By Emma Woods
BELGRADE, October 2 – Sitting outside a bustling coffee shop, Nikoleta Kosovac looks like someone you want to be friends with. Fashionable in faded orange shoes that match her nail polish and blue tights that go with her jean jacket, Kosovac looks sophisticated, yet approachable. The outfit is tied together with a busy multicolored floral dress.
Kosovac is the coordinator for Lice Ulice, a bi-monthly street paper that works to raise awareness about social issues in the Balkans. Since 2010, the paper, the first of its kind in the region, has released 33 full color issues. Nearly all of the content, articles and illustrations, are received pro bono. Impoverished or vulnerable people sell the magazine on the street and each vendor gets half of the cost of every copy they sell.
From an early age Kosovac knew she wanted to work in journalism. She moved to Belgrade from the western Serbian town of Sabac to attend school and, after changing jobs a couple of times, ended up as a copywriter for a large ad agency. But the marketing business brought her little fulfillment.
“I wanted to go back to journalism but I wanted some added value to journalism,” Kosovac said.
Around that time, she caught wind of a project to launch a street paper in Belgrade.
“So I immediately quit my previous job… And I never regretted [it]. I think that was the best decision ever,” she stated matter-of-factly, a shrewd smile appearing on her face.
As coordinator she oversees, well, everything.
“I have to know everything and I have to know everybody, and I have to know what kind of work you will have if you come to work with us and if you work with our vendors,” she explained.
Kosovac is involved in organizing philanthropic projects, grant proposals, vendor hiring, and ensuring that each issue of Lice Ulice is something she and the team can be proud of.
“People from my team know that I am there all the time so even if I am not at the office, a small group of people can reach me all the time,” she adds.
Dedication is necessary with this job, as publishing a street paper is not a cakewalk.
Finances are a constant worry. “We never had any kind of support from the city government…we are working as an NGO,” (non-governmental organisation), Kosovac said, explaining that Lice Ulice gets the bulk of its funding from supporters and grants.
In September, the magazine experienced its most difficult financial situation since its launch. Kosovac, ever the problem solver, spearheaded a campaign called “Podrska je vazna” or “Support is important”.
The idea was to show supporters how much work really goes into creating the publication, and then reminding them that there are multiple ways to support the paper beyond just buying an issue. People can also subscribe, donate, or buy a T-shirt.
Kosovac clutched her heart, recounting a supporter who rallied his friends together to buy subscriptions for local libraries and hospitals.
“I was crying every day, not like ‘oh my god what are we going to do,’ but I was crying because of so much solidarity and love we received from people we don’t know.”
With pragmatic caution Kosovac stated that, while not out of the woods yet, the campaign was a success, and they were able to publish a September issue.
“Lice Ulice is not some kind of just … regular work for us. It is much more than that. We are all like some kind of family and we all have our hearts in it,” Kosovac gushed.
In the Lice Ulice office, complete with bathroom sinks made out of flower pots, lamps made from mason jars or paper bags, and a couch fashioned from an old bathtub, sits Virdzinija Djekovic and Milica Martinovic. They, along with Kosovac, are already busy working on the next issue of the magazine.
“We became a family from the beginning somehow. It’s a special feeling, definitely,” Djekovic, said smiling.
Martinovic added with a hearty laugh that, “Nikoleta is like a mother in the family. She’s cool but she’s a boss also. You don’t want to mess with her.”