The film focuses on Macedonia's north-western region, inhabited by the Albanian minority. In 2001 this was the site of a conflict between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians, which produced armed clashes. Only thanks to determined intervention on the part of the international community was a civil war averted. The Ohrid framework agreement, which sealed the peace and set up guidelines for a peaceful coexistence between ethnic groups, became one of the most important success stories of European policy in the Balkans.
The film traces the roots of the conflict, using individual stories to describe realities that confront the people of the region to this day. It illustrates not only political and social events, but also the impressive cultural diversity that characterises this multiethnic state, a product of centuries of coexistence between Orthodox and Islamic cultures. Ohrid, one of the earliest centres of Slavic culture, and Tetovo, Macedonia's second largest city – in which Muslim Albanians form the majority – are a window into a culturally heterogeneous country.
Some of the protagonists closely involved with the Ohrid Agreement, give their – often very personal – accounts of the uphill battles they fought to restore peace in the region. They include Javier Solana, whose intervention led to a crucial breakthrough in the negotiations; Ali Ahmeti, the leader of the Albanian uprising, seen by many Macedonians in 2001 as a terrorist; and Radmila Sekerinska, who presided over the agreement's implementation as Macedonia’s deputy prime minister.
If you would like to watch the complete film please go to www.standard.at/balkanexpress (due to copyright restrictions this will not work outside of Europe)
The industrial city of Kicevo, halfway between the capital Skopje and Lake Ohrid, exemplifies the problems Macedonia still faces today. After the collapse of communism, it was above all ethnic Macedonians who bore the full brunt of the country's economic decline. Many lost their jobs in the industrial sector, jobs that had formerly been secure. Not so the Albanians. Largely excluded from Tito's modernisation policy, many had been forced to leave the country. As guest-workers they supported their families from abroad. As a result, many are now financially better off than their ethnic Macedonian counterparts.
In the precarious economic conditions of the 1990s tensions between the ethnic groups increased steadily. Distrust and resentment sprung up on both sides.
The Albanians' demands for stronger minority rights – ignored for years – were fulfilled through the implementation of the Ohrid Agreement. Minorities are now proportionally represented in all state institutions, even the Macedonian army. An Albanian university was opened in Tetovo and now counts ethnic Macedonians among its students. Albanian was made an official language and is now used in Parliament. The measured intervention by moderates in Macedonia has contributed to a significant decrease in ethnic tensions.
Charting a path towards EU accession the current government under Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski first faces the task of reviving Macedonia's economy. Yet the painful transition to a market economy is proceeding at a sluggish pace. One encouraging exception is the economic boom in the textile town of Stip in the country's east.
Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski