Towards Return and Reconciliation?
A snapshot of media reporting in Kosovo
“The brave are not those who pull the trigger to commit a crime, but those who extend the hand of reconciliation.”
Bloodthirsty Vipers, 1958
Novel by Adem Demaci
Advisor on Ethnic Communities to the Prime Minister of Kosovo
“For us to have success, we have to raise reconciliation.”
PD SRSG Charles Brayshaw, 29 May 2002, Peja/Pec, Kosovo
The role of the media in conflict situations is a broad and sometimes controversial issue. In order to have a clearer view of the role media can play in preventing conflict, it is good to use a very concrete situation, not an abstract model or theories. One of the most important lessons from the field of conflict prevention is that the situation on the ground dictates the action, not necessarily a theoretical framework.
At the same time, a conceptual framework may help to explore some of the underlying dynamics of the situation in Kosovo/a, as well as potential approaches to prevent further violent conflict. The conditions that preceded the latest crisis in Kosovoa/ included perceptions of the “other” group as being “less than.” This perception accompanied the physical reality of one group or the other controlling security in terms of access to basic necessities such as land and property, the means
with which to make a living and assure minimal physical safety. The history of mutual insecurity or, in the Redding taxonomy, low-security and divergence between ethnic groups has created a vicious cycle of radical intolerance. The dominant group of the time subverts the other and fears competition for limited resources.
As this volume underlines, history, written in the minds of generations, needs to be transformed through a more balanced perception of the situation. One question for conflict prevention in terms of the media is how can the cycle be broken before it is again too late to make an effective effort? Can some form of “education as information” via the media contribute to better relations and security for both groups in the reintegration process and for the future?
In practice, preventing conflict is a multi-dimensional process, which requires participation of the whole society, not only governments and international organizations. This includes the media and requires their support.
Although media and conflict prevention thus form but one small entry point into the vast field of conflict resolution and peace building, it is nevertheless a very important one. Media can and do reach enormous numbers of people. As the booming advertising and public relations business demonstrates, media can have a profound influence on the attitudes and behaviour of people. There are also many examples of the negative influence media can have in times of tensions and potential conflict.
While very few media outlets in Kosovo/a are presently online, there is a strong case for the potential Internet availability may offer in support of conflict prevention, if the necessary infrastructure could be established. The Internet, as a communications tool and a content carrier, provides opportunities for online journalists to help initiate a process of online communication between conflicting
parties and could eventually lead warring parties towards offline unmediated
communication. Therefore, this chapter also takes into account the role of the Internet as a medium that may be useful in preventing conflict in the medium term.
For example, despite infrastructure difficulties, NGOs on the ground are expressing interest “in efforts within single sectors” like the challenge of AIDS in the region. The NGO focus in Yugoslavia on the elaboration of “an electronic network of like organizations for communication and collaboration” (1) could result eventually in
media coverage of this critical issue. If the infrastructure allowed, Internet usage and media coverage would intersect in ways that might potentially contribute to conflict prevention, not just in Kosovo/a, but also on a regional scale.
This chapter does not attempt to analyse thoroughly the role of media in Kosovo/a and their impact on conflict prevention. Factors such as the situation on the ground and the multitude of the reporting and media coverage are far too complex to allow a quick analysis without systematic, long-term monitoring and evaluation of the reporting tone, the content and the topic. This chapter‟s intention is to give a representative snapshot of media coverage on issues considered to have potential for conflict. These issues are almost all linked to the return and reintegration process of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) to Kosovo/a.
The issue of return and reintegration is relevant for this chapter for a number of reasons:
; First, the issue of return and reintegration of those who have left Kosovo/a and
specifically the co-existence of the Albanian majority with the largest ethnic
minority, the Kosovo Serbs, is an issue that dominates the daily coverage by
the local media.
; Secondly, the issue of return and reintegration of members of all ethnic
communities, particularly of the minority communities, has been declared top
priority for the years 2002 to 2004 of the United Nations Administration in
Kosovo, the government in Pristina and refugee and IDP associations
; Thirdly, as this chapter addresses the media‟s role in conflict prevention, it is
important to understand that the process of return and reintegration of all
ethnic communities in Kosovo is considered “crucial in creating a durable
basis for peace” and that “accepting a political situation that favours one
community at the expense of another creates a sense of injustice that festers
until it explodes anew.” (2)
; Furthermore, Kosovo/a‟s top UN administrator, Michael Steiner, has made the
return and reintegration of refugees and their freedom of movement
prerequisites to a determination of Kosovo/a‟s final status, which the Albanian
majority hopes to be independence. Steiner believes that because of this wish
for independence, the need to progress in the return and reintegration issue
will “force Kosovo/a‟s newly elected, majority-Albanian government to
engage the population in moving forward on the return issue.” (3)
But as with all political processes, the responsibility for progress in return and reintegration does not entirely lie with the Albanian leadership and the Albanian population in Kosovo/a. As the following sections of the chapter outline, the Serb
minority in Kosovo/a is a bargaining chip for their own political leadership and the return process is highly politicised on both sides. In addition, the idea of an independent Kosovo/a stirs up fear and rejection among the Serb minority, as Rada Trajkovic, the President of the Serb MPs in the Kosovo/a Assembly explains: “The Kosovo independence is a project which Serbs will never accept. This project will
only destabilise the Balkans. The Serbs wish to return to the province, and they consider Kosovo theirs. Consequently, they will never accept independence.” (4)
One vital factor for a sustainable return and reintegration process, as the Redding taxonomy suggests, is the reduction of radical intolerance between two ethnic groups. Since radical intolerance is a result of high diversity and low security, these two issues need to be addressed. The media may be able to contribute through their reporting with a more balanced presentation of conditions on the ground to decrease misperceptions and begin the educational process of reframing the conflict in the minds of the population.
Given all these aspects regarding the return and reintegration process in Kosovo/a, the author believes it is one of the most important issues to analyse in the context of the media‟s role in conflict prevention and reconciliation in the Balkans.
What reality can the media report on? A snapshot of the situation on the ground
The Prime Minister of Kosovo/a, Bajram Rexhepi, publicly stated at a multi-
ethnic meeting in June 2002 that he considers the integration and return of minority communities on an individual basis essential for his government programme. “Not to create new enclaves, but to integrate returnees in their places of origin; to provide the returnees with assistance, social welfare, security and freedom of movement.” (5)
The formation of the Kosovo/a Government (PISG, Provisional Institutions of Self-Government) is considered the “most important development” for political and inter-ethnic progress in Kosovo/a. (6) On 28 February 2002 the three major Kosovoa/ Albanian parties reached agreement on forming a coalition Government and on the selection of Ibrahim Rugova as President of Kosovo/a.
“Whether the electoral triumph of the moderate Ibrahim Rugova in last November‟s Kosov elections and the formation in March 2002 of an interethnic
government will tame Albanian extremism is an open question. If it does not, Albanian extremism in Kosovo and northern Macedonia could ignite the biggest Balkans war yet,” according to the author of “Democracy, Ethnic Diversity and Security in Post-Communist Europe”, Anita Inder Singh. (7) This view places the
responsibility for progress with the Albanian majority population and leadership in Kosovo/a.
It is very obvious that the role of all Kosovar leaders is of tremendous importance, because these leaders are in the best position to transmit credible messages that are understood by the public. Consequently, the UNHCR and OSCE (8) have welcomed “the increasing proliferation of public statements transmitted via media sources from the central level expressing the need to address minority concerns” since the formation of the Government. But it remains to be seen how rhetoric will be translated into action. The situation on the ground, however, can hardly follow the rhetoric and optimism above.
Aside from a couple hundred Serbs who have rebuilt the isolated village of Osojane in western Kosovo/a, there has been no large-scale return of minorities to the province at the time of this writing. Those who fled – most of them Serbs – remain
deeply sceptical, citing hostility, lack of security and freedom of movement, and
discrimination in housing and employment as barriers to their return.
“There has been a decline in ethnic murders, arson, looting and other crimes characteristic of a post-conflict area, although this is also, unfortunately, attributable to the fact that many members of the minority communities have left Kosovo, still leave or continue to live in enclaves.”(9)
Andrew Whitley, UNMIK official in charge of returns, told journalists in May 2002 that “the policy of enclaves was necessary in 1999 in order to prevent further
bloodshed, but that now has come the time to dismantle the enclaves and encourage reintegration.” (10)
Obviously, the change of policy is more a result of wishful thinking than a thorough assessment of the situation on the ground. Ethnically motivated attacks
continue. With increased freedom of movement came incidents of harassment, such as rock throwing at Kosovo Serb cars. A heavy KFOR presence has been deployed to areas where harassment has taken place and specific restrictions, such as curfews and intensive searches of buildings and vehicles, have been imposed. On 1 August 2002, a series of explosions in some uninhabited Serb houses in the recently, gradually dismantled enclave Klokot threatened to bring any progress to a halt.
The social situation also remains grim and few Serbs have hope for the future. While the rest of Kosovo/a enjoys a modest economic boom, aided by international assistance and remittances from Albanians working abroad, the economy of the Serb enclaves relies mainly on subsistence agriculture, petty trade and humanitarian aid. People feel trapped and unable to lead normal lives with few prospects for employment.
The situation is very different to the north of the river Ibar, which divides the predominantly Albanian south of the province from the northern part, where Serbs form the majority. This territory, which has direct access to Serbia, is less dependent on the protection of the international community and the local population still turns to Belgrade for political leadership.
http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/kosovo.html Insert map, taken from collection
The divided city of Mitrovica is on the border between those territories. It is not only a flashpoint where clashes occur between Albanians and Serbs, as well as between Serbs and UNMIK. It is also a microcosm of ethnically divided Kosovo/a. In
this context, it is illustrative to mention a network of local paramilitary groups, the so-called “bridge watchers,” who, during the author‟s time in region, operated on the Serbian side of a bridge between the southern and northern part of the town. At that time, their self-imposed task was to “watch” the people crossing the bridge and,
approaching them in a very assertive way, find out if they were a Serb or Albanian or a member of the international community. In the two latter cases, they used verbal and physical violence. This network, a combination of local strongmen, private bodyguards, former police and security officers and young men with nothing better to do, was coordinated, at that time, in an effort to deny UNMIK police and KFOR effective control of the whole city.
Serbs in Kosovo/a still look to Belgrade for guidance and protection. Many
believe that one day the Vojska Jugoslavije (Yugoslav Army) and the Police Forces will return to Kosovo to protect them and ensure law and order. However,
the international community has established a Kosovo Police Service, which already has recruits from all ethnic communities. The commander of the Kosovo Protection Corps, Agim Ceku, announced on 25 May 2002 in all Albanian newspapers that, in his opinion, the Kosovo/a Assembly will approve many resolutions. “One of them will be a resolution that will change the KPC‟s character and mission and transform it into a real Kosovo army.” This is difficult for the Serb community to accept because of the perception that this will be an Albanian-dominated army.
At present military protection is provided by the international security forces, KFOR, until the final status of Kosovo/a is determined. However, the Serbian government sends mixed signals, as different parts of the political establishment pursue different political goals. The camp of the former Serbian Prime Minister, Zoran Djindjic who was tragically assassinated on 12 March 2003, realizes that
“Kosovo is lost, in whole or in part” and that the remaining Serbs can be used to negotiate with the international community in return for an aid and development package.
Nebojsa Covic, Serbia‟s Deputy Prime Minister, and his delegates in the Kosovo Assembly have been advocating another scenario: The partition of Kosovo/a
into Bosnia-style ethnic entities under a “federal government” in Pristina. According
to Oliver Ivanovic, one of the delegates, “Serbs in Kosovo believe that the creation of an entity is the sole solution for preserving the remaining population and creating the conditions for the return of 230,000 Kosovo Serbs to their homes.” (11) And the
hardline faction, represented in Mitrovica by Marko Jaksic and in Belgrade by President Kostunica, considers all attempts at negotiation “treachery” and remains committed to the return of Kosovo to the Yugoslav, or rather Serbian, state.
The reporting of the Kosovo/a Serb media is dominated by information and editorial positions from Serbia due to the lack of relevant, province-wide media coverage and broadcast of Kosovo Serb programmes. But Belgrade‟s influence is also exercised and maintained by Serbia‟s continuing role in upholding a bizarre dual
administration in the enclaves, the so-called “parallel structures.”
Teachers, doctors and municipal workers often draw salaries from both Belgrade and UNMIK, while other Serbian-Kosovo/a institutions continue to exist in Serbia proper. Civil courts have relocated across the border to the cities of Nis and Leskovac in Southern Serbia. They continue to hear cases involving Serb residents of Kosovo/a despite the fact that they have no law enforcement power in Kosovo/a at all and thus their decisions are not useful.
The situation on the ground explains why still more Serbs and other minorities continue to leave than return to Kosovo/a. In his open address to the donors of return
th May 2002, Steiner explained that the international community “must reverse on 7
this trend and must achieve breakthroughs in minority returns during the summer and autumn of 2002. We must build momentum for more significant numbers of returns during 2003 and 2004.” (12)
In order to reverse the trend, UNMIK introduced the concept of sustainable
returns, which could be seen as a concept to make conditions on the ground conducive for the minorities to stay in Kosovo/a, before expecting the refugees and
IDPs to return. The concept of sustainability stresses three key elements: rights, individual choice and sustainability.
The concept (13) explains that sustainability consists of making sure that the individuals and families that decide to return will also remain in Kosovo/a. People will only return if they can live in peace and participate fully in society. They must have access to basic services, which includes equal access to education, health care, social benefits and public utilities, as well as freedom of movement. In this context, security is more than physical safety. It is a place to live, a job, an income and normal relations with the neighbours.
This is the very definition of human security as defined by the Commission on Human Security: “to protect the vital core of all human lives in ways that enhance
human freedoms and human fulfilment. Human security means protecting
fundamental freedoms- freedoms that are the essence of life. It means protecting people from critical (severe) and pervasive (widespread) threats and situations. It means using processes that build on people‟s strengths and aspirations. It means creating political, social, environmental, economic, military and cultural systems that together give people the building blocks of survival, livelihood and dignity.” (14)