When SEEMO was founded by a small group of editors and media executives in Zagreb in late 2000, the memories of war and the devastation it had brought over vast parts of the Balkans were fresh and very much alive. Many of the protagonists of the Balkan Wars, which had left hundreds of thousands dead and many millions wounded and traumatised, were still around. Yet it was clear that a new age was dawning. With the departure of Tuđman, Milošević and Izetbegović the era of nationalism had come to an end, thus opening a new chapter in the history of the Balkans and paving the way for reconciliation, peace and prosperity
With outstanding idealism and courage, the founders of SEEMO captured the spirit of the moment and set out to draw together editors-in-chief and media executives from all corners of South East and Central Europe. From the very beginning, their approach was inclusive: they aspired to build a bridge between international media activities and the media developments in the entire region. Their overarching goal was to free the Balkans’ media sector from the influence of politics, which had tried to control it for decades and which at times used it as an instrument of propaganda and hate. The founders’ firm conviction was that a free media sector would assist the transformation of the Western Balkans and its politics, which in turn would lead to the reconciliation of all people of the region.
The vision became reality. Today, SEEMO is a thriving organisation with over 1000 individual and many corporate members. Its various meeting and workshops have gathered more than 10000 editors, media executives and leading journalists. SEEMO’s output is enormous, and its press releases and letters of protest have had an impressive impact on the governance of the countries of South East and Central Europe. SEEMO’s relentless scrutiny of the state of press freedom has provided an effective system of checks and balances while the provision of technical assistance to journalists up and down the region has augmented the quality of journalistic work.
Today, South East and Central Europe is witnessing a new dynamic. Croatia’s accession to the European Union is only the first stop on a journey that will eventually bring all the countries of the Western Balkans into the EU. Throughout the region, there is new zeal for reform and transformation, and it seems as if the shadows of the past have been overcome. There is no doubt that SEEMO’s inspiring leadership and advocacy for press freedom has contributed greatly to the Balkans’ positive trajectory.
At the same time, we must not forget the manifold challenges we continue to face in many regions of the world related to freedom of the press. The safety of journalists is a fundamental pillar of this universal, inalienable right. Despite clear obligations for States to protect journalists and to enable them to exercise their work independently without interference, serious shortcomings still exist in many countries of the world in the implementation of universally accepted international standards and norms.
Attacks against journalists are an especially deplorable form of violence – both from a human rights perspective as well as the point of view of democracy and the rule of law. The protection of journalists is, therefore, high on Austria’s human rights agenda. Austria has made it a priority for its membership in the Human Rights Council (2011-2014), focussing its initiatives on the fight against impunity as well as on preventing future crimes against journalists. Partnership with organisations such as SEEMO will be essential to make this project a success.
On behalf of the Austrian government I would like to congratulate on your exceptional achievements and to express my hope that our excellent cooperation will indeed continue.
Dr. Michael Spindelegger
Vice-Chancellor of the Republic of Austria
Foreign Minister of the Republic of Austria