Reporters Without Borders roundly condemns the particularly aggressive smear campaign that the Kosovo Liberation Army’s Veterans Association has been waging against the respected journalist Halil Matoshi in the last few days. The attacks seem to have been prompted by an article by Matoshi in the daily Koha Ditore on 6 January about the challenges facing Kosovo in 2011, in which he accused certain people of wanting to police a “patriotic anarchy” by claiming the right to distinguish between “good” and “bad” patriots.
In a press release the next day, the Veterans Association insinuated that Matoshi was a traitor, describing him as “one of the pieces of trash the occupiers have left us.” The Veterans Association is led by Muharrem Xhemajli, a supporter of the ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo. He also recently accused Albin Kurti, the leader of the opposition party Vetevendosje, of being “pro-Slav.”
“We appeal to Prime Minister Thaçi to publicly disown the unacceptable comments by Muharrem Xhemajli’s organization about Halil Matoshi and Koha Ditore,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The guilty silence must end at once. The entire political class has a duty to respond to these indirect but real threats. Accusing him of treachery and questioning his patriotism is tantamount to calling for him to be physically attacked or murdered. This is intolerable. Do we have to wait for a journalist to die before everyone takes a position on such comments?
“We urge the authorities to issue an unambiguous condemnation of this exploitation of the concept of patriotism, especially as the aim is to censor the media. The significance of this campaign against journalists and the consequences it could have must not be ignored. The next government must take a clear public position on this subject if it hopes to retain any credibility for the pledges it has repeatedly made and rarely kept to respect press freedom.
“We also urge Pieter Feith, the European Union’s special representative in Kosovo, to speak out and to extend his full support to Matoshi and the staff of Koha Ditore. The EU still has decision-making powers in Pristina. It must respond to these nationalistic excesses with firmness and remind the authorities that respect for press freedom is an essential requirement for any possibility of Kosovo joining the EU, even if there is a risk that the authorities could delay their application.”
Reporters Without Borders fully supports the staff of Koha Ditore and Matoshi, who is one of Kosovo’s most respected analysts. Accused of terrorism by Belgrade, he was the only Pristina-based journalist to be jailed by the Serb authorities during the NATO bombing raids in 1999. Held for a year in a prison in Serbia, he was only released after strong international pressure.
Interview of Halil Matoshi
Reporters Without Borders : How do you evaluate the press release of the war veterans’ association?
Halil Matoshi : Their reaction I see as a direct reaction of the outgoing government or Prime Minister Hashim Thaci himself, who is very close to Mr. Xhemajli, the head of the war veteran’s association. So, the press release is an extra-reaction of the government, which uses some mechanisms – in this case the association to which everybody here is sensitive because of the freedom war — as opinion maker to make statements against those who think differently from the government. It proves that you can expect everything to happen in Kosovo except for the freedom of press and free speech. I and my colleagues have been alarming for long time that there is no such a thing in Kosovo as the freedom of speech and free speech.
Reporters Without Borders : What is the impact of such statements as the war veterans’ press release directed against you ?
Halil Matoshi : They are creating an impression that everyone who keeps a different position towards the power or government or structures that emerged from the war is a traitor, is “with the Serbs” or taking the side of Kosovo’s enemies. It crushes to an embryonic level every tendency for a debate in the society. It aims at crushing to the ground every opportunity to express your self freely in the public.
Reporters Without Borders : All recent reports of international watchdogs as well as of official international institutions in charge to follow the developments in Kosovo note that the freedom of press is endangered ?
Halil Matoshi : From this point of view, Kosovo is ranged amongst the most dictatorial countries of the world. But this same world, because of political stability is defending the current political establishment, which has no a clue what is democracy, free speech and other civic rights.
Reporters Without Borders : Do the media in Kosovo have a capacity to defend themselves from exposing censure on them ?
Halil Matoshi : The last December election and degradation that happened with the will of people proved that Kosovars still can not by themselves inaugurate a truly democratic society without a strong support of the international community. As it is the situation now we have a very little number of the media that applies the criteria of an independent journalism and independent editorial policy. The majority of them are being controlled by the government itself, in particular the public TV broadcaster. They are hanger-on and strong propagators of the current government.