The image of Albania and Albanians in the Serbian media is mostly portrayed negatively but there are positive trends that can increase understanding, said the participants of a conference called In the Media Mirror – Serbian and Albanian Mutual Perceptions, held in Belgrade on Sept. 20.

Presenting a study called Albania in the Serbian Media, European Movement in Serbia President Mihailo Crnobrnja said that it was a contribution to “improving relations” between the two countries.

“It is clear from the study and reality that Kosovo is the main topic in the media mirror,” Crnobrnja said, adding that negative connotations were dominant but that there was positive leverage which could be used to foster cooperation between the two countries, such as the economy, culture and tourism.

President of the Forum for International Relations of the European Movement in Serbia Jelica Minic said that it was very important to see the situation so that it could be changed and that the aformentioned study was vital to that.

Italian Ambassador Carlo Lo Cascio said that good relations between Belgrade and Tirana could have a positive impact on the entire region.

If there is understanding between Serbia and Albania, the Balkan region will be more stable, he said, adding that the situation had improved over the past several years and that Belgrade and Tirana had constructive cooperation.

Ambassador Lo Cascio said that Serbia and Albania should receive clear European prospects which would improve the stability of the Western Balkans. The better knowledge of and overcoming prejudice is key to that, he stressed, adding that Belgrade and Tirana have moved from confrontation to cooperation.

Albanian Ambassador Ilir Bocka said that the study imparted a living picture of reality and that it was an invitation to work on changes.

Head of the OSCE Mission in Serbia Andrea Orizio said that cooperation between the youth and journalists from Serbia and Albania is key to better mutual understanding of the two countries.

The OSCE Mission chief said that Serbia and Albania shared the region, strategic goals and many regional concerns and that it was important for “balanced and better perception” to improve familiarity with the other side.

If you do not know the other [side], if they remain “the other,” then the weight of history is left as well, said Orizio.

In the January-September 2017 period four newspapers – Blic, Danas, Politika and Informer ran 1,177 articles mentioning Albania.

A trend of negative reporting during elections (March-April 2017) was noted by the study, while after that came a decline in interest and more neutral coverage. The key events were the Serbian train incident, the arrest of Ramush Haradinaj, Albanian President Bujar Nishani’s visit to Presevo, as well as subjects with references to Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and a “Greater Albania.”

As for negative trends, the study stressed that Kosovo was still generating negative news, that newspapers were still writing about a “Greater Albania,” using the insult “Shqiptar” etc.

As for positive trends, a decline in articles with negative undertones was noted, while pieces on culture, the economy and tourism, and the establishment of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO) were published.

The study, which was carried out by Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory fellow Aleksandar Pavlovic and researcher Jelena Ceriman, was conducted as part of a project called Strengthening Cooperation Between Serbia and Albania: a View on the Media Content Today in Serbia and Ways of Shaping Positive and Informed Perceptions that Leads to Stability in the Western Balkans.

The project was carried out by the European Movement in Serbia with the support of the Italian Embassy in Serbia and the OSCE Mission to Serbia.