#22 International Journalism Festival 2009

Sights and sounds of the Balkans. And knowledge?

The focus has changed: While media in the 1990s reported all across the world about the cruel conflicts on the Balkans, the coverage about our neighboring region is today relatively rare. And public debates on the Balkans? They nowadays deal with the European integration, with very different hopes and expectations.

By Piotr Marciniak

Breathtaking views of Serbian wild landscapes, woods, mountains and some old churches in lovely areas. Calm, exotic music vibrating in the conference hall during the projection. Welcome to a short movie made by CNN to promote Serbia across the world.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”, asked Milorad Ivanovic, deputy editor of the Serbian daily Blic. “But in fact this is not Serbia. I don’t recognize this place. This church is located probably in Romania. The Serbian government ordered this movie, but CNN didn’t even know where our country is located. People don’t know anything about the Balkans and stereotypes still influence how people look at us.” Ten years ago Milorad Ivanovic participated in a conference about the Balkans in Warsaw. Dozens of journalists came and asked for a journalist from Serbia. They expected all Serbians to be strong, tall, with an almost aggressive appearance. “They were highly surprised when they saw me”, Ivanovic remembers.

The problem of the international media coverage when the conflict began in the Balkans, in 1991, was its lack of knowledge on the region. International journalists who arrived to show the rest of the world what was happening didn’t even know basic facts about the countries involved in the war. They needed to learn about ethnical, religious, national divisions. Reports broadcasted from the Balkans were often simply not true, sometimes full of mistakes.
This has changed. And the questions concerning the Balkans are today fortunately not dominated by news on wars and conflicts anymore. The UN War Crimes tribunal is investigating the crimes committed in the Balkans during the wars in the ‘90s. Nowadays public debates deal for example with the European integration of the countries located in the Balkans – and thus did the panel “The Balkans: War and Peace” at the Perugia International Journalism Festival.

In 2008 the European Union published a survey that investigated the attitude towards European integration and the feeling of national identities of the countries in the Balkans. The results were surprising. For example almost 80% of the Kosovo citizens think that the European Union want them to be part of a further united Europe, whereas only 46% of Croatians think the EU wants to integrate them.

It seems bizarre at a first glance, especially if one compares the closeness that characterizes international relations between these two countries and Europe. Although Croatia has well developed and is a candidate country to join the European Union, Croatians feel unwanted by Europe. The question of people’s satisfaction with the work of their national governments points out a massive disappointment among the Croatian citizens: only 1% feel satisfied with their governments’ work. It seems shocking compared to a number of 56% of the Serbian citizens who express their satisfaction in this regard.

Why is there such a tremendous difference? Why are Serbians relatively happy? Milorad Ivanovic tried to find an explanation. Serbians, he pointed out, are more optimistic, enthusiastic about their country’s and their society’s development of the last decade. “Croatians think much deeper”, Ivanovic said.

If there is optimism, does it mean that the future will be also shining in bright colors? Not quite. As all participants of the conference stressed, there are still tensions between religions and ethnical groups in the Balkans. Although the situation seems to be under control and there is little chance for explosion of the conflict – it’s still a situation of crisis. What can be done to improve the situation? The first step may be improving our knowledge on the Balkans.

Posted in | 02.04.2009

By: Piotr Marciniak

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