil society from Kosovo and Serbia are united in their calls for more women’s voices to be heard in the normalisation process. The signatories also voiced their concerns about the failure to incorporate gender-specific considerations into the various dialogue agreements and, in particular, the Agreement on the path to normalisation between Kosovo and Serbia.
To mark International Women’s Day, this 8th March, we the undersigned call for more women’s voices to be involved in the process of normalising relations between Kosovo and Serbia.
UN Security Council Resolution 1325 specifically acknowledges the vital role that women play in the promotion of peace. Furthermore, Resolution 1325 also calls for the equal participation of women in peacebuilding processes.
A global study on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 found that the participation of women led to a 20% increase in the possibility of a peace agreement lasting two years, and a 35% increase in the possibility of it lasting fifteen years.
As such, we call for more meaningful participation of women in negotiations pertaining to relations between Belgrade and Pristina. In over a decade of talks pertaining to the Dialogue, very few women have been given an opportunity to engage in the process.
We are also concerned by a failure to incorporate gender-specific considerations into the various dialogue agreements and, in particular, the Agreement on the path to normalisation between Kosovo and Serbia. There is a need to better mainstream gender perspectives to ensure that each and every decision within the dialogue process takes into account the specific needs and concerns of women.
Women and women’s groups – whether from civil society, business, politics, academia, or elsewhere – bring particular skills and insights that benefit the overall peacebuilding process. Such voices are also vital for the long-term sustainability of any agreement reached between Serbia and Kosovo.
If women continue to be excluded from the process of normalisation, then it will be to the detriment of both Serbia and Kosovo, and indeed the expressed aims of the European Union and its member states.
Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP)
Center for Peace and Tolerance (CPT)
Community Building Mitrovica (CBM)
Centar for Democracy and Education – Valley
European Fund for the Balkans
European Movement in Serbia
Foundation BFPE for a Responsible Society (BFPE)
Human Rights Council – Bujanovac
Dr. Jelena Lončar, Academic
Kosovar Centre for Security Studies (KCSS)
Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights (YUCOM)
Media Center Caglavica
New Social initiative, Mitrovica (NSI)
NGO Be active 16
Peer Educators Network (PEN)
Rahim Salihi, Civil Society Activist, Bujanovac
Valon Arifi, Civil Society Activist
Violeta Haxholli, Kosova Democratic Institute
Voice of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians
Professor Vjollca Krasniqi, University of Prishtina
Youth Initiative for Human Rights – Kosovo (YIHR KS)
Youth Initiative for Human Rights – Serbia (YIHR Serbia)
PCi launches a new study looking at the status of women in the media in Kosovo and Serbia.
PCi’s latest report, Women in media, examines the position of women in the media and gender inequality in the newsroom in Serbia and Kosovo. The study presents results from a consultation with close to a thousand media professionals in both Kosovo and Serbia as part of PCi’s Western Balkans project ‘Amplifying local voices for equitable development’ (ALVED). The report also sets out recommendations on how the findings from the study can be addressed.
The launch event, which took place on 2 March simultaneously in Pristina and Belgrade, was attended by a number of local media and civil society organisations, as well as representatives from the Serbian office of the ‘Commissioner for equality’ and the British embassy. We heard from the lead researchers of the study Dafina Halili (Kosovo) and Tamara Skrozza (Serbia), who presented the key findings of the study. We also had the pleasure to welcome activist Valmira Rashiti (Kosovo Women’s Network), Zorana Antonijević (gender expert and activist) and Ms. Majlindë Sinani Lulaj (Deputy Ombudsperson) to the event panel.
Some alarming figures on the status of women in the media in Kosovo and Serbia are highlighted in this study. Notably, one in three women working in Serbian media and one in four in Kosovo media have been victims of sexual harassment. Another stark figure, close to 30% of women working in Kosovar and Serbian media have been discriminated due to their age or appearance. Additionally, seven out of ten women are considering changing jobs due to the inequality they suffer in the media profession.
William Hopkinson, First Secretary Political, UK Embassy Belgrade commented: ‘As the discussion has highlighted, the report does not make for comfortable reading’. He noted: ‘If the media cannot address issues of inequality, society cannot move forward’. Unquestionably, gender inequality in the newsroom and a lack of female leadership in the media reinforces and maintains harmful gender perceptions and stereotypes.
HMA Nicholas Abbott, UK Ambassador to Kosovo, said: ‘I am very impressed by the research study which puts in one place a series of serious issues that warrant a serious discussion. I hope therefore that the report and today’s event is but the beginning of action’. Abbott added: ‘The recommendations in the report are very straightforward and achievable. I encourage you to do follow up activities to ensure that the recommendations do happen’.
The studies will contribute to PCi’s ongoing engagement with media in Kosovo and Serbia to take strategic action that broadens the space for narratives that contribute to strengthening relations and promoting democracy and human rights. Explore the reports and recommendations on this link.
Peaceful Change initiative is pleased to announce the launch of research into cross-community initiatives in Kosovo and Serbia, undertaken jointly by the Universities of Pristina and Belgrade as part of the Amplifying Local Voices for Equitable Development (ALVED) project, supported by the UK government.
A delegation of civil society from Kosovo and Serbia had the opportunity to meet key interlocutors from various EU institutions in Brussels.
A delegation of civil society from Kosovo and Serbia had the opportunity to meet key interlocutors from various EU institutions in Brussels. Members of the Kosovo-Serbia Rapid Response Mechanism presented ideas about the role civil society can play given the current tensions on the ground and hopes for a comprehensive agreement between Belgrade and Pristina.
The delegation met with the respective rapporteurs for Kosovo and Serbia, Ms. Viola von Cramon-Taubadel and Mr. Vladimír Bilčík, plus the team of the EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue, Miroslav Lajčák. They also met with officials from the Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) and the European External Action Service (EEAS).
Of note, several interlocutors spoke of a sense of momentum that apparently exists within member states regarding the EU enlargement process. This comes as something of a surprise given the profound feeling in the Western Balkans that accession is stalled. Regular perception surveys show growing ambivalence towards the EU path, particularly in Serbia, reenforcing the need for a more strategic approach to communications to reassert not only the European perspective, but to reiterate that the EU remains the region’s largest donor and trading partner.
The participants – whilst acknowledging the need for confidentiality during negotiations – raised concerns about the lack of transparency regarding both the structure and content of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. They proposed to engage with their respective governments to request that more information be placed into the public domain. Furthermore, concerns were raised about the dilution of reporting on Chapter 35, covering the normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo, particularly the intermediate benchmarks.
The participants also reiterated that civil society should be seen a resource and an ally both in the dialogue and in broader reform processes. With the relations in specific communities, civil society offers early warning capabilities that can help identify specific grievances and help reduce the scope for misunderstandings by relaying perspectives around an issue from local actors.
The civil society organisations reaffirmed their commitment to complementing and amplifying messages that are grounded in the need for compromise, confronting their own governments where needed to challenge specific narratives about some aspect of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. This was deemed increasingly imperative due to recent tensions in north Kosovo, including the deployment of Special Operations Units and the resignation of Kosovo Serbs from Kosovo institutions, and discussions regarding a comprehensive agreement between Serbia and Kosovo.
The Kosovo-Serbia Rapid Response Mechanism will continue to meet on a quarterly basis to formulate joint approaches to the problems affecting communities in Serbia and Kosovo. In addition, they will meet on an ad hoc basis as when required to, for instance, voice their concerns about a particular instance of divisive rhetoric or an event that threatens to harm the very environment in which dialogue is taking place.
Armenia today represents a vivid example both of new opportunities and challenges that the youth are facing. This is partly evidenced by the fact that 88% of young men and women (18-29 years of age) view the 2018 change of government in Armenia positively. At the same time, issues including unemployment, poverty, housing as well as other challenges in the socio-economic sphere carry their own particular impacts on youth resulting in a large number of young people leaving the country, either for permanent emigration or seasonal guest worker jobs. This report synthesises findings and analysis of research into the participation of youth in decision making and peacebuilding in Armenia in the context of the political changes since April 2018.
The Report (produced in Yerevan 2019,) has been produced as part of “Progressing Youth Participation in Armenia on Governance and Peace” project.
Writing for Social Europe, PCi’s Project Manager for the Western Balkans presents a background of the present crisis of the Kosovo institutions and their relationship to the internationally mediated dialogue which should lead to the normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. The article draws attention to the gaps between the agreements that the process has facilitated and their implementation on the ground, highlighting an absence of voices from beyond the political elites of both countries as a key missing element from the dialogue.
The explosive tensions of recent weeks have exposed the limits of the dialogue brokered by the European Union.
The evolving relationship between Kosovo and Serbia, facilitated by the European Union, is facing its sternest test since 2011, when barricades throughout north Kosovo reflected a situation threatening to spiral out of control. Hopes are high for a final agreement in the coming year or so, to normalise relations between the two, and so are the diplomatic stakes. To supplement however this path towards sustainable peace, the EU must consider how it can better engage those constructive voices from civil society thus far largely neglected.
For the last year and a half, the predominantly Serb north of Kosovo has been gripped by soaring tensions—amplified by Russia’s war in Ukraine and concerns about the stability of the western Balkans more generally. Last July, Kosovo moved ahead with plans to end the use on its territory of vehicle licence plates issues by the Republic of Serbia. Simultaneously, it announced that Serbian identity cards would no longer be valid to enter Kosovo, Belgrade having long rejected those issued by Pristina.
While the latter argument was swiftly resolved, the former lingered on. Kosovo resisted repeated pleas from the EU and the United States for a delay. As the stakes rose, Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia’s president, reiterated calls for the establishment of an ‘Association/Community of Serb-majority municipalities’. This was a central element of the Brussels Agreement to normalise relationships, brokered by the EU in 2013, but which remains unimplemented.
Also critical to that agreement was integration of policing, albeit with a commitment that the commander of the Kosovo Police in the four northern municipalities would be a Kosovo Serb. The situation escalated in November with mass resignation of Serb police officers—ostensibly because they refused to impose warnings and then fines on their own community.
They were swiftly followed by elected officials (mayors and municipal assembly members), judges, prosecutors, local-government employees and others who had transferred to the Kosovo system in the past decade or so. It is a profound blow to the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, a key dimension of which is the integration of Kosovo Serbs through the 2013 agreement.
The security vacuum created by the resignations has been partly filled by members of the Kosovo Police special operations units, replete with long-barrelled weapons and tactical uniforms. Though professional and well-trained, they are ill-disposed to such tasks as patrolling traffic. Their numbers have been supplemented by mainly Albanian-speaking police brought from elsewhere in Kosovo.
There have been various reports of harassment and intimidation, including an assault on a prominent civil-society figure. Trust between the local community and the police has broken down, with patrols having been shot at on several occasions.
The arrest on December 10th of a Serb former member of the police led to renewed roadblocks, which would ultimately stand for some 20 days or so. There were a spate of accompanying incidents, including shootings, vehicle burnings and attacks on journalists. A reconnaissance patrol by the EU’s rule of law mission in Kosovo (EULEX) was targeted with a stun grenade, leading to widespread condemnation. The barricades have been dismantled but the crisis is far from over.
Point of contention
Though the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue has been imperfect, sizeable steps have been taken. The presence of the institutions of Kosovo in the north had been becoming more routine. Many more Serbs possess Kosovo ID cards and even passports. Money flows from the public purse in Pristina to north Kosovo.
A major point of contention remains the Association/Community of Serb-majority municipalities. It was conceived as the primary mechanism for integrating the functions sustained by the Republic of Serbia in Kosovo, which declared its independence in 2008 after a violent conflict, having previously been treated as a province of Serbia in the former Yugoslavia. Education, healthcare and waste disposal, to name but a few, are vital services which remain under Belgrade’s remit.
The association/community has, however, been fundamentally opposed by Pristina—despite a ruling in 2015 by Kosovo’s Constitutional Court obliging its establishment. Many fear that it would serve as an instrument of ethnic division, with some going so far as to describe it as Kosovo’s own Republika Srpska, the predominantly Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina which frequently pushes for secession. Kosovo’s prime minister, Albin Kurti, has publicly rejected it.
The EU continues to believe that a vital window of opportunity exists finally to reach a binding deal on the normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. The incumbents in Belgrade and Pristina enjoy the requisite support to take difficult decisions—whether they are willing to is another matter. Russia’s war in Ukraine has focused minds across Europe on the need for a lasting solution to the impasses in the western Balkans. There have even been suggestions that spring 2023 is essentially a deadline, though this feels ambitious given the experiences of recent months.
The latest developments, however, have again exposed an element missing in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue—substantive engagement of civil society in Kosovo and Serbia. The process has been elite-led, with negotiations conducted largely in secret. There is little in the way of transparency. The definitive content of agreements remains disputed and open to interpretation.
While ‘constructive ambiguity’ may be deemed necessary to facilitate difficult compromises, it permits the evasion of commitments if and when it comes to implementation. Several agreements have come a cropper, with both sides blaming one another for the deadlocks then hampering progress. Constructive ambiguity has proved a short-term fix with a long-lasting hangover.
Priorities have been set in Brussels—by and between the respective negotiating teams—to the neglect of the communities on the ground directly implicated. Many wonder, sometimes out loud, just how they have benefited from over a decade of negotiations, plus those ultimately leading up to Kosovo’s ‘supervised’ independence.
Even 20 years on from the end of the war, rarely do citizens’ concerns come in first place. Kosovo and Serbia meanwhile face a common challenge—emigrating populations making their homes elsewhere.
Critical voices have been intentionally marginalised and ultimately found themselves resorting to unconstructive mud-throwing. Yet influential civil-society figures are vital to help prepare communities for the day after an agreement is reached—figures who can help navigate the pitfalls of implementation as promises are made, fulfilled and then forgotten.
Destabilisation resulting from a potential breakdown of the dialogue would have a profound impact on various communities in Serbia and Kosovo. It is thus imperative to invest resources in those capable of managing conflicts in their localities and building structures resilient to malign influences. These voices confront disinformation and divisive rhetoric, building confidence within and between communities.
As the tenth anniversary approaches of the Brussels Agreement—arguably one of the high points of EU diplomacy—it is appropriate to reflect on the process and the structure of the subsequent dialogues. The destination of Kosovo and Serbia remains broadly the same—membership of an enlarged EU. Yet that horizon has become increasingly distant.
Building genuine and lasting peace in such a challenging and often unfavourable context requires that the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue be opened to constructive voices from civil society. It is they who can genuinely represent their communities and articulate a vision for the future, unbound by the diplomatic necessities and niceties as sensed in Brussels.
Following a gathering in Gračanica/Graçanicë, a diverse group of civil society organisations from Kosovo and Serbia have adopted the following joint statement calling for new constructive voices – voices that look to the future whilst retaining a keen eye on the past; voices that seek out partnerships and coalitions beyond the red lines that are supposed to define them; and voices that stand up publicly against divisive and derogatory rhetoric.
The constant cycle of escalation and de-escalation in relations between Kosovo and Serbia represents a failure of political imagination.
The energy taken up in contending with the latest crisis distracts from the mountain of pressing issues which directly impact the day to day lives of citizens in Serbia and Kosovo.
The trend is already for people to be leaving Serbia, Kosovo, and elsewhere in the Western Balkans, especially amongst the youth. As new barricades are erected, so new bags are packed. Very few are likely to return. The future of our countries will be lived elsewhere.
Many groups deemed outside the spectrum of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue are fundamentally ignored. The Roma community, for one, finds itself marginalised in both Serbia and Kosovo.
With the prospect of violence more pronounced than it has been for a decade, it is time for new constructive voices to be heard – voices that look to the future whilst retaining a keen eye on the past; voices that seek out partnerships and coalitions beyond the red lines that are supposed to define us; voices that stand up publicly against divisive and derogatory rhetoric.
We, the undersigned, endeavour to maintain channels of communication that reduce the possibilities for misunderstanding and disinformation. Too often we have talked past one another, insisting on the pertinence of one point whilst underestimating or completely ignoring the existence of another.
We think we understand the minutiae of an issue but fail to consider how it is understood or viewed by other communities. We all should be committed to listening with open ears and open minds.
Only by sharing perspectives and perceptions from our respective communities can we start to move towards a common path for the future. Many of the problems our respective communities face are almost identical, yet we rarely acknowledge this fact.
If ever there was a time for solidarity in the last decade it is now. The war in Ukraine is a painful reminder of the stark realities of war, even as the legacies of our own remain close to hand.
The cause of peace requires not just words to that effect, but images and relationships that embody togetherness. We stand opposed to all undue projections of force and all narratives of hate and division.
The futures of Kosovo and Serbia are inescapably tied-up with one another, and an agreement on the normalisation of relations is a vital first step in building a better tomorrow. But it is only a first step.
Advocacy Center for Democratic Culture (ACDC)
The Balkan Forum
Belgrade Centre for Security Policy
Centar for Democracy and Education – Valley, Bujanovac
Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies of the Balkans, Belgrade
Center for Peace and Tolerance (CPT)
Community Building Mitrovica
European Fund for the Balkans
Foundation BFPE for a Responsible Society (BFPE)
Forum for Development and Multiethnic Collaboration (FDMC)
Goraždevac Media Group
Institute for Territorial Economic Development – InTER
Jelena Lončar, Academic, University of Belgrade
Kosovar Center for Security Studies (KCSS)
Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights (YUCOM)
Milan Antonijević, Lawyer, Serbia
New Social Initiative (NSI)
NGO Be Active 16, Presevo
NGO Livrit, Presevo
Peer Educators Network (PEN)
Rahim Salihi, Civil Society Activist, Bujanovac
Radio Astra, Prizren
TV Prizreni, Prizren
Valon Arifi, Civil Society Activist
Voice of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians in Kosovo (VoRAE)
Vjollca Krasniqi, Academic, University of Pristina