by Tamara SKROZA
COLLEAGUES: Officially, between October 20 and 23, 2003, ten journalists from Belgrade and Nis media visited Pristina in organization of the foundation "Friedrich Ebert" and the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia. The host was the Association of Professional Journalists of Kosovo, officially prepared to discuss cooperation, professional ethics and other issues related to journalism, with their Serb colleagues. Everything was nicely organized, scripted, all in the spirit of reconciliation and getting to know each other. At least in café bars. At least during the first evening. As in Pristina, despite electricity blackouts and unbearable noise produced by electrical generators, one can eat and drink well, topics during the first, idyllic night covered: differences in salaries (Albanian colleagues are paid much better), working conditions (equal), differences in number of female journalists (many more female Serb journalists).
The following day, October 21, relaxed, smiling and prepared for getting to know each other even better, both "delegations" set down to have a nice chat. Tolerance, reconciliation, cooperation on both sides of the table. Simply unbelievable. Then, the cameras of RTV Kosovo were tuned on, the Albanian side pulled out some papers and the fun broke lose. Totally unprepared for what was yet to come, Serb journalists were first delivered a lesson in history, and then they were read nationalist headlines dug up in Milosevic-controlled media from the early nineties; then, they were condemned as chief collaborators of Milosevic's regime and instructed in basic principles of professional journalism, which, as everything of the above indicated, were totally unknown to them. What does that actually mean, you wonder? For example, that means that "overwhelming majority of journalists in Serbia served the regime"; that today "their hands are tied by their government"; that they "failed to report the imminent invasion of Kosovo, prepared by the Serb army"; that, on the other hand, they "refer to every banal crime as a terrorist act". All those who haven't understood in time were instructed that "the war has only temporarily been stopped, because the mentality is such"; that "Serb journalists continue the process of genocidal policy" and that "conditions for meetings of Albanians and Serbs are not ripe yet because there is mutual hatred". Naively prepared to simply exchange business cards with Albanian colleagues, Serb journalists got rather agitated, but there was still hope for a peaceful ending. However, after the Serb side of the table responded by saying that one cannot generalize journalists, that nationalist articles and headlines came from some journalists in some media, and similar conciliatory statements, situation got out of control. Thus, Halil Matoshi, editor-in-chief of the weekly "Zeri", explained that "journalists in Serb media should fight for the independence of Kosovo", and all of that because that is "in your interest". Also, Besnik Kada, journalist of the daily newspaper "Bota sot", asserted that Serb colleagues "should apologize for crimes against Albanians". And then the Serb side explained that they were not spokespersons for mass murderers, that journalists are not politicians, that it is not their job to advocate any independence and that, for a change, the Albanian journalists should give up the job they are not paid for. After that, instead of planned exchange of phone numbers, we counted refugees, mass graves, crimes, corpses... briefly, an idyll. Such an idyll that it could not have even be disturbed by the statements of the "we did not mean it exactly like that" and "that did not apply to your newspaper" sort once the TV cameras were switched off.
LEADERS: However, the Serb delegation faced new challenges, in the guise of interviews with Hashim Thaci and Ramush Haradinaj. However, even though this time they were prepared for everything, on October 22, the delegation had a quiet day. Excessively official, excessively cautious, excessively smiling, the leader of the Democratic Party of Kosovo explained that his departure to the Hague, in any capacity "will not happen", that he is "glad that Carla Del Ponte is coming to Kosovo because that is in the interest of the country", that Serb returnees are his fellow citizens who will be treated "like everyone else", but that he could not respond to the question about the reconstruction of Zociste Monastery because he was not "a bricklayer". All in all, thirty minutes that were not any more unpleasant than half an hour spent with an official or a politician in Serbia proper.
As far as the former UCK [KLA] commander and leader of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, was concerned, that turned out to be much more interesting. For starters, journalists were offered coffee, welcomed, told that the host understood Serbian language, but could not respond in Serbian, all received a signed copy of the book that deals with host's life story and achievements. Answers to the questions were political, fairly well thought out, and calm. In comparison with what Albanian journalists said, statements about "just war", that "it is good that Carla Del Ponte is coming, for the sake of both Albanians and Serbs from Serbia, because Serbs are uninformed" or that "all of us are fighting violence", seemed like a call for perpetual brotherhood and unity. But, the shock was yet to come. Answering the question from a colleague from "Balkan", how many voters he would lose if he were to be seen in a restaurant in Pristina in company of Serb journalists, the host quickly responded that we were going to check that very soon. And really, he turned up at the restaurant Haus. He drank pear brandy, treated Serb journalists to a drink and explained that he was finishing up a two-story house, that his wife was a journalist at TV Kosovo, that his neck was so thick he had problems finding suitable shirts, so that he buys suits and shirts in New York.
DOWN WITH SLOVENIA: We shall never know how meetings with other planned interlocutors would have gone. Chance had it, namely, that while the Serb journalists chatted with individuals pursued by the Serbian judiciary, the next person on our itinerary was arrested in Slovenia. Chance had it, also, that UNMiK instructed the delegation to stay in the hotel that night, for our own safety. Hitherto quiet, Pristina was rather shaken up after the arrest of Agim Ceku. Serbian language, until then reluctantly tolerated if you were in a group and in front of TV cameras and in company of Albanian journalists, suddenly became very undesirable and provoked angry and threatening stares. Consequently, guests from Serbia proper slowly finished a very tasty dinner, picked up their effects and, professing at least internal tolerance, spent the night in the club of the legendary hotel Grand. While shopping for drinks during that night, we used English, and Slovenian drinks were carefully avoided. Namely, while the delegation inconspicuously pulled back to the liberated territory inside the Grand hotel, preparations for demonstrations in connection with the Ceku affair were in full swing. Instead of a good time at some night club in Pristina we spent the night listening to shooting from machine guns and unintelligible noise coming from the street. Serb journalists learned about what was happening some two-hundred yards from them and ritual destruction of Slovenian goods indirectly, from Belgrade. Similarly, we also learned why our host Baton Haxhiu, executive director of the Association of Professional Journalists of Kosovo had not joined us that night. The moderator of the dialog between Serb and Albanian journalists, probably tired of too much tolerance and reconciliation, was, in fact, busy moderating anti-Slovenian demonstrations. We did not get a chance to kiss him goodbye. Brotherly. Or at least professionally.
Unlike the typical Balkan architecture (tall, ugly, built without plan or infrastructure) and still dirty and unkempt Pristina streets, shop windows already resemble a "tradition land": selection of make up, clothing, and technical goods is pretty wide and prices very European. However, many street stalls and a very wide selection of pirate CDs contribute to the local atmosphere. Just like until recently in Serbia proper, infamous Bulgarians go for one to five Euros, while the selection includes western stars, local Albanian bands and the Serb pop, rock, ethnic and folk music scene. If lucky, the traveler may bump into a host who may explain to the CD traders that these are "Serb journalists", who then respond in extremely polite Serbian recommending (by the way excellent) Kosovan ethnic jazz or something else.
As soon as at the border crossing Merdare the hotel Grand van was abandoned for a bus with Belgrade number plates (therefore, as soon as we stepped on the soil of mother Serbia) things returned back to normal. In front of dumbfounded representative of the Foundation "Friedrich Ebert" and even more surprised driver, hitherto smiling and friendly journalists managed to, even briefly, start a fight, although this time problems were not of political-ideological, but purely practical nature.
The issue? Seating arrangements on the bus. Intensity? Fierce. Decibels? High. Conclusion? In the end everyone found a seat. As usually happens.