From the start of the crisis and then Russia’s war in Ukraine, the media have collected hundreds of thousands of clicks, ringing the “bell” of a possible war in Kosovo. Aided by politicians’ statements, the media widely abused the emotional effect that exaggerated headlines have on readers. At best this happens with the purpose of collecting clicks for financial gain. At worst, it is the result of a campaign commissioned to advance certain agendas.
The treatment of the subject of the war in Kosovo is preferred by the Albanian media due to the wide interest and patriotism it arouses in the readers. Unfortunately, over the last few years, mainly online media have used this interest for “collecting clicks”, becoming a source of misinformation and emotional distress to readers.
Relations between Kosovo and Serbia have been in an ongoing conflict since the end of the war in 1999. On the one hand, Kosovo continues its work for recognition of independence and participation in international organizations. On the other side is Serbia, which makes its efforts to increase the number of countries that do not recognize Kosovo.
Despite mediation by the European Union and, in recent years, by the United States of America, the two leaders of these countries, Albin Kurti and Aleksandër Vucic, have not moved from their political positions. Kurti, supported by the president of Kosovo Vjosa Osmani, refuses dialogue with Serbia if the ultimate goal is not the recognition of the state of Kosovo by Serbia. Vučić, on the other hand, also supported by the Prime Minister of Serbia, Ana Brnabić, have so far rejected the idea of recognizing the state of Kosovo.
This political positioning often leads to harsh or even untrue statements, the purpose of which is to promote patriotism and a sense of sovereignty in both peoples.
Another important factor in the construction of these political statements is the historical and political context of the country. Researcher Adri Nurellari explains to Faktoje that this is also related to people’s aspirations for integration in international organizations.
“Recent polls show that after Albania, Kosovo with 92% is the country with the highest level in Europe in terms of support for Euro-Atlantic integration or pro-Americanism. On the other hand, 54% of the Serbian population is against EU integration, and this number rises to 68% if the precondition for integration is the renunciation of Kosovo. Therefore, it is understandable that Kosovo’s need to preserve and cultivate good relations with Western partners is greater. For these reasons, the statements are also prepared differently.” – explains Nurellari.
Russia’s war in Ukraine brought attention back to the pending conflict between Kosovo and Serbia, and raised alarm bells for a possible war in Kosovo, although this is unlikely to happen, according to Nurellari.
“If there were armed clashes between the police and the parallel structures controlled by Belgrade, KFOR would undoubtedly intervene by taking measures against both sides to prevent the conflict from escalating to the dimensions of 1998-99. But such an eventuality would destroy the great efforts of Kosovo and international partners for reconciliation and coexistence.” – explains Nurellari.
On January 16, 2023, the Prime Minister of Serbia, Ana Brnabic, stated in a press conference that peace in Kosovo and Metohija was preserved exclusively thanks to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.
“ The year 2023 started extremely badly and last year peace was maintained with difficulty ” – said Brnabiç to the journalists.
On the other hand, the prime minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, uses interviews in foreign languages to confront Serbia’s political rhetoric. This is what happened in November 2021, when the British newspaper “The Telegraph” announced that the prime minister of Kosovo “warned that Serbia is threatening a third Balkan war”.
Image of “The Telegraph” article, November 2021
“ They [Serbia] want to behave as if they were Germany between two world wars: ‘if you don’t satisfy us, we will do another one. ‘ Because they did a round in the nineties .” – Prime Minister Albin Kurti is quoted as saying.
The attitudes of the two prime ministers, Albin Kurti and Aleksandar Vučič, are explained by the electoral calculations they make, according to political scientist Adri Nurellari. These accounts are also based on the political character of Kurti and Vucic, as the most ardent defenders of the violated rights of their people.
“ In a way I believe they have used heavy language to justify to their followers and sympathizers that they are not meeting the adversary willingly but out of necessity to prevent a war .” – explains for Faktoje Adri Nurellari.
Albania’s role in rhetoric
Researcher Adri Nurellari estimates that the governments of Albania have generally played a constructive role in promoting negotiations, since the time of the talks in Vienna on the final status of Kosovo. This tradition has been lost in recent years – emphasizes Nurellari – because the official Tirana-Pristina report has often been called into question due to personal grudges between different prime ministers . This “break” was further fuelled by the Open Balkans initiative.
But what stands out, regarding the media’s reporting on the statements of an official, let’s take the example of the Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama, is that they are sometimes distributed from one side and sometimes from the other, conveying completely different messages from one case to another.
The year 2022 found Prime Minister Rama between “two fires”. Kosovo on one side, rejecting the “Open Balkan” project and Serbia on the other side, which supported this initiative, but at the same time refused to impose sanctions on Russia after the start of the war in Ukraine. This led to the articulation of some of Rama’s statements, which sometimes became “viral” in the Serbian language, and other times in the Albanian language.
Thus, in June 2022, Prime Minister Rama, from Prishtina, at the end of the joint meeting of the two governments Albania – Kosovo, at the inauguration of the book of the vice president of the Assembly of Kosovo, Enver Hoxhaj, made a statement that went viral.
“ Kosovo has suffered a lot from war, fire, destruction, and it no longer needs to go in that direction, unless they force it, of course. If they force Kosovo, they also force Albania and definitely we are one, but as long as they don’t force us, we don’t have to go that way at all .” – said Rama.
Outcome? Within 24 hours, the title ” Edi Rama: If Kosovo is forced to go to war, we unite, we are one ” was shared by the media on the social network Facebook, 67 times, reaching over 30 thousand views per post.
*data from CrowdTangle on Facebook news headline distribution
The situation was reversed two months later, in August 2022, when Prime Minister Rama, combined his support for Kosovo, which banned the circulation of vehicles with license plates other than those carrying the acronym “RKS” in the territory of Kosovo, with his promotion of the “Open Balkan” project.. Given that Kosovo rejected the “Open Balkan” project as it overlaps with the Berlin process led by the European Union, Prime Minister Rama said https://ata.gov.al/2022/08/01/rama-situata-si-ajo-ne-veri-te-kosoves-tregojne-pse-duhet-ballkani-i-hapur/ :
“ These situations show exactly why the ‘open Balkans’ is needed and why Kosovo should come and sit at the table of the ‘open Balkans’. One is the path of going back and fighting, from which no one wins because there is nothing to share. The other one is to build peace .” – said Edi Rama, Prime Minister of Albania, on August 1, 2022
The statement turned into food for the Serbian media.
*the news published in the Serbian media Kurir
The title “Edi Rama speaks after the tensions in the north of Kosovo and Metohija: There are only two ways to resolve the situation, and one of them is war ” has been published at least 52 times in the Serbian language .
*data from CrowdTangle on Facebook news headline distribution
The “broken phone” was followed by the Albanian media, which reflected the news through the perspective of the Serbian media Kurir.
The role of the media
The lack of seriousness in reporting news about Kosovo is noticeable in our country, not only in the online media, but also in the traditional media. Journalism teacher prof. Dr. Lutfi Dervishi emphasizes the lack of correspondent journalists in Kosovo for the large traditional media, as influencing the inaccurate reporting of events.
“ The conflict is reported based on the events of the day and there is very little analysis and context to explain the process that led to the ‘events of the day’ .” – explains Mr. Dervishi.
Then, it is the online media that multiply the news, copying and publishing it as it is, without bothering themselves about what they publish.
“ There are portals whose business model is clickbait. The most “serious” media has a long-term battle to win the credibility of the reader/user or win the next click. “- explains dr. Dervishi.
News or clickbait
Platforms like Facebook are trying to limit headlines that are false or that cause concern to readers, to improve the experience of users of these social networks. But the economic dynamics of these mediums encourage competition at the level of individual news. Therefore, creating attention-grabbing headlines becomes the primary goal. One of the most widespread strategies for achieving this goal is writing news that speaks directly to the identity of the readers, through the mechanisms of emotional stimulation.
But in the political context, these identities tend to be partisan or one-sided. Research by Stanford University’s Project on Democracy and the Internet concluded that headlines that target one-sided emotional clicks include clear cues about how readers should feel in response to the news.
Examples of this strategy can also be found in the headlines of the Albanian and Kosovar media such as:
This phenomenon has also affected the traditional media.
“ The war is an ‘incident’ and cannot be treated as an accident that occurs in an irrigation canal in Lushnja. Which means, if you refer to the Western press about this conflict, there is a completely different approach.” – Professor Lutfi Dervishi told Faktoje.
An example of this is the article published by New Europe on December 16, 2021 and then distributed in the Albanian media. The original title of the article was ” Conflict in Ukraine and Kosovo are connected”.
In the Albanian media, the article was entitled: ” Serbia is preparing for war, the conflicts in Kosovo and Ukraine are interconnected – JOQ Kosovo”. What stands out is the placement of the word “war” in almost all the headlines of the Albanian media that distributed the analysis of the New Europe article.
At least 92 times the title “Serbia is preparing for war” has been shared on the Facebook social network.
*data from CrowdTangle on the Facebook distribution of the headline “Serbia prepares for war”
The situation becomes more serious when misinformation is spread by traditional media, which over the years have achieved a high visibility among the public.
The following titles are not from several online portals, but have been published by a single source, a traditional national media.
- Serbia is armed by Russia for war! / Kurti gives the alarm, Kosovo as soon as possible in NATO!
- Serbia wants war in Kosovo? Barrage of dynamite and bullets, the police are attacked again!
- Who is looking for war in Kosovo? Fire is opened on the police vehicle, tensions again!
- Serbia accuses Kosovo of declaring war!/Belgrade on alert after reciprocity at the border
- “War games” on the Kosovo-Serbia/FSK border train soldiers for new weapon systems
- The Serbian army prepares for war! / Vucic puts the army on standby for Kosovo
- Serbia, 1 thousand soldiers in Kosovo / On the edge of war…! Belgrade is considering sending troops
- On the edge of war in Kosovo! The world on alert/ Tensions with Serbia, explosions and shootings in the north
- Kosovo police ‘war’ with Serbs in the north/Shocking bomb against EULEX, roads blocked
- The Third World War begins in Kosovo! Ukrainian expert: Conflict of global proportions
- KFOR, “war trials” in the north of Kosovo! NATO mission starts military exercises
- ‘Kosovo, on the brink of war because of the EU’!/Russia explodes – Tensions after the summit in Tirana!
- Merdarja is closed, Serbs want war! Kosovo Police: Blocking, illegal
- Germany “prepares” for war in Kosovo, media: In the north, dangerous escalation
- Kosovo-Serbia, the ‘war’ is postponed / Escalation was stopped, but what will happen in 2023?
So, in the span of 9 months, this media announced the coming of war in Kosovo more than 15 times. ” It seems that the editor has not even thought for a second about what World War III means. This news is just for clicks .” – evaluates journalism lecturer Lutfi Dervishi.
The language used by politics when talking about the Kosovo-Serbia conflict is built based on electoral and patriotic calculations that differ depending on the context in which they are articulated. But while Kosovo and Serbia are parties to the conflict, so they have clear positions, Albania’s role in this relationship has fluctuated over the last few years, not being clearly positioned towards Kosovo.
The tightening of the political language has been well received by the local media. Online media, but also traditional ones, willingly or unwillingly, often spread foreign propaganda and fake news for financial gain, leaving aside the journalistic mission of informing the public.
As a result, the reader is more and more faced with misinformative headlines, unverified articles and distributed, ‘ignoring’ the source from which this information was obtained. The media every day fight to collect as many clicks as possible, which they achieve through sensational headlines and not through the provision of complete and accurate information. Therefore, the Kosovo-Serbia war is not really likely to happen, but the media war for clicks continues every day.
*This article was produced as part of the regional initiative the Centre Against Disinformation of the Western Balkans
Edited by Viola Keta & Aimona Vogli