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HRW Research Finds Media Freedom in Western Balkans Under Serious Threat

After almost a year of research in the region and in-depth interviews with over 80 journalists, editors, and independent media owners, Human Rights Watch released a report in July 2015 stating that media freedom in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia are under threat.

The report's findings include impunity and lack of action by authorities for threats, beatings, and even murders of journalists and media workers in these countries, citing that political interference and financial pressure through heavy fines and vague laws are often imposed on independent media in these countries.

In several cases journalists said they have continued to experience physical violence and abuse after their initial attack, again, often with impunity for their assailants. Journalists reporting on war crimes or radical religious groups in BiH, Kosovo and Serbia said authorities downplayed the seriousness of online threats they had experienced.[…]

Inefficiency and severe backlogs in the four justice systems impede timely adjudication of legal cases. Cases tend to drag on for years, creating an environment that can be used to the advantage of those who seek to stifle critical reporting through criminal acts of intimidation.

Human Rights Watch's key recommendations to authorities and governments in the four countries in question following this report include public and unequivocal condemnation of all attacks against journalists and media outlets and assurance of swift and thorough investigations into all such incidents, as well as prompt and impartial investigations into all attacks and threats against journalists and media outlets, including cybercrimes. The international human rights watch dog has also recommended that the European Union, to which all four of these countries are currently aspiring, the OSCE and the Council of Europe pay closer attention and take additional steps to urge relevant authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia to react appropriately to media threats and ensure a safe environment for journalists to work in.

Serbia Mourns British-Serbian Legend Timothy John Byford

Author, actor, educator, television and film director Timothy John Byford died in Belgrade on May 5, 2014, after a long illness. Born in Salisbury, England, Byford spent most of his life in Belgrade, where he moved in 1971 and later became a naturalized citizen of Serbia.

As news portal InSerbia reports:

He is best known for his children’s TV series: Neven (‘Marigold’), Babino unuče (‘Granny’s Boy’) and Poletarac (‘Fledgling’) (all for TV Belgrade) as well as Nedeljni zabavnik (‘Sunday Magazine’), ‘Musical Notebook’ and Tragom ptice Dodo (‘On the Trail of the Dodo’) (all for TV Sarajevo). ‘Fledgling’ won a Grand Prix at the Prix Jeunesse International Festival in Munich in 1980.

Byford marked the lives and childhoods of several generations in Serbia and other former Yugoslav states through his television shows and educational programs. His presence was also felt in everyday Belgrade life, where he once rallied to have Banjica Park protected because of its feathered wildlife, and the term “Byfordian accent” has for decades been a popular way of describing someone who speaks Serbian well but with a heavy English accent.

Byford was genuinely beloved by his vast audience and fellow Belgraders, which has been touchingly apparent on social networks since his passing. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and local media have been adorned with praise and gratitude to Byford and his contribution to culture and happy childhoods in Serbia and other former Yugoslav states. Enes Dinić from Serbia was among those who recounted Byford's wise words on Twitter:

"Life is an adventure, if you live it courageously." R.I.P. Timothy John Byford

— Enes Dinić (@eniko_neno3) May 5, 2014

Former Croatian President Mesic Says Tudjman and Milosevic Set Out to Divide Bosnia

Former Croatian President Stjepan Mesic, who was in this office as Croatia's second President from 2000 to 2010, recently gave an interview for Serbian weekly NIN, in which he claims to have found maps of a divided Bosnia in the presidential safe of Franjo Tudjman. BalkanInside.com quotes a portion of that interview:

“Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudjman had been communicating with each other during the war 1991-1995. They wanted to divide Bosnia. Tudjman even thought that the greatest world powers want to divide Bosnia as well“, said Mesic.

The State of Torture in the World in 2013

On January 23, 2013, an excerpt from the annual report of l'ACAT-France, A World of Torture 2013, makes a fresh assessment of the state of torture in the world [fr]:

“A report called A World of Torture in 2013, assesses torture practices that continue to be alarming, from Pakistan to Italy, by way of South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Bolivia. From authoritarian regimes to democratic countries, none are exempt from criticism on the topic. In 2013, torture remains as endemic, omnipresent and multi-faceted as ever”.

“The Un-European Union”

GV Author Filip Stojanovski, on his blog Razvigor, has translated into English a mock story [sr] by Njuz.net, “the Serbian equivalent to The Onion,” about the UK striving to join “the Un-European Union”:

The Council of Ministers of the countries of the Un-European Union stated today in Skopje that a long road lies ahead of United Kingdom in order for it to join this international organisation. […]

The Macedonian translation of the story is here.

Online Tools for People with Disabilities in Bosnia and Herzegovina

UNDP's Voices From Eurasia writes about the new web-based tools aimed at promoting the rights of people with disabilities in Bosnia and Herzegovina:

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Bosnia & Herzegovina: “Lost Time”

Amila Bosnae writes about the years “stolen” by the war in the former Yugoslavia:

You lose a couple of years once, and twenty years later, you still haven’t caught up. […] Time stopped for us in a way, then. I didn’t even grow at all for the better part of those years because there was nothing to grow from. We were isolated from the world, but the world just kept on going without us. Possibly still celebrating the reunification of Germany and a new Europe while we were running for cover. In new Europe. […]

Bosnia & Herzegovina: Local Elections 2012

An Aussie in Bosnia writes – here and here – about the Oct. 7 local elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Related Twitter hashtags [bo, en] are #IzboriBiH and #IzboriBiH_RSE; the latter refers to Radio Slobodna Evropa, which runs this elections liveblog [bo], quoting [bo] Kenan Efendić (@Kenoslaw), among others:

The highest turnout in elections in B&H since 2002. Minor number of invalid ballots. No charges of [vote] theft. And that's important.

The Netherlands: Balkan Snapshots Festival 2012

A promo poster for the Balkan Snapshots Festival 2012.

Balkan Buro, a Dutch non-profit “dedicated to providing a platform for artistic and cultural encounters between Western and Southeastern Europe,” announces the Balkan Snapshots Festival 2012, which will take place in Amsterdam on Sept. 21-23: “three nights of music, creativity, movies and inspiring debates!”

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Kosovo: “Cinematic Darkness Knows No Nation”

At Kosovo 2.0 blog, Belgrade-based journalist Dušan Komarčević writes – here and here – about his July 2012 trip to Prizren, Kosovo, to attend the DOKUFEST International Documentary and Short Film Festival:

[…] The cinemas were filled with movie lovers from Kosovo, Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Croatia, Serbia, … Serbs and Albanians together!, will exclaim in unison ethnocentric builders committed to multiply the concept of the Berlin Wall in as many locations as possible. Unlike diplomats from Belgrade and Prishtina, who are seated around the same table by some Brussels bureaucrat […], moviephiles don’t need any intermediaries. Of course, with the exception of celluloid film. […]

Information Hub for Humanitarian Aid for Bosnia and Herzegovina Floods

POINT, the international conference on political accountability and new technologies in Sarajevo, has used its skills to aid in relief of the ongoing disaster affecting three Balkan countries – Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia. BosniaFloods.org, the first tool developed by the participants, specifically targets Bosnia, because the situation in this country was made particularly abysmal because its government structure hindered disaster coordination.

In Bosnia, the floods and landslides directly affect over 1.36 million people, about 1/4 of the population, and lack of information in English inhibits people abroad who would like to help. The multinational team congregates and translates bits of information currently spread around the web. It addresses their credibility, mindful that in Serbia and possibly elsewhere there were attempts to swindle prospective donors via false bank accounts. Money is probably the easiest kind of aid to send. The people affected also need food, clothes and medical aid that can be delivered from other European countries, as well as volunteers who could coordinate such efforts within their countries.

Former Bosnian Refugee Running for US Congress

Anesa Kajtazovic; official campaign photo.

Anesa Kajtazovic. Official campaign photo.

Anesa Kajtazovic, currently a member of the Iowa House of Representatives, was born in Bihać, Bosnia, then a part of the former Yugoslavia. Anesa and her parents and sisters fled the war-torn Balkan country in 1992 and settled in the US state of Iowa. After a few years in politics, Kajtazovic is now running for a seat in the US Congress [ba], and after kicking of her campaign in the summer of 2013, has started receiving endorsements from labor unions and celebrities alike.

It seems her past experiences as an immigrant child of parents who worked to build a future for their family in a new country is making quite the difference in her relationships with voters. Bleedingheartland.com says:

The United Food and Commercial Workers Locals 431 and 1149 decided to support Kajtazovic because “she understands better than anyone the concerns of Iowa's working families,” and “She shares the experience of arriving to Iowa as an immigrant with many of our members.”

Kajtazovic was the youngest woman ever to be elected to Iowa's state legislature and, if elected to Congress, she will be the first Bosnian-born member of Congress. She calls herself proof of the “American Dream”, but Kajtazovic, who runs an active Facebook fan page sharing both professional and some personal moments, seldom forgets that she has friends, family and support both in the US and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In the past year or two, her professional successes have become a regular fixture on Bosnian news sites, and her homeland seems to be following her career in the US with great interest and celebration.

Bosnia & Herzegovina: “Dark Times, Black Humor”

A Sarajevo-based Boston native writes on Notes from Sarajevo Tumblr blog that “the last few days [since the Boston Marathon bombings] have served as a reminder of Bosnia’s particularly dark brand of humor”:

[…] To be sure, friends and colleagues here have been kind and considerate, asking if everyone I know is OK (they are.) But some also wasted no time joking about the situation. […] one said, “Who would want to bomb a marathon? Must have been a smoker.” I’m not one to get prickly about a joke I can’t appreciate, and in fact I respect the instinct to use humor to cope with tragedy, but it did strike me how very badly that would go over in the States right now. […]

E-Journal on Balkan History and Archaeology

Haemus-journal-1-2012-cover

Haemus journal Vol.1 (2012)
http://haemus.mk

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Presenting the Balkan Minorities

Face the Balkans subjects of stories

A screenshot of the Face the Balkans website.

Fifteen young journalists from six different countries have produced a series of personal stories about representatives of the minorities (in a broad sense) from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia, and Macedonia. The stories are available in English, German, and French on the Face the Balkans website.

Regional Bloggers Attend Blogomanija Conference in Serbia

Dozens of bloggers [sr] from Serbia, as well as from Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Slovenia, attended Blogomanija [sr], a regional blogging conference that was held in Serbia on Dec. 7-9. Among other things, they discussed [sr] the impact of blogs and social networks on social and political life in Serbia and the region.

From Bosnia to Mecca: “A Pilgrimage on Foot”

An Aussie in Bosnia wrote about Senad Hadzic's walk from a town in northern Bosnia all the way to Mecca – here and here [en]; a Facebook page devoted to this “pilgrimage on foot” is here [bs].

Albania: Balkans Beyond Borders Short Film Festival

A poster for the Balkans Beyond Borders Short Film Festival 2012.

The Balkans Beyond Borders Short Film Festival 2012 opens in Tirana today. This is the third time that the festival is being held; this year's theme is “TALK TO ME – multilingualism and communication”; the program of the three-day event is here.

Kosovo: Prizren Comic Book & Cartoon Festival

Poster announcing Vesna Nichevska-Saravinova's participation at 8th Comic Book & Cartoon Fest in Prizren

A poster for the 8th Comic Book & Cartoon Fest in Prizren

Macedonian artist Vesna Nichevska-Saravinova blogged about her participation in the Prizren Comics Festival, organized by the Kosovo Comic Book Artist Association, Xhennet Comics [sq]. Four out of 15 featured artists at the festival were from Macedonia, Eddie Rebel reports [mk], alongside colleagues from Italy, Turkey, Cyprus, France, Kosovo, Bulgaria, and Bosnia.

Russia: “The True Blasphemy” – Slavoj Žižek on Pussy Riot

Russian collective “Chto Delat? // What is to be done?” published an essay by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, who considers Pussy Riot “conceptual artists in the noblest sense of the word: artists who embody an Idea,” and fight against the cynicism of power-mongers who strive to return Russia to the tsarist level characterized by Leon Trotsky (1905) as “a vicious combination of the Asian knout [whip] and the European stock market.” The text has been translated into various languages [en, ru – middle of page, it, sr, sr, mk, gr] and reprinted by bloggers and progressive portals throughout Europe.

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