In the heart of the Western Balkans at the crossroads between Serbia and Kosovo is the Macedonian city of Kumanovo. During the past two decades this ethnically mixed area of Macedonians, Albanians, Serbs and Roma has endured relentless economic decline. The once thriving manufacturing industries built up during socialist Yugoslavia have all but disappeared, leaving behind only the remains of socially owned companies in which few want to invest. A significant number of the region's inhabitants have been forced back into subsistence agriculture, working small plots of land using technology that has hardly changed in two generations. For young people coming into the labour market the prospects of finding work are extremely slim.
The Kumanovo region has also been a source of political instability: it has been affected by all of the most recent Balkan conflicts including the Kosovo war in 1999 and the 2001 Presevo Valley conflict and Macedonian conflict. While interethnic relations have improved considerably, it is difficult to imagine that the area will remain stable without significant economic development. Without hope of a better future young people on all sides are easy prey for extremists. In this part of the Balkans, interethnic tension and poverty go hand in hand.