In January 2005, the Beta Media Center, the Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeast Europe (CDRSEE) and KosovaLive embarked on a groundbreaking project, complex enough to have a name that doesn’t say much: The Albanian-Serb Information Exchange Forum (www.kosovakosovo.com). The goal was to create an independent, accurate, balanced and impartial website which would offer cost free and bias free news and opinions on Kosovo and all the related problems by bringing together two teams of highly skilled professional journalists from Belgrade and Pristina. The website is trilingual: Albanian, English and Serbian. Next in line was our ambition to create a window for establishing a culture of the dialogue, something that both Albanians and Serbs have sorely lacked in dealing with each other in the past two decades. We also wanted to provide some serious, in depth research on what the attitudes were amongst the population at large, to hear and publicize how the ordinary man on the street – Albanian and Serb alike – sees “the other”, and how he/she views the past and, more importantly, the future. Finally, we had the ambition to go beyond cyberspace, to get as many reprints and broadcasts of our published material as possible in Albanian and Serbian media, to organize meetings and bring together the journalists from two sides. To work together towards to achieve what any dedicated journalist sees as his greatest duty – writing for the truth, not one side or the other.
One year later… where are we? How successful have we been, what are the highlights and where have we stumbled and gone only half way? Well, the website has been going strong, registering more and more hits by the month. It carries high quality news and photographs, albeit not at the pace we desired. Due to the lack of funding, what we initially envisaged as a news site with two or even three editions/updates a day, has so far had only one daily edition, coming out around 2 PM. Our greatest success has been in the editorial fi eld. The website is co-edited by KosovaLive in Pristina and by Beta in Belgrade and every day, both teams produce news following this shared editorial decision. Being aware of the sensitivity of the issues we will be dealing with, we set up a mechanism whereby the CDRSEE would jump in and arbitrate in the case of an editorial disagreement. It gives us great pride to say that in 12 months, such arbitration was not sought even once. Furthermore, there have been occasions when the two teams signed news items together. We have also built up a friendly working atmosphere of mutual respect in both news agencies, not a small feat in these days. The overall result has been the creation of a news resource website which is not necessarily to everyone’s liking, but is a site with everyone’s respect. Maybe a grudging one, but respect nevertheless. From other media colleagues, news organizations and political institutions. Another success was to contribute to a better knowledge of the attitudes of the man on the street in Kosovo and Serbia. The research which was led by Dr. Colin Irwin has resulted in a comprehensive report which brings to the fore the full complexity of the problems that Albanians, Serbs and the international mediators will have to deal with in the coming months and years. It is a serious piece of sociological research which is very worrying with the data and conclusions it came up with. But it is also very useful as a realistic platform of where things stand. We believe there is no use building a peace based on false premises. This research is rife with realistic ones.
Where have we floundered? Well, our fundraising efforts have been a disappointment to ourselves and as a result, we have neither gone far enough nor deep enough. Despite our best efforts, we have not managed to galvanize enough financial support from the international community, nor to engage the two governments as much as we would have liked. Of particular regret is the lack of engagement and financial support by the EU and its institutions. This project stands for everything that the EU stands for: Multiethnic cooperation, tolerance, common vision and goals… yet we have failed to find a responsive niche in EU funding. All this has resulted in a more modest project than is needed at this crucial time. However, we feel grateful for those donors, UNESCO, FES, IFA, Soros, OSCE, US democracy commissions, the Balkan Trust for Democracy who believe in this action and help us carry it forward.
The “Forum”, the place where we were hoping to establish the culture of the dialogue, has in real life been more a place for conflicting monologues. This, we always knew, would be the most difficult part of our endeavors. By definition, a dialogue comprises an understanding of the other’s views and feelings. In and around Kosovo as it is today, that is extremely difficult to accomplish. We see that in the recently started, UN sponsored “negotiations”. We see a repetition of the two entrenched monologues, not an understanding of the other side’s fears, concerns and deeply rooted sentiments. This is something we were hoping to address and while we happily note that we have made some inroads, we are far from claiming a success. For us, this is a reason to double our efforts, not to fold. We hope that those donors and partners who have supported our efforts will have the same approach
Last but not least, due to lack of funding we have not fully “mutated” from cyberspace into the real world and held necessary and crucial meetings and dialogue conferences between journalists first and stakeholders later. We hope to accomplish that in 2006. Whatever the political solution to the status issue… Albanians and Serbs were, are and will continue to be neighbors. It’s time to have a cup of coffee together. The very fact of drinking that first cup might lead to actually enjoying it.