by Kinia Adamczyk
Three years ago, I first visited Croatia. The hospitality and kindness I experienced there always fascinated me. These people, I knew, had suffered extreme hardship during the years of civil war. Since then, I have dreamed of a return visit to Croatia and to the other countries once part of the former Yugoslavia.
I was also focused on another goal. Because Canada has helped this war-torn region, as a Canadian and as a reporter, I wanted to see firsthand how my country’s help had been put to use and to hear what the locals thought about international intervention. A Millennium Grant that lets young Canadians pursue projects having an impact on their communities made my dream a reality. On May 16, I landed in Croatia.
Armed with a basic knowledge of the Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian languages, I could only hope my verbal skills would improve as time went on. They did as I spent time talking to the people I needed to talk to. During the next three months, I interviewed nearly 50 Canadian aid workers as well as locals working for military, health, democratization and judicial reform projects that Canada funded.
However, Kosovo presented some emotional challenges to me. I hesitated about going to Kosovo because of what I’d read in news reports and in travel advisories that told of political instability and occasional riots. When I finally got to Kosovo, I expected a climate of fear, not to mention muddy roads. As it happened what I read was wrong!
I arrived on June 16th in Pejë/Pec a town celebrating its liberation day. People, most of them young, filled the streets and the restaurants. Music and dancing went on late into the night. On this day and to these happy citizens, the memories of the NATO bombings in the province nine years ago seemed very distant, even though Pejë/Pec and towns like it were nearly destroyed. Today, 80% of the town has been rebuilt. If I didn’t know about the war, I would not have noticed anything was amiss. I felt safe.
I expressed my surprise to Kosovo-born Arben Hajredinaj about how good things appeared. Hajredinaj, who is an officer with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), replied that the news media often focus on the negative aspects of the region. “It’s in direct media interest to report stories that will sell,” he explained.
Hajredinaj, who plans to launch the Kosovo Media Institute, added that the normalization of life in Kosovo should be news for people around the globe, but that is not the case. “Basically, nobody — no international journalist — will come to report about how everything is bright and shiny,” Hajredinaj said.
From what Hajredinaj described, it seemed that good journalism has still a ways to go in Kosovo. To that end, Canadian media professionals and journalism teachers and those from other countries have helped train Kosovars in basic journalism skills. “If you compare 2000 with 2007, there were lots of changes in terms of professional advancement in all media — print or electronic,” Hajredinaj told me.
Unfortunately, the wrong messages about places like Kosovo and other countries in the former Yugoslavia are being sent. As a journalist-in-the making, my visit to Kosovo was an eye-opening lesson for me: I learned the importance of seeing a situation first-hand and, if possible, tell the right story.