Alumni Funding: Opportunities for Years to Come

Altin Raxhimi Tirana

A 2007 fellow, who undertook a research trip to Turkey on an Alumni Initiative reporting project, tells this year’s candidates the fellowship provides opportunities for years to come.

The fellowship itself - and the 4,000 euros I spent on travel, research and the occasional beer or two - is good by anyone’s reckoning.

But the Alumni Initiative, especially if you are depressed by having been spared any of the top fellowship prizes, has been even better for me. For some of my work, it has proved essential.

In 2008, I embarked on highly delicate research into allegations that the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, had maintained prisons, where detainees where routinely tortured, at their bases in Albania and Kosovo during and after the 1999 conflict. Not only was the investigation sensitive, it would prove to be costly.

So I applied for funding from the fellowship’s alumni fund, which generously supported me with seed money for ten months.

In the end, I saved my face and I got results from the research and the funding also helped me avoid getting into the red. The effects of that investigation are still being felt today.

Since those days, the alumni project funding has been transformed into a formal programme - the Alumni Initiative - and it awards varying levels of funding for joint and individual investigations and special reports.

And still it gets even better.  Every two years, fellows are invited to gather for reunions and mix with folks from different programme years and different countries. While it often feels that the Balkan states are comprised of pretty much the same pool of people and problems these days, it’s refreshing to mix with different personalities.

The first alumni reunion was held in the summer of 2010 in the coastal Montenegrin village of Becici, where the Mediterranean washes over rocks topped by white-washed concrete buildings.

Of course, we socialised and caught-up over a few drinks. We exchanged banter: “You Albanians are romantic nationalists,” a trashed Serbian friend informed me. “You, a Serb, tells me that?” I retorted. There were many other similarly cheerful, beery conversations.

But we also brainstormed specific projects and, if lucky, secured more seed money for research. I was lucky.

Together with a colleague from Tirana, we had been obsessed with Turkey’s re-emergence as a political and economic power in the Balkans.

We had been wondering how the modern Turk, more religious and more business-savvy than before, had been choosing to invest – and turn peace-broker to the region – since the 1990s.

Turkey’s presence in Albania and other Balkan states has been demonstrated by the establishment of private school networks funded and ran by a new religious movement, by Turkish businesses buying into strategic sectors and in the popularity of Turkish soap operas.

All this against the backdrop of a long and shared past as former territories of the Ottoman Empire, from which Balkan nations gained independence just one century ago.

The Alumni Initiative agreed to support us and a network of other fellows, giving rise to a fully-fledged special section on the Balkan Insight and fellowship websites. As a result of that funding, I spent a few days in Istanbul and Ankara to cover this story from the Turkish side.

I told you it would get even better.

Altin Raxhimi took part in the 2007 fellowship and investigated how the relaxation of EU visa rules may have benefited middle-class Albanians, but left poor and unskilled families as trapped as before.

He is now a freelance journalist working for a range of English-language and Albanian news outlets. He divides his time between Canada and Albania.

Click here for more on the Alumni Initiative’s Italy-Montenegro Energy project

Fellow Bio

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Altin Raxhimi

Altin Raxhimi from Tirana, Albania, is an experienced journalist currently working freelance from Albania for a host of English-language publications, including BIRN, www.reportingproject.net, Inter-Press Service and The Chicago Tribune

Topic

Topic 2011: Justice

The topic for this year’s programme is justice and fellows are investigating subjects as diverse as privatisation, organised crime, employment law, rape convictions and extradition treaties.

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