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February 19 2014

The Journalistic Purgatory of Eastern Europe

'The rose and the newspaper'

‘The rose and the newspaper’ by Borislav Dimitrov on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

We were told the end of totalitarian regimes would lead to a free press, but Central and Eastern European media is less free now than at any point in the past 20 years.

Governments in the region, long used to having unadulterated control over media content, have been reasserting authority. Strong-arming, threats, amendments to law, arrests, destruction of media equipment and property, and beatings have been documented throughout the region with increasing frequency.

In sitting down to write this piece, I was confident I could shed light on the worst examples of media repression from Eastern Europe, as I follow the subject daily and live in Serbia. But as I began looking at case after devastating case, I began to see a larger picture that taken together point to a media system that is badly broken.

To begin understanding, we must clarify the image the typical global reader has of Central and Eastern Europe from 20th century history. Countries in the region with the most threats on freedom of the press, regardless of whether they are EU member states, have double-digit unemployment rates and an enormous gap in income disparity. A very small percentage of extremely wealthy citizens are frequently connected to government, while the vast majority of citizens barely make ends meet. The strong, stable middle class that many Central European socialist countries maintained for some 50 years has been virtually wiped out.

Social and economic factors lay the foundation for the media landscape, because livelihoods depend on the decisions of their local and national government officials. This leads the citizens of most Central and Eastern European to pay close attention to local politics. Societies which follow their governments so avidly should have highly active investigative journalist networks. A host of factors mediates against this from happening in practice.

Follow the Money

Members of the media are very poorly paid for their work, often employed as part-time or outsourced staff, while operating budgets for reporting are minimal. Investigative journalism rarely occurs in this economic environment. Low wages also open doors to bribery of journalists and editors, cash payment for publishing articles and for pushing or ignoring stories based on non-journalistic interests.

Several Eastern European countries have started cracking down on significant investigative journalism. Macedonia, for example convicted investigative journalist Tomislav Kezarovski in October of 2013 and jailed conspiracy-theorist and journalist Zoran Bozinovski less than a month later. Although the vast majority of Macedonia's press is private, the government was among the 50 biggest media advertisers in 2012, securing a huge influence in both state and private media, say Macedonian journalists Tamara Causidis and Dragan Sekulovski in a guest article on Index on Censorship.

The media houses in all these countries rely mostly on advertising revenue to stay afloat. Business money is frequently connected to politics and political figures. The consequence is self-censorship. Eastern European journalists who write critically of those in power risk offending those who control the advertising money, and thus risk their livelihood and, at times, their physical safety.

In Albania, which last year ranked 102nd of 173 countries in the Reporters without Borders “Freedom of the Press Index”, the media market is so poor and overcrowded it's difficult to sustain, says Besar Likmeta in an article on Balkan Insight. “Most Albanian media are dependent on big corporate advertisers as their main source of revenue, and internal emails show that they can easily skew editorial policy,” says Likmeta.

The situation is similar in most countries of the region. Self-censorship can be further encouraged through unofficial calls from those in power, killing stories before they reach publication. Journalists and editors who publish regardless risk lawsuits, threats, harassment, and even violence.

OSCE Freedom of Media representative Dunja Mijatovic often expresses concern regarding increased media regulation. In Hungary, she has warned of disproportionately high prison sentences for defamatory video and sound recordings, saying such laws are easy to use to silence critics or differing views. In Romania in last year, she called on the Romanian government not to “re-criminalize free speech” saying it could have a chilling effect on investigative journalism through fear and self-censorship.

In Ukraine, before the ongoing Euromaidan protests in the country, many already drew attention to the lack of media freedom, that has only worsened since. Ukraine scholar Andrew Wilson wrote on openDemocracy in October 2013, just weeks before the anti-government protests began:

Now it is media freedom that is under attack. Ukraine’s biggest TV channel ‘Inter’ was still showing signs of independence around October; in February, however, it was taken over by the Head of the Presidential Administration, and a leading oligarch.[...]

Next in line is Ukraine’s most famous web site, Ukrainska Pravda (Ukrainian Truth).[...] Its founding editor, Georgy Gongadze, was a thorn in the side of the then authorities. He disappeared in September 2000, and two months later was found gruesomely murdered.

There are dozens more examples of conflict of interest, intimidation, bribery and corruption in Eastern and Central Europe. The media landscape of the region finds itself in purgatory.

Less Safety Online

Internet penetration rates in Central and Eastern European countries are high and their citizens have a historical habit of turning to alternative sources of information, due to the closed character of official media under communist and socialist regimes in the 20th century. Citizen media and social networks were for several years viewed as a way out of this stalemate, for some perhaps even as a “safe zone” for freedom of expression, due to the respective governments’ lack of monitoring.

This, however, has now changed drastically. Governments in Ukraine, Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria and Hungary now see the influence citizen media and social networks can have on politicians’ reputations and elections. They have responded with close monitoring, and attempts to control what users are uploading and saying. Without much success, of course, but the result is direct pressure on common citizens’ freedom of expression and added pressure on media.

In Serbia for example, online commentary and information was fairly freely passed between users in the late 90s during the Milosevic era, whose regime appeared not to view the Internet as a major threat and thus seldom monitored citizens in public online spaces. Today, personal websites and social network profiles are under direct attack in Serbia for sharing a satirical video of the Deputy Prime Minister and similar materials.

Significant political and economic news in most Central and Eastern European countries now spread through human networks by word-of-mouth and are often reshaped into rumor. Journalists hold back important news stories in their heads, or on post-it notes in their drawers, unable to research them, much less hand them in to their editors for publishing. Citizens, even when afforded a venue where they could express their opinions, now often choose not to. These countries and their media have visibly reached an informational stalemate.

But the tighter the grip of politicians on media, the greater the anger of the people. Media are either unable or unwilling to fight for journalistic freedom, a condition echoed in the development of democracy in the region. Now, in countries in which governments have stifled the free expression of their citizens on the Internet, people are beginning to rise against those in power, calling them out for corruption and incompetence.

After Bulgaria, Ukraine and others, Bosnia-Herzegovina is the latest country in the region to see mass protests both on the streets and online. On February 11, 2014, in the midst of protests in Tuzla and Sarajevo, the Cantonal Court in Sarajevo ordered “temporary seizure” of all media property documenting the protests in Sarajevo. Decisions like this to silence media only fuel citizens’ demand for access to information and freedom of expression. When all boundaries have been crossed, change is bound to happen.

Danica Radisic is the Central and Eastern Europe Editor of Global Voices. She is a corporate communications consultant, writer, blogger, poet, and native speaker of Serbian, English and Portuguese. A Serbian native, she was born and raised on the Iberian Peninsula, with some time spent in the Middle East and U.S. She is a mother of two and CEO of Krazy Fish Consulting.

December 12 2013

No to Syrian Chemical Weapons Dismantled in Albania

Reports that Syria's chemical weapons stash would be destroyed in Albania have angered Albanians, who took to the streets to protest the proposal. Following the protests, the Albanian government refused to host the dismantling of 1,300 metric tons of Syria's sarin, mustard and other agents.

Online, Albanian netizens made their views heard.

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Environmentalists gathered on November 12th in the Albanian capital of Tirana to protest their country's plan to accept chemical weapons from Syria. Source: PBS Newshour. Used under CC BY 2.0

In an Open Letter to President Obama, Albania Reloaded wrote:

I am a deeply concerned citizen of Albania, who like millions of Albanians is shocked by the news that deadly toxic chemical arsenal of Assad’s regime is landing to Albanian shores. For a small country of 28,000 km2, over-populated, with poor infrastructure, with countless problems in every sector of the economy, health, education, environment, agriculture, tourism, struggling for over two decades to fight corruption and organized crime plagued in every cell of our society, the decision of demolition chemical weapons in Albania is TOXIC. The lethal impact that this potential decision will have in the lives of Albanians and the generations to come is unquestionable.

Robert Kyriakides explained the case in his blog Not In My Backyard – Destroying Syria’s Chemical Weapons in Albania:

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Source: Friends of Syria on WordPress. Used under CC By 2.0

We do not hear much about Syria these days. It seems that the agreement to remove and destroy the chemical weapons of Syria has removed the threat of an intervention by the Western democracies which will now not bomb Syria and add their own destruction to the destruction and death that they Syrians are inflicting upon themselves, with a little help from their friends.

March 18 2013

Welcome Spring and Good-bye Evil Eye

File:Martenitsa E5.jpg

Martenitsas on a blossoming tree.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Μάρτης [el], мартеница [bg], мартинка [mk], mărțișor [ru]…however you call it, an ancient tradition [el] with multiple variations that takes place in the Balkans. So, weave your red-and-white threads for protection against the “evil eye” or to welcome Spring!

(more…)

February 20 2013

New e-Journal Highlights Balkan History and Archaeology

The inaugural issue of Haemus Journal, an academic e-journal devoted to the history and archaeology of the Balkan Peninsula, also covering a wide range of related interdisciplinary topics, was published recently. It follows the principles of Free and Open Access and publishes its content under a Creative Commons license.

Haemus-journal-1-2012-cover

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

(more…)

February 18 2013

Tax Holiday for Albanian Youth?

THREE YEAR TAX LIFT FOR EMPLOYED YOUTH

In a significant boost to youth employment, the government will decide during the coming weeks about the lifting of taxes (social security, health and personal income tax) and expenses of new trainings of those employed in the private sector. We keep our promises!

The Albanian PM Sali Berisha made this statement [sq] on his public Facebook page on February 10, 2013 [sq].
(more…)

February 13 2013

“Albanian Excursions”

Matthew Pointon of Uncle Travelling Matt shares this detailed, six-part account and photos of his travel in Albania in 1996 and 1999:

[...] The Land of the Eagle is little known even in Europe and that’s a shame since it has some incredible scenery, friendly people and fascinating history. [...]

December 31 2012

02mydafsoup-01
Music of Epirus (Greek side - recorded in the 1970s)


In memoriam Δόμνα Σαμίου -
Domna Samiou 1928-2012 - Music of Epirus - Τραγούδι της Ηπείρου (recorded in 1977 mainly in Παρακάλαμος / Parakalamos)

yt-playlist

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domna_Samiou
http://www.domnasamiou.gr/?i=portal.en.domna-samiou
http://www.athensnews.gr/portal/1/53975


About the Epirus (Greece & Albania)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epirus_%28region%29

About Iso Polyphony (Southern Albania - also on the Greek side in use - three languages in which it is sung: Albanian, Greek, Vlach)
http://www.southeast-europe.eu/index.php?id=1569

September 11 2012

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. […]

August 29 2012

Greece: Anti-Nationalists Demand Diversity

Anti-nationalist sticker from Athens reads [el]: “We want Albanian classmates, Afghani coworkers, Nigerian neighbours and kicks to fascists.” Source: Facebook page of Europeans against the political system.

From the Facebook group Europeans against the political system, this image has circulated around Facebook and other social media sites, gathering retweets, shares and many comments.

August 02 2012

Macedonia: Introducing Struga Poetry Evenings

Portuguese filmmaker André Soares published a short video documentary about the Struga Poetry Evenings, an international poetry festival that has been held annually for half a century, since 1962, in the town of Struga, Macedonia (the official site).

The film features statements by poets Vladimir Martinovski from Macedonia, a Chinese exile Bei Ling, Rati Saxena from India, Corey Marks from the United States, Siim Kera from Estonia, Mimoza Sali from Albania…who also talked about the global situation with poetry and read their works in various languages.

While explaining the circumstances of being forced to choose between jail and exile due to disagreement with the regime, Bei Ling says that his homeland is no longer China, but the Chinese language. Curiously enough, one of the most famous quotes by the renowned Macedonian poet and linguist Blaže Koneski (1921-1993), inscribed on his recently erected monument [mk], is “our language is our homeland.”

The festival is one of the crucial elements of the official, state-supported culture, and its opening is usually attended by top political personages, like the Minister of Culture, Prime Minister and/or the President. As such, it has not proven conducive to promotion of domestic dissent, as attested by the critical post [mk] on the 2009 edition by activist blogger and poet Vnukot. In 2011, he specifically returned [mk] to publicly read his poem about the murder of Martin Neshkovski, the event that incited the grassroots protests against police brutality a year ago.

Over the years, Macedonian bloggers have been mentioning the festival by quoting Wikipedia data and starting discussions about domestic poets such as Koneski, Mateja Matevski or Jovan Koteski (1932-2001), who attended in 1964 and 1981, or publishing Macedonian translations of works by foreign participants, such as the Japanese Shuntaro Tanikawa, the French Pierre Béarn, and Russian Vadim Fedorovič Terehin (Ru.wikipedia).

Journalist Vasko Markovski used his blog to publish a reportage [mk] on the park of poetry in Struga, where the trees planted by many world renowned poets grow side by side.

March 15 2012

Macedonia: Fuel Prices Continue to Rise

Continuous increase of fuel prices is a cause of much concern for citizens of Macedonia, and some vent the tension through humor. The prices are set by a regulatory body, and more and more social media users object to the fact that the lion's share of the revenue in fact goes to the government, stymieing the growth of the business sector.

On his blog, Zoriv published comparisons of the prices of oil derivatives in Macedonia, the USA and the EU [mk], and also calculated how much fuel one can buy on an average salary in various countries [mk]. (Both posts are in Macedonian, but the tables with country comparisons are in English and easily comprehensible.)

So, according to Zoriv, Latvia has the lowest price of gasoline in Europe (EUR 1.20), while Norway has the highest (EUR 1.94). Consumers in Macedonia have to pay EUR 1.4. While the official explanation for rising fuel prices is always the change of price of crude oil, Zoriv points out that a major factor in forming the end price are the excise taxes that go directly to the state budgets in countries with the highest prices (Norway, Holland, Italy, the UK, and Greece). He adds:

In Macedonia, for instance, the total taxation together with the profit margin for the merchants form around 70% of the price (Official Gazette of Republic of Macedonia, no. 138/09 and 52/11). The difference between Macedonia and the EU countries, alongside the salary levels which are incomparable, is the tragic fact that even the slightest increase of oil derivative prices affects the personal material existence of every citizen of Macedonia. The latest data show that fuel consumption has decreased by 30% [mk]. The increase of fuel prices leads to a spiral of the increase of all other living expenses, while family budgets drastically decrease.

The Macedonian government temporarily abolished the excise before the June 2011 elections, but returned it later, raising the prices [mk] in August.

By calculating how much fuel a citizen can buy with an average salary, Zoriv tried to shed light on income disparities: in the United States, one can buy 4,296 liters of gasoline on an average monthly salary. In Europe, the top spots go to Switzerland (3,441 l), Luxemburg (3,439 l), and Germany (3.075 l). The lowest on the list are Macedonia (243 l) and Albania (194 l), with a “disastrous ratio of 1:14″ compared to the leading “rich” countries.

According to the 2010 edition of the annual publication 200 Largest Companies in Macedonia, prepared and published by the Euro Business Center – Skopje, the two largest companies in the country are: the sole oil refinery OKTA (owned by the Greek interests, privatized while the current PM Gruevski served as the Minister of Finance) and the biggest oil derivatives distributor Makpetrol, with the total revenues of EUR 512 million and EUR 350 million, respectively.

The prospects for the future seem bleak. According to the UNDP report “Assessing the Economic Impact of Climate Change,” Macedonia also faces numerous other challenges in the energy sector.

Social media users shared various kinds of data related to the fuel price increase, such as the table [mk] showing the elements that form the prices of fuel:

Elements of fuel prices in Macedonian Denars.

They also posted various reactions to ongoing developments with the fuel prices, and the most shared were the humorous responses, such as this joke: “Would you like to take your girlfriend someplace expensive? - Take her to a gas station!” The latest chuckle is a demotivation-style meme featuring the late Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito and a supposed laconic quote in Croatian:

Tito advises on gasoline

Photo of Tito and a supposed quote: You say the gasoline got more expensive? Well, why don't you make a deal with the Non-Aligned countries?

During the Cold War, Tito was famous for striking a balance between Eastern and Western blocs, with Yugoslavia serving as a kind of a buffer, to the commercial benefit of its people. In 1961, he co-founded the Non-Aligned Movement, which included many oil-producing nations, resulting in favorable trade relations. A famous political-economic quote attributed to him (in the Lexicon of Yugoslav Mythology) is this: “The grain that we received from the Americans is much superior in quality to the grain the Soviets did not deliver.”

December 30 2011

Boys in Albanian Countryside | flickr.com

United Nations Photo has added a photo to the pool:
Young boys and a flock of grazing sheep.
Photo ID 296621. 01/01/1991. Mamurras, Albania. UN Photo/G Accascina.

 

----------------------------

// oAnth - original source:

http://www.unmultimedia.org/photo/ via https://secure.flickr.com/photos/un_photo/6589010235/in/pool-agriculture/



December 29 2011

Macedonia, Greece, Turkey: Bridging the Divides Through Multilingual Reporting

Two recent initiatives by civic-minded journalists added value to the e-content in local languages from Macedonia and nearby countries: Diversity Media is offering news analysis through text and audio podcasts in Macedonian and Albanian, and Balkon3.com is enabling “peeking over the neighbors' fence” in Macedonian, Turkish, Greek, and English. The former also started a competition for news bloggers [mk, sq], ending Jan. 31.

November 02 2011

Albania: Eliza Dushku on “Why You Must Visit Albania”

At HuffPost Travel, American actress Eliza Dushku writes about her Albanian roots and her travel to Albania.

November 01 2011

Albania: Universities - Quantity vs Quality

Home of the Albanian Blogger writes about a BalkanInsight.com article, whose author has “counted some 10 public and over 30 private universities [in Albania], which beats the rest of the Balkan countries.” The quality of education at some of these institutions is something to be worried about, too.

September 26 2011

Albania: One in three pays bribes

Home of the Albanian Blogger reports that one out of three Albanians pays bribes, making the country the most corrupt in Europe.

May 09 2011

March 13 2011

Albania: “The Civil Alternative” Website

Written by Veronica Khokhlova

The Albanian Blogger writes about a new website, The Civil Alternative (ALB), which aims at “engaging people in dialogue and raising awareness as well as producing action about major issues affecting the Albanian people and the country as a whole.”

March 03 2011

Macedonia: What About the Census?

Written by Filip Stojanovski

A number of the Balkan countries were scheduled to run a census this spring: Macedonia, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Albania, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Local observers link the ability to perform this operation to viability and maturity of a state.

When the ‘census season' was announced in 2010, Dzhaman did a test press clipping [MKD] from various countries. At the time, Macedonian bloggers were mainly discussing the situation in the neighboring Bulgaria and Albania, criticizing these states for not allowing the local ethnic Macedonians state their ethnic affiliation and be counted.

Bulgaria at first had this option, but backtracked. Its census is under way. In Albania, officials promised certain changes to the minorities [MKD] who threatened boycott, but now face disagreement from the majority.

Macedonian bloggers viewed these situations as part of ongoing campaigns for assimilation of ethnic minorities, with discussions often steering toward hate speech, involving labeling and invoking history. For instance, 1979 cited this and the arrest [MKD] of the owner and employee of a printing company in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria, who prepared an ethnic Macedonian periodical, an instance of 21-century fascism [MKD], reminding that Bulgaria sided with Nazi Germany in the Second World War.

Inclusion of ethnic and religious affiliations is not a controversial issue in the multi-ethnic Republic of Macedonia. But, as certain “collective rights” guaranteed by law are linked to the number of people registered in a given territory, statistical results have an explosive political potential. For instance, while Macedonian is the official language of state and local administration, other languages automatically become official on municipal level, too, if the number of their native speakers is above 20% of the population. Since the last Census (2002) showed that ethnic Albanians comprise around 25% of the total population, the Parliament uses Albanian as its official language, in addition to Macedonian. This is also linked with the “Badinter principle” of decision making: proposals involving ethnic aspects need support both on the general level and from representatives of non-majority ethnic groups (if they comprise over 20%).

In Macedonia, controversies began with the traditional media publishing “predictions” that the real results can turn out far different than in 2002. Then some of the ethnic Albanian opposition parties demanded that the Census take place in July instead of April, in order to make sure that ethnic Albanians who work abroad and come back to Macedonia for summer holiday are counted. The administration refused, citing the examples of Albania and Kosovo, which also have a lot of guest workers, but scheduled their census for April anyway. Albania in fact just decided to postpone its census, but for a different reason - due to the early local elections.

A more serious problem of boycott by the ethnic Albanian and Turkish members of the State Census Committee arose due to the composition of local census committees, over the rule that it has to have an ethnic Macedonian member, regardless of the ethnic composition of the area. According [MKD] to local portal PrespaSky, other ethnic communities, such as Vlach, also joined the boycott.

In addition, Vasko Krajchevski wrote [MKD] about the looming early elections:

Another important moment is a certain large-scale statistical operation called the Census. If early elections take place in May, the Census surely will not take place in April. What are they trying to prove? Nothing, they just want to play with tenders for four more years. If they want to remove the political (ethnic) label from the Census, they should change the Constitution and declare that the [Framework Agreement] is valid for those below the (infamous) 20%.

In her latest statement, the president of the State Census Committee said [MKD] that “the Government has not informed them about any delays of the Census.”

January 29 2011

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