[January 25 2018]
“I had come to Yugoslavia because I knew that the past has made the present, and I wanted to see how the process works.” Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1940).
Historically, the Balkan peninsula has been a hotbed of political upheaval. It has been traditionally seen as the buffer between the East and the West, and, as a result, it has been conquered, re-conquered and influenced by the Ottomans, the Hapsburgs, and the Russians. (To date, Serbian municipalities in Kosovo sport banners of President Vladamir Putin.) The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo jump-started WWI. Following WWII, communist leader Josip Broz Tito united the countries of the former Yugoslavia until his death in 1980, at which point the Republic began to unravel before its final fragmentation in the early 1990s. This past November, perhaps the most notorious perpetrator of the Bosnian conflict, Ratko Mladić, was sentenced to life imprisonment for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
In 2016, while living in Kosovo, I ventured to every country that once belonged to the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia. I stayed in iconic hotels that stood throughout wars and communism. I tiptoed around derelict, formerly iconic buildings and villages that had been abandoned during ethnic conflict. I entertained conversations with cab drivers and bartenders who eagerly and gaily wanted to discuss the U.S.-led NATO intervention that ended the war between Kosovo and Serbia in the late 1990s. (Prishtina, Kosovo’s capital, sports a towering statue of President Bill Clinton; although the Kosovo war is over, ethnic tensions persist.)
At risk of oversimplifying a culturally and politically rich region, I’m providing context to a corner of the world that allowed me (and my camera) to catch intimate glimpses beyond that which usually makes headlines.
Photographs from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia.
Text and photo Brigitte Hamadey