Kosovo

Introduction

Flag_of_KosovoKosovo is a nation that has seen much armed conflict throughout its history. While indeed it is a young nation comparatively speaking to nations like the United States, it is a nation striving to be the best it possibly can for its people. In this endeavor it holds key legislation that would resemble that of the United States, free speech and press rights. The purpose of this research will be to explore that concept of First Amendment rights as it is applied to the young nation of Kosovo. Freedomhouse.org rated them a 3.5 on a scale of one to seven (seven being the worst). This is an improvement from their 2015 rating of 4. Yet, their civil liberties’ rating remains a stagnant 4. In order to fully understand this however it is important to first understand the rather dark history that Kosovo has unfortunately endured to fully grasp why the nation stands where it currently does on issues pertaining to free speech and free press rights.

Historical Background

In 1995, the Dayton peace agreement was signed and brought an end to the war that was happening in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This peace agreement was predicted to not just bring peace to the nations involved, but also pave a way for development and construction of better living conditions for all in who lived in the territory of the Balkans. This proved to be a short-lived victory for peace. Just three years after this was signed armed conflict would begin between government forces and separatist Albanians in the then provincial territory of Kosovo. After the devolution of Yugoslavia the international community recognized a problem may arise in the area amongst territories claiming their independence. In fact, the nations of “Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia – and later Montenegro – had all been allowed to go their own way with international blessing,”(Ker-Lindsay) this presented the question then for many people of Kosovo asking why not us? However the international community refused to fully recognize Kosovo as an independent nation for many years despite is numerous attempts at convincing world leaders. It wasn’t until Feb. 17, 2008 that the Kosovo Assembly took matters into its own hands and declared independence, sending out letters to the member states of the United Nations about their newly declared and self-imposed status as a nation of the world. The large majority of the nations of the world though did not find this acceptable. This deeply upset many other members outside of the European Union as well. Notably Russian President Vladimir Putin said “without the explicit approval of the Security Council, the declaration represented a fundamental violation of the principal of the territorial integrity of states, as protected by International law.”(Ker-Lindsay) It’s worth mentioning though that Putin saw a more direct effect to the nation declaring independence than did most of the 192 standing members of the United Nations at the time. Russia had voiced a strong approval for Serbian sovereignty over the area at the time and this was clear to both Kosovo and other members of the United Nations. Unable to join the United Nations General Assembly due to a lack of recognition of independence by other nations (only 36 after two months of declaring its independence had actually recognized), Kosovo had hit yet another stumbling block in the road to recognition. Yet not all hope was lost as Kosovo was able to secure Japan and Canada which meant that Kosovo was successful in “securing the support of all the members of the G7, the world’s leading economic democracies.”(Ker-Lindsay) This made support for the nation much brighter as it became clear to the world community that support by the G7 meant that the independence of Kosovo and its recognition of holding statehood by all members of the General Assembly was only a matter of time. This did not come easy though. Unfortunately, Kosovo had to endure many dark attacks and riots that were inspired by the Serbians who felt that Kosovo had no right to declare its independence from Serbia. One of the most notable of these periods of unrest Kosovo had to endure was the riots of March 2004. Beginning on the March 17, 2009 lasting through the remainder of that year, Kosovo saw a massive wave of violent riots which resulted in “nineteen deaths, of whom there are eleven Albanians (Serbian Separatists) and eight Serbs, and about 900 injuries… at least 3,000 Serbs are driven from their homes in what proves to be a major setback to the process of conciliation.” However, it is with events like these thought that the attention of world leaders was being constantly pulled back onto the issue of independence of Kosovo. An argument can easily be made that without the constant civil unrest that was present in Kosovo the large majority of the United Nations would have continued to reject the idea of recognizing Kosovo as an Independent Nation. With the recognition and aid provided by the European Union of Kosovo’s statehood in return for the supervision of its international conduct and activities, the nation was finally on its way it would seem to becoming a developed nation.

Free Press

In the United States there is a clear definition of the right to free speech and free press as is expressed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Similarly, Kosovo’s constitution holds in articles 40 through 44 a similar representation of these rights. These rights are labeled in subcategories based on what they pertain to, these include “Freedom of Expression, Right of Access to Public Documents, Freedom of Media, Freedom of Gathering, and Freedom of Association.”(Constitution) Although the exercise of these rights officially has been difficult, even before these rights became officially in effect June 2008 Kosovo had struggled with Freedom of the Press Issues. In March of 1999 highly recognized newspapers of the area “Kosova Sot (Kosovo Today) and Gazeta Shqiptare (The Albanian Gazette) [were] fined about DM 100,000 each for ‘supporting terrorism’.”(Elsie) Needless to say this did not go over well with many individuals of the young nation. In fact, the then publisher of the Kosova Sot called the attack not only outrageous but “a Draconian and unbearable penalty” (Violation) citing that “they [the government of Kosovo] were upset with our fertile and independent editorial policy.”(Violation) As questionable as it may seem to American readers to see prior restraint and penalization for voicing opinions pertaining to civil unrest, this was a common practice by government of Kosovo prior to June 2008.

After receiving statehood recognition from the European Union, the nation of Kosovo was to be placed under supervision and annual review of quality by the European Union. This supervision as carried out in what was titled the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe: Mission in Kosovo. In a report the group compiled for June 2014 pertaining to the Freedom of Media and Safety of Journalists in Kosovo it was not surprising to many members of the European Union to find such intimidation, threats and violence against journalists given their history as a developing nation. In fact, the Association of Professional Journalists of Kosovo reported “27 cases of attack, with 7 threats and 9 violent attacks, against journalists in 2011, none of which were prosecuted.”(Kaplan) What is perhaps the most frightening is that it is not uncommon according to the report that individuals would stagger away from reporting attacks, due to fear of retaliation by groups they report on and/or a lack of prosecution on behalf of the government of Kosovo. It can be concluded then that while the decrease in attacks against media individuals has dropped statistically, this is not a comforting fact for most reporters and journalists of Kosovo when viewing the harsh reality they face. Even when individuals are not being attacked physically, many reports have found that the media see “both direct and indirect forms of financial pressure” (Organization). Due to government funded media outlets taking the lead in media that is able to be disseminated to the public, what the public hears often favors “friendly media”(Organization) about government action. Because independent publishers and media outlets often cannot collect and apply effective viewership reports, they are unable to effectively target specific audiences and areas that would both pay for and disseminate their reports. It is clear to see then how media in Kosovo is very easily manipulated by governmental institutions despite constitutional protections that would appear to favor what we would consider basic individual rights.

Free Speech

This is an issue that plagues Kosovo and has many journalists and reporters in an uproar. In recent history there have been many cases linked to abduction and injury of journalists that seem to only escalate indefinitely. A report in October 2014 stated a journalist was “stabbed in the neck and head several times by an intruder in the TV studio” (Journalists). Although the prime minister quickly condemned the attacks as being “attacks n values of democracy, human rights and freedom of speech,” members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe: Mission in Kosovo were outraged by the attacks and demanded quick action be taken by the Kosovo government to prosecute the attacker.

Critical Comparison

The United States has seen its own issues concerning Free Speech and Free Press. Yet, time and time again the court has ruled in favor of more speech protection rather than less. In regards to the incidents in Kosovo concerning Free Press issues, the U.S. is no stranger. In fact, New York Times Company v. Sullivan is a great example to highlight the differences between the two nation’s views on Free Press issues. In 1964 the case arrived for oral arguments before the Supreme Court. This case concerned the publication of an ad that was published that criticized the actions of police of Montgomery city. The city commissioner L.B. Sullivan brought a libel case against the paper and under Alabama law he did not need to prove he was harmed. The court held though that the First Kosovo Amendment did protect this ad and all publications (including those that are false) about public officials conduct except when comments are made with actual malice. Comparatively, Kosovo holds similar provisions for the protection of free speech and criticism of public officials. This would prove to be more for show than actual enforcement though as consistently journalists find themselves threatened, harmed, or ‘disappear’ after publishing works critical of public officials.

Conclusion

It is clear to see that Kosovo has grown territorially to be recognized as a nation still holds a long road to travel in securing the basic rights of freedom of the press and of speech when compared to nations like the United States. While its dark past clearly lingers with it still in its current state of affairs, there lies hope in the supervision by the European Union that this nation can one day hold better safety and protection for basic freedoms like the ones discussed here.

 

 

 

Works Cited

“Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo.” (2008): 11-13. Print.

Elsie, Robert. Historical Dictionary of Kosovo. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2011. Print.

“Journalist’s Stabbing Causes Outrage in Kosovo.” The Balkan Insight. Balkan Insight, 28th Oct. 2014. Web. 28 Mar. 2016

Kaplan, Lawrence S. NATO and the UN: A Peculiar Relationship. Columbia: U of Missouri, 2010. Print.

Ker-Lindsay, James. Kosovo: The Path to Contested Statehood in the Balkans. London: I.B. Tauris, 2009. Print.

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe: Mission in Kosovo. “Freedom of Media and Safety of Journalists in Kosovo.” OSCE.org. OSCE, June 2014. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

“Violation of the Freedom of Press.” Violation of the Freedom of Press. Kosova Crisis Center, 13 Mar. 1999. Web 24 Mar. 2016.

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