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November 23, 2000



by David Weatherall

A group of journalists from Kosovo told a Concordia audience recently that they are still defining their role in the society around them.

Recently, the newspaper that Bekim Hasani works for, Dita, was shut down by the UN authorities because of an article about a Serbian suspected of war crimes. Following the publication of the article, the suspect was found dead.

“It was a mistake to publish the name, address and photo of the suspect,” said Hasani, speaking through an interpreter, “but I feel that it was necessary to write about these topics.”

Shaban Arifaj, Menduh Hysa, Smajl Smaka, Blerta Belegu, Sijam Gorani, Eugen Saracini, Agron Barjami and Hasani are all working journalists and ethnic Albanians. They were visiting Canada on a two-week study tour.

The panel discussion on developing responsible media in a post-conflict situation was an opportunity to describe their daily challenges to Westerners, many of them journalism students.

“Under the former regime, we were never considered journalists first. We were considered Albanians, and then journalists,” explained Barjami. Before the war, Kosovo, then a province of Serb-dominated Yugoslavia, had only one national radio and television station.

Conditions have radically changed. Two months ago, Kosovars participated in a free election for the first time in over 50 years. The elections were also a landmark for the radio, television and print media, who had the opportunity to cover democracy at work for the first time in their history.

However, as Barjami was quick to point out, the situation is far from ideal. Because of the potential for ethnic violence, Kosovo is governed by the United Nations.

“[The UN peacekeeping advisors] have said that for a democracy, you need four pillars: an independent judicial system, a police force, a democratic government and independent media,” Barjami said.

It remains to be seen whether a Western model of the media as watchdog will be successful in Kosovo, but Barjami appeared hopeful. The final test will be when the UN forces leave and Kosovo is really on its own. “We have still not conveyed to them what it means to be free,” Barjami concluded.

As the journalists returned home, in fact, they faced more trouble. On November 24, it was reported that an adviser to Ibrahim Rugova, the moderate leader elected in October, had been murdered. The aide, Xhemajl Mustafa, was head of the Kosovo Information Centre.