Ben Crampton, a British diplomat, has lived and worked in the Balkans for many years.
"I grew up surrounded by information about, and discussions of, the Balkans. I was always fascinated by the books on my father's shelves whose titles I couldn't read because they were in Cyrillic. My father (Richard Crampton) is a historian working on the Balkans and we lived in Bulgaria when I was a baby. It was to the Balkans that I turned shortly after I left school, spending nine months in Sofia in 1991. My love affair with the Balkans began there and continues today; my wife is Montenegrin."
After working as a Balkans research analyst at the British Foreign Office, Ben went to Macedonia as an adviser to the EU Special Representative for the implementation of the 2001 Ohrid Peace Agreement. Ben notes the limited and focused mandate of the international mission in Macedonia:
"The real success of the international involvement there was that the responsibility for implementing the peace deal lay firmly with the local political and governmental leaders of all parties and all ethnicities. This is in contrast to Bosnia, where it is the international community itself that has taken the principal role in delivering Dayton. Ohrid Agreement implementation proves that with the right incentive – Euro-Atlantic integration – a peace deal is deliverable by the parties to it. That for me is a sign of hope – also for Kosovo and for the Balkans. It is also a sign of the singular power of European integration as a means of delivering lasting change in the Balkans, as it has elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe."
Crampton came to Pristina in 2004 as special advisor to the former head of UNMIK, Soeren Jessen-Pedersen. In 2007, when the film was being made, Ben was deputy head of the European Union planning team in Pristina – working on the Ahtisaari Plan and preparing the ground for the international mission to follow the declaration of independence.
"My biggest sense of achievement was in working on the Ahtisaari process. His proposal contains a wealth of proposals which would guarantee the continuation and development of the Serb way of life in Kosovo with a very high degree of administrative and social autonomy. I'm particularly proud of using the example of the Anglo-Irish 1922 agreement to argue for the inclusion of specific clauses [in the Ahtisaari Plan] guaranteeing voting rights to Serbs in Kosovo regardless of whether or not they chose to take Kosovo citizenship."
Ben views UNMIK as a success one can now build on:
"Despite the mood swing against UNMIK in the past years, what the mission achieved in its time is remarkable – a functioning administration and parliament, an effective and ethnically-balanced police force, a series of free and fair elections, the resolution of large numbers of property disputes, and the beginnings of privatisation. On the other hand, it's fair to ask whether the mission needed to be as big as it was, and whether it was helpful for the SRSG to retain his full powers – to remain "top dog" – until the end. […] In Kosovo the new international presence's powers are much reduced from those of the SRSG and less extensive than in Bosnia, and this should allow politics to develop more "normally" in Kosovo in the future. But there has to come a time when they're removed entirely, and I do hope that we're not still waiting for that moment 12 years after the end of the war in Kosovo (in 2011), as we are in Bosnia (in 2008)."
However, within international organizations in Kosovo there remains a problematic gap between "locals" and "internationals":
"This is a problem. Many of the answers are bureaucratic and lie within international institutions. If there isn't even a possibility of local staff having hierarchically superior positions to international staff – no matter how well educated and experienced the former may be, and how callow the latter – then there is no way that you will have the proper respect being shown to local staff within international organisations. And if "locals" aren't fully respected inside organisations, then they won't be fully respected outside."
Ben left Kosovo shortly before independence, but continues to work on Kosovo in the EU Council.
Concerning Pristina, he is concerned about the future:
"There is an element of veneer about Pristina. Much of the apparent wealth of Pristina is based on the international community. It is more apparent than real, if you take away the international community and the money that [it]provides, then the economy of Pristina would look quite different.”
Despite many obvious problems, there has been progress. One source of optimism, as Ben sees it, is the transformative power of a future enlargement process:
"The lifestyle is different here; you do feel the effects of not only the war, but of underdevelopment as well. Electricity is sometimes a problem, water is a problem. Having said that, it does not feel very much like a post-conflict environment. You see damage in the countryside when you are driving along. But is there a brighter future, absolutely – a brighter future will come through economic development; it will come through European enlargement in due course. This has worked throughout Central and Eastern Europe, this has worked throughout the Balkans, and it will work in Kosovo as well."
Asked what else he learned in the Balkans, Ben smiles: "A Shopska salad and rakija are the best starter to any meal anywhere in the world. And there is joy to be had in eating seasonal fruit and vegetables fresh from the market – except in February and March."