Review of the state of the media across the Balkans and beyond - commentaries and talking points

December 4, 2013, Brussels - The European Parliament event in December 2013 that highlighted the success of the current affairs talk show Vicinities also included a review of the state of the media across the Balkans and beyond. Below find links to commentaries and talking points addressing both.

Introduction, Hedvig Morvai, Executive Director, EFB
pdf file, 210 kb

Speaking points, Fabrice de Kerchove, Chair of the EFB, Project Manager at King Baudouin Foundation
pdf file, 315 kb

What is Vicinities?, Nenad Sebek, Executive Director, CDRSEE
pdf file, 300 kb



CDRSEE Gathers Teachers, Academics, Board and Staff Members at Regional Conference on Education Reform

December 13th - 15th 2013, Thessaloniki - The CDRSEE gathered educational experts, teachers, prominent board members, and its staff to discuss education reform and novel methods in history teaching at the regional conference His Story or History: Europe in the Trap of Populism. The conference took place in the CDRSEE’s home town of Thessaloniki at the Mediterranean Palace Hotel between December 13th and 15th, 2013.

The conference was aimed at policymakers, ministers, historians, political scientists, education experts, and teacher associations throughout South East Europe. The overarching purpose was to help tackle some of today’s challenges to history education and teaching collective history. The conference aspired to find answers to several troubling questions that face education in our communities. Some of the most outstanding issues included: Is social science underrepresented in academic curricula? How can we evaluate how well education and students are performing? Is history dividing us or helping us come together? These, and many other questions, were discussed and debated over three days of panel discussions, side meetings, and focus groups. 

The conference was opened with keynote speeches by members of the CDRSEE Board of Directors, Dusan Reljic and Nikos Efthymiadis. The first panel, History as a Battlefield in the Vortex of Crisis, was moderated by Tim Judah and raised important issues on how can educators from throughout the region better synchronize their efforts to have a common, and at the same time multi-perspective and varied, curricula for teaching history. Professors from Athens, Belgrade, Istanbul, Zagreb, Sofia, Ljubljana, and Nicosia proposed better methods of collaboration and cross-border cooperation.

The second panel focused on how we can get the most out of education, have it stimulate critical thinking, and mitigate our vulnerabilities to populism. The CDRSEE’s Board Member, Costa Carras, opened the dialogue which was followed by stimulating, and at times comical, insight by the CDRSEE’s Board Chairman and former Vice Chancellor of Austria, Dr. Erhard Busek. Among his more notable points was a reminder of the need for teachers, educators, and all those concerned with progress and development, to remain cognizant of the changed medium in which we find ourselves in. This new paradigm includes a new frontier for Europe, an altered landscape due to migration and changes in labor, and the increasing adoption of new media and novel technologies. Following a brief coffee break, the discussion on reforming education end educational methods continued. Dr. Snjezana Koren of the University of Zagreb reiterated the need for history education to be an inclusive and collaborative endeavor, while Prof. Andreas Demetriou, the former Minister of Education and Culture of Cyprus, stressed the importance of education remaining independent and free of populism and political agendas. The CDRSEE’s Director of Programmes, Corinna Noack-Aetopulos, followed with detailed insight on the teaching methodology manual which is currently being launched and attempting to mitigate some of the challenges addressed throughout this conference. The panel took several questions from the audience which stimulated a dynamic debate on the importance and contextual relevance of PISA's educational rankings. 

The last day of the conference split participants into three working groups: teachers planning a shared regional agenda, consultations among the CDRSEE's teachers committee, and improving education vertically and horizontally.

Following, a concluding panel ensued that aimed to sum up the developments of the conference and assess what the future holds for history education in South East Europe, as well as the future direction of the CDRSEE. While much praise was given to teachers, education experts, the CDRSEE board and staff, and other participants of this extensive initiative, it was evident that more hard work is ahead. Among the most notable conclusions at this final panel derived at was the need to reach out to even further groups of teachers and educators in our region, establish a permanent education committee that will have the capacity to review and select workbook material, and to ensure collaboration and raise awareness among representatives of the European Commission focused on education. Furthermore, this unique initiative of education reform in South East Europe needs to acquire broad support from education ministers from the countries in which it operates and it stands a chance of being a truly successful initiative that will be replicated far beyond our region.

All pictures taken by Predrag Tratnik.


Vicinities a breath of fresh air amid alarming trends

December 4, 2013, Brussels – Despite the success of the cross-Balkans current affairs talk show Vicinities, the alarming trend in the region’s media is to feed prejudices and ignore opposing opinions, making support for Vicinities even more important, Fabrice de Kerchove, Project Manager at King Baudouin Foundation, told Members of the European Parliament and other dignitaries.

Speaking at an event organised by six Parliamentarians to highlight the importance and impact of Vicinities, Mr de Kerchove praised the show, the Balkan’s first to bring together guests from across the region to discuss sensitive and sometimes difficult issues. He called the talk show “a welcome breath of fresh air in TV news programmes”.

“Contrary to many programmes, Vicinities has no hidden agenda. In its own dynamic and creative way, it just manages to resume ties among neighbouring countries on the basis of a still common language, albeit increasingly nationalised,” Mr de Kerchove said, adding, “and this without falling into the trap of Yugonostalgia.”

Sadly, Vicinities is far from the norm. “On the contrary, it is striking to see how fragmented and inward-looking media audiences still are,” he said. “There is an ongoing trend to feed this attitude by fuelling prejudice and by highlighting (negative) incidents or simply by ignoring opinions from over the border.”

This highlights the importance of Vicinities, which is produced by the Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeast Europe and the European Fund for the Balkans, with funding from the German Federal Foreign Office.

Hedvig Morvai, Executive Director of the EFB, called Vicinities a very important first-attempt at mending old wounds.

“The direct short-term results of Vicinities are visible: discourse on sensitive issues has begun on a regional level, and so far, to large acclaim,” she said.

The comments were made as part of a panel discussion at an event at the European Parliament in Brussels, organised as an exposé of Vicinities. Vicinities has just wrapped up its second season, and plans for the third are already underway. Seven television stations across the region carried the series, and others, in the Balkans and beyond, are interested as well.

“Vicinities is based on a return to classic journalistic values, to things that matter, to civilised dialogue, to crossing words not swords,” added Nenad Sebek, Executive Director of CDRSEE.
(To see others' talking points, click here)

Mr de Kerchove laid out two main reasons for the issues that are plaguing the media in the Balkans. First, legacy of the past, and second, politicisation.

In referring to the legacy of the past, Mr de Kerchove said the legacy of the previous state control of the media still applies to public TV stations. He added that the media is still affected by the legacy of the wars, and he cited Polish historian and newspaper editor Adam Michnik who said the wars in the Balkans “started in the newspapers, radio and TV stations”.

More recently, the media is influenced by politics. “Today, most of Balkan press is more an extension of politics than a representative of public opinion,” he added.  “Media, and especially public TV stations, are more shaped by politics than politics are shaped by the media.”

And this is why supporting shows like Vicinities is so important. The King Baudouin Foundation, for example, is supporting a Brussels-based media NGO called SEE-TV Exchanges, which produced seven short films, all highly regarded as balanced, about issues in Kosovo such as border management, energy provisions and education, and the impact of these issues at the community level. But, Mr de Kerchove said, NGOs can do just so much with their efforts to seed reconciliation.

“More is needed, especially on behalf of the EU institutions,” Mr de Kerchove said.


Regional Conference, 13-15 December 2013, Thessaloniki

13-15 December 2013, Thessaloniki – Policy makers, history teachers, social scientists, journalists and many more from Southeast Europe and beyond are gathering in Thessaloniki, Greece, this weekend for a regional conference on the power of history education in promoting reconciliation and resolving unfinished disputes in the region.

The conference, entitled “His Story or History: Europe in the Trap of Populism”, has been organised by the Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeast Europe. More than 50 influential and concerned educators and policy makers, among others, will come together to take an honest look at the state of history education in Europe, especially Southeast Europe, its impact, and how it can be improved to promote reconciliation and integration.

Are myths more popular than facts, despite unprecedented levels of access to information? Is social science, and especially history education, being underrepresented in academic curricula? How can education policies convey more evaluation and critical-thinking skills? Can Europe seek financial integration while education remains a national holy grail? These are just some of the questions that the participants will take on.

Participants will be welcomed on the evening of Friday, December 13, at the Mediterranean Palace in Thessaloniki, our venue for the weekend. Keynote speeches, moderated by Nikos Efthymiadis, Chairman of the REDESTOS Efthymiadis Agrotechnology Group and Vice Chairman, CDRSEE Board of Directors will kick off first thing Saturday morning. The keynote speakers are Dr. Erhard Busek, Former Vice Chancellor of Austria and the Chairman of the CDRSEE Board of Directors, and Dr. Dusan Reljic, of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs and the CDRSEE Board of Directors.

Saturday includes two panel discussions. The first will be moderated by the award-winning author and journalist Tim Judah of The Economist, addressing “History as a Battlefied”. The second, moderated by Costa Carras, Vice President of Europa Nostra, a member of the CDRSEE Board of Directors and our Joint History Project Supervisor, will look for answers as to how education can stimulate critical-thinking skills and make society less vulnerable to populism.

Sunday, December 15, will be dedicated to working groups, which will then pull together conclusions under the guidance of moderator Aleksandra Joksimovic, Executive Director of PFZ - Zepter Holding, and a member of the CDRSEE Board of Directors. On Monday, the CDRSEE Board of Directors will meet to assess the outcomes of the conference, which will play a role in determining the future goals and focus of the organisation.


Second Successful Teacher Training Workshop in Struga


7-8 December 2013 – Another successful Teacher Training Workshop was held in Struga, the second in the city, at Hotel Drim as part of the CDRSEE’s Joint History Project. A tight-knit and highly motivated group of 19 teachers from across the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia took part in the 4th workshop in this country.

During the two-day advanced workshop, the educators further developed their teaching skills, as they were constantly challenged by the passionate trainers. The workshop took place in a friendly and intellectually stimulating atmosphere and fostered a sense of unity among the participants.

The willingness of the teachers to engage in constructive debate about teaching methodologies and history was encouraging and boded well for the success of the overall project. Upon completion of the seminar, certificates were handed out to the participants in recognition of their participation and commitment.

The trainers leading the workshop were Violeta Petroska-Beshka, Petar Todorov, Isamedin Azizi and Darko Stojanov.


Uniting Differences - Inception Roundtable in Cakovec, Croatia


26-27 November 2013 – “Uniting Differences” is a new initiative of the CDRSEE that targets pre-school education and aims at fostering tolerance from an early age on. The project is part of a wider programme, “Integration of disadvantaged groups in regular education system”, which is managed by the Agency for Vocational Education and Training and Adult Education of Croatia and financed by the European Union under the IPA and ESF programmes. 

Together with our Croatian partner, The Center for Peace, Legal Assistance and Psychosocial Support, the CDRSEE organised a roundtable in Cakovec to discuss and coordinate the upcoming project activities with actors in the field of inclusive preschool education in Medjimurije County.  Taking part in the consultation meeting were amongst others Mr Branko Sušec, who has set an example with the integrated school “Orehovica”; Ignac Dragan, from the Association for Roma Education (Udruga „Uzor“); Ivačić Višnja, of the Municpality of Cakovec; Josip Balog, President of the Roma Association of Medjimurije; Dragutin Golubic, from the County Administration of Medjimurije; Tena Skvorc, Professional Advisor at the Croatian Employment Service; and Tin Gazivoda, from the Open Society Foundation.  Also present were two experts -- Zsuzsanna Szabo from Hungary, who is an expert in the field of Preschool education, and Prof Hristo Kyuchukov, who is an expert in the field of Psycholinguistics.  

The CDRSEE team also met with the Roma Education Fund, and further consultations will take place.

For further information contact


Members of the European Parliament get a feel for Vicinities


December 4th 2013, Brussels - More than a hundred dignitaries gathered to experience first hand “Vicinities”, as part of an event sponsored by European Parliamentarians to highlight the impact of the first current affairs talk show broadcast across the Balkans that prompts sincere communication and makes way for true reconciliation in the region.

Vicinities is not just another talk show and this was not just another event. The Vicinities crew kept the evening in sync with the show’s hard-hitting yet quirky ways. A panel discussion centered on freedom and quality of the media but it took place only after the Members of the European Parliament and other dignitaries were welcomed with traditional baklava and treated to a comedic “diagnosis” of the diseases affecting the mainstream media across the region.

“We do not have such a TV show in Europe,” Ms Ulrike Lunacek, a Member of the European Parliament and the lead sponsor, told guests at the event. “Vicinities contributes to reconciliation, changing people’s mindsets.”

Ms. Lunacek and four other Members of the European Parliament sponsored the event, “Confronting the Past and Looking Towards the Future: Highlighting the Impact of the TV talk show Vicinities”.  Mr Othmar Karas, vice president of the European Parliament, gave the opening remarks for the event, which took place on the evening of Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, in Brussels.

Guests included MEPs, the diplomatic corps and the European Commission. They saw highlights of the talk show, which just wrapped up its second season, and experienced how the show’s makers bring in knowledgeable and open-minded guests to address difficult subjects, such as War Crimes, National Identity, and Violence Among Youth, in an open way that fosters communication and reconciliation far beyond the show’s set.

“What you are doing is much more than we can do from the European Parliament,” said Eduard Kukan, a Member of the European Parliament and the Chairman of the Delegation for Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo.

At the event, a panel of six guests took their turns discussing a challenging topic -- “Regional Cooperation in South East Europe: Freedom and Quality of the Media giving the MEPs a feel for the success and importance of Vicinities.

“Vicinities is the link between the past and the future,” Fabrice de Kerchove, a Project Manager with the King Baudouin Foundation, said during the panel discussion. “It is difficult to promote reconciliation through media, and that is important to support.”

Vicinities is the product of a partnership between the CDRSEE and the European Fund for the Balkans. Five pilot shows were aired last year, and this season included 12 shows, with an expanded list of topics and many improvements. The German Federal Foreign Office provides support as well.

MEP Lunacek moderated the event’s panel discussion. The complete list of international panelists is as follows:

  • Erhard Busek - Jean Monnet Professor and Chairman of the Board of Directors, CDRSEE
  • Fabrice de Kerchove - Project Manager, King Baudouin Foundation
  • Eduard Kukan - Member of Parliament, Chair of the Delegation for Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo
  • Goran Svilanovic - Secretary General, Regional Cooperation Council
  • Hannes Swoboda - Member of Parliament, President of S&D Group
  • Doris Pack - Member of Parliament, European Parliament

MEP Jelko Kacin and Joost Korte, Deputy Director General, DG Enlargement, provided the post-debate commentary.

Mr Svilanovic thanked the courageous TV stations that have dared to broadcast Vicinities, recalling Konstantinos Kavafis’ poem Ithaca, which emphasizes the beauty of the journey to reach the final destination, not just the destination.

The representatives of the partner TV stations present were:

  • Nikola Mirkov, acting Director General, RTS, Radio Television Serbia
  • Olivera Dodig, acting Director, TV BiH, Television of Bosnia Herzegovina
  • Vladan Micunovic, Editor in Chief, TV Vijesti, Montenegro
  • Hamdi Rashiti, Director of Programmes, TV Alsat-M, FYR of Macedonia 
  • Rajko Radovanovic, acting Director General, TV RS, Television of Republika Srpska
  • Vlasta Bartolec, Programme Editor, HRT, Croatia
  • Anamari Repic, deputy Director General, RTK, Kosovo

“There is no other European talk show -- we have only the Eurovision song contest,” Dr. Busek said during the panel discussion. “Vicinities is the voice of the herald.”

A cocktail reception followed, giving Vicinities Editor In Chief and show co-host Zvezdana Kovac, CDRSEE Executive Director and co-host Nenad Sebek, and European Fund for the Balkans Executive Director Hedvig Morvai, the opportunity to speak personally with MEPs and other guests and answer any questions they might have had about the show and its impact. Plans are already underway for Season 3 of Vicinities.


Teacher Training Workshop in Skopje, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia


23-24 October 2013 - Another 20 history teachers successfully completed a Teacher Training Workshop, as part of the CDRSEE’s Joint History Project, and are ready to take their knowledge and insight back to their own schools and students.

On Nov. 23 and 24, 2013, the teachers gathered in Skopje, at the Hotel Continental, for two days of advanced coursework that prepared them to tailor the JHP materials for their own classrooms and that gave them an up-to-date review of the latest teaching methodologies.

The trainers leading the workshop were Violeta Petroska-Beshka, Petar Todorov, Isamedin Azizi and Darko Stojanov.