With its mountainous geography and turbulent history Montenegro is a microcosm of the Balkans. Throughout its history Montenegro was known in Europe for its fierce tribes and blood feuds. For centuries, it has been the meeting point and battleground of Muslim (Ottoman) and Catholic (Venetian and Austrian) empires. In recent years, however, Montenegro has surprised those who expected it to be torn apart by internal conflict.
Montenegro is Europe's youngest state, having achieved independence in the summer of 2006. It hasn’t made much news since. For a country which was once feared to turn into a failed state in a troubled region, this, in itself, is remarkable.
Of the six former Yugoslav republics, Montenegro was the only one (since 1989) to have avoided violent conflict on its territory. It is a country without an ethnic majority; it is home to two Orthodox churches; and its national currency is the euro. Its 620,000 citizens include Orthodox Montenegrins and Orthodox Serbs, Muslim Bosniaks, Catholic and Muslim Albanians, as well as some Croats and other minorities.
When Kosovo declared independence on 17 February 2008, the conflict between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians once again captured the attention of the world's media. It is with concern that the international community looks at a crisis region whose relative calm in recent years was secured by a huge deployment of KFOR and UN peacekeeping forces.
What does independence mean for Kosovo's stability? What kind of future awaits this new country? What challenges must the future EU mission tackle in order to solve the country's problems? The documentary approaches these questions by focusing on one of Kosovo's central problems – the catastrophic state of its economy, with the highest rates of unemployment in Europe, especially among women and young people.
Communist Albania of Hoxha was a fortress state, seeing enemies everywhere. There were regular purges, the death penalty was applied, and there were a large number of political prisoners. There were thousands of executions of political enemies and of enemies of communism. Albanians did not have the right to a passport until May 1990.
Two decades later Albania has undergone a dramatic transformation. And yet, few countries in Europe are less understood than this Adriatic republic. Gratuitous violence, organised crime, human trafficking, blood feuds and grinding poverty are the images that first come to mind when the country is mentioned. This is not all due to the particular ferocity of Enver Hoxha's communism. The first post-communist decade has also produced its fair share of dark images, culminating in the anarchy of 1997. It is this dark and difficult legacy which makes the story of Albania's recent transformation all the more remarkable.
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.
Twelve years after its vicious war, Bosnia and Herzegovina has changed to a tremendous extent. It has seen the large-scale return of displaced persons, the restitution of property and a comprehensive process of demilitarisation. Freedom of movement has been restored. Interethnic violence has largely disappeared. Bosnia remains isolated, however, with few of its citizens feeling optimistic about their future.
This film follows a team of young researchers (Bosnians and foreigners) as they try to discover how much Bosnia has changed. Their journey takes them to the former concentration camps, to Central Bosnia, which has seen some of the worst massacres of the war, and to Doboj, a former frontline town (and infamous former hotbed of Serb nationalism) in Republika Srpska. They talk to the captain of the Bosnian national football team, to rappers and musicians, to an Orthodox bishop and a Franciscan brother, to the Slovak diplomat who still has ultimate power in the county, and to people struggling with the trauma of war.
Serbia is a divided country, and the border runs right through people's heads. On the one hand, there are people like Milorad Mirčić, who does not think rock 'n' roll has any political relevance. The deputy leader of the Serbian Radical Party also believes that the overthrow of the Milošević regime in 2000 was a coup d'état organised by the Americans. He calls reports of the genocide in Srebrenica "propaganda".
The IT industry, the 1989 uprising, trendy fashion from Timişoara, Ceauşescu's death, salary increases for the workers at Dacia, former Securitate members as entrepreneurs, the desire for Nike and Adidas, a memorial to the victims of Communism, the soup kitchen for those who cannot afford Western European prices, and images of murder victims. The documentary on Romania consists of a series of rapid cuts between very different images. Generally speaking, this film is about the "unfinished revolution" – the fact that although dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu was executed in 1989, the same elites remained at the top and the secret service Securitate continued to control the fate of the Romanian people.
They still resemble delicate fairies when they dance. Watching these ballet dancers, one cannot help but remember the days of Communism when Bulgaria's female track and field athletes swept the board in international competitions. The only difference is that today the girls in Sofia's dance school smile more often as they whirl through the air. Even the dancers' trainer is the same person as in the old days – Neschka Robeva. "No one knows if the state will be willing to pay for this institution much longer," she says. Robeva believes that anyone making long-term plans in Bulgaria today is either stupid or a hopeless optimist. She dislikes the general mentality that has descended on the population following the political upheaval: "The nation has not understood that self-discipline is still the most important thing, even in the new system." Teachers like Robeva used to enjoy high social standing in Bulgaria. But today this only applies to people who make a lot of money.
After the war this group of people did not feel like speaking very much. "You know, the ones who had numbers," says Heinz Kounio and points to his own upper arm. Mr. Kounio was one of 40,000 Jews from Thessaloniki who were deported to concentration camps in 1943. Only 2000 of them survived the Holocaust and returned to the northern Greek city. And it is only recently that people here have started to really acknowledge that for centuries the city was a centre of Jewish life.
Istanbul, Europe's biggest city and the former capital of two European empires (The Byzantine and the Ottoman) is today the best place to grasp the contrasts, contradictions and promises of modern Turkey at the beginning of the 21st century.
"Croatia – Twilight of Heroes" deals with the surprising and dramatic developments in Croatia following the death of its first president, Franjo Tudjman, in December 1999. It is a film about a country coming to terms with its recent past after a squalid war; about the power and influence of international war crimes courts; and about a society looking for its place in a new Europe.
This is the story of a country struggling to overcome the steepest economic decline any society ever experienced in peacetime.