Kosovan Serbs go interactive

Article published on July 21, 2006
Article published on July 21, 2006

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

A new Serbian cd-rom has been brought out, which serves as a foil to political arguments in favour of a self-governing province. Is it educational or simply propaganda?

When the Kosovan status negotiations came to a virtual standstill in February 2006, a team of three volunteers decided to devise a cd-rom entitled “Kosovo 2006: The Making of a Compromise”.

On its cover is a cracked egg, enthroned upon an egg cup, each half of which is decorated by the flags of Serbia and Albania respectively. The cd-rom, which has been edited in English, was developed under the patronage of a think tank supported by the Brussels-based Serbian Institution 4S.It is divided into three distinctive sections: the first shows the history of the region up until 1999; the second presents the current state of Kosovo under the United Nations, and the last section analyses the possibilities for the future status of the region, favouring the possibility of remaining with Serbia, rather than being independent or administered by the UN.

In spite of their youth, the project volunteers who are based in Brussels and Serbia are not unknown. Aleksandar Mitic, the director of the project, was the only correspondent of the L’Agence France Presse (AFP) to remain in Kosovo during the NATO bombings of 1999. His brother, Boris Mitic, a former journalist, is today a brilliant cinematographer who has been awarded many prizes at various film festivals.

A good heart in the face of bad luck

Aleksandar Mitic does not hide the fact that the cd-rom is slightly pro-Serb. “It is certainly not a neutral encyclopaedia. Presumably, certain arguments about Kosovo contained on the cd are refuted by the Albanians”. The cd-rom aims to present Serbian arguments in favour of a self-governed status for Kosovo, in light of its heritage and the collective Serbian memory.

Upon viewing the cd-rom, we learn that 120,000 Serbs in Kosovo live in ghettos of some sort, where they are constantly hassled in their everyday lives. We see children and priests being systematically accompanied by military escorts as they take public transport. The cd-rom’s programmers confirmed likening the awarding of independence to Kosovo to the opening of Pandora’s Box; opening up new possibilities for division and strife in the region.

The cd-rom will be used as a campaigning tool. Instead of being distributed solely on the institute’s website, it will be distributed to key players in the process, as one part of the process of lobbying. The cd-rom also bears witness to the willingness of the Serbs to be involved in the negotiations on the final status of Kosovo, which were launched in February 2006.

However, some people consider this initiative to be a form of propaganda. In the context of the crisis it could even be considered as a sort of provocation. The instigators justify themselves by invoking the informative and educational aspect of the cd-rom.

Are the Serbs included?

According to Aleksandar Mitic, the Serbs have not always excelled in this form of communication and have failed to present convincing arguments in the past. While visiting Kosovo, Nicholas Whyte, a member of the NGO International Crisis Group, recognised that the arguments coming from Belgrade did not help the Albanian people in Kosovo to envisage the beneficial effects of reintegration.

The cd-rom initiative intends to re-establish the balance between the interests of the Albanians and those of the Serbs in Kosovo, by providing the Serbs with arguments that support their position. Those who conceive the project hope that this tool will allow the Serbs to use the debate in a practical and pedagogic manner.

Only the future can say whether this initiative comes a bit too late. Because if the Serbs are ready to compromise, as outlined by Slobodan Samardzic, a member of the team of negotiators and counsel to the Serbian Prime Minister, Vojislav Kostunica, perhaps it is simply because the authorities perceive the perspective of an independent Kosovo as an increasingly likely possibility. Jan Marinus Wiersma, the European deputy and a member of the commission of foreign affairs, spoke in similar terms declaring that: “In Serbia, the politicians are determined to convey the message that the country must prepare itself for the possibility of an independent Kosovo.” One can only hope that this cd-rom may launch the first in a long line of debates.