It’s freedom of expression week at Kosovo 2.0, and we’ve asked our bloggers to share their insight on some of the most pressing issues regarding the topic in their countries. On Thursday, World Press Freedom Day, we’ll be discussing how two articles recently added to Kosovo’s Criminal Code have thrown yet another punch to Kosovo’s already fragile media environment, as it makes publishers, chief editors, print houses and producers criminally liable without specifically stating criminal offences. To open the week, I will focus on what hit us closer to home here at Kosovo 2.0. Last week we canceled our participation at SHARE conference in Belgrade.
The back story has been told already, but here’s a brief sum up. SHARE invited Kosovo 2.0 to present at their three-day conference together with some of the greatest innovators currently working in the fields of new media and technology. Two days prior to the conference, a Serbian ultranationalist movement NASI (Ours) requested through a public statement that Serbian authorities stop our presentation in Belgrade since we’d be promoting “the narco-country of Kosovo.” They also invited all “patriotic” individuals and groups to protest our presentation, by gathering in front of the Share venue and burning the flag of Kosovo. This is the same movement that publicly supported the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi last spring, set fire to the flag of Vojvodina, and helps man Serbian barricades in the north of Kosovo. We canceled our trip due to concerns over our security.
It’s important to note that NASI has a bleak reputation in Serbia as well, as they’re known for slamming the LGBT community, and even going so far as calling to cancel the broadcasting of Turkish soap-operas since the Ottoman Empire occupied the region for 500 years. Currently, the Serbian Constitutional Court is in the process of banning their right to association. NASI has a consistently aggressive stance toward Kosovo and close affiliations with the Ultra Chetniks. After their announcement, I received several private messages from friends in Belgrade asking us to be careful. It was with great regret that we decided not to attend.
Over the next few days, as the conference took place, countless messages of support were sent our way. Activists from the the civil society organization Dokukino and Youth Initiative for Human Rights in Serbia wore “We are all Kosovo 2.0” t-shirts written in both Albanian and Serbian; Dokukino and Bturn magazine also printed and distributed Kosovo 2.0 stickers on our behalf.
In the midst of our disappointment and frustration, such acts and messages of support were a great example of how individuals can transcend preset divisions by engaging in participatory politics, fighting back through various channels of expression and acting as global citizens. But there was something that kept bothering us at Kosovo 2.0 as feedback poured in about how such incidents should be “properly” or “rightfully” addressed.
After we announced our withdrawal from SHARE, one comment in particular drew my attention. It said: “I don't like the last paragraph of the press release, though (without going into whether it's true or not). With it you are accepting the argument put forward by the fascists that this is all on the political level, which it is not. The Share Conference is a place for sharing new ideas and not a tool for political promotion or a place to decide on or promote the status of Kosovo.” This comment was referencing our statement that our withdrawal from the conference is yet another example of how the freedom of Kosovo’s citizens, and Kosovo as a whole, is infringed upon by Serbia.
On one hand, that statement can be read as a politicization of the issue because it takes the experience of our independent organizations and places it within the context of conflicted relations between Kosovo and Serbia. At the end of the day, at SHARE, I was going to present the political identity of Kosovo 2.0 - a new, media outlet in the hands of a young generation that is unsatisfied with the course of political processes in their countries, and the world; individuals who are keen to reclaim authorship over the stories being told.
On the other hand, though, the fact that all individuals bring their sense of identity into the discussion cannot be ignored or disregarded. And it’s not about an identity constructed by territorial and conceptual space, designed through the usage and presence of symbols, blood ties or collective history that are put forth and reinforced by state elements and channels. For us, it is a sense of identity formed through the everyday life experiences we carry through our understanding of situations, and which we manifest in our responses and interactions with those around us.
In Kosovo, part of this identity is a high level of dissatisfaction among our generation with the current leading political class. The approval of the new Criminal Code only demonstrates that Kosovo’s leaders and institutions are mainly interested in shrinking democracy, which has gone as far as introducing threatening, restraining and controlling legislation to media professionals who already face scores of hurdles in their daily job – from informal censorship (intimidation, threats), structural censorship (conditioning positive reporting in exchange for financial resources) to in-house influences as a result of vested political or business interest.
At the same time a very significant part of our identity, which has been omnipresent in the past few years, is a constant experience of inequality, whether within Kosovo itself, or in relation to countries in the region, Europe or the world. This sense of inequality is not only challenging basic, fundamental freedoms, but also hampering efforts to protect political, civil and media rights.
That is why when a nationalist group, no matter its size or relevance, succeeds in playing a role in our participation at a conference, it is perceived as an attack. Because their call to action is based on policies adopted by the Serbian state, it does not stand as an isolated incident because Serbian state legislation prohibits and makes legally liable any activity that indicates the recognition of an independent Kosovo. We read our experience as a replica of the experiences we’ve continuously heard about through our friends (i.e., canceling participation in previous cultural events in Serbia or Bosnia); stories we’ve read in newspapers (athletes denied to participate at international games); or the recent retaliation arrests of Kosovar Albanians at the border between Kosovo and Serbia (such as the case of Hasan Abazi, president of the Metalworkers Union of Kosovo, along with that of trade unionist Izet Mustafa).
That is why for Kosovo’s citizens, the truism that the personal is the political is a lived and embodied experience. When we are denied the right to participate, to move freely and to exist as Kosovars, it produces a social responsibility to engage the political. It is Kosovo 2.0’s responsibility as a media outlet to address these basic issues of inequality.
The article was originally written in English.
Illustration: Collin van der Slujis
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