On a sunny spring day, 16 young enthusiasts from the Balkans met for the first time in London to attend the courses of Reuters journalists-turned-trainers Keith Stafford and Richard Meares. And so began the first fortnight of a wonderful one-month trip to Manchukistan, a mythical country so similar to the Balkans that we felt like home.
The ice between participants broke easily with a treasure hunt, dinners at fancy restaurants and, of course, a lot of beers. And then we started reporting on privatization, strikes, political turbulence, tax fraud and corruption besetting Manchukistan. We interviewed officials and went to press conferences. We also had teamwork exercises, like writing breaking news stories.
We met again for our second fortnight some four months later in late-summer Berlin.
After the difficult company reports, maybe the most exciting part of the programme followed: country reports. Each of us presented his or her country, the good with the bad: Fatjona - Albania, Zdravka -Bulgaria, Anelis and Madalina - Romania, Edis – Bosnia-Herzegovina, Aleksandra and Milica S - Serbia, Jan and Matej - Slovenia, Alekos - Greece, Nino and Nikola - Macedonia, Lana and Mirna - Croatia, Milica B - Montenegro, Bahattin - Turkey.
In the evenings we escaped Manchukistan to London or Berlin and met fellow journalists from the Bosch alumni community. We realised that the end of this course meant just the beginning of beautiful friendships.
By the time we were saying goodbye at the final dinner, we realised how lucky we were to be the 11th and, sadly, the last generation on this course, and we promised to share what we had learned with our colleagues at home.
So, thank you Robert Bosch Stiftung (Sarah and Dora) and Thomson Reuters Foundation (Belen and Nicolas) for “Economic and Political Reporting from Southeast Europe”, one of the most successful and longest-running of the two foundations’ programmes for journalists. Now, there are no borders between the journalists from what was once the powder keg of Europe. The only division among us is between smokers and non-smokers!
For more information on the Thomson Reuters Foundation's Media Development work, visit http://www.trust.org/media-development/