Post-War Communications: PR marches on Kosovo peace-keeping mission - International agencies are drafting in communications experts to sell peace and reconstruction to the Kosovan population as well as the international media

More than 60 communications staff are to be drafted into Kosovo this summer by the international agencies charged with the massive task of rebuilding the war-torn territory.

More than 60 communications staff are to be drafted into Kosovo

this summer by the international agencies charged with the massive task

of rebuilding the war-torn territory.

The United Nations (UN) is taking the lead in the post-war civilian

set-up through the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo,

established by Security Council resolution 1244 last month. Its role is

vast: to establish the mechanisms of civil society - democratic

institutions, independent media, civil law and healthcare provision.

Within this administration, the Organisation for Security and

Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has been tasked with building democratic

institutions and the European Union (EU) is responsible for economic


Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) role is the

safe return and reintegration of the estimated 500,000 displaced people

within Kosovo and the 850,000 refugees who are expected to return to the

province from neighbouring Albania and Macedonia in the next three to

four months.

Given its lead role, the UN has the greatest communications needs of the

four. At least 50 professionals - both new recruits and secondments from

UN headquarters in New York - are about to be sent to Kosovo. These

include an as-yet-unappointed public information and communications

head, who will take over from acting spokesman Kevin Kennedy. Kennedy

himself was seconded from New York when Slobodan Milosevic signed the

peace agreement, but is due to return shortly.

This is not uncharted territory: the Bosnian peace settlement which

followed the Dayton agreement in 1994 involved similar communications


But matters are complicated by the involvement of global players like

NATO and the governments of not just major western powers like the US

and the UK, but also Russia.

UNHCR information officer and veteran war correspondent Ray Wilkinson

says the competing players are impeding his organisation’s message to

refugees. ’For the first time, governments have decided to do their own

thing with the Albanian or Macedonian governments, and the UNHCR’s been

caught in a cleft stick: governments want us to co-ordinate them, but

they undercut that by doing their own thing.’

Western governments drew up bilateral agreements with the Macedonian and

Albanian governments during the war, allowing them to set up camps for

refugees. It is from these camps that ethnic Albanians will be returning

to Kosovo, and any communications effort by the UNHCR will have to

involve them.

The task facing the UN and its partners is double-edged: they have to

promote their role in the international media while implementing public

information campaigns explaining the civilian set-up they are

bequeathing to the Kosovans so the administration holds up when the UN

pulls out.

Handling international media relations is undoubtedly the less daunting

of the two. Observers on the ground note that journalists who were

swarming around Kosovo during, and in the immediate aftermath of, the

war were quick to move on as the civilian administration took


’A week or ten days ago, there was intense media speculation. Now a

double murder barely raises an eyebrow. The main military thrust is over

and it’s no longer a media story,’ says an official spokesman for KFOR,

the NATO-led military force in charge of maintaining law and order.

But media interest will not subside altogether, and the future of some

of the organisations involved in post-war Kosovo depends to an extent on

attracting positive coverage. ’For organisations like the UNHCR and the

military, the image and message is almost as important as the work on

the ground. If you’re not seen to be doing things, you don’t get any

money from governments or the public,’ says Wilkinson.

The four bodies involved in the civilian administration are expected to

organise joint daily press briefings in conjunction with NATO once

communications teams are staffed.

OSCE press and public information head Melissa Fleming, who is about to

recruit ten press and public information staff to be based both in the

Kosovan capital, Pristina, and across the province, expects continued,

but more focused western media attention.

’The international press will scrutinise the work of the international

community in Kosovo and we’ll need experienced people who know how to

deal with cynical, critical journalists who have been in the Balkans a

long time,’ she says.

The other communications task - explaining the changes facing Kosovo to

its population and educating largely democracy-illiterate voters -is

even more challenging.

Kennedy explains: ’There is a heavily-damaged infrastructure,

medium-wave transmitters are down, and we have to set up a UN radio

station and reintegrate Albanian staff into Radio and TV Pristina.’

The UN will also send people into the districts of Kosovo to carry out

community outreach programmes, helping to develop self-governing

institutions, public health and safety.

But the most crucial part of the agencies’ work in Kosovo is securing

the stability of the post-war settlement by persuading the population to

buy into it. As Fleming says: ’The challenge is to to build up entirely

new structures; we have to have the population on board to do that.’

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