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
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
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
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.’