After weeks of EU mediated talks, leaders from Serbia and its breakaway former province Kosovo met on April 17 and agreed to an eleventh hour deal normalizing their relations. RFE/RL’s Balkan Service has been in Serbia, Kosovo and Brussels since the talks began, reporting to local audiences in six languages on their progress and roadblocks, and the challenges facing the region in the months and years ahead.
The agreement will allow Serbia to enter into EU membership negotiations, a milestone for Serbs, but it is still unclear how some details of the deal will be implemented in Kosovo. To help elucidate the finer points of the agreement and their implications for the region, RFE/RL's Balkan Service hosted a Google+ Hangout April 18 with RFE/RL Brussels correspondent Rikard Jozwiak, RFE/RL Pristina bureau chief Arbana Vidishiqi, and RFE/RL Balkan Service correspondent Branka Trivic.
Bilingualism Bridging the Gap
For citizens of both Serbia and Kosovo, it can be a challenge to find fair and accurate news untainted by ethnic bias. On top of the ethnic divide, dwindling bilingualism since the 1998 Kosovo War means that members of the Serbian and Albanian communities, both within Kosovo and in neighboring Serbia, only consume media in their own languages. As a result, they are rarely exposed to the other side’s viewpoint. RFE/RL’s bureau in Kosovo's capital, Pristina, provides content on multiple platforms in both Serbian and Albanian, making it one of very few outlets -- and the only international media -- to carry extensive coverage in both languages throughout the day.
When the latest round of high-level talks kicked off in February, RFE/RL correspondent Amra Zejneli reported from Brussels on the negotiations. Zejneli, a native Serbian speaker, is also fluent in Albanian -- something of a rarity for young Kosovars like her. Zejneli’s language skills allowed her to report breaking news from the talks to her colleagues in Pristina in both Serbian and Albanian, helping to facilitate fast, bi-lingual coverage of discussions that held momentous importance for all citizens of Kosovo and Serbia.
Zejneli’s linguistic ability has also opened doors with northern Kosovo's Serbian communities. Often the flashpoint of ethnic clashes, the region is often too dangerous for reporters to visit. Zejneli says that, while many Serbs in northern Kosovo are wary of international media because of a perceived bias in their reporting, Serbian authorities are always glad to offer comments or interviews to RFE/RL as they trust their statements and views will be reported accurately.
“In our reports we always have sources from both sides,” said Zejneli. “We have great contacts within the Serbian power structure, and my fluent Serbian has helped to create good professional relationships.”
Analysis Helps Audience Understand What Is At Stake
On April 8 Serbian leaders officially rejected the latest EU-brokered deal to normalize relations with Kosovo, but talks continued. Like leaders in Serbia proper, Kosovo's Serb community largely rejects Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence. However, both sides know that any prospects for EU membership depend on achieving a deal.
Realizing that the intractable negotiating stances of both sides can be difficult for the uninitiated to sort out, Pristina Bureau Chief Arbana Vidishiqi produced a “Flash Analysis” video for English-speaking audiences clarifying what was at stake for Serbia, why the April 8 talks failed and what might come next.
Rather than interpreting the standoff as a failure, Vidishiqi expected that pressure would mount on both Belgrade and Pristina, and that the carrot of EU membership would push the discussions forward.
Covering Wartime Rape Victims' Rights
The Pristina bureau's Kosovo unit has been lauded by Kosovo's biggest newspaper, "Koha Ditore," for its reporting on the legal issues surrounding women who were raped by Serbian forces during the 1998-1999 war.
Unlike veterans and their families, wartime rape victims, estimated by international humanitarian organizations to number around 20,000, are not currently included in the system of state support for war victims. An amendment that came before the Kosovo Parliament in March would change that by creating a legal framework recognizing them.
In late March, the Kosovo unit interviewed Kosovo parliamentarian Shaip Muja, who sparked outrage during a March 14 debate when he and other lawmakers suggested that alleged rape victims be medically examined. When Muja insisted his comments had been misinterpreted, RFE/RL’s Pristina bureau followed up with an exclusive interview, during which Muja defended his record of support for wartime rape victims. However, when asked why women raped during the war should not be included in the category of war victims, Muja told RFE/RL, “You can’t call them victims because they haven’t been murdered. Victims are those who have been murdered.”
A few days later, "Koha Ditore" dedicated its entire editorial section to RFE/RL’s reporting on the issue, referring to the broadcaster as “American media with a glorious tradition on its engagement for freedom of oppressed nations.”
Though the agreement may signal the start of political reconciliation at the highest levels, the Serb community in Northern Kosovo sees the deal as an unacceptable concession. As RFE/RL’s correspondent in Mitrovica reported, several thousand Serbs demonstrated in the city April 22, some calling the Serbian government’s acceptance of the deal “treason,” and vowing to declare their own independent state if it is implemented.
As EU membership for both Kosovo and Serbia hangs in the balance, RFE/RL’s Balkan service is providing audiences in both places the fair, unbiased and comprehensive news and analysis they need to make informed decisions about their future.