First we make it better
Ours is a simple story
Shkelzen Maliqi 24 Agon Demjaha 30 Luan Shllaku 36 Lulzim Peci 42 Xheraldina Vula 48 Hajrudin Skenderi 54 Genoveva Ruiz Calavera 60 Augustin Palokaj 66 Ulrike Lunacek 72 Jan Braathu 78 Anamari Repic 84 Nehat Islami 90 Habit Hajredini 96 Valdete Idrizi 102 Igor Vidacak 108 Tina Divjak 114 Goran Paulsson 120 Besa Luci 126 Zenel Bunjaku 132 Ares Shporta
166 Timeline 176
Twenty years of stories
Ours is a simple story
Ours is a simple story
Ours is a simple story.
Ours is a simple story
â€œTwenty years ago it was a simple story of survival. One of bettering the country found in ashes. Ten years ago it became one of hell of a simple story of challenges to build life. Of the people who stay. Of young uncompromising love that grows and spurs growth. Of bigger plans and grander enthusiasm. Of ideals and of friends who fuel all that.â€?
OURS IS A SIMPLE STORY.
Ours is a simple story
The need for having an empowered civil society sector and for civic activism was recognized long before the war, giving birth to what would soon become the Kosovar Civil Society Foundation that we know today. The postwar period brought new hope, but also a myriad of new challenges. Multiple transitions were happening simultaneously, making the lack of capacities and the inability to absorb support all the more apparent. People needed to be aware of their role in the public sphere. Civil society organizations needed guiding principles and operational help. Institutions needed assistance in many areas. All of us were given a one of a kind opportunity of building a new country and setting up new mechanisms in place. With each step of the ladder that we climb, we realize there’s still a long way to go. Even today, our stage is one of uncertainties, set to a background of a shrinking civic space in Europe, while we try to bring the EU spirit to Kosovo and set an example in regional cooperation. How do we keep growing without compromising quality? How do we deal with short—sighted project—based funding of NGOs and the resulting donor dependency? How do we improve a not—so—enabling environment? Bringing change to systems and processes requires consistency and persistency. And I can proudly say that we have persevered. When we commit, we deliver. We went all the way to the Constitutional Court just to prove that state institutions can be challenged in a democracy. We made sure that the government is obliged to hear out its citizens before new laws or policies are adopted. We educated thousands of decision—makers on what the EU is and how its values translate to our state—building process. Before we were able to function normally, just as the democracies that we aspire to, we realized we needed to make Kosovo better. And where to start if not our own backyard? We wanted to lead by example. Through good times and bad, transparency and independence have been our beacons of light. It was so humbling to read all the kind words of 20 remarkable people who see us as an example of professionalism and integrity. I love what those 20 stories tell about our work, but I have to point out why it works the way it does. It’s not my quote, but it has become my mantra: “Nobody is perfect, but a team can be.” KCSF’s reality is even more beautiful than words can say. We not only complement each other perfectly, but this relation has also allowed us to empower one another. We were able to grow together through a shared vision. We have each given a lot and received a lot from one another, but all of us have given everything to the organization. We have treated the organization as an institution, one that was of the utmost necessity for Kosovo. This allowed it to grow a life of its own, to the point where it started surpassing us as individuals. This internal richness of ambition, dedication and talent within KCSF stands in stark contrast with increasing civic apathy in Kosovo. That is why I am compelled to point out that even against what seems as insurmountable challenges, the possibilities to contribute to our country and our society are far greater. But to be able to do this, believing in change is essential. Ours is a simple story of people who believe in what they do. No project was ever a “project” at KCSF, it was always a way to change our country and our lives. Our contribution may be just a small drop in the much larger sea of needs, but we truly believe that if everyone is doing their share, we will all be doing a bit better.
It’s not my but it has my mantra “Nobody i but a team be.” Venera Hajrullahu Executive Director of the Kosovar Civil Society Foundation
Ours is a simple story
y quote, become a: is perfect, m can
Today’s KCSF team: Venera Hajrullahu / Fatmir Curri / Taulant Hoxha / Fidan Hallaqi / Edona Haliti / Suzana Arni / Vjollc Blerina Zeneli Gjinolli / Linda Hoxha / Blerta Kelmendi / Jeton Islami / Berat Kryeziu / Jeta Buçinca / Krasniqi / Bardh Zherka / Auron Vula / Rezar Miftari / Sevëm Potoku.
ca Sllamniku / Dren Puka / Rron Zajmi / Teuta Purrini Xhabali / Edona Krasniqi / Bardha Tahiri Jelliqi / Rina Dragidella / Nart Orana / Edlira Pllana / Diella Aliu / Mirjeta Ademi / Inesa Didikoviç / Kaltrina
Ours is a simple story
There are 29 people working with KCSF at the moment. Being a dynamic platform, we have people coming and going, but mostly staying—like Suzana did for 20 years now, or like Fidan who joined us as a youngster and contributed relentlessly in our make—better principle.
Exemplary 45â€”165 Exemplary
Shkelzen Maliqi 52 Agon Demjaha 58 Luan Shllaku 64 Lulzim Peci 70 Xheraldina Vula 76 Hajrudin Skenderi 82 Genoveva Ruiz Calavera 88 Augustin Palokaj 94 Ulrike Lunacek 100 Jan Braathu 106 Anamari Repic 112 Nehat Islami 118 Habit Hajredini 124 Valdete Idrizi 130 Igor Vidacak 136 Tina Divjak 142 Goran Paulsson 148 Besa Luci 154 Zenel Bunjaku 160 Ares Shporta
SHKELZEN MALIQI a philosopher, art critic and political analyst, is one of the founders of KCSF and its first Chair of the Board. He is one of the pioneers of civil society in Kosovo and knows it inside and out. He has been active since the 80s and participated in the most important political processes of Kosovoâ€™s contemporary history. Kosovoâ€™s pre-war context needed the existence of an organized civil society and we used the opportunity of this book, to try to paint a picture of that time.
“The civil society in Kosovo in the ’90s was the civil resistance, born out of a most basic need—survival. Everything was political and we were all politicized. From the late ’80s when the Yugoslav crisis began, we started to read about state and society, interest groups and representatives in international magazines, and we would try to write about the same here, wanting to plant ideas of a democratic future.”
THE KOSOVAR ALTERNATIVE
Our attempts were met with censorship. For a while, the Serbian regime tried to maintain a semblance of a cultural pluralism by allowing minor media to publish selectively, while completely taking over the larger strategic ones. Even in the ’80s there was censorship. I was the editor of cultural magazine Fjala, published under Rilindja’s umbrella, and I remember how often it happened that during the night my texts would be physically taken away from the printing house. We weren’t allowed to print according to demand either—our circulation was capped at 6,000 copies. From 1993 I was on the board of the Open Society Fund in Belgrade, and we had a branch office in Pristina. An idea started taking shape—there was a grave need to establish a proactive umbrella institution in Kosovo that would stimulate the society with targeted funds. Women rights organizations and media were being shut down. The main newspaper Rilindja was dismantled. Open Society Fund did a few projects for education in Kosovo, but we were far from operating normally—everything was being done in half—legality. It was almost impossible to organize different segments of civil society. We were incessantly being asked why there was a need to do things separately, why we weren’t joining the then—largest movement and political party in Kosovo, the Democratic Alliance, and effecting change from there. Despite the difficulties, we were trying to push the idea of having a foundation for empowering Kosovo’s civil society. And what seemed like a distant dream finally came true after the donors’ conference in Sweden in June 1998. I drafted a project proposal, in the name of OSF, of the organization which later became KCSF, and was the first head of the Board. Thousands of NGOs popped up in Kosovo after the war. Only a few of them have survived for two whole decades, but KCSF has managed to withstand the test of time and of the tumultuous post—war context in Kosovo. After 20 years of my initial involvement in giving life to this idea and setting up the foundation, I’m happy to be able to recommend to civil society representatives and activists to turn towards KCSF for funding or support—including my own daughter, who is now one of their many grantees through the Termokiss platform.
The early civil society initiatives came in the 80s, with the attempt, among others, to establish an ecologist movement. But any and all organizations and associations had to function within the one party rule system, they had to serve the regime. I remember when I wanted to do a magazine titled Alternative, the socialists were horror-struck at the mere mention of its name. In 1989 we also had a few other initiatives, like UJDI and the Council of Human Rights, which earned us the moniker of the ‘Kosovar alternative’. Essentially, that’s what civil society was for a very long time in Kosovo. It was an attempt at having an opposition, an alternative to a ruthless regime set up to exterminate all possible forms of empowerment or democratization. Previously there was no concept of civil society, people didn’t know what it meant. We didn’t have an organic civil society that would represent different group interests. After Kosovo’s autonomy was abolished, the civil society was the civil resistance, born out of a most basic need—survival. Everything was political and we were all politicized. We would read about state and society, interest groups and representatives in international magazines, and we would try to write about the same here, wanting to plant ideas of a democratic future.
AGON DEMJAHA is an academic, a civil society activist and the former Macedonian Ambassador to Sweden. He was among the organizationâ€™s founders and its first Executive Director, even before KCSF as we know it existed. We believe his memoir contains a wealth of ideas worth sharing, in order to make sense of our beginning, of the context that created the organization, and of ideas that draw the timeline of our existence.
“Kosovo needed a focal point within that civil society, an organization that would stand by it— without it, we could forget about democracy. Our society needed a center that would keep other organizations active, informed and capable of delivering, an actor who would create a stronger network of civic initiatives by giving targeted funds and building what were then very basic capacities.”
ROOTING CIVIL SOCIETY IN KOSOVO
The 90s in Kosovo were surreal. People were being fired en masse and students were being forced out schools. This had created an entire parallel life where civil society was strong and unified against the other side that was represented by the regime. Yet, strong and unified was not enough, Kosovo needed a focal point within that civil society, an organization that would stand by it—without it, we could forget about democracy. Our society needed a center that would keep other organizations active, informed and capable of delivering, an actor who would create a stronger network of civic initiatives by giving targeted funds and building what were then very basic capacities. We weren’t thinking only about Prishtina, there were so many organizations virtually isolated in other parts of Kosovo that we absolutely needed to energize to keep the spirit of resistance alive. Sonja Licht, president of the Yugoslavia branch of Soros’ Open Society Fund at the time, rallied to bring together several European countries in support of a more active civil society in the Western Balkans. A donor conference was set to be held in Sweden in the summer of 1998, against the backdrop of a raging war in Kosovo. Our project proposal for the Center for Development of Civil Society in Kosovo was approved immediately. I was part of the Kosovo Education Enhancement Program at the time, but I took on the responsibility of becoming the newly established Center’s founder and first Executive Director. With funding from Soros and Olof Palme Center, we got the Center on its feet as best as we could—it was 1998 after all. We were in the middle of the war, trying to find ways to make a difference in the absurdity surrounding us. We had an office, but with limited internet access and frequent electricity outages; we had a Board, but no bank account in Kosovo. We were receiving funds from international organizations abroad, so we had to open an account in Macedonia. For quite a while, the Center’s staff would make weekly trips to Skopje to withdraw cash for both granting and operational needs. The initial, somewhat limited scope of the Center was transformed when we received a grant through Dialogue Development, a Danish organization from Copenhagen, in the amount of hundreds of thousands of Deutsche marks. This infusion speeded up a process that would have taken much longer otherwise, and turned the center into a foundation—a grant making institution in support of existing civil society organizations. We had only been doing this for a few months before we had to flee Kosovo. In March of 1999, the war escalated after the NATO bombings and the staff had to relocate to Skopje. I decided to stay there after the war ended, and continue on a different path of my life. After the war there was a major influx of donors with different agendas that resulted in the establishment of many donor driven NGOs. I think that KCSF played a crucial role in this context by helping the root civil society that was marginalized by the large donors. It increased the number of organizations with meaningful programs and built their capacities, keeping alive an important layer of a truly democratic society. I think that even today, and especially now with the decline in international donor funds, it’s predominantly local organizations like KCSF and KFOS who contribute towards the sustainability of other civil society organizations in Kosovo. When the external funds dry up, it’s these foundations that will have to bear the burden of helping local organizations with smaller targeted funds.
LUAN SHLLAKU the Executive Director of the Kosovo Foundation for Open Society, was one of the few people that saw KCSF build itself from scratch. The European Integration School was started up thanks to him and KFOS, while he has been an active part of many other KCSF initiatives to develop civil society and support Kosovoâ€™s EU Agenda. He is one of our first Board members and our key partner, who has been there for us logistically, financially, and strategicallyâ€”but most importantly, he has always been one of our greatest friends.
â€œKCSF went through a handful of critical moments that would have easily dismantled most civil society organizations. But their ability to continuously improve their institutional capacity over a 20â€”year period, in service of civil society and its empowerment, is a testament to their sustainability.â€?
FIRST THERE WAS THE CIVIL SOCIETY
When the war ended in 1999, there were no institutions ready to take over the development of the society. It was the civil society that assumed this responsibility, stepping up to administer many sectors with aid from donors. The institutions came after. The Center for Development of Civil Society was positioned extremely well in Kosovo’s post—war context to take a leading role of organizing and financing the civil society sector. Once the European Union expressed their interest in having the Center as a re—granting organization aimed at strengthening the civil society of Kosovo, it was re—baptized as the Kosovar Civil Society Foundation. Looking back, KCSF went through a handful of critical moments that would have easily dismantled most civil society organizations. But their ability to continuously improve their institutional capacity over a 20—year period, in service of civil society and its empowerment, is a testament to their sustainability. During its first years, KCSF served as a center for development of civil society, focusing on capacity building of NGOs and re-granting of EU funds at a time when they were desperately needed. It was the only organization that had an operational mandate to make hundreds, thousands even, of other organizations fully functional. As the civil society started to progress from a capacity building phase into a more operational one, this invited the need for the profilization of KCSF itself. The evolution of the sector became another turning point for the organization, but with the arrival of Venera to serve as its new Executive Director, they were able to bring something new into the sector and ensure the organization’s survival. Apart from other skills, Venera brought with her extensive knowledge on the EU, which enabled KCSF to take on a new role. It was time for KCSF to move beyond its old relationships—they were back on the market and looking to fill the void in the country’s process towards European Integration. And again it was the only organization with the mandate and expertise to do what it set out to do at that time. This momentum materialized with the establishment of the European Integration School, implemented by KCSF with KFOS’s operational support. It very quickly became THE school that everyone was talking about, the school that everyone was trying to get into. And rightfully so—we had the best lecturers from all over Europe, top experts in their fields and professionals who were in the know on all latest developments in Brussels—the school was a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ snapshot of Brussels. High profile lecturers coupled with high profile attendees—several ministers and deputy ministers in addition to NGO leaders, top journalists and many other policy makers—really made the School the flagship program of KCSF. I have been alongside KCSF since it was established. To think today about whether KCSF served its purpose would be limiting, because KCSF has shown time and time again that it is able to stay ahead of trends, finding a new purpose every time there is a risk of it becoming redundant, without compromising its agenda or stability. Today KCSF has expanded tenfold. It redirected some of its capacities to its original agenda of re—granting donor funds, while it maintains a presence as a specialized organization in EU integration matters and as a driving force in improving civil society and government cooperation. I’m proud to have been there when it started and I’m curious to see what they have in store for the next 20 years.
LULZIM PECI Executive Director of KIPRED and former Ambassador of Kosovo to Sweden, provides depth of knowledge that would take a lifetime to digest when one speaks to him. He was amongst the first heads of our organization and carries with himself essentials, influences and sources carefully examined and beautifully articulated. He brings to us with accuracy not only our most important moments, but manages to integrate in our story all the other NGOs and institutions we worked with, delivering an excellent narrative, important to us and to our friends.
“Civil society filled much bigger shoes in the time of UNMIK, essentially taking on the role of government, because of the governance vacuum that had been created in Kosovo. Education, culture, human rights—you had civic actors across the board coming together to rebuild society.”
IN THE TIME OF UNMIK, WHEN CIVIL SOCIETY TOOK ON THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT AND DID A GOOD JOB
One day in July 1999, while I was in Spain for my graduate studies, Mr. Kristian Sorensen, the Head of Dialogue for Development (Denmark), who had just given a million euro grant for the development of civil society in Kosovo, reached out to me for an interview as a potential candidate. Shortly after, my journey of leading the Kosovar Civil Society Foundation began, as its founder and the Executive Director. The impact that it made then is different from the value-added that it brings today, but one thing has been consistent since its establishment—it has always mattered. Our first strategy was to plant the seeds for the development of civil society. We created the first database of NGOs in Kosovo. In the beginning, we were giving out grants up to 10,000 Deutsche Marks. As our capacities boomed, so did our funds—in just a few years, our highest grants went up to 100,000 Euros. We wanted to see civil society in Kosovo moving from a registration and establishment phase into a consolidation and flourishing phase. We had programs for capacity building, for women, for youth, and we even managed to build ties with organizations from non—majority communities. This inter—community cooperation had a significant impact in easing tensions and hostilities among different groups. The EU Human Rights Foundation considered us as one of the best grant—making organizations in the Western Balkans. KCSF’s role in the democratization of society was vital during this time—you had political parties on one end, NGO’s on the other, and for the first time in Kosovo, a somewhat normal democratic life. Civil society filled much bigger shoes in the time of UNMIK, essentially taking on the role of government, because of the governance vacuum that had been created in Kosovo. Education, culture, human rights—you had civic actors across the board coming together to rebuild society. I see KCSF as one of the top organizations that pushed the development of key political and social processes in Kosovo and its contribution was especially noticeable in the early post—war period. From the beginning, when people didn’t even know about the concept of civil society, it had a very educational character. KIPRED, Kosovo’s first think tank established after the war, came out of KCSF after a few years of working under its umbrella. The KCSF of today has evolved, creating a very sophisticated expertise that is now able to oversee the government’s work, to push different legislative agendas or even contribute to EU integration processes. With their in—depth knowledge of the EU, they managed to translate the European rhetoric into concrete actions, in order to better prepare Kosovo for the path ahead. The studies on civil society that were done under their guidance and the advocacy role that it has assumed have done an excellent job of building capacities and educating for our tomorrow. But its contribution goes beyond what it tried to purposefully do. By always being the best version of itself, it attracted a pool of highly qualified, educated and talented people in Kosovo. The people that worked with KCSF and KIPRED were all at one point or another involved in leading the country’s most important consolidation processes—from foreign service to constitutional courts. Finally, they are still leading by example. What has always made KCSF remarkable is its organizational culture. Even with their growth, what I really like is that they have always kept a gender balance, this was the spirit of the organization from the very beginning and I’m happy to still see a very open and progressive spirit within its team.
XHERALDINA VULA the Deputy Director of RTV 21, is a journalist, TV moderator, a poet and a women’s rights activist. She is very well—known to Kosovo public as a media personality working in the entertainment business while maintaining a commitment to women’s rights promotion. Being a member of KCSF’s board since 2000, and its Chair since 2007, she has been by our side during all the phases of our growth and consolidation. Xheraldina knows very well what we do and has enough distance from our daily work to always be able to provide us with a unique perspective on our work.
“All of us dream of a society that is proactive and responsive to the country’s emerging needs. Kosovo is undergoing immense transition on all fronts, and it can’t be imagined doing it without a strong and vibrant civic sector. ”
KCSF WALKS THE TALK IN GENDER EQUALITY AND WOMEN EMPOWERMENT.
No democracy exists without a strong and empowered civil society. It not only has the potential to play its part in the state consolidation and policy making processes—it has an absolute duty to do so. Joining the KCSF board in the early 2000s made me realize that positive changes can happen when different branches of civil society work together and help each other to achieve the same goal— Democracy in a post—war country. When I joined KCSF, Kosovo was in a different mindset, it was a tumultuous time. People of Kosovo were grieving and searching for their loved ones, people were rebuilding their own lives starting from scratch. A lot of traditions and (former) social values in pre-war Kosovo were suddenly cut off. People had to look at each other, move forward into the future with their own potential, but always with a slight fear of losing human rights, being deported, or more… And then what we didn’t know is that freedom does not also bring Democracy itself. You must earn it, work for it. Huge work was ahead. State building processes were happening all at once—the consolidation of public institutions, the development of a pluralistic society and of independent media in Kosovo—while fighting an uphill battle against numerous political, social, economic and cultural challenges. It was a puzzle that needed solving, and it was only natural to see a lot of civil society organizations emerging. Being involved for me was a natural thing to do. As a media person, it was the only way of acting, seeing, recording, memorizing and having that piece in your heart and body that you did something more for your country. All of us dream of a society that is pro—active and responsive to the country’s emerging needs. Kosovo is undergoing immense transition on all fronts, and it can’t be imagined doing it without a strong and vibrant civic sector. It’s this sector that has been striving for freedom of speech and independent media—a subject of a very personal significance to me, as a pre-war civil society activist and a media person. It has been exciting to see KCSF take its place in promoting the essential values of liberal democracies, where independent journalism is promoted, and freedom of speech protected. KCSF walks the talk in gender equality and women empowerment. The Board offered its strategic guidance in this respect and set the way, but it has certainly been carried out to the full by the KCSF management and team. The only way to really make change is if you believe in it yourself first. What I am even more thrilled to see is that this model is now being replicated for hundreds of partners and grantees in action. KCSF has set a golden standard at many levels, and gender has been one of them. As Board Chair, I ask first and foremost for accountability and transparency. KCSF has exceeded my expectations in both. With such a big portfolio and number of projects, the only way us Board members can cope is if we have complete professionalism, openness and regularity. And the standards they hold themselves accountable to, you don’t get to see in many other organizations. I am happy and proud to see KCSF moving towards full sustainability. Organizations like KCSF are needed in each country and each society and we shall all do our best to ensure that they thrive and promote positive values. With the work that they are doing they are becoming the drivers of change and a guiding reference beyond the sector and beyond Kosovo.
HAJRUDIN SKENDERI is a National Program Officer with the Swiss Embassy in Kosovo. His story is moving and powerful. He is a rich reservoir of successful endeavors, wellâ€” informed decisions and hardâ€”working luck. Our organization is humbled to have had the chance to contribute to his inspiring personal development.
“This initiative by KCSF was unique and novel, I hadn’t heard of any scholarships dedicated to Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities before. It was the first and last time that I received support for my education. But it was a worthy investment—it gave me the push to continue my studies at the Faculty of English Language and Literature in the University of North Mitrovica, and I was actually the first Roma member from my community to graduate from this university since after the war.”
I WAS 18 THEN. I HAD NEVER HEARD OF A ROMA RECEIVING A SCHOLARSHIP AT THAT TIME, BUT I DID!
I am 32 years old, married with two children, and currently employed by the Swiss Embassy in Kosovo. Coming from a community that faces incredibly high unemployment and alarmingly low education, I consider myself relatively lucky. I did not get to where I am based on luck, as I have worked long and hard for my achievements, but that one bit of support I got along the way has made a tremendous difference. In the Roma community, for a lot of children of school age there comes a moment where they make or break their education, and I was lucky to find support precisely at that crucial crossroad. The year 1999 was when troubles stopped for most people, but started for others. My family lost everything and had to flee because they could not ensure our safety. We left Obiliq and lived a year and a half in Serbia as refugees, after which we came to Gracanica and settled there. Rebuilding our lives was very difficult and my parents were limited in the support they could give for my education. It was in 2004, in my last year of high school when I heard about a scholarship fund for the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian community members that the Kosovar Civil Society Foundation was awarding. I got into contact with the KCSF project manager, and after a number of back-and-forth’s and many administrative requirements, I finally got the scholarship. I think that was the only time in my life where I didn’t have to work to support myself or my family while simultaneously working on my education. It gave me the luxury of being able to focus exclusively on school. This initiative by KCSF was unique and novel, I hadn’t heard of any scholarships dedicated to Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities before. It was the first and last time that I received support for my education. But it was a worthy investment—it gave me the push to continue my studies at the Faculty of English Language and Literature in the University of North Mitrovica, and I was actually the first Roma member from my community to graduate from this university since after the war. Even before I graduated, I was continuously employed. I worked with KFOR, with NGOs such as the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and the Voice of Roma, with Radio Kontakt, while also being a freelance journalist and translator. Having a higher education opened so many doors, which many Roma community members can’t even knock on. It’s only now that I see all the possibilities and opportunities that I could have missed out on, had I not continued my education. I am happy to see more members of the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities pursuing their studies today. The government is now cooperating with the civil society and international partners to do more for the education of non-majority communities, but when I received the KCSF scholarship, such initiatives were, to my knowledge, non—existent. Today the government has a new strategy for the inclusion of Roma and Ashkali communities in the Kosovo society, where education features prominently. This recognition of its key role in both social inclusion and eliminating poverty is a major advancement towards the emancipation of marginalized groups in Kosovo. Those people can now have better jobs and can start giving back to society. The program that I work on at the Embassy deals with human security, of which one of the priorities is to support the integration of minority communities. It’s such a fulfilling experience to be able to not just support myself and my family to do better, but many community members who were at one time as disadvantaged as I was.
GENOVEVA RUIZ CALAVERA previously led the Kosovo Unit in the European Commission and is now the Director for Western Balkans in the DG NEAR. She was there when it all started and is back again in a very crucial phase of Kosovoâ€™s journey to the EU. European integration is a political process, but even more so it is a technical one, with so many tiny details to be understood and addressed every day. Genoveva was among the first to understand that civil society can play a role in this process, and responded positively to many KCSF initiatives for dialogue and cooperation.
â€œThroughout my career, I have witnessed how cooperation with civil society is an essential element in the EU integration process. Reforms undertaken as part of this journey are only sustainable if there is engagement from civil society and society at large.â€?
AGENTS OF CHANGE
An empowered civil society is a crucial component of any democratic system. Civil society needs to continue to play a central role in the democratic debate and in participating in the design and implementation of public policy. Throughout my career, I have witnessed how cooperation with civil society is an essential element in the EU integration process. Reforms undertaken as part of this journey are only sustainable if there is engagement from civil society and society at large. In Kosovo, civil society stands, among others, for the fight for fundamental rights, for the establishment of rule of law, for transparent and credible elections, for a safe and clean environment, for the protection of cultural heritage, for the protection of minority rights. These are all areas of key importance when it comes to Kosovo’s progress on its European path. More than ever, Kosovo needs an empowered civil society to allow citizens to take an active part in setting the political agenda. As set out in the Commission’s Western Balkans strategy adopted last February, it is crucial that governments in the region create an enabling environment for civil society organisations, ensuring that they can actively participate in the reform and policy—making process—for example through inclusive structured dialogues on reform priorities with institutions. In Kosovo, important first steps have been taken to enhance the dialogue between the government and civil society, with the recent establishment of a public consultation mechanism and the adoption of new rules to increase the transparency of public funding of NGOs. We have welcomed these steps and made further recommendations in our 2018 report on Kosovo, adopted last April. Civil society organisations can be important agents of change, which is why the EU provides financial assistance to strengthen the role of civil society in the region, through our Civil Society Facility or other tools such as the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights. The EU continue to engage regularly and meaningfully with the civil society in Kosovo and in the wider region to ensure our dialogue brings value to the citizens of the Western Balkans and to the EU.
AUGUSTIN PALOKAJ is an award winning journalist, based in Brussels, and an international correspondent to many media. Because of his thorough knowledge of the EU and its processes, he has been a regular lecturer at the European Integration School since 2005. Due to his extensive career and vast network of contacts across EU Institutions, we wanted his thoughts on the Schoolâ€™s impact as a platform for exchange of information between Brussels and Prishtina.
â€œIt is difficult today to meet someone from Kosovo in Brussels, in EU related events in Prishtina or somewhere else, who did not pass through the European Integration School. Most of them have finished different universities across Europe, specializing in EU affairs. But they still consider the experience from the European Integration School as a valuable experience that helps them do a better job wherever they work.â€?
THEY PROVE IN THE BEST WAY THAT BEING CRITICAL TOWARDS EU DOES NOT IMPLY BEING AGAINST THE EU
It all began with the request from the European Integration School to speak to one of their first generations about my experience of covering EU affairs as a newspaper correspondent. I knew that they already had decent knowledge about the institutional set up of the European Union and thus decided to focus more on how those institutions communicate with the public. After the presentation, a Q&A session followed. It was an excellent experience for me and they seemed to like it as well. They asked who those “EU sources” that the media often quote are, if they really exist, if EU tracks reports on its affairs in Kosovo too and so on. Since then, for years, at least twice a year, I’m regularly invited to present a formal lecture on “How does the EU communicate” and an extra session on the latest events related to Kosovo and the region. It is always a pleasure for me to come back. I have the opportunity to share with them how things are going in Brussels, where they think that the destiny of Europe, including Kosovo, is decided, and to collect the views and concerns from the perspective of those who are in one way or another engaged in EU related issues, be it as part of Kosovo institutions, media or civil society sector. It is difficult today to meet someone from Kosovo in Brussels, in EU related events in Prishtina or somewhere else, who did not pass through the European Integration School. Most of them have finished different universities across Europe, specializing in EU affairs. But they still consider the experience from the European Integration School as a valuable experience that helps them do a better job wherever they work. I meet them all the time in Brussels—groups of Kosovo journalists visiting Brussels, Ministry of European Integration officials coming for meetings with the European Commission, delegations of Kosovo Customs, of Ministry of Agriculture, state prosecution and other institutions who participate in meetings with their peers in the EU. This is the best proof of how much KCSF contributed to Kosovo’s development and democratization, as well as to the overall growth and development of both the civil society sector and the state institutions. This School is a strong platform for exchange of information and perceptions between experts who in their daily work deal with EU issues from different, often opposite, angles. It is the place where issues are openly discussed without the official spin, be it from EU staff or Kosovo state institutions. It is the place where, with this kind of exchange, they prove in the best way that being critical towards EU does not imply being against the EU or not supporting Kosovo’s integration process. Keeping this role will be crucial for the School’s sustainability in the future. Generations are changing, there is a constant flow of staff in state institutions, media and civil society and the integration process is going to be a never ending story. That’s why it is also vital for Kosovo’s EU future to keep this program up and running.
ULRIKE LUNACEK is a friend of KCSF and Kosovo. As the Vice President to the European Parliament and a reporter for Kosovo to EU, she has been a supporter of the country and the political processes it underwent. As a politician she supports her growth by nurturing healthy relationships in countries she works with. As a friend she maintains these relationships via honest inputs and an openness to new perspectives.
“Civil society is the salt of any democracy—without it democracy becomes stale. Every time they offer inputs, it is for the sake of change, rather than for the sake of just another political cycle. This is why I have always found it very important to connect to civil society organizations in my work.”
BUILDING BRIDGES TO MOVE FORWARD.
I met Venera in the autumn of 2009 in De Rada, through a friend, Verena Knaus, who arranged for me to meet with people from civil society who she thought would be important for me to get to know. It was soon after the independence and there was an atmosphere of enthusiasm, people were excited about building their country. It was a good way of getting in touch with young people who had been affected by the war, who had to flee and who had studied abroad so they knew about the EU, the US or other countries, they knew how we function, and they knew their own people. Venera was becoming a megaphone speaker for her country’s best interests. I found lots of knowledge in our cooperation. KCSF has been working in the field of EU integration for a very long time, they have extensive knowledge about it and its inner workings. I would keep getting information on how she and her team saw things in the country, on what was happening and how and why, while also receiving feedback on my own point of view. When you know how your partner thinks, it easily becomes a give and take. What is nice is that we also became friends through this very open—minded dialogue of what was happening in the EU and in Kosovo. I remember when we had long debates about the Kosovo footnote. Venera was vehemently opposed to something I was defending—because I thought it was a good way forward to make Serb institutions willing to participate in conferences, meetings where Kosovars and Kosovar institutions were also present (which unfortunately didn’t work out as much as was promised), and it took me a while to understand why: that after years of using her country’s name as such, she now had to accept this asterisk and a long footnote to refer to her country… It is really important to be able to have good discussions with good counterparts, who can then explain to you the importance of certain issues for the country. I have built similar cooperation with other civil society activists and organizations. I think this kind of connection is invaluable when you come from different backgrounds, which was the case for me when I started my journey with Kosovo. Coming from civil society myself, its development is always a priority to me. Civil society is the salt of any democracy—without it democracy becomes stale. Every time they offer inputs, it is for the sake of change, rather than for the sake of just another political cycle. This is why I have always found it very important to connect to civil society organizations in my work. But finding good partners doesn’t come easily. In order to have genuine cooperation with civil society organizations, it is essential that our relationship is based on trust. Even if we share different opinions on how things are seen or why they are happening, I need to know that I have a reliable partner who makes sound judgments, which was and is the case with KCSF. They have been very important for my work. The lobbying that KCSF and other organizations have been doing has really made an impact in EU institutions understanding what Kosovo needs, but also how it functions. On the other hand, they have also found a way to help people in Kosovo understand what the EU is and why it’s important for Kosovo. This is why I insist that we must really listen to them carefully—their unique value and strength is that they are building the bridges that the country needs to move forward.
JAN BRAATHU currently heading the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, is the former Norwegian Ambassador to Kosovo and a great friend of our country. Besides being known as a major supporter of arts and culture, he was the initiator of the steering group for the fundraising and purchase of the Mobile Mammography Unit. It was a process that KCSF voluntarily led in 2015â€”2016 as a lifeâ€”saving initiative for so many women across Kosovo. We share his story as a note to self and all our friends and partners, on the importance and the power of volunteering in a society.
“The whole initiative was such a wonderful display of humanity. Women MPs from all parties came together, in support of women from all communities, with funding from all kinds of donors. Until the process was handed over to the Ministry of Health, KCSF was regularly sending us statistics of how the check—ups were going, and just in the first year, the results were staggering. In just one year, we’d already saved lives.”
SAVING LIVES ACROSS ALL COMMUNITIES IN KOSOVO
Between 2011 and 2016 I was serving as the Norwegian Ambassador to Kosovo. We were supporting the Women’s Caucus of the Assembly of Kosovo, the leading women’s MP organization in the region. It was important to support the women caucus so that they could show to other women that they can deliver political and practical results, as the best way of empowering them. Delivering long—lasting and tangible results for women meant that we might have to do something outside the legislative system. The idea came up about women’s health issues. Breast cancer was a major problem that had touched so many families in Kosovo. There was no preventive action being taken, so we started thinking about raising money for a mobile mammography unit. If we could help women detect cancer early, especially in vulnerable age groups, we would be making the difference between life and death. The mammography unit had to be mobile to visit women in remote areas. This is a problem especially in Kosovo—there are so many women in isolated villages who can’t find or afford transportation to medical centers in cities. We needed to have a mobile mammography unit to travel across Kosovo to provide screening services to women from all communities, regardless of location or ethnicity, so that no one would be left behind. It would offer the same service, throughout Kosovo, to all communities. The women MPs were very committed to this idea. We needed about 265,000 Euros for the project, and as Norwegian Ambassador, I gave the first donation of around 75,600 Euros. But we needed someone to administer the funds. The Women’s Caucus didn’t have the capacity or the desire to do that, not wanting to risk any accusations of funds mismanagement, and neither did the Norwegian Embassy. I was looking for an organization able to take this responsibility. We had several projects with KCSF. They had a solid project management system in place, they had been trained according to EU standards in project implementation—they were professional and they could do it. I talked to Venera and she jumped at the opportunity. KCSF offered to manage the funds and the procurement process on a completely voluntary basis. I hadn’t heard of any other organization doing anything similar, this really was a gesture of civil society at its best. The best thing was that this very charitable approach managed to mobilize so many people—it wasn’t just institutions funding anymore, there were over 40 individuals who had given their own private money for the cause. The process was managed very well and with full transparency, and all the donors felt they were being informed on everything, on time. It turned out to be more time consuming than the KCSF team expected, Fidan had his hands full with trying to make sure everything was running smoothly, but we made it. We got the truck, everything was installed, and we had a big launching event outside the assembly building. There were some hiccups in the beginning, but we managed to resolve them. Little by little, the truck started operating. The whole initiative was such a wonderful display of humanity. Women MPs from all parties came together, in support of women from all communities, with funding from all kinds of donors. Until the process was handed over to the Ministry of Health, KCSF was regularly sending us statistics of how the check—ups were going, and just in the first year, the results were staggering. In just one year, we’d already saved lives.
ANAMARI REPIÄ† is the former deputy General Director of RTK and current RTK correspondent to Belgrade. She is an experienced journalist, defender of the freedom of speech, of independent journalism and minorities in Kosovo. We have had a decadelong cooperation with her as a member of our decision making bodies for NGO grants, a cooperation built entirely on trust and professionalism.
“In the situation when the Albanian and Serbian communities live in peace but divided, the intervention of civil society organizations is much needed. If you have them in your community, and they fight for the democracy, then you are one step further in reaching the goal—open and free society. In that sense, it has been very important involving and supporting Serbian and other communities’ civil society organizations, such as Roma, Ashkali, Egyptian, Bosnian and Turkish.”
OUR PLACE IN THE FAMILY OF WESTERN DEMOCRACIES
As a journalist I have always seen myself as a member of the civil society—we both strive for a free society, where all its citizens would enjoy democratic values, and would have opportunities to fight for their rights while raising their voices. We are both watch—dogs. And we have an obligation to act for better. I was approached by KCSF to join their Grants and Awards Board as part of the Democratic Society Promotion scheme as a journalist who is specifically a member of the Serbian community and who is known by a more general public as a professional. I was honored to say yes. The Grants and Awards Board functions as a body, almost literally. It’s made of different parts—in our case five people—where everyone has a role and an opinion, but the idea is that we complement each other and are able to work in unity. It is a humbling lesson in how valuable hearing out other perspectives and opinions can be. Being part of the team with the responsibility to identify those who would then have responsibility for the democratic changes is an honor. I see that as a specific but essential role not just as a journalist and professional but as a citizen as well, who wants to see better days for this fragile and perspective society. What we all want to do is contribute to a democratic process. We sit and review and discuss applications for days, under this huge burden of selecting the best among the best, and then we ask more of them. We search for ideas that we think will lead to democratic development. This body just like those civil society organizations has almost the same responsibility. We are in this together, and it’s like we all together talk to people, we go to see institutions, we ask for changes. I see this as a chain that has a beginning but not an end. But you have to absolutely want to do that. If you don’t have a vision of a developed, democratic, free society, you can’t understand that. My work as a journalist coming from the Serbian community in Kosovo is another motivation for me. With a challenging political past during the 90s, Kosovo Serbs today have to learn how to contribute in the democratic development of Kosovo and how to promote democracy within the community itself. They need to become citizens who are aware of their rights—they need to start monitoring their local institutions and asking for accountability at every level. At the same time, in the situation when the Albanian and Serbian communities live in peace but divided, the intervention of civil society organizations is much needed. If you have them in your community, and they fight for the democracy, then you are one step further in reaching the goal—open and free society. In that sense, it has been very important involving and supporting Serbian and other communities’ civil society organizations, such as Roma, Ashkali, Egyptian, Bosnian and Turkish. The funds that we are re—granting come from developed democracies. From countries that have decided to put their trust in us and in Kosovo. That is why I am so thankful to the citizens of those countries, such as Switzerland and Denmark, as their support is essential for us—for the societies which have a violent past, ethnic division, corrupt politicians, but which search for their place in the family of the western democracies.
NEHAT ISLAMI is the Executive Director of Press Council of Kosovo, promoting freedom of speech, the right of citizens to be duly and completely informed and serving as the guardian of the Press Code for Kosovo. Through PCK, Islami worked in protection of the citizens from false information and the journalists from baseless complaints. We supported PCK initially to establish the School of Ethics in Journalism and to strengthen its internal capacities, and today we continue to support them through an institutional grant. We are happy to have been able to make a difference in strengthening the media sector in Kosovo.
“Strong media are the cornerstone of any democracy. Having a partner by your side that will support you in the beginning in any way possible—financial, moral, personal—is invaluable in ensuring true sustainability.”
BUILDING A CULTURE OF INTEGRITY
The Press Council of Kosovo, a self—regulatory body of print media, was founded in 2005, when the youngest country in the world was just starting to breathe after many years of violence by Slobodan Milosevic’s forces and after the international military intervention to save its inhabitants from complete destruction. The establishment of the Press Council of Kosovo was juxtaposed with many challenges. Kosovo, whose Albanian language media had been banned 1989, was able to keep its people and the international public informed only through clandestine ways. The main objective of Kosovo journalists was the prompt delivery of breaking news, without the possibility of dealing with other forms of journalistic training. After the war, there came a new generation of journalists. With the increase in the number of media, there was a growing number of new young journalists who needed a professional education, including journalism ethics. The Press Council of Kosovo, consolidating its work and internal organization, managed to bring 28 regular members from the media of all communities living in Kosovo. At first we had more printed newspapers and magazines, but as years passed, in Kosovo too came the change in favor of online media, while the scent of the printing press started to leave press kiosks. So we turned towards the new media market, and included the online media under the umbrella of self—regulation. During these years, the PCK ruled decisions on over 700 complaints for violations of the Press Code. We protected citizens from unethical reporting, but also journalists from unfounded complaints, always in respect of fair reporting. The Kosovar Civil Society Foundation was one of our main supporters in this journey, starting from 2012. Thanks to KCSF, we were able to set up the School of Journalism Ethics, as the foundation for creating a pool of professional journalists in Kosovo. Widely respected by all media outlets in Kosovo, this School has now established itself as a basic necessity for young journalists and journalism students. Apart from the School, for quite a few years now we have benefitted from institutional grants, which were instrumental in our internal consolidation and sustainability, as well as in strengthening our capacities to deliver services for the media community. KCSF were never just our donor, they are our mentor. Their support is tailored to our needs. We learned how to write realistic project proposals that would be viable for funding, as well as how to implement them best to reach our objectives. We now have strong management and reporting capacities, we’re better at fundraising and we have a mid-term strategy. Our cooperation resulted in the promotion of an ethical journalism and in a raised public awareness so that citizens are better informed about journalistic norms and practices. We managed to instill the belief that journalists’ rulings on journalists are the best form of deciding on journalism. And we are still receiving support to improve the quality of reporting in Kosovo. We have a critical role in building a culture of integrity, in informing and educating our people, and as a result, in good governance and accountability. Strong media are the cornerstone of any democracy. Having a partner by your side that will support you in the beginning in any way possible—financial, moral, personal—is invaluable in ensuring true sustainability. In some years when we will be celebrating our own 20 year milestone, KCSF will be remembered with great gratitude for the role they played in our development.
HABIT HAJREDINI is the Director of Office for Good Governance in the Office of Prime Minister, and our main partner in the Government of Kosovo. We have worked with him for years and consider him a close partner in our efforts to open up the institutions. He recognizes the value of the government accepting inputs from civil society, as the best way of democratizing our country.
“Public consultations are one of the most democratic forms of civic participation in any country—Kosovo has them. It is even more progressive and participatory to have that process on a digital platform—Kosovo has it. The only other country in the region that can say the same? Croatia, an EU member. Just in 2017, when the online platform was started, 247 different documents—laws, policies, strategies, administrative instructions—were consulted by the public. This is one of the best things that has come out of our cooperation with KCSF.”
TOGETHER WE HAVE DONE WONDERFUL THINGS.
The genesis of the cooperation between civil society and the government happened around 15 years ago when we started our cooperation with KCSF. They were at the helm of all major initiatives to strengthen the relationship between those two actors. I was the first person mandated by the government to increase this cooperation. They were a window into the civil society. Together we have done wonderful things. Public consultations are one of the most democratic forms of civic participation in any country—Kosovo has them. It is even more progressive and participatory to have that process on a digital platform - Kosovo has it. The only other country in the region that can say the same? Croatia, an EU member. Just in 2017, when the online platform was started, 247 different documents - laws, policies, strategies, administrative instructions—were consulted by the public. This is one of the best things that has come out of our cooperation with KCSF. It increased the institutional accountability and transparency tremendously, and brought about a shift in policy making. We are working towards making citizens our partners in decision making on national issues. We are building our democratic society. There is finally a spirit of understanding of what civil society is and what its importance is. This is an achievement in itself. The only way for public consultations to fulfill their purpose is if the public is engaged. KCSF has been working with both sides of the process doing capacity building, monitoring, research and advocacy—so that all stakeholders understand the power they hold and the responsibility they have. This also eliminates any perceived favoritism of actors—everyone is equal and they can contribute equally. The transparency that has been brought by this cooperation is not only limited to documents. State financing of NGOs has been made public for the first time. After many years of no criteria or procedures for financing them, with KCSF we finally developed a regulation for it, adopted in 2017. They have also contributed in the Law on Freedom of Association in NGOs and were instrumental in preparing the first Government Strategy for Cooperation with Civil Society. The second one is in the works, with KCSF being on board again. We always try to work around any bureaucratic obstacles on our side, just so that we can truly make the most out of this cooperation. It’s not that they are our only partner, or that we only cooperate with them because they’ve been there from the start. There’s a reason why our cooperation has lasted for so long. What I value most about them is the constructive approach they have towards everything. Our relationship is often flowing with opposing views or disagreements on issues, but they don’t bring criticism unless they have alternatives, solutions, or recommendations. And, you always know that they have the experience and the expertise to back those arguments.
VALDETE IDRIZI an award winning Kosovo activist, is the current Political Advisor to the Speaker of the Kosovo Assembly. As the former Executive Director of Civikos, a civil society platform that we strongly supported from its very beginnings, we asked Valdete to share the story of this platform that managed to unite so many and so different civil society organizations under one roof. In a context where working alone without any coordination or cooperation has become almost a norm, a network with hundreds of member organizations, although still consolidating, is an exception to the rule.
“The impact of our work is real. In the past, there was a tendency from the government to see the civil society capable only of criticizing and never bringing alternatives, and the civil society to consider the government as unwilling to work and accept their inputs. We were able to create a new standard of cooperation between them. Once this new spirit of cooperation was born, we would very often have institutions asking for our help or expertise in certain matters—we even started getting thank you notes.”
THE MISSION TO EMPOWER KOSOVOâ€™S CIVIL SOCIETY
I had heard about KCSF as a grant maker since its early days, and I followed their evolution into an actual organization for development. With all their work in research, advocacy, and EU integration—especially with their School for European Integration—they have now established themselves as an institution. Our close cooperation started around 2010. I was the director of Community Building Mitrovica and a Board member of KFOS, together with Venera. During one of my first KFOS Board meetings, one of the issues raised was the revitalization of the CiviKos network, a platform of civil society organization that acts as a bridge between the civil society and public institutions. With this mission in mind, the KCSF team, and Taulant in particular, made themselves fully available to hold CiviKos’ hand until it could walk on its own feet. It was operating from KCSF offices and was counting on them for support in everything. There were many other organizations helping—CiviKos was their union after all—but what made KCSF’s contribution stand out was their unparalleled expertise in the same area where CiviKos was set to operate. Both of our missions were empowering civil society. After CiviKos became fully operational, KCSF continued being one of its most active members. We never had to call on them— we could count on them to identify any issues and come to our door with constructive ideas for action. We drafted the first ever strategy for cooperation between government and civil society, where KCSF practically lead its entire first component. It was adopted by the Government in 2013, paving the way for easier cooperation between us. We also created mechanisms and working groups to make sure that it is being implemented. The impact of our work is real. In the past, there was a tendency from the government to see the civil society capable only of criticizing and never bringing alternatives, and the civil society to consider the government as unwilling to work and accept their inputs. We were able to create a new standard of cooperation between them. Once this new spirit of cooperation was born, we would very often have institutions asking for our help or expertise in certain matters— we even started getting thank you notes. But our contributions weren’t only towards the institutions. CiviKos is the only network in the Balkans that is cross—sectoral— from well—established and consolidated organizations, such as KCSF, to community based organizations with limited resources. This is one of its great strengths, in terms of knowledge sharing, but sometimes it was also a challenge. I remember how difficult it was sometimes to keep a balance of pace between the two sides—you had KCSF, who wanted to move things as fast as possible and had the internal capacities to do so, and younger organizations who needed a bit of time to catch—up. Our goal was to have everyone participating as a way for all of us to develop jointly, and while it took some effort, I think we did a good job. The network has 227 member organizations today. It has set the stage for more professional and constructive cooperation both among the civil society organizations as well as with the institutions. I have moved in a different career path now, but I look back with pride and happiness on our achievements. Those kinds of initiatives are the key to building democracy in Kosovo.
IGOR VIDAÄŒAK the former head of the Government Office for NGOs in Croatia, his extensive experience for over a decade made him the best partner we could have in improving governmentâ€” civil society cooperation in Kosovo. We cooperated with him at the regional level, but also in developing the public consultation platform, making Kosovo a leader in the Western Balkans in this regard. As one of the regionâ€™s foremost experts in building bridges between government and civil society, we wanted him to share his view on civil society development in Kosovo.
“Through its long—lasting engagement in building capacities of local civil society organisations, through persistent advocacy and lobbying for more advanced institutional and legal framework for inclusion of civil society in all phases of policy making process, but also through consistent promotion of public debates on European Union standards and values, I believe KCSF has given immeasurable contribution to the country’s EU integration process.”
AN AVANTâ€”GARDE IN THE PROCESS OF EUROPEAN INTEGRATION
My first encounters with KCSF date back to 2007 when I started to work as Director of Croatian Government Office for Cooperation with NGOs. During almost one decade of my work in the Government, I had the opportunity to regularly meet with KCSF staff at different events gathering policy experts interested in creating more enabling environment for civil society development in the European integration process of Western Balkans countries. My first impression was that Venera, Fatmir, Taulant and other KCSF staff were highly competent interlocutors, genuinely embracing European values and acting, in many aspects, as true ambassadors of emerging Kosovo civil society scene. Civil society organisations have often been an avant-garde in the process of European integration of countries of Central and Eastern Europe, strengthening their European networking potential and implementing European partnership projects, much earlier than governments were able to make first steps in the institutionalization of their relations with the EU. This was very much the case with KCSF which proved to be a driving force of the Europeanization of Kosovo civil society and setting mechanisms of government—civil society cooperation in the country. After leaving the Government in 2016, I got the privilege of leading the EU technical assistance project supporting the implementation of Government—Civil society cooperation Strategy in Kosovo, which opened new venues for a more intensive cooperation with KCSF, as one of the strategic partners of the EU Office in Kosovo. As one of the first tasks of my team was the establishment of the new system of public consultations and structural dialogue with civil society in policy making processes in Kosovo, I was lucky enough that the ground for that work has already been well prepared by the KCSF and other CSOs which have advocated for these changes for years and gave a substantial contribution to formulating new legislative framework in this field. Developing meaningful and open dialogue with civil society and citizens in drafting new policies is of tremendous importance for democratization of Kosovo, but also for regaining public trust in the work of government institutions and improving the overall quality of legislation that affects the quality of life of citizens. Through its long—lasting engagement in building capacities of local civil society organisations, through persistent advocacy and lobbying for more advanced institutional and legal framework for inclusion of civil society in all phases of policy making process, but also through consistent promotion of public debates on European Union standards and values, I believe KCSF has given immeasurable contribution to the country’s EU integration process.
TINA DIVJAK the Chair of the Board of the Balkan Civil Society Development Network and former Head of Slovenian CNVOS, has been our partner in advocacy on civil society development issues in the region as well as Brussels. For very long, we have been sharing best practices in managing civil society organizations, and it was most interesting to get her perspective on our development as an organization as well as our impact in the region.
“KCSF’s way of functioning, their gender policies, their management structures— whatever they want to help other civil society organizations with, they have already done it internally.”
THE VIRTUE OF SETTING A GOOD EXAMPLE.
Civil society in Kosovo is under big pressure now. The first Kosovo Government strategy for cooperation with civil society (2013—2017) went well and had a rather high implementation rate. At the same time, its implementation was contingent mostly on legal documents, so it was relatively easier. But now it is the time for the new strategy that will be more action oriented, concrete results in practice will need to be delivered. And this is a challenge for all, the Government and CSOs. s of a state are quite different from those of international donors. How should civil society organizations shift their thinking and their plans and activities towards serving their country? How should they respond to public consultations? How should they produce results? For any kind of government—civil society cooperation to work, it is essential to build a pool of knowledgeable people on both sides. KCSF, who has been our partner for eight years, is really making a difference in this regard for both Kosovo and the region. We have a very lively relation between our organizations. Over the years we have created a habit of transferring good internal and external practices between our organization, for example monitoring of public decisions, or involving civil society organizations in public decision making on a local level . Thinking about KCSF and their role in the Western Balkans, there are certain keywords that come to mind immediately—expertise, pro—activeness, constructiveness and dependability. If they have a deadline, they will make it, and if they need to deliver, they will exceed your expectations. My line of work involves cooperation with multiple partner organizations, but KCSF stands out with their complete professionalism. What I really like is the process they underwent over the years, especially with regards to organizational development and restructuring. The significance of this is manifold—it is imperative that KCSF sets an example in good governance both as a highly knowledgeable organization and a grant maker. They definitely practice what they preach—their way of functioning, their gender policies, their management structures—whatever they want to help other civil society organizations with, they have already done it internally. I think this largely stems from their approach to planning. I have seen this planning mechanism of theirs in action—often when they are approached by donors, they have ideas but they really take their time to thoroughly think about how they can optimize the use of a certain fund in order to maximally contribute towards the development of civil society organizations in Kosovo. Western Balkans civil society landscape is as much about expertise as it is about your presentation. KCSF manages to ace both, coming across as a strong and knowledgeable organization with a vast network of contacts. You can almost always count on them to know someone that you might need for advocacy. They have incontestably managed to build their position across the region, and I definitely see them as one of the top three organizations in the Western Balkans today. Their very existence today is a value added for similar organizations in the region, just by virtue of setting a good example.
GĂ–RAN PAULSSON was the Head of Development Cooperation with the Swedish Embassy in Kosovo until August 2018. SIDAâ€™s unique approach as a donor in choosing partners over project implementers in the landscapes they operate is an example we can not wait to see being followed. The complete flexibility that they offer was a great way for us to focus on building upon our ongoing programs and strengthening our organization.
“We do not want donordriven cooperation— our philosophy is one of partner—driven cooperation. We support good and strong partners whose strategic goals align with ours, and who are important in the context of Kosovo, in contributing to a pluralistic civil society and the democratization of Kosovo.”
AN INDEPENDENT, PLURALISTIC, SUSTAINABLE AND STRONG CIVIL SOCIETY
The civil society in Kosovo, just as its public institutions, is still in need of strengthening. It is only normal—Kosovo, with only ten years of statehood under its belt, has had to tackle peace—building, state-building, and the transition to a market economy all at once. However, it is precisely at this milestone that Kosovo leaders and its society need to ask themselves where they want to be in the next ten years. We are here to help, but acknowledging the importance of local ownership is the foundation upon which our work is set. We don’t want donor—driven cooperation—our philosophy is one of partner-driven cooperation. We support good and strong partners whose strategic goals align with ours, and who are important in the context of Kosovo, in contributing to a pluralistic civil society and the democratization of Kosovo. Our guiding strategy, the Swedish strategy for reform cooperation in Eastern Europe, the Western Balkans and Turkey 2014— 2020, focuses on economic integration with the EU and development of market economy, democracy, human rights and rule of law; and environment and climate change. Our partners come from the government, civil society and private sector, and we do our best to make sure that they complement one another. KCSF has become very important in promoting objectives that we share—an independent, pluralistic, sustainable and strong civil society, as well as women and youth participation. They have a role in this context—they are part of a pluralistic civil society, while being an important agent in advocacy and promotion of reforms—and this is why we support them. Although civil society in Kosovo benefits from international cooperation, it needs to have a plan of moving on from international funds. We now need to move towards sustainability. Organizations like KCSF can play a part in the way they are working, for example the mechanism of giving smaller grants to active organizations is a good approach. They will surely continue to play an important role for a number of years, but ultimately the question that will be asked of them is the same one that we are contemplating now—how do we make sure that once our support dwindles, the organization’s work does not do the same? This is why it helps to find good partners. We don’t tell them what to do. We provide them with institutional support because we have already decided that we like their work. And there is a great deal of flexibility, but only if we get full transparency in return. The kind of cooperation we try to create is flexible, predictable, and with a long—term perspective. We want to actually see change. And you don’t change things in one or two years. This is why we follow up with our partners, we revise, and we adapt to new situations all within a certain strategy. We want to see a society that is functioning and sustainable, a functional health and education system, but you cannot build that as a donor. Kosovo’s civil society needs to assume its responsibility in this development, while also engaging in a dialogue with the government and political parties to define both their respective roles and the way forward. They should be the protagonists of promoting the development of Kosovo.
BESA LUCI is the Editor in Chief of Kosovo 2.0, the only trilingual independent media platform in Kosovo. Through civic driven editorial choices she raised voice on issues related to gender and human rights. Many women lead successful media platforms in Kosovo, but Besa represents a younger generation that is adding to the landscape the ideals of the generation she represents. We are glad to have supported her and Kosovo 2.0 expansion.
“The comfort of having institutional support let us do what we do best— offering an alternative point of view, a missing commentary, a question that needs to be deliberated—breaking apathy one article at a time.”
A LITTLE PUSH CAN MAKE FOR A LOT OF DEVELOPMENT
Journalism and reporting are still seen through a rather narrow prism in Kosovo. The need for explanatory journalism that would contribute to an informed public debate was obvious. Everyone talks about poverty, unemployment, lack of social policies, but someone needs to talk about real implications for real people. And thus Kosovo 2.0 was born in 2010 as the first blogging platform in Kosovo, and a year later the print magazine followed. The focus was on ideas that would challenge existing societal values with stories that were missing from the already established discourse. In 2016, we decided to continue as an online magazine. At the same time, we structured and condensed a range of our journalistic programs, workshops and debates within the K2.0 institute. With the shift and the expansion, there was an even bigger need to have support for ongoing production. This is where KCSF came in. Valuing the importance of media in increasing civic activity and the democratization of Kosovo, they decided to support our work through the Democratic Society Promotion Grants. As a result, we were able to launch the Monographs, where we take a topic and address it from different viewpoints. We have covered local and national elections, sports, the tenth anniversary of independence, and most recently, health. After each launch we hold public debates on the topic, ensuring that public debates continue to take place offline as well. We had previously done one—off workshops on blogging, video storytelling and photography, but we saw the need to structure these workshops. Building on this, we were able to start the Multimedia Production Program, which we implemented for the first time within the framework of Truaktiv. I think the program had fantastic results. The work that the winning group Simetri has been doing is a great example—six women run a super creative blog that aims to challenge gender stereotypes and raise awareness on the issue. In parallel, we have been developing a mentorship program. There is so much ambition for better journalism and so many young journalists who want to contribute to social and political change through provoking debate and critical thought. We were able to invest in developing this potential by having a program where we can work with these young journalists one on one. This initiative will be launched this year. We will have five young journalists shadowing our team members in governance, human rights, culture, justice and photography. During a five month program, they will participate in editorial meetings, fieldwork, stakeholder meetings, and co—authoring of articles. We have expanded our team and our operations significantly in the last couple of years. It wasn’t an easy thing to manage, while having to ensure financial sustainability and keeping true to our editorial policies. It is even more difficult to do in a context where many donor-driven donations are project—based and offer little leeway for organizational development outside the confines of specific projects. This is why receiving institutional support through KCSF has been incredibly valuable in allowing us to develop ourselves and our programs. The comfort of having this support allowed us to do what we do best—offering an alternative point of view, a missing commentary, a question that needs to be deliberated—breaking apathy one article at a time.
ZENEL BUNJAKU is the Executive Director of the Initiative for Agricultural Development of Kosovo (IADK). Established in Mitrovica, IADK is engaged in rural development, creation of better socioâ€”economic conditions in rural areas, reduction of unemployment and imports, production of healthy foods, rational use of natural resources and environment protection in Kosovo. Because of the great achievements they have made in developing agriculture in Kosovo, they are a multiâ€”grantee of KCSF, and currently implement three different projects funded by KCSF schemes.
â€œKCSF is one of the donors that believed in our capacity to deliver. They have supported us through various schemes and various projects. Thanks to them, we were able to reach marginalized groups of our society in rural areasâ€”women learned how to improve milk and fruit quality, Albanian and Serbian communities came together in processing goat milk, and youth representatives working in agriculture got new skills to help them find jobs in agriculture. We are now working together in increasing the capacity of businesses in agriculture and farmers regarding the practical implications of the Stabilization and Association Agreement in their daily lives.â€?
A DIFFERENT WAY OF EMPOWERMENT
When people talk about civil society in Kosovo, most imagine NGOs dealing with the politics of Prishtina. I had a different vision for empowering our society. The war rendered Mitrovica’s industry completely dysfunctional, and some of us thought that agriculture could serve as an alternative for development. At the time, LWF, an international organization, put me in charge of their agricultural department. We were working on more urgent needs in agriculture—there were no barns, no orchards, no greenhouses—we had to start from zero. Once we laid the basic groundwork, I insisted on continuing the program because the farmers’ needs were still great. I wanted to build a legacy that would drive the agricultural development in the region. The only way to do this was by establishing the Institute for Agricultural Development of Kosovo, which we did with some of my colleagues in 2004. While I was still with LWF, I had earned the trust and sympathy of many donors, who appreciated my sincere motivation for developing agriculture in our region. I remember one of them saying how it would probably be more efficient to give me money to inject into the local agriculture rather than spend it on their international consultants. This trust is what made IADK successful in the years to come. Initially we were implementing small projects and giving small grants to farmers, and then we started offering training and consultancies. There were just three of us in the beginning. Today we’re almost 20, with our own building of 1,200 m2, and we re-grant about 800,000 Euros each year, in both cash grants and consultancies and training services, which are licensed, accredited, ISO certified and audited internationally on a regular basis. We are key partners for several ministries. Our initial goal was to help the farmers of Mitrovica region, but now we’re able to stimulate agricultural development across Kosovo—22,000 farmers have passed through our Institute as either trainees or grantees. KCSF is one of the partners that believed in our capacity to deliver. They have supported us through various schemes and various projects. Thanks to them, we were able to reach marginalized groups of our society in rural areas—women learned how to improve milk and fruit quality, Albanian and Serbian communities came together in processing goat milk, and youth representatives working in agriculture got new skills to help them find jobs in agriculture. We are now working together in increasing the capacity of businesses in agriculture and farmers regarding the practical implications of the Stabilization and Association Agreement in their daily lives. Beyond their funding, KCSF provides a very human element in all of their partnerships. My colleagues receive constant support from the KCSF team in implementing their projects. They have helped us become a very important regional player—we are now members of different regional and European networks, and we were able to participate in numerous trainings, seminars, and workshops thanks to their support. What I value most out of our cooperation is that all of their funding decisions are always made so transparently and objectively. They are such a great example of how a local organization can help society develop in a most honest and sincere way.
ARES SHPORTA Executive Director of the Lumbardhi Foundation, represents the potential of a generation extraordinaire in Kosovo. Saving Lumbardhi, and then revitalizing it into a hub of culture and activism has been one of the most powerful civicâ€”engaged cultural platforms in Kosovo. The story of Lumbardhi inspires us, so much that we selected it for the 2016 Award for Democracy as part of the Democratic Society Promotion project. We want this story to inspire and influence an entire generation that is otherwise left out and not present in decisionmaking processes.
“The petition’s success put the cinema on the Cultural Heritage List, Lumbardhi Foundation was established to take the initiative further and revive the former cinema as an independent cultural institution and a civic platform.”
HOW POWERFUL WE ARE WHEN WE BECOME ONE
“This space where we have gathered tonight is a place that will never die. Born and raised here are the most beautiful memories that bond us eternally to Prizren. This is where Dokufest was born from the first year and every year thereafter. Kino Lumbardhi, Prizren’s first cinema is being taken from us—you heard about it… you read about it… it’s true. We do not intend to give up. We will change this together. We will change this ourselves. Therefore, this edition of Dokufest is announced open. Together, in unison, with a film that will convince us all how powerful we are when we become one. Change. Don’t hide.” Sixty people on a stage chanting those words to a national and international audience of 700 in front of them and thousands behind the live—stream on national TV. Everyone outraged that Prizren’s first cinema was going to be torn down to make a parking lot. Politics of culture and space had been isolated to cultural circles until the Opening of Dokufest, a leading documentary and short film festival in the region, became a stage that mobilized an army of young volunteers and civic actors to form the Initiative for the Protection of Lumbardhi Cinema that would eventually save the space. The Initiatives success put the cinema on the Cultural Heritage List, and the Lumbardhi Foundation was established to take the initiative further and revive the former cinema as an independent cultural institution and a civic platform. At that time, the founding team gave me the honor and the responsibility in this process, and still a graduate student, I took the challenge for us to start imagining the future of Lumbardhi. It was an enthusiastic beginning with a bunch of volunteers and no clue as to where this would lead. However, in 2016, just a year after the space was reclaimed, the organization was struggling: the advocacy for the ownership status of the cinema was not giving results, the local and central institutions’ support was at best declarative, and the young and small team involved was running out of battery. It was a long and rocky journey before momentum was reached. The urgency to continue debating cultural policies around a vision for the future of the cultural governance in the city was an urgency both for our case but also for the wider ecology of Prizren, and these came together in the first project of Lumbardhi Foundation, which was seed-funded by the Kosovo Foundation for Open Society and then generously supported by the Kosovar Civil Society Foundation. This marked a turning point in the development of the organization. Beyond the support, KCSF’s capacity—building schemes enabled us to consolidate our organization and gave us skills that were much needed in that phase. We positioned the Network of Cultural Organizations (RrOK) as a counterpart of local and central institutions and drafted the municipal Strategy for Culture 2017—2020. This laid the foundations for the later coordination of the Management Plan of the Historic Center of Prizren by RrOK, firmly establishing it as a key actor in policy—making and democratic processes around culture and heritage Now it’s 2018 and we have a program and a space visited by over 25,000 people, available to more than 60 nonprofits. The cinema is becoming a public property again and we are counting down to its full revitalization set for next year. I’m so happy to look back and see how the trust that KCSF put in us helped our survival and allowed us to play our part in strengthening the scene and initiatives around spaces and cultural networks.
NATO INTERVENTION AND ESTABLISHMENT OF UN MISSION IN KOSOVO
DETERIORATING POLITICAL SITUATION, WAR ESCALATING IN KOSOVO
THE THE EUROP ENTIRE
FIRST LOCAL AND PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS, DOMESTIC INSTITUTIONS ESTABLISHED
SIGNIFICANT INCREASE OF THE NUMBER OF NGOS, ADDRESSING LARGE EMERGENCY AND RECONSTRUCTION NEEDS
FIRST SIGNS OF PLURALISTIC CIVIL SOCIETY
IN ABSENCE OF CIVIL SOCIETY F GAP FOR SOCIA SERVICES
KCSF REGISTERED AS A FOUNDATION, EU SUPPORTS KCSF IN BECOMING ITS REâ€”GRANTING FACILITY IN KOSOVO
KCSF ESTABLISHED, UNDER THE NAME CENTER FOR DEVELOPMENT OF CIVIL SOCIETY (CeDeCiS) AND KICKED OFF WITH INITIAL ACTIVITIES IN CAPACITY BUILDING AND GRANTS
FIRST STUDIES ON CIVIL SOCIETY AND SYSTEMATIC CAPACITY BUILD PROGRAMS LAUNCHED BY KCSF
KCSF RESPONSE /ACTION
DEVELOPMENTS IN CIVIL SOCIETY
DEVELOPMENTS IN KOSOVO
ESSALONIKI SUMMIT UNDERLINES PEAN PERSPECTIVE FOR THE E WESTERN BALKANS
FIRST EUROPEAN INTEGRATION PROCESS STRUCTURES ESTABLISHED
CIVIL SOCIETY IN NEED TO GET FAMILIAR WITH AND ENGAGE IN THE EUROPEAN INTEGRATION PROCESS
THE STATE, FILLING THE AL AND OTHER
EUROPEAN INTEGRATION SCHOOL LAUNCHED BY KFOS & KCSF
KCSF HEAVILY ENGAGED TO UTILIZE THE EUROPEAN INTEGRATION FRAMEWORK AS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR STATE BUILDING
KCSF ESTABLISHES ITS EU INTEGRATION PROGRAM
KOSOVO DECLARES INDEPENDENCE AND FORMALLY INITIATES ITS STATE—BUILDING PROCESS
INTENSIVE STATE—BUILDING LEGISLATION DRAFTING, WITH INTERNATIONAL SUPERVISION
CIVIL SOCIETY FINDS IT DIFFICULT TO INFLUENCE THE HIGH VOLUME OF POLICIES AND LAWS
CIVIL SOCIETY DIALOGUE WITH
CIVIL SOCIETY SHIFTS ITS FOCUS TOWARDS STATE—BUILDING AND POLICY—MAKING
KCSF HEAVILY ENGAGED TO UTILIZE THE EUROPEAN INTEGRATION FRAMEWORK AS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR STATE BUILDING
LARGE RE—GRANTING SCHEMES ON DEMOCRATIZATION LAUNCHED
KCSF ADVOCACY ON OPENING DECISION— MAKING FOR PUBLIC PARTICIPATION
KCSF RESOURCE CENTE PREPARING CSOS FOR B ACTORS OF CHANGE
KCSF RESPONSE /ACTION
DEVELOPMENTS IN CIVIL SOCIETY
DEVELOPMENTS IN KOSOVO
KOSOVO CHALLENGED IN THE CONSOLIDATION OF ITS STATEHOOD…
COMMON CHALLENGES ACROSS THE WESTERN BALKANS REQUIRE JOINT ACTIONS
ENGAGES IN H THE GOVERNMENT
KCSF ACTIVELY ENGAGES AND LEADS REGIONAL INITIATIVES AND NETWORKS
A MATURING CIVIL SOCIETY REQUIRES FOR AN ENABLING ENVIRONMENT TO GROW INTO A RELEVANT ACTOR…
KCSF PROPOSES SYSTEMATIC REFORMS AND LEADS IMPLEMENTATION EFFORTS ON PUBLIC PARTICIPATION, PUBLIC FUNDING FOR NGOS, NGO LAW…
KCSF LEADS THE DESIGN AND IMPLEMENTATION OF STRATEGIC COOPERATION FRAMEWORK WITH THE GOVERNMENT
Our story was made possible due to the trust and support of civil society organizations, donors, government, international institutions, and many others in Kosovo, the region, Europe and beyondâ€Ś
Alternatives Canada Association of Kosovo Municipalities Austrian Development Agency Balkan Civil Society Development Network Balkan Trust for Democracy British Council CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation CiviKos Platform College of Europe Community Development Fund CSOs in Kosovo Czech Republic Ministry of Foreign Affairs Danish International Development Agency European Citizen Action Service European Center for Nonâ€”Profit Law European Commission, in particular European Union Office in Kosovo and DG Enlargement/DG NEAR European Economic and Social Committee European Fund for the Balkans European Movement International European Parliament European Union Friedrich Erbert Foundation Government of Canada Government of Grand Duchy of Luxembourg Ministry of European Integration Ministry of Finance Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ministry of Local Governance Administration Ministry of Public Administration Municipalities in Kosovo National Endowment for Democracy Office of the Prime Minister Olof Palme International Center Open Society Foundations, in particular KFOS Parliamentary Committee on European Integration Policy Association for an Open Society
Regional Cooperation Council Royal Norwegian Embassy in Kosovo Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation Tax Administration of Kosovo UN Agencies, in particular UNDP in Kosovo and UNDEF United Kingdom Embassy in Kosovo United States Agency for International Development Visegrad Fund
This book features 20 stories of our friends and one of our own. They bring a snapshot of the 20 years of our history in a chronological order. Echoing the magnitude of social, political and historical events, each story brings along a personality, their encounter with us and their human bravery.
This book is published by Kosovar Civil Society Foundation (KCSF) and supported by its long term partners.
Concept and Direction
Editorial work Fiona Kelmendi Rina Meta with the help and guidance of Venera Hajrullahu, Fidan Hallaqi, Taulant Hoxha, Berat Kryeziu and Fatmir Curri from KCSF.
Photography Majlinda Hoxha Medi Huduti (portrait of Ulriche Lunacek ) Matjaz Rust (portrait of Tina Divjak) Sanjin Kastelan (portrait of Igor Vidacak) Gent Shkullaku (portrait of Genoveva Ruiz Calavera) Illustrations Timeline by Urtina Hoxha / Studio Permanent Viâ€”Print
Published by Kosovar Civil Society Foundation (KCSF)â€”2018 Copyright Kosovar Civil Society Foundation, Prishtina, Kosovo. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without prior permission from the publisher. Printed in Kosovo. August 2018 Prishtina, Kosovo kcsfoundation.org
Design Nita Salihu Hoxha / Studio Permanent
This book features 20 stories of our friends and one of our own. They bring a snapshot of the 20 years of our history in a chronological ord...
Published on Sep 5, 2018
This book features 20 stories of our friends and one of our own. They bring a snapshot of the 20 years of our history in a chronological ord...