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Getting The Shot Is Worth ‘A Bit Of Tear Gas’

Gresa Kraja, Web Editor with RFE/RL's Balkan Service Kosovo Unit.
Gresa Kraja, Web Editor with RFE/RL's Balkan Service Kosovo Unit.
Gresa Kraja’s official title may be Web Editor for RFE/RL’s Balkan Service Kosovo Unit, but a more fitting moniker might be “Protest Specialist,” thanks to her frequent dispatches to shoot videos or photos of demonstrations, a common occurrence since Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence and subsequent tense peace with neighbor Serbia.

RFE/RL: You shoot compelling footage, which, more often than not, other media outlets in the region don’t have. How do you do it?

Gresa Kraja: Whenever there are protests in Kosovo, I'm sent to photograph or film them. For example, there was a huge protest organized just over a year ago by a local Kosovar party called "Self-Determination Movement," in the border town of Merdana. Protesters were stopping cars and trucks with Serbian license plates at the border, in retaliation to similar protests in Serbia against vehicles with Kosovo license plates. It was a huge protest with police using tear gas against the demonstrators, making it was hard to see what was happening. I knocked on the door of a nearby house and allowed to use their balcony on the second floor, giving me the perfect position to film the actions of the Kosovo police against the protesters. The tear gas proved effective, but even as the protesters started to disperse and the gas was coming my way, I continued filming. In the end, we had the full footage; no other media had comparable coverage.

RFE/RL: Recently you shot a dramatic video showing how Kosovo police used tear gas and pepper spray against students demanding the resignation of a university dean. As it was happening, the police located all journalists with cameras and removed them from the scene, but you managed to keep recording the event. How did you do it?

Kraja: The police did remove all journalists with big cameras, but I had just a small flip camera which wasn’t deemed to be a "proper" camera, and I was allowed to stay. The police probably thought that I was one of the protesters so they did not push me away. Of course, an HD camera guarantees the best quality, but a small flip camera can be extremely handy in such situations. It’s easy to carry and it avoids attracting the attention of the police, who do not want to be filmed in action.

WATCH: Kosovo Police Use Tear Gas, Pepper Spray To Break Up Student Protest
Kosovo Police Use Tear Gas To Break Up Student Protest
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RFE/RL: To get quality footage with a small flip camera, one has to be in very close proximity to the event. How do you position yourself for shooting in the middle of the action?

Kraja: I'm a journalist and I think it is worth the effort to be close to the event, even if you get a bit of tear gas. Of course, if the situation is turning really bad or dangerous, one has to step back. But in this particular case it was really worth being in the middle of the action. It all happened five minutes away from our Pristina bureau, and within about 10 minutes of the start of the clashes I already had my video edited and posted on our website, making us the first media to publish such exclusive footage. It was the most-watched item on our site and went viral.

--Zydrone Krasauskiene