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Vladan Đurišić and Glas Zabjela

Glas Zabjela: a local media in Montenegro with community at its heart

“We are working to strengthen our community and to encourage culture of volunteerism. We want to motivate people to take care of their community. We believe that you can’t change the whole world, but you do have the power to change your own backyard for the better,” says Vladan Đurišić, a young activist and journalist and head of online local community media Glas Zabjela (Voice of Zabjelo).

Glas Zabjela began life at the end of 2016 as a print newsletter that Vladan and a team of volunteers distributed door-to-door, an enriching experience that was hugely valuable in gaining a better understanding of his community.

Vladan explains that Zabjelo is Podgorica’s largest neighbourhood, officially home to 40,000 people, although as many as 60,000 could live in the municipality, given the mushrooming of new buildings and poor planning.

Republic of Zabjelo

In setting up the media, Vladan was inspired by the “Republic of Zabjelo”, a 1990s youth-led creative and satirical revolt against the horrors of war in the Balkans that included theatre, art and in the latter part of that decade, an eponymous TV show. He saw the concept of a collective identity as a good foundation for the community activism, that is at the heart of Glas Zabjela.

While over the past decades, many saw the “Republic” as little more than a subject for graffiti and jokes, as the neighbourhood has struggled with criminality and delinquency, but the sense of Zabjelo’s unique identity endured. Today, with Glas Zabjela, Vladan is helping to strengthen this sense of identity and to build a stronger community.

In 2017, Glas Zabjela received a high-profile national volunteering award for their work. The media had led a social media campaign and helped organise a football tournament to raise money to help Slobodan Bećo Došljak, a widely beloved children’s poet, and resident of Zabjelo who had fallen on difficult times.

“Everyone knew him. He used to visit our schools and hand out books of his poetry. But no one knew he was struggling financially. It was only when I visited him to interview him for the first edition of Glas Zabjela that I found out he had lived for four years without electricity.”

He merits this experience as providing the motivation he needed to move Glas Zabjela to the next level. “It was not viable to keep printing the magazine, and we decided to launch an online version,” he says.

Far more than a media

Today, Glas Zabjela is much more than just an online media. “We are about community, volunteering, respect for one another regardless of cultural or ethnic differences. We are a civil society-oriented organisation, where we work together to improve our environment,” says Vladan.

As well as reporting on current events in the community, the media’s journalists conduct regular online and street polls and carry out investigative research on issues relevant to the community. Thanks to EED support, the media now includes more multimedia content, such as videos, podcast interviews with local community personalities and continued production of the investigative “Forum Republikum” series .

To date, Glas Zabjela has also supported various local initiatives, that have lead to real change in the community.

Vladan believes it is vital that the media stays close to its community. “We make sure that whatever topic we cover, we find a Zabjelo angle. We listen to our community. People don’t like media that dictate narratives,” he says.

Glas Zabjela also acts as a mediator between citizens and local government about infrastructural and other issues, collecting citizens’ reactions and communicating these to the authorities.

EED support has enabled Glas Zabjela to lay the foundations for the first youth centre in the neighbourhood, a long-held ambition, and has helped it launch the area’s first music festival. Part of the profits from the first festival were donated to the local football club, FK Zabjelo, helping the club to survive and restart training with younger players.

Sustainable funding model

Vladan admits that while funding remains challenging, he believes that in the long-term Glas Zabjela’s financial model will enable its sustainability.

The outlet’s music festival is now a bi-annual event and generates income. The media is working to attract advertising for its podcasts on YouTube and it is looking at providing services for commercial clients. It will also organise other music and cultural events to reach out to more members of the community.

As he looks to the future, Vladan now wants to engage more with younger audiences. He is already working with a TikTok influencer, who already carries out many of their street polls.

He admits he has his work cut out for him. “I’m editor, director, producer, coordinator of everything,” he says. But he believes in this work, and in the future of Glas Zabjela.

“Getting our first EED grant was huge for us. After five years of volunteering, it meant someone believed in us. It gave us wind in our sails,” he says.

This article reflects the views of the grantees featured and does not necessarily represent the official opinion of the EED.