Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Koha Phoenix

In the first days of the war, the offices of Pristina's leading daily were destroyed and all of its journalists scattered. But the team has reassembled and relaunched from exile, and Kosovo Albanians once again have a voice.
By Iso Rusi

Koha Ditore, the leading Kosovo Albanian daily, has been relaunched in Macedonia, just over a month after its offices in Pristina were burnt down by Serbian security forces and its editor Baton Haxhiu wrongly reported executed.


The first issue since March 22 was published Friday by a skeleton staff of 23 journalists working out of tiny offices in Tetevo and Skopje. They have no phones, no faxes, no emails. But they produced an issue to match the paper's usual professional style. "Unbearable lightness of Crimes," ran the leader, an article about the atrocities continuing in Kosovo.


The team is again being led by Haxhiu who arrived safely on the Macedonian border in the first days of April, shortly after his death was announced to the world at a NATO press conference in Brussels. Thirty-one other staff members of the paper remain unaccounted for.


Using the borrowed e-mail and Internet facilities of local internet cafes, Haxhiu's journalists now produce a 16-page daily paper which is distributed freely to Albanian readers inside Macedonia's refugee camps. With financial support from both the British and French governments and private donors, 10,000 copies are printed in Skopje, with a further 25,000 published in Frankfurt and distributed to the ever-growing Kosovo population in Western Europe.


In the coming weeks, Koha Ditore ("Daily Times") is hoping to relaunch its Web site and to start distributing a further 10,000 copies to Kosovo refugees currently languishing inside camps in neighbouring Albania.


The rebirth of Koha is a substantial boost for the Kosovo Albanian community, once again giving a direct voice to a people who for a month have only been known as nameless victims. But Haxhiu takes the breakthrough in stride, saying that he is merely trying to produce a paper. One of the paper's main functions, he says, is to give a sense of reality to the Kosovo Albanians, making sure that they understand that they will not be returning home in a few weeks. But Haxhiu remains convinced the return will be relatively soon: in two months, he says, "accompanied by NATO troops".


In Kosovo, Koha Ditore had emerged as the leading Kosovo daily, managing a clean presentation and a broad readership throughout the province. Inevitably affected by the conflict and related political debates, it nevertheless sought to be an independent and professional journalistic publication produced by a young and highly enthusiastic staff.


Shortly before the start of NATO's bombing campaign, Koha Ditore fell foul of Serbia's draconian new Law on Public Information and was fined a total of US $26,800 for publishing a statement by Kosovo Liberation Army leader, Hashim Thaci--even though the statement had been distributed by the Belgrade news agency Beta. Koha chose to shut down rather than pay or contest the fine. Two days later, on March 24, Serbian police shot and killed Koha Ditore's guard and burnt down the office.


Iso Rusi is a journalist with Focus in Skopje.


To help support the relaunch of Koha Ditore, contact IWPR Programme Director Alan Davis at alan@iwpr.net.