Mladen Miljanovic (artist) in Banja Luka
Mladen Miljanovic (artist) in Banja Luka

ERSTE Stiftung

"To amaze, inspire, and excite" - A conversation about Return to Europe with ESI

Interview with Gerald Knaus about Return to Europe

The making of Return to Europe

Videoclips from the films

Why this documentary series?

Europe is discovering its fascination for the Balkans. After years of bloody conflict, this region has become again a region of hope. Romania and Bulgaria have joined the European Union. There is peace. A new generation desires change. The magic word that echoes from Tirana to Belgrade, from Sarajevo to Istanbul is "Europeanisation". But there are also ongoing tensions in some parts of the region.

In 2005 an international commission headed by Giuliano Amato, the former Italian Prime Minister and current Minister of the Interior, warned that "the smell of violence still hangs in the air" in the Balkans. Contested borders, social tensions, oppressed minorities, weak states: all these continue to be realities in Europe's southeast.

The expression "Balkan conditions" describes a world of tribal feuds and of vendettas, of political insecurity and of mafia structures. But there are also other things to be found across the region today: the ability to forgive, the return of displaced people, entrepreneurship and creativity. There is fanaticism but also tolerance, animosity but also co-existence of different cultures. Throughout the region there are activists trying to tap dormant potentials.

ERSTE Stiftung project: ESI BALKAN JOURNEY - Click here to get to the interactive version of this map
Click on the map to get to its interactive version

A journey through the Balkans is a journey through Europe's past and its future. The British author Timothy Garton Ash writes that a European century full of folly and destruction began in Sarajevo in the summer of 1914. At the time, the founding fathers of the European Union, Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet, were 28 and 26 years old respectively, and their dream of a unified Europe can be traced back to the experiences of that summer. One century later, the pax europea has become a reality in almost every corner of the continent.

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Balkan Express - Talking Balkans - Symposium in Vienna on 3-4 April 2008 © 2008 ERSTE Foundation/Igor Bararon. All rights reserved.

To present the changing Balkans to a wider public ESI has embarked on a journey of discovery. Like many European stories, our trip starts in Rome, the eternal city. From there it leads across South Eastern Europe as far as Istanbul, the region's largest city since the 4th century. In between we stop in Kotor on the Adriatic Sea, Novi Sad on the Danube, Tirana in the Albanian coastal plains, and in Thessaloniki on the Aegean Sea. The journey ends near the Ottoman "Fortress of Europe" (Rumeli Hisari) in Istanbul, city of patriarchs and caliphs. We visit Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece.

A meeting of Mjaft activists in Tirana (summer 2007)

It is a journey of colours: the facades of Tirana, the painted mosques of Travnik, the fabulous old houses of Plovdiv and the spectacular blue of water - dark in the Bay of Kotor, emerald in the river valleys of Bosnia, deep blue in Ohrid, twinkling in the Aegean Sea and on the Bosporus.