We are, in particular, deeply concerned about the graffiti daubed on a building near where Ms. Todorović lives. It is imperative that such matters be urgently investigated by the appropriate authorities. No individual should be subject to threats of physical violence.
All citizens must be entitled to openly express their views on all matters without fear of reprisals or ramifications. This also applies to the issue of Kosovo’s status.
The normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia can only be achieved through open and sustained dialogue, of which disagreement is a fundamental part.
For over a decade, the respective governments in Kosovo and Serbia have been involved in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, reaching compromises through face-to-face engagement under EU mediation.
The recent agreement between Kosovo and Serbia is a recommitment to continue talking; to continue finding solutions that can benefit all communities. Whilst there has been a spike in tensions, we firmly believe that only through dialogue can de-escalation be achieved and the foundations for progress put in place.
Regardless of one’s views on Kosovo’s status, one should be able to express them openly and confidently. Attempts to silence voices such as Ms. Todorović’s must be widely denounced.
Articulating a vision for the normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia requires voices willing and able to speak truth to power. In the absence of consensus, it is even more vital to create safe spaces where ideas can be proposed and different viewpoints heard.
The stifling of alternative perspectives – especially through tangible threats – will ultimately damage not only relations between Kosovo and Serbia but the evolution of democracy.
We stand in solidarity with Ms. Todorović and remain committed to debating issues that cause tensions within and between Kosovo and Serbia, with a view to finding solutions that can benefit all communities.
Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP)
Center for Democracy and Education – Lugina, Bujanovac
Community Building Mitrovica
Foundation BFPE for a Responsible Society (BFPE)
Kosovo Law Institute
Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights (YUCOM)
Lugina Lajm Portal – Bujanovac
New Social Initiative
Prof. Vjollca Krasniqi, University of Prishtina
Voice of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians (VoRAE)
Youth Initiative for Human Rights Kosovo
Rahim Salihi, civil society activist, Bujanovac
Ramadan Ilazi, Kosovar Centre for Security Studies (KCSS)
Peaceful Change initiative – as part of the UK government funded project, Amplifying Local Voices for Equitable Development (ALVED) – has been regularly convening civic actors from Kosovo and Serbia to improve the environment for normalisation. For further information, please contact Ian Bancroft (Ian.email@example.com).
A two year series of Media Consultation Dialogues (MCD) convened by Peaceful Change initiative (PCi) identified several areas of common need in the media spaces of Kosovo and Serbia. Profound and fundamental challenges like the difficult financial environment and lack of resources cannot be addressed overnight. There are, however, steps doable immediately to make existing resources go further and to equip media with the requisite skills for the contemporary media environment.
Building trust through self-regulation
Developing new capabilities
Speaking with a common voice
A partnership-driven approach
The reality facing media outlets in Kosovo, Serbia, and elsewhere in the Western Balkans necessitates a partnership-driven approach that dilutes some of fundamental challenges they face in terms of limited resources. Cooperation between journalists and media outlets in Kosovo and Serbia is, however, not a common practice. Aside from sporadic contacts (typically at media-focused events), there is no systematic approach to building mutually beneficial and sustained partnerships.
The purpose of such partnerships is threefold, namely to:
Broaden coverage – more issues covered;
Deepen coverage – more perspectives and sources incorporated;
Extending reach – more platforms over a wider geographical and first-language area reproducing the content.
There are various models and strategies for how such partnerships can be pursued. It could involve the exchanges of audio, video or written materials or staff, or it could be the joint production or sharing of content. Whilst there are positive examples of such partnership, they are often ad hoc and dependent upon personal ties between media editors/management. They also tend to focus upon political developments as opposed to human-centred stories.
To illustrate how such partnerships could be structured, consider the following:
Sharing of content, especially video/audio material and photographs;
Joint productions, especially for complex multimedia feature stories;
Information exchanges, especially in crisis situations;
Joint fact checking of data and stories.
There are several other areas in which such systematic cooperation can be developed, including but not limited to:
Exchanges and/or hosting of journalists;
Fellowships – similar to writers in residence programmes;
Internship and job shadowing programs for journalists;
Joint efforts to identify ‘fake news” and external influences (Disinformation Alert System).
Building trust through self-regulation
The print (and some online portals) media in Kosovo and Serbia fall under the auspices of the Press Councils, which are self-regulatory bodies working under ethical codes and professional guidelines grounded in EU standards. The Press Councils of Serbia and Kosovo are both incorporated into the European Press Councils’ Associations, but they do not cooperate directly. Given the issues pertaining to hate speech and prejudicial reporting in Kosovo and Serbia, systematic co-operation between the two could have a transformative effect on relations.
Such co-operation could include:
Periodic meetings to learn about each other’s work and context;
Provision of materials such as ethnical codes in Serbian and Albanian;
Exchange of know-how, experiences and resources;
Establishing a Joint Complaints Committee meetings regarding violation of the codes. It would be hosted by the Serbian Press Council if the violation is in the Serbian media and vice versa;
Joint reactions and public support, particularly where complaints have been upheld, thereby building trust in the process;
Joint events for journalists targeting hate speech, disinformation etc..
Developing new capabilities
The media environment is rapidly changing. There are emerging threats, particularly with respect to disinformation, but also novel opportunities. Contemporary journalism arguably requires new skills, particularly those pertaining to OSINT, social media, and data analytics. The possibilities for professional development are, however, limited. Journalists lack the time and resources to build strengthen their capacities, whilst media outlets are limited in their ability to invest in human capital.
To remain relevant in a contemporary age, journalists and media outlets must create user friendly resources – grounded in lived experience – which can help guide their peers in their day-to-day jobs. Such resources would ideally be developed in conjunction with the respective journalistic associations and academic institutions.
There are also generational gaps which need to be bridged. Whilst older generations of journalists were trained in a different context, where there was arguably a greater awareness of and familiarity with questions of ethno-national diversity, younger generations of journalists have grown up in a somewhat different context. This latter group, however, is more attune with other forms of diversity and new trends in the media. By providing opportunities for networking and other forms of collaboration, journalists from various backgrounds can enhance their understanding of and enjoy greater access to a particular community.
Speaking with a common voice
Almost every single professional media in both Serbia and Kosovo is struggling to survive. Due to shrinking sums and changing donor priorities, many professional media are registered as Civil Society Organisations to improve their eligibility. Other professional media have opened their own NGOs which can apply for funding. Calls for proposals tend to be extremely complicated, often to the extent that small media lack the capacity to apply or fulfil the requirements.
Raising awareness within the donor community about such issues will require that media in Kosovo, Serbia and the Western Balkans engage in joint advocacy. By speaking with a common voice, media outlets can send a powerful and constructive message about their specific needs. Such advocacy would also focus on the means of dispersal, including how to get beyond the classic intermediary model that means that much funding doesn’t go directly to the beneficiaries.
Such joint advocacy would also reinforce the importance of media freedom conditionality on the road to EU accession. It would focus upon questions of financial and ownership transparency within the media scenes of Kosovo and Serbia, whilst underscoring the importance of the safety of journalists and their ability to operate in a context free from political interference. Furthermore, it would underscore the vital role the media plays in underpinning democracy and the rule of law. By drawing attention to specific issues, a free media is an essential part of accountability and transparency, whilst relaying the concerns and needs of citizens.
All the ideas contained within this paper were generated during the Media Consultation Dialogues conducted by PCi, plus subsequent consultations with particular participants. The purpose of this paper is to stimulate further discussion about the approaches contained within, with PCi on hand to facilitate the development of specific proposals.
 In every one of the eight MCDs, the lack of such stories has popped up as something sorely missing from the media in both Kosovo and Serbia. Based on ideas launched in the MCDs, PCi introduced a special award for such media content and gave an annual award for two consecutive years.
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:
Peaceful Change initiative (PCi) convened civil society organisations and activists from south Serbia in Belgrade to introduce them to UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace, and Security (YPS), and design approaches of relevance to young people from their own local communities.
The participants included representatives of BeYond from Bujanovac, Be Active and Livrit from Preševo, and Naš Svet, Naša Pravila from Vranje, plus activists from each municipality. PCi has been working with these organisations to establish a network in south Serbia that can further the specific interests of young people. This includes with respect to the seven-point plan for the integration of the Albanian community, which contains several dimensions of relevance to young people, including economic recovery; education, culture, and media; and security and confidence-building measures.
The workshop began with reflections on engaging with young people in various communities in Serbia, including sentiments amongst young people and the extent to which their work is understood at the local level. This was followed by an introduction to the YPS agenda, focusing on its five key pillars – participation, protection, prevention, partnerships, and disengagement and reintegration.
The second day laid out a series of practical tools for peacebuilding, such as how to undertake a conflict mapping process and conduct a Positions Interests Needs analysis. This was followed by a discussion on how to advocate for peacebuilding and the YPS agenda, employing messages and terminology that resonate with young people not typically exposed to such discussions.
The workshop concluded with the design of tangible peacebuilding approaches, tailored to the specific challenges facing young people in south Serbia. This predominantly revolved around the Seven Point Plan pertaining to the integration of the Albanian community, and advocacy to promote a stronger role for young people in the articulation and realisation of solutions.
PCi’s work in the YPS domain builds upon valuable experiences garnered in Armenia, in conjunction with an Armenian NGO, the Youth Cooperation Center of Dilijan (YCCD), testing approaches to promoting youth participation in decision-making and peacebuilding, underpinned by UNSCR 2250 calls to include youth in local, national, and international institutions.
The participants will deliver similar YPS-focused trainings within their own communities, thereby strengthening the capacity of young people to actively participate at the local level to raise awareness about specific challenges facing youth and to develop solutions to a range of problems. These young people will also be linked to regional and international structures dealing with YPS, thereby allowing them to exchange best pratices.
During their time in Belgrade, the participants also met with representatives from the Serbian Government’s Coordination Body for the Municipalities of Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja, where they had the opportunity to provide perspectives on the needs and concerns of young people in south Serbia. With the Coordination Body recently appointing new leadership, this was a timely opportunity to present the first hand perspectives of youth.
Assaults on KFor peacekeepers in north Kosovo in late May, which were followed by a grenade attack on the police station in north Mitrovica and other explosions late last month, constitute the most serious violence in the area since 2011. That episode set in motion a diplomatic process culminating in the 2013 Brussels agreement, a landmark of recent European diplomacy. The situation in Kosovo however remains volatile and, without compromise on key issues, there is a very real prospect of repeated clashes.
Tensions have been brewing for a year and a half, particularly following Pristina’s decision to deploy heavily armed ‘special operations units’ to the north. Accumulated grievances over various issues, including illegal land expropriations and vehicle licence plates, led Serbs to withdraw last autumn from Kosovo institutions in the north—including the police, judiciary and local government.
This has constituted the biggest setback to integration in over a decade. Despite considerable diplomatic pressure, Kosovo’s prime minister, Albin Kurti, has resisted calls to establish the Association/Community of Serb-majority Municipalities signalled in 2013, widely viewed as a prerequisite for further progress.
The long-term cause of peace is being severely affected by such episodes, which are breeding mistrust and antagonism. For the sake of normalisation between Kosovo and Serbia—a process which should have been reinforced by the roadmap and implementation annex agreed between the two under European Union facilitation in February—civil society must urgently consider how it can contribute to de-escalating tensions and pursue confidence-building measures that can rebuild trust.
In such times of crisis, civil society has a key role in confronting rumours and disinformation, which can further destabilise and inflame the situation. Without pushback against—or clarification of—certain claims, they are left to fester and poison the public space, as ‘social media’ amplify the flurry of speculation, reducing the scope for constructive dialogue. Such responses need to be timely and co-ordinated to limit the damage caused.
An effective mechanism is also needed to document in an objective and trusted manner the human-rights violations reported, especially in north Kosovo and south Serbia—where respectively Serb and ethnic-Albanian minorities predominate—plus remedial measures to address the complaints. Claims and counterclaims are otherwise presented without a process to verify the incident in question.
Such a mechanism can only enjoy the trust of all citizens if it reflects the broad spectrum of communities in Kosovo and Serbia, ensuring that documented cases are communicated beyond those directly affected. In doing so, it can provide a basis for joint advocacy targeting domestic institutions and the international community, raising awareness about otherwise neglected issues.
It is imperative too that civil society helps foster and sustain a culture of dialogue within and between communities in Kosovo and Serbia. Misunderstandings and misconceptions about specific events, acts or issues only serve to fuel grievances, particularly within communities that feel their voice is ignored or distorted. By offering broader perspectives on local sentiments, civil society can help catalyse the formulation of coherent responses.
Not merely governments
Sustainable solutions can only be reached through a dialogue that involves all elements of society, not merely the respective governments. Already various organisations from Kosovo and Serbia regularly propose constructive ideas on how to transcend the current cycle of crises. Their efforts are vital to demonstrate that a different future is possible.
The stances such actors take, however, are often deeply unpopular within their own communities, where they can face threats and intimidation for, in particular, criticising their own political leaderships. There is therefore a need for civil society in Kosovo and Serbia to publicly stand in solidarity with those willing to voice their ideas for a better tomorrow. Furthermore, such proposals are rarely heard by other communities because of how information stays in silos. Civic actors need to build networks of communication which help amplify messages within and between communities, to ensure that these are heard by as wide and diverse an audience as possible.
Civil society can also help move beyond crisis-management. Article six of the agreement on the path to normalisation between Kosovo and Serbia supports the deepening of ‘future cooperation’ in a range of fields, including the economy, religion, environmental protection and missing persons. Civil society can rise above nationalistic discourses and engage in potentially contentious conversations, particularly where status-related issues are concerned.
This article, in particular, will come to define the extent to which relations between Serbia and Kosovo flourish in the future. Articulating where such co-operation should be developed is not a task for political elites alone. The article encourages a plurality of actors to come forward with their visions for enhancing mutually beneficial ties.
The role of civil society needs to be underpinned by an EU commitment to upholding universal norms—not just rhetorically, but in its approach to transforming conflict in the western Balkans. Civil-society calls for a more meaningful role in the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia have however been frowned upon, not only by the two parties but by the EU itself. Their collective preference is for the process to remain closed and largely elite-driven—a preference reinforced by the war in Ukraine, which has only served to embolden narrow approaches justified by Realpolitik.
The EU should provide tangible support to civil-society organisations committed to improving relations between the respective communities by pursuing approaches that emphasise dialogue and collaboration. Rapidly accessible funding mechanisms, underpinned by a clear commitment to peacebuilding, can allow civil society to pursue confidence-building initiatives at short notice, reacting to quickly evolving situations on the ground. Relationships forged in moments of crisis tend to endure during more peaceful times, those bonds of solidarity contributing to trust and mutual understanding.
Civil society must also take the initiative in outlining its own contribution to normalisation—a process that goes well beyond the political dimensions of the dispute. There are areas where dialogue has unforeseen or intended consequences, or where blindspots mean specific problems go unresolved, which civil society can help ameliorate.
Furthermore, ensuring implementation proceeds as intended requires active civil-society monitoring and engagement. Where there is a loss of confidence in those leading the dialogue, including in the facilitator itself, civil society can help through complementary processes that transform relations within and between communities.
Relationships and connections
Ultimately, a grand vision for the future of relations between Kosovo and Serbia will only come from a broad-based movement of civil society representing various constituencies, including those minorities often ignored in such debates. It requires leaving aside the present frictions and thinking more broadly about the relationships and connections they want to see flourish in the coming years and decades.
The current situation threatens fundamentally to undermine the recent agreement on the path to normalisation between Kosovo and Serbia. Failure to act now could see relations deteriorate further and the process of integration unravel to the extent that all the gains from the 2013 agreement, whose tenth anniversary has just passed, are lost. Civil society has a vital role to play—but it needs too to reflect seriously and creatively on how best it can serve the wider public.
Peaceful Change initiative (PCi) strongly condemns the appalling violence against KFor peacekeepers in Zvečan, plus the attacks against journalists covering developments on the ground. This is arguably the most serious incident in Kosovo since 2011. The situation remains volatile and we add our voice to those calling for calm and restraint.
Sustainable solutions can only be achieved through dialogue, not only between governments but involving all elements of society. To this end, we stand in solidarity with those civil society organisations from Kosovo and Serbia who continue to propose constructive ideas for how to de-escalate the current tensions and build trust and confidence between the various parties. Their efforts are vital for demonstrating that a different future is possible.
The public stances they take are often unpopular within their own communities, where they often face threats and intimidation for criticising, in particular, their own political leaderships. However, at the same time, these public stances are rarely heard by other communities, such is the manner in which information exchanges are siloed. Such civic actors deserve our support in these trying moments to help amplify their messages in order to ensure that they are heard by as wide and diverse an audience as possible.
In times of crisis, it is vital that civil society continue to provide alternative channels of communication that can confront the spread of disinformation which can have a profoundly destabilising impact within and between communities. Civil society organisations, through their ties with their constituencies, can relay the perspectives of citizens who find themselves on the front lines of conflict; those who typically bear the brunt of such crises.
A failure to capitalise now could see relations deteriorate further, and the process of integration unravelling to the extent that all the gains from the 2013 Brussels Agreement, whose tenth anniversary has just passed, are lost.
Since 2020, PCi has been engaging a diverse group of civil society organisations from Kosovo and Serbia to explore common responses and approaches to issues that impact the environment for the normalisation of relations. Learn more about our work in Kosovo and Serbia.
Ukrainian civil society call for broader solidarity across international NGOs to work for a dignified and just peace in Ukraine.
PCi supports the calls put forward in the recent joint statement by Ukrainian civil society, among the signatories of which are our partners whom we have seen work tirelessly to build understanding across divisions at least since 2014. We support the call for approaches to international peace work that, in the words of the statement, “bring a new imagination and new approach”.
Acknowledging the unprecedented nature of the conflict that was unleashed on 24th February 2022, we support the call to maintain solidarity across peace movements. As committed peacebuilders, we do not take this lightly. While looking to end war our community must not lose sight of the principles of dignity and justice that are the essential components of a sustainable peace.
The civic organisations in Ukraine, including a wide range of peacebuilders, mediators and dialogue facilitators, have formulated a set of positions they urge peace movements in countries supporting Ukraine to process and internalise when calling for their governments to end the war by ending the provision of military support. The statement emphasises that:
Ukrainian voices should play a central role in organised actions for peace in Ukraine, following the principle ‘nothing about me, without me’.
Calling for an end to armed resistance is a call to surrender, that it is not a path to peace by peaceful means, as demonstrated by the treatment of persons in occupied Ukrainian territories or of dissenting voices in Russia itself.
Ukrainian civic organisations are asking for adherence to the UN Charter and to human rights law, and that any compromise of these principles would set a dangerous precedent for other revisionist powers and therefore to global peace more broadly.
Framing the conflict as a proxy war is an offensive narrative that denies Ukrainians their own agency and choice to follow a democratic future.
The statement is important and acknowledges the cost being borne across many countries and appreciates the sacrifices being made to support Ukraine in its resistance to aggression and occupation.
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.
Peaceful Change initiative strongly condemns the threats made against academics from the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Belgrade in Serbia.
We stand in solidarity with our colleagues Jelena Lončar, Stefan Surlić, and Marko Veković, who have demonstrated considerable courage and determination in the face of attempts to brand them as ‘traitors’.
Such intimidation constitutes a fundamental attack on academic freedom. It is imperative that scholars be free to pursue knowledge and explore ideas without fearing for their security or safety. We are encouraged by the outpourings of support and solidarity they have received.
The research each has undertaken has contributed to the body of understanding about relations within and between Kosovo and Serbia. They have fostered vital links that have deepened understanding about the perceptions of different communities, and explored themes that shine a light on some of the contemporary challenges facing Kosovo and Serbia.
It is for these reasons that PCi supported an academic exchange between the Faculty of Political Science, University of Belgrade, and the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Prishtina, as part of our UK-government funded project, ‘Amplifying Local Voices for Equitable Development’ (ALVED).
Their research is intended to guide and inspire other aspiring academics, who should be free to pursue their academic interests without fear of reprisal. The academic community should be about debate and disagreement, no matter how sensitive the topic, not self-censorship deriving from concerns about what their peers will think.
Where such incidents are not firmly condemned, they are tacitly supported. As such, it is incumbent on all authorities to voice their opposition to such acts and to ensure that they are thoroughly investigated. All perpetrators should be brought to justice.
We will continue to support all those who seek to improve understanding between those in Kosovo and Serbia, for the future of our communities depends upon deepening our knowledge about one another.
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.