A grantee of the Balkan Trust for Democracy (BTD) is tackling the promotion of ethnic tolerance and intra-ethnic and regional cooperation between Kosovo and Serbia through radio.

With the help of a grant from BTD, the Independent News Center (INC), a network of local radio stations based in Pristina, with the support of Kosovo radio station Urban FM, has produced and broadcast weekly radio shows entitled “The Bridge: Pristina-Belgrade Civil Dialogue.” The shows are available to all citizens across the two countries through 16 local broadcasters in Kosovo and Serbia, including one Albanian-language station.

According to Nathan Koeshall, BTD senior program officer, the motivation for the project is an ongoing technical dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade mediated by the European Union, focused on “tackling issues that remain an obstacle to the normalization of relations between the two countries.”

To date, 12 shows have been produced and broadcast. Topics are developed around the subjects featured in the ongoing talks and have included, among others, the current security situation and political deadlock in the north of Kosovo, people still missing after the Yugoslavian wars, the position of Albanians in Serbia and Serbs in Kosovo, and the view of opposition parties on the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. Each show sees guests representing opposing views and, to date, participants have included Vlora Citaku, Kosovo Minister of EU Integration; Nebojsa Ciric, Serbian Minister of Economics and Regional Cooperation; Goran Bogdanovic, Minister for Kosovo of the Serbian government; Adem Demaci, a Kosovo Albanian who spent 28 years as a political prisoner; and Natasha Kandic, director of the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade.

“‘The Bridge’ is a unique project in that, for the first time in media in this region, we are seeing multi-language and multi-ethnic cooperation across borders,’’ said Koeshall.

In a time of heightened tensions surrounding northern Kosovo, communities have had the opportunity to listen, in their own language and in both urban and rural areas, to serious talks attempting to improve relations between the two countries.  A survey of listeners elicited such comments as “This show is an excellent choice and a way to change existing habits,” to “We have a chance of listening to other peoples’ opinions and views on this very serious situation in the north [of Kosovo].” Branko Vuckovic, deputy director of Radio Kragujevac, Serbia, said, “I can freely come to a conclusion that we are the only ones who, at the time of blockades and barricades … have managed to overcome all obstacles and consequences of a painful heritage from the near past and to show that Albanians and Serbs can, even in these tough times, work on joint projects …. contributing to knowledge and better understanding.”

The project, funded by BTD using resources provided by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, was carried out with additional support from the Austrian Development Agency, the Kosovo Fund for Open Society, and the National Endowment for Democracy, and initially ran from July to September 2011. But the project organizers have since secured support from additional funders and have extended it for another six months, with the second phase starting in January 2012.

INC has been in operation since 2007 and is supported by the Dutch foundation Free Press Unlimited. The network promotes the application of professional, independent, challenging, and critical journalism.

Urban FM has operated for over ten years promoting values of peace, tolerance, open debate, active citizenship, and informed decision-making in Kosovo. For more information visit www.radiourbanfm.com