Der Krieg, der nicht stattfand


The land in-between

Macedonia is an example of how the EU is perfectly capable of achieving success in foreign affairs. In 2001, with the support of NATO, it forced the conflicting parties to sit down at the negotiating table. This resulted in the Ohrid Agreement, which guaranteed more rights for Albanians. Also, the status of the Albanian language was improved. Return to Europe has even found Slavic Macedonians who attend Albanian language courses because it might help boost their careers. This is truly revolutionary. When you hear Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, social democrat Radmila Šekerinska, rebel leader Ali Ahmeti and the EU’s chief diplomat Javier Solana talk about how war was avoided here, you cannot help but think about Macedonia’s neighbour Serbia, where discrimination against and oppression of the Albanians did culminate in war, and eventually in the secession of Kosovo. All that did not happen in Macedonia, but it could so easily have done.

The film reveals that the Macedonians’ willingness to cooperate has not thus far delivered the desired economic results. Macedonian industry lies in ruins; the official unemployment rate is over twenty percent; and the country is far from experiencing the boom experienced in neighbouring Bulgaria. In the wake of the dissolution of Yugoslavia, Macedonia has lost many important markets. The small state is making little progress, something which is exacerbated by the dispute with Greece over the country’s name. Macedonia remains a land in-between.

The Serbian and Greek Orthodox Churches are not even willing to recognise the Macedonian Church. The fact that Macedonia has been granted EU candidate status has not yet attracted the expected foreign investors. Macedonia seems to be lacking the support of the rest of Europe. This state of affairs is reflected in Return to Europe’s portrayal of the Spasenoski family. They collect about 500 kilograms of chestnuts from the state forest each year – about enough to get them through the winter. Mirko Spasenoski is also a beekeeper and owns some goats. When Julieta, an Albanian, married him, she thought she had found the perfect husband; in the Yugoslavian years he worked as an engineer with Agrocop.

But from the 1980s the Spasenoskis’ life started to reflect the political and economic chaos in the country. The dignified modesty people like the Spasenoskis display in spite of their misfortune are liable to arouse feelings of shame mixed with admiration in Westerners. The lavish weddings celebrated in Macedonian villages – where Albanian economic migrants return for two months in the summer – are a striking example of the population’s zest for life. You will see banknotes poking out of cleavages, bracelets glittering on gesticulating arms, eye shadow glistening – the Ottoman legacy is visible everywhere. And the people dance, of course – despite everything. (Adelheid Wölfl)

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