Map of South-Eastern Europe

By Bernd Buder

Between Aesthetics And Politics:

In recent years, a Southeast European landscape has developed for transnational cooperation in the area of fiction film. Internationally awarded films like GRBAVICA (dir. Jasmila Žbanić; Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Austria, Germany, 2006), SIVI KAMION CRVENE BOJE / RED COLOURED GREY TRUCK (dir. Srdjan Koljević; Serbia and Montenegro, Slovenia, Germany, 2004) or KARAULA / BORDER POST (dir. Rajko Grlić; Bosnia and Herzegovina, Great Britain, Croatia, FYR Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovenia, Hungary, 2006) are joint productions made by countries that were still at war with each other in the 1990s. The area of documentary offers little evidence of a comparable degree of networking. Although a number of Southeast European productions have screened successfully on the international festival circuit – examples include the Croatian film FACING THE DAY (dir. Ivona Juka; 2005) or the Serbo-Montenegrine PILEĆI IZBORI / CHICKEN ELECTIONS (dir. Goran Radovanović, 2005) – and several international festivals in the region are now established meeting-points, the documentary film scene continues to be made up mainly of people working in isolation. Multilateral projects such as the Serbo-Croatian VUKOVAR – POSLEDNJI REZ / VUKOVAR – FINAL CUT (dir. Janko Baljak; Serbia and Montenegro, 2006), for which contributors from both countries carried out the journalistic research, remain an exception. Adventurous though producers may be in regard to fiction film, they exercise extreme caution when it comes to documentary, and the same is true of the regional TV stations. intends to explore the current situation of documentary filmmaking in the countries of Southeast Europe and to identify possibilities for filmmakers to enhance their degree of networking and improve their films’ chances of distribution.

The shared market potential is not restricted to fiction film. People in a number of different countries in the region not only have languages in common, but have also gone through similar experiences with the social transition from communism to capitalist-oriented economic systems together with the political and social challenges such radical transition entails. People experienced the long-awaited process of democratization, but were confronted at the same time with the chaos and confusion of crisis: high unemployment, corruption and loss of faith in politicians. The high levels of audience interest and the high rates of participation in discussions at events such as the documentary section of the Sarajevo Film Festival, the Dokufest in Prizren or the ZagrebDox indicate that people are very interested to see films from their neighbours that might throw some light on the present-day condition humaine.

Approaching The Term “Documentary Film”

There was always an interplay between the political setting of a particular era and the artistic genesis of the documentary genre. Film pioneers like Auguste und Louis Lumière or Yanaki und Milton Manaki are known to have embarked on the search for themes that were spectacular from the perspective of their times. In the early years of cinema, documentary film was thought to convey an objective picture of reality, although the view of the world offered was inevitably selective

As early as the 1920s, that is to say before cinema screens were being used to transport the propaganda of totalitarian systems and the ensuing Second World War, the documentary had become a tool for transmitting ideas. Dziga Vertov, whose dynamic montage sequences revolutionized the way documentaries looked, began his creative career with the production of agit-prop newsreels during the October Revolution. His sympathy with the communist cause was expressed in his choice of titles like SHESTAYA CHAST MIRA / THE SIXTH PART OF THE WORLD (1926) and TRI PESNI O LENINE / THREE SONGS ABOUT LENIN (1934), but in the mid-1930s his experimental editing techniques fell into disfavour with Stalin at a time when film productions were being subjected to the Socialist Realist criteria previously applied to the work of painters.

In the USA around the same time, Pare Lorentz was commissioned to make information films about the Resettlement Administration, which was founded as part of the New Deal and pursued the goal of relocating impoverished farm families and poor city families. This led to the making of poetic documentaries like THE PLOW THAT BROKE THE PLAINS (1936) and THE RIVER (1937), whose script was even nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. The 1930s also saw the making of the socially engaged films of the British director John Grierson, which were more austere in form but clearly tended towards the educational film: “According to Grierson, documentary should be an instrument of information, education and propaganda as well as a creative treatment of the reality.”[1] In films like COALFACE (1935) or NIGHT MAIL (1936) Grierson portrayed the everyday life of British society, inevitably addressing areas of social conflict in the process. On the grounds that documentary was being robbed of its aesthetic possibilities, the adherents of Free British Cinema several years later raised objections to Grierson’s emphasis on socially critical aspects: “According to these critics the use of the documentary as a means of social propaganda took away the aesthetic value of documentary film and, on an ideological level, normalized intellectual condenscension and social elitism.” [2] All the same, Grierson’s characterization of the documentary as “the creative treatment of actuality” (Blandford, Grant and Hillier) remains valid up to the present day: “Every documentary makes some claim about the real world and, to some degree, seeks to bring about change in the audience, whether to influence attitudes, increase understanding, or persuade to action.”[3]

[1] Susan Hayward, Key Concepts in Cinema Studies, London and New York, 1996, p. 72

[2] Susan Hayward, Key Concepts in Cinema Studies, London and New York, 1996, p. 72

[3] Steve Blandford, Barry Keith Grant, and Jim Hillier, The Film Studies Dictionary, New York, 2001, p. 74



Technological Revolutions, Cinema And Television

Since the time of Vertov and Grierson, a number of revolutionary advances in technology and media have altered the potential and appearance of documentary film. First of all, the growing deployment of 16mm film techniques from the 1950s onward allowed a less intrusive and more flexible manner of filming. It is no coincidence that the observational style was developed during the same period. The launch of television, the subsequent liberalization of the electronic media market, and the rapid advances in digital recording techniques have progressively brought about a diversification that has continuously altered the possibilities of filmmaking.

With a few exceptions, documentary films never achieved the status of box-office hits. The largest audiences were gained by the newsreel format. The advent of television meant that documentaries could be presented to mass audiences, a development often associated with reduced aesthetic ambitions in terms of image composition. Since the small screen did not require large-format images, the dramatic structure approximated the format of news magazines.

Since that time, any number of adjectives have been placed in front of the term “documentary film”: poetical, innovative, experimental, journalistic, observational, documentary, and so forth. This variety of labels is indicative of the attempt to do justice to the diversity underlying the concept of the documentary. In line with the market situation, the TV format became influential, resulting in a standard runtime of just below one hour so that time for commercials remained. Although purists are scornful, market-oriented documentary makers and producers find they have little alternative to the TV format, and have discovered diverse artistic approaches to the TV medium that do not automatically exclude the possibility of cinema exhibition. No uniform image can be discerned for a genre that now stretches from educational film to docudrama, as Blandford, Grant and Hillier conclude: “Because of their stylistic heterogenity, ranging from the poetic expressionism of the city symphony film to ethnographic minimalism, documentary cannot be considered a genre in any sense equivalent to those of commercial fiction cinema.”.[4] Similar arguments are offered by the German documentary maker Thomas Schadt, who is also professor of documentary filmmaking and the director of the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg. He names the authorial viewpoint as a central criterion for defining the documentary genre in terms of its original objective: “The classical documentary film (by which I mean films clearly demonstrating their maker’s personal signature) has itself become a sub-form of the documentary genre. For due to television’s advancement to a mass medium and the introduction of electronic camera equipment, a range of documentary sub-forms such as reports, features, chronicles, docu-dramas and documentary-essays came into being. The most recent, and fashionable, additions are the docu-soap, docu-fake, reality TV and reality soap.”[5]

[4] Steve Blandford, Barry Keith Grant, and Jim Hillier, The Film Studies Dictionary, New York, 2001, p. 76

[5] Thomas Schadt, Das Gefühl des Augenblicks. Zur Dramaturgie des Dokumentarfilms; Bergisch Gladbach, 2002

Southeast Europe:

Between Awareness-Enhancement And Political Education

Many countries of Southeast Europe can look back on a documentary tradition, and the works of the Belgrade school were as trailblazing for international documentary filmmaking in the 1960s as those of the Sarajevo school. The tension between politics and the arts in various parts of Yugoslavia during that period resulted not just in searing criticism of the societal framework but also a wholly specific aesthetic of documentary observation. Precision of detail was combined with a keen satirical edge, as for instance in the work of Dušan Makavejev. In his early film PARADA / THE PARADE (1962), the camera strasy from the martial rites of a Mayday parade in Belgrade and instead shows the incidental occupations of the audience. With FASADE / FASCADE ten years later, the Bosnian Suad Mrkonjić deployed a similar measure of subtle irony in his behind-the-scenes glimpse of a party conference in Sarajevo. Želimir Žilnik, who like Makavejev was forced into temporary western European exile [6] in the late 1960s after the international success of the films of the “Black Wave”, is still regarded as one of the most innovative European documentary filmmakers. Operating somewhere between cinéma verité and the restrained docu-drama, his films take an impartial approach above all to “ordinary people” whose life histories are symptomatic of the reality of the historical era in which they live. His most recent documentary EVROPA PREKO PLOTA / EUROPA NEXT DOOR (2005) shows everyday life on the border between Serbia and Hungary that now represents the extrnal frontier of the EU, and the perspective is that of Serbian border-crossers who have devised cunning strategies for smuggling goods and hard currencies as a survival tactic in difficult times. The film’s biting edge comes from its depiction of a grotesque system of semi-legal trading that shows this inner-European border in a wholly archaic light starkly contrasting with the institutionalized scenarios of a rosy future drawn up by the European Union.

Such documentaries are not specific to any one country, and can be decoded instantly in the rest of Southeast Europe. However, relations among the neighbouring countries are tainted with the bloodshed of the preceding wars, and fraught with questions of accountability that remain to be settled. Fiction film has already begun to explore the recent past, and has managed to present on the big screen even explosive political themes. Films like KORDON / THE CORDON (dir. Goran Marković; Yugoslavia, 2002), LEDINA / BARE GROUND (dir. Ljubiša Šamardžić; Serbia and Montenegro, 2003), SVJEDOCI / WITNESSES (dir. Vinko Brešan; Croatia, 2003), NIČIJA ZEMLJA / NO MAN'S LAND (dir. Danis Tanović; Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Italy, France, Great Britain, Belgium, 2001) and GRBAVICA (dir. Jasmila Žbanić; Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, 2006) question political concepts in countries where ethnically defined friend-and-foe patterns continue to dominate, question the events of recent history, attempt to analyze the traumas suffered.

Although such films are careful not to apportion collective blame to any one nation, audiences apparently decode them along such lines nevertheless. The Berlinale-winning GRBAVICA, which addressed the taboo subject of the psychological aftermath of mass rape, was received as an indictment by Serbian viewers. Although the adjective “Serbian” occurs nowhere in the film, it was attacked by certain members of its audience, and the screening at the “FEST” festival in Belgrade was disrupted by indignant viewers holding up posters of the war criminals Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić.

If a fictionalized treatment of taboos can evoke such vehement reactions, then it may be assumed that documentaries, which are generally considered to more authentic, are even more potent in effect. As Blandford, Grant and Hillier conclude: “No matter how marvellous the special effects in a fiction film, a death scene will never produce the same kind of horror as that generated by, say, the Zapruder footage of Kennedy being assassinated or the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger as caught by television news cameras.”[7] The credibility associated with the documentary genre , the concomitant myth of authenticity, perhaps offers one explanation why documentary plays a comparatively minor role in Southeast Europe, while fiction films not infrequently address social taboos. Fiction always offers the escape route of keeping at a safe distance highly emotional themes, whereas in documentaries every reproduced truth, even ones which are manipulated, becomes a fact whose immanent emotionality is difficult to escape.

Later in their book, Blandford, Grant and Hillier describe the way documentary developed into an identity-giving factor after World War II: “Many filmmakers have sought to use documentary politically for cultural legitimization, to help create a sense of shared purpose.” They refer primarily to works with which “subcultures and various interest groups have used the documentary successfully to help develop a sense of identity and solidarity”, but also to films with which, for instance, filmmakers from the Francophone part of Canada boosted the self-awareness of the Quebecois in the 1950s.[8]

Without evaluating the aforesaid purpose, it can claimed that this usage of the genre made the documentary part of an awareness-producing machine. And in Southeast Europe especially, it was the case (and still is) that a perspective cultivating the myth of the victim has been used to define national groups over the identity-giving attribute of collective suffering. It should be emphasized that such films were made as instruments of collective identity-finding in all the countries involved in warfare. The Kosovo-Albanian ËNDËRR E KEQUE, ËNDËRR E MIRË / A BAD DREAM, A GOOD DREAM (dir. Fadil Hysaj, 2005), a film about the Kosovo conflict in 1999, can be named as a contemporary example. Its closing sequence presents footage of the NATO troops marching into a region until then to all intents and purposes occupied by Serb forces, and underscores the footage with Beethoven’s Ninth (which also serves as the European anthem). IKONA E LOTËVE / ICON OF TEARS (dir. Ilir Kabashi, UNMI Kosovo, 2005) combines lyrical mystification of the victim status with strongly chauvinist undertones and functionalizes the grief of a mother whose husbands and three sons have been abducted by Serbian troops and remain missing without trace.

As late as 2001, OLUJA NAD KRAJINOM / STORM ABOVE THE KRAJINA provoked a political scandal in Croatia, its country of making. The director Božidar Knežević addresses the war crimes perpetrated during his country’s “Storm” operation in the Krajina to regain Croatian territories previously occupied by Serb militias and the Yugoslav People’s Army In almost all the countries of Southeast Europe, a greater or lesser measure of self-censorship combined with the fear of being accused of besmirching their own nest means that documentary filmmakers tend, unlike their colleagues in the area of fiction, to avoid explosive topics. In all of the relevant countries there are sensitive topics that documentary filmmakers prefer to avoid, such as the case of Ante Gotovina in Croatia or the question of the Serbian war crimes. Nenad Puhovski, founder of the production company Factum and director of the ZagrebDox film festival, talks of a “mental blockade” that keeps certain themes under wraps although the political culture of the countries involved would benefit from the urgently needed confrontation with the theme. Even if the effects of democratization can be felt, the fallout from the 1990s remains in evidence: in the new states that emerged from the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the nation-building processes were often accompanied by journalistic propaganda and a nationalist chorus that few critical voices dared to disturb.

On the other hand, documentaries receive funding mainly from international and European organizations and foundations, often from NGOs. However, such projects often have the character of commissions, and deal mainly with social and ecological themes – connected with this “agenda-setting” is an implementation of European values, often attached to subjects like inter-ethnicity, corruption, the human slave trade, and the examination of war crimes. Many film critics have lamented the priority given to “politics over aesthetics” in the same context, resulting in what they see as an impairment of the artistic quality of the documentary film. Veton Nurkollari, director of the Dokufest in Prizren, further points out how such “agenda-setting” films distort the market realities, since many international organizations can provide much higher levels of funding for film projects than the regional TV stations who are the potential purchasers.

[6] Žilnik gained some experience of bans on broadcasting in West Germany, where his 1974 documentary ÖFFENTLICHE HINRICHTUNG (PUBLIC EXECUTION) about the militant-leftist RAF was not televised due to the intervention of the FSK (voluntary self-regulation body of the German film industry). The film first screened in 1997.

[7] Steve Blandford, Barry Keith Grant, and Jim Hillier, The Film Studies Dictionary, New York, 2001, p. 74

[8] Steve Blandford, Barry Keith Grant, and Jim Hillier, The Film Studies Dictionary, New York, 2001, p. 76



Minimal Subsidies, Vast Audience Interest

Documentaries do not rank high on the priorities lists of national film-funding bodies. In the whole of Southeast Europe, no country provides systematic support to documentary filmmakers. The first transnational workshop, which brought together eight documentary experts from the region during the 7th goEast film festival in Wiesbaden, established that production companies specializing in documentary are restricted to rare examples like Factum in Croatia and Open World House in the Moldavian Republic. The documentary production landscape is shaped by “one-man bands” whose budget restrictions require them to spread productions over long-term periods of anything up to three years, and who are seldom familiar with the laws of the international film market (festivals, subsidies, sales). According to Rada Sešić, insufficient knowledge of the European documentary landscape prevents filmmakers from pursuing all the available sources of funding or from using the possibilities offered by pitching forums and documentary workshops, some of which even offer special conditions to filmmakers from the region. In this context Šešić further points out the special importance of awards such as the new Sarajevo Film Festival – European Documentary Network Talent Grant, which give talented newcomers the opportunity of being trained and of presenting projects at the major European pitching sessions. Although exceptions do exist, it is true to say that documentary filmmakers lack the skills to complete at global level, and these inadequacies are evident in their project presentations and applications for funding to international promoting bodies. In rare cases like Croatia, where documentary productions have been planned and supported annually, the sporadically appearing documentaries are the products of individual drive, energy and funding.

Academic institutions and film schools scarcely consider the history, aesthetic or techniques of documentary film. A further complaint in the same respect was the lacking knowledge of national and regional film history. The film-promoting institutions, which are characterized by irregularities in their structures and staffing, consider documentary film to be of merely secondary importance. Goran Trenčovski (Asterfest, FYR Macedonia) identified an enduring “misunderstanding between the Ministry of Culture and the independent filmmakers” – a situation typical of film industries in transition, and one which could be solved by the founding (or re-organization) of National Film Centres or National Film Funds in all of the participating countries. National and international film-historical compilations relating to the region conspicuously lack several important documentaries made in the region, and the same is true of internet databases.

In all of the countries, the present situation of film is worrying, with screening venues being particularly scarce in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Montenegro. In the Moldavian Republic and Serbia, existing venues face the threat of conversion to different usages. Throughout the region, a documentary screening is a rare event; opportunities to see documentaries are more or less confined to festivals or the considerably less frequent special screenings such as premieres or country-specific programmes organized by foreign embassies and cultural institutes. Television programmes are dominated by journalistic formats displaying little investigative depth, and even broadcasters like B 92 in Belgrade are bowing to commercial pressures and displaying a marked tendency to be less ambitious or investigative. The television stations allocate unfavourable broadcasting slots to documentaries; private stations with a viewing radius confined to the local area offer no slots at all. The commissioning editors responsible for documentary formats often lack experience in dealing with external producers. All of the participants criticized the poor investigative quality of in-house productions.

However, it would be misleading to say that the region is a cultural wasteland. Meeting points are offered by the numerous regional, national and international festivals, and a number of these events are wholly specialized in documentary. The productions shown include lyrical, aesthetically ambitious documentaries as well as journalistic works that explore mainly factual situations, and also consciously personal approaches. Throughout Southeast Europe, documentaries screened at festivals meet with great interest and lively responses from audiences who evidently feel the need to discuss what they saw. In other words: there would be a market for such films if they were made.

Although all the countries in the region share similar structural problems, their film-historical starting points are diverse. In Albania, for example, only propaganda films were made during the communist era, whereas filmmakers in former Yugoslavia were able to make films that critically questioned the everyday reality of life under communism and deployed innovative artistic concepts in the process. Unfortunately, it is often impossible to locate prints of historical documentaries, and the prints of major films belonging to the Sarajevo school have disappeared without trace. In the aftermath of the collapse of Yugoslavia, the successor states made claims to the film-historical heritage of their respective predecessors. The negotiations opened in regard to this problem have yet to be brought to a conclusion.

The preceding deliberations aimed to briefly outline the complex nature of the area of tension in which documentaries are being made in Southeast Europe – caught between cinema and TV, art and market, but also in the political morass of troubled recent histories that have yet to be addressed, the educational intentions of international organizations, and labyrinthine funding arrangements in which documentary has not been allocated a place that will guarantee its survival.

We are grateful, then, that the country-specific texts describing the situation of documentary in Southeast Europe not only present the past and present of the genre as such, but also offer an in-depth treatment of aspects with which filmmakers are confronted throughout the region as a whole.

Southeast Europe, Balkans, “The Region”, Former Yugoslavia, And Yugoslavia...

It is difficult to agree upon the name for the region with which this website is concerned. The connotations of the term “Balkans”, which in Turkish describes a “chain of wooded mountains”, are extremely negative. It was introduced in 1808 by the Berlin geographer Johann August Zeune, and encompassed Albania, Bulgaria, the territory of today's  FYR Macedonia and Greece. In the second half of the 19th century, as Wolf Oschlies tells us, the 1882 publication of the ethnographer Felix Kanitz’ monograph “Donau-Bulgarien und der Balkan” established the term as a synonym for Southeast Europe among geographers and historians.[1] Ever since that time the term, whose meaning was only briefly purely geographical, has been flexible to wide interpretation. “The whole of the Balkans is not worth the healthy bones of a single Pomeranian musketeer,” Otto von Bismarck reportedly said during a Reichstag debate on the possibility of military involvement in the Balkans in 1876. The German chancellor was determined above all to prevent a “rupture” with Germany’s Russian ally over the Balkans, but over the years his remark became household words. Used without reference to the original political context, it has fuelled the prejudiced usage of the word.

[1] On this and further aspects, see Wolf Oschlies, “Wo bitte liegt – und was ist der ‘Balkan’?” in Eurasisches Magazin, 04/2006, .


Southeast Europe And “the West”: The Political And Cultural Myth af A ‘Balkanization’

Some time ago, the catchphrase “Balkanization” began to appear in the language of political analysts. Coined in the 1920s against the background of the disintegrating Ottoman Empire and Austro-Hungarian monarchy, the word described “the division of larger political and economic entities”.[2]. After the wars on the territory of former Yugoslavia, the phrase experienced a renaissance, and journalists begin to use it in a wider context. “On the Way to Iberian Balkanization?”, for instance, was the question the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung placed above a commentary in June 2006 on separatist aspirations in Spain.[3] According to the German entry in popular-scientific internet encyclopaedia Wikipedia, the term has mean while taken on a “further meaning”, namely “a decline in ‘moral standards’, analogously with the Yugoslav wars: the Balkanization of a mode of behaviour, e.g., the failure to comply with the rules of objective journalism.” [4]

In her essay “Are the Balkans Admissible?”, the film critic Dina Iordanova elaborates upon the influence of Samuel J. Huntingdon’s “clash of civilizations” thesis on the relationship between “Western Europe” – which Huntingdon takes to mean Christian-dominated West Europe and North America – and the “Balkans”. [5] Huntingdon draws an impassable line between occidental-oriented Christianity on the one side and Orthodox Christianity as well as Islam on the other: “The peoples to the east and south of this line are Orthodox or Muslim, they historically belonged to the Ottoman or Tsarist empires and were only lightly touched by the shaping events in the rest of Europe; they are generally less advanced economically; they seem much less likely to develop stable democratic political systems.” [6]

Huntingdon’s division takes the meaning of “Balkanization” beyond mere defamation. In current western European political discourse, the term acts as the defining criterion for a value hierarchy in which the so-called European values rank topmost. In everyday cultural discourse, the term is linked with a self-fulfilling prophecy taking its cue from the widespread clichés about the region. The pre-determined breaking points of the truth lie not only in varying national interpretations of history, but also in a prejudiced image of the “Balkans” as a region preoccupied with the local pastimes consisting of, put extremely, carousing and drinking (when not shooting each other). As a result of this perception, the responsibility for crises in Southeast Europe is frequently ascribed solely to the “Balkan tribes”, whereas the part played by Europe as a whole is left out of the picture – the most glaring examples being the premature recognition given, without prior inter-governmental consultation, to Croatian and Slovenian independence, the behaviour of the Dutch UN troops during the atrocities in Srebrenica, and the distortion of the regional economic structure by the discrepancy between the investment power of native players on one hand and that of representatives of more affluent countries (soldiers, companies, cultural institutions) on the other.

[2] Quoted in Die Zeit – Das Lexikon in 20 Bänden, vol. 1, ed. D. Buhl, J. Weiss (Mannheim, 2005), p. 560.

[3] Leo Wieland, “Zapateros Spanien. Auf dem Weg zur iberischen Balkanisierung?” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 20.06.06).

[4] Quoted in (accessed 25.9.2007).

[5] Dina Iordanova, “Are the Balkans Admissable? The Discourse on Europe,” in id., Cinema of Flames. Balkan Film, Culture and the Media (London, 2001), pp. 29-54, here p. 42ff.

[6] Samuel J. Huntingdon, “The Clash of Civilisations?” in Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993, p. 23; quot. in Dina Iordanova, op. cit., p. 43.


The Balkans: A “Cultural And Historical Region” Divided – Or United?

In western Europe the term “Balkans” has unquestionably taken on derogatory undertones whose ethnographic-cultural impetus is gratefully seized upon by populists keen to fabricate an antagonism between “Europe” and the “Balkans”. In relation to core issues of southeastern European politics, the term is also used to sometimes surprising effect by political representatives from the region: Wolf Oschlies quotes the opening words of a speech by the former Slovenian President Milan Kučan at the “European Dialogue” forum in Bonn in March 1993: “Slovenia is not in the Balkans”. The term “Balkans” is especially deplored in the west of Southeast Europe. Further eastwards, by contrast, the geographically derived term is used with a pride that is sometimes defiant. President Kučan’s assertion elicited the following response from his counterpart from FYR Macedonia, Kiro Gligorov: “Not only is Macedonia in the Balkans – it is the very heart of the Balkans!” [7]

In view of such a history, it is understandable that many cultural and political initiatives avoid using the term. The Sarajevo Film Festival from the outset used the title “Regional Competition” for a section initially reserved for competitors from the ex-Yugoslav republics, then gradually expanded to include neighbouring countries. This designation makes it possible to vary the catchment area for competing films and at the same time avoid the potentially offensive “Balkan” word, and so circumvent diplomatic difficulties. Other geopolitical ascriptions demonstrate similar avoidance strategies. Many private conversations now contain sober illusions to “our language” – as opposed to “Croatian”, “Bosnian” or “Serbian” – a reminder of the nationalistically loaded linguistic debate in the 1990s, when the language known as Serbo-Croatian was broken up into separate national tongues.

Film was not exempted from the debate over association (or, more aptly, non-association) with the Balkans. In his preface to the 1996 compendium “Die siebte Kunst auf dem Pulverfass”, which is well worth reading for the insight given into the past and present of southeastern European fiction film, co-editor Gabriel Loidolt pointedly refers to the political and historical difficulties associated with the notion of the “Balkans”. Discussing the question of which countries belong to the “Balkans”, Loidolt adopts the category of “cultural and historical region” used by political scientists , and views the Balkans “not solely as a geographical-linguistic region but rather as a cultural and civilizational landscape influenced over the centuries by identical or similar experiences – one need only think of the old borders of the Ottoman Empire. (...) Viewed from this perspective, Croatia does not belong to the Balkans, since it was part of the Austrian Empire. But if that is so, then what was the case with the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, which subsequently became the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and with the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, known as Yugoslavia, that only began to break up a few years ago?” [8]

Symptomatic of the handling of the “Balkans” concept is the fact after Croatia gained independence, the name of an important cinema-theatre in central Zagreb was immediately changed from “Balkan” to “Europe”, whereas the Thessaloniki Film Festival’s script development fund, which was founded in 2003, bears the title “Balkan Fund” as a matter of course. The countries eligible to apply to the Thessaloniki fund are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, FYR Macedonia, Greece, Montenegro, Romania, Slovenia and Turkey. The website refers to the multicultural historical background of the city of Thessaloniki, and refers to “what has historically been one of the most explosive regions of modern day Europe, a region full of stories waiting to be told”.[9] The sarcastic allusion to recent Balkan history combined with the insistence on the region’s place in Europe is a reference to the fluctuating relationship between the “West” (today embodied by the European Union) and the “Balkans”.

According to Dina Iordanova, this reciprocal relationship is shaped by the feeling of belonging to “Europe”, but also by bitterness in view of European politics that, ignoring the realities, demote the “Balkan” countries to the rank of third-world countries with no potential for democratic development, [10] thus reinforcing entrenched clichés. The Bosnian writer Dževad Karahasan’s short story “An Argument with a Frenchman” acerbically captures the essence of this confrontation with preconceived notions: “Why was our parting so bitter, then? Am I indeed such an ungrateful scoundrel, because I wasn't suffering as much as my guest had expected and had decided for me to suffer?”[11] The suffering induced by war and economic crisis today serves as a matrix for many southeastern European films, many of them made as coproductions with western European countries. The fact that the current view of southeastern European films is determined by highly selective perception was pointed out at the workshop by the Albanian writer Ylljet Alicka, who questioned the handling of Albanian themes (often reduced to blood law, people trafficking, and the plight of refugees) by foreign production companies that oscillate between the confirmation of pejorative factors and their own educational intentions. The Croatian director Ognjen Sviličić recently addressed this question in ARMIN (Croatia, Germany, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2006), a feature about a father and teenage son who travel from the Bosnian provinces to Zagreb, where the son has an audition for a German film production. They turn down the director’s offer to appear as afflicted protagonists in a documentary about the war.

[7] Quoted in Wolf Oschlies, “Wo bitte liegt – und was ist der ‘Balkan’?” in Eurasisches Magazin, 04/2006, .

[8] Die siebte Kunst auf dem Pulverfass. Balkan-Film, ed. Bogdan Grbić, Gabriel Loidolt, Rossen Milev, Graz: edition blimp, 1996, p. 10f. The Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (1918-1929) and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1929-1941) were de facto “predecessor states” of communist Yugoslavia.

On the concept of the cultural and historical region, see Stefan Troebst, “Introduction: What's in a Historical Region? A Teutonic Perspective”; in European review of History – Revue européenne d'Histoire, vol. 10, no. 2, (London, 2003); also id., “Geschichtsregion Schwarmeerwelt”, in Südosteuropa-Mitteilungen, 46. Jg., Nr. 5-6, (Munich, 2006), p. 92ff.


[10] See Dina Iordanova, op. cit.

[11] Dzevad Karahasan, “An argument with a Frenchman”, in id. Sarajevo, Exodus of a City, New York, 1994; quoted in Dina Iordanova, op. cit., p. 51.

Yugoslavia in the Balkans: a re-written film history?

The notion of the “Balkans” was not the only concept subjected to scrutiny in the ex-Yugoslav republics in the course of the armed conflicts of the 1990s. As the constituent republics of the former Yugoslavia strove to gain independence, national-political and cultural topoi and notions were filled with new content, or else redefined, in order to re-form collective identities. At the same time, the term “Yugoslavia” took on negative connotations. [12] The rejection of this concept continues to be a dominant factor in the political culture of the newly formed states of Southeast Europe, while the historical development is being re-interpreted in the course of the nation-building process. The same is also true of film history: in all of the ex-Yugoslav republics there is by-and-large agreement on the existence of different national film histories even in the era of communist Yugoslavia. And, in fact, every one of the constituent republics possessed its own film studios and also its own television stations, and was therefore in a position to produce its own films. However, there are a number of reasons to use the nominal designation “Yugoslav” for pre-1992 productions – how else would it be possible to describe the producing country of DOVIĐENJA U SLEDEĆEM RATU / GOOD-BYE UNTIL THE NEXT WAR (1980), a classic fiction by the Serbian director Živojin Pavlović, shot at the Slovenian studio Viba-Film; or to geographically assign directors like Fadil Hadžić, whose works were produced by, among others, Jadran-Film in Croatia, Bosna-Film in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Radiotelevizija Beograd? For various reasons, there were many such coproductions, and despite the individual lines of artistic development in the various republics, to ignore the common history would be a failure to do justice to the film history of the former Yugoslavia. It should be pointed out in the same connection that in view of supra-national themes (migration, war) and increasingly integrated coproduction landscapes, blurred “national” film-historical categorization is more likely to cause disputes rather than create clear distinctions. Thus, no exclusive answer can be given to the question occasionally discussed between Slovenian and Bosnian-Herzegovinian filmmakers as to the national origin of NO MAN’S LAND (dir. Danis Tanović, 2001), a Bosnian-Herzegovinian-Slovenian-Italian-French-British-Belgian coproduction that in 2002 won the coveted Oscar for best foreign film, and amounted to the international handling of a theme concerning people of at least three different nations.

[12] In Germany, the debate was dominated by the notion of the “prisonhouse of nations” from whose communist tyranny, according to Johann Georg Reissmüller, then co-publisher of the Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung, the states striving for independence were eager to escape. In the immediate post-unification era, the discourse in Germany remained strongly influenced by antagonistic Cold War ideological positions. The conflicts emerging in former Yugoslavia were reduced to a confrontation between “communism” and “democracy”, the inherent dangers of the nationalist movements largely ignored. Nevertheless, the journalistic debate is likely to have exercised considerable influence on the then German government’s decision to recognize Croatia and Slovenia even before an EU resolution was reached. See, among others, Johann Georg Reissmüller, “Die Opposition formiert sich”, in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Frankfurt/M, 1.12.1989; id., Der Krieg vor unserer Haustür, Stuttgart, 1992; Bei Andruck Mord. Die deutsche Propaganda und der Balkan-Krieg, ed. Wolfgang Schneider, Hamburg, 1997.


Our Concept Of “Southeast Europe”

Against the background of the aforementioned difficulties with the terms “Balkan” and “Yugoslavia”, the term “Southeast Europe” will be used below in the previously described sense of a “cultural and historical region”, whereby focuses on those countries in the region which are not yet members of the European Union. In recent years, the Republic of Moldova has increasingly been viewed as part of the region. A strategy paper drawn up on the occasion of the German EU presidency by the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, a foundation with close links to the German government, reached the following conclusion: “In terms of geographical position and historical tradition, the Republic of Moldova is part of Southeast Europe. Furthermore, Moldova suffers from a territorial conflict bearing some resemblance to that in the Balkans. For that reason, it would be logical to conclude with Moldova the type of stabilization and association pact already agreed with the states of the western Balkans. [...] Moreover, Moldova should receive increased opportunity to shift the focus of its regional cooperation to Southeast Europe.”[13] The last of these points may also be seen as an objective of – the first workshop showed that for all the differences regarding the ways filmmaking developed in the former Soviet republic as opposed to the Balkan states, similar problems are faced, above all in connection with the on-going transition of economic systems, which also affects film culture and the film industry.

It should also be explained why Kosovo is being treated as an independent entity that is part of Serbia under international law. At the time of writing, the filmmaking scene in Kosovo has built up separate structures, including a National Center for Cinematography. With no institutional connection with the Serbian filmmaking world, Kosovo-Albanian-made films are not listed in the annual catalogues of the Serbian Film Center. In terms of personnel and structures, an independent filmmaking scene is emerging that, in our opinion, necessitates a separate listing. At the time of researching the film database (autumn 2007), we decided to enter “Serbia / UNMI Kosovo” for the country of making.

FYR Macedonia (country’s name as per constitution: Republika Makedonija) is registered as an UN member under "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia". The name of the state is however the subject of a dispute between the Greek and the Macedonian governments. Mediation efforts are currently underway under the auspices of the United Nations.[14]

The analytical texts refer to a number of films produced between 1918 and the independency of the successor states of former Yugoslavia. Films produced in these periods (Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (1918 – 1929); Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1929 – 1941); Democratic Federation of Yugoslavia (1943 – 1946); Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia (1946 – 1963); Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1963 – 1992); Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1992 -2003)) are listed under the country of production „Yugoslavia“.


[13] Anneli Ute Gabanyi, “Eindämmung der Eskalationsgefahr in Transnistrien” in Europäische Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik. Aufgaben und Chancen der deutschen Ratspräsidentschaft, ed. Volker Perthes, Stefan Mair (Berlin, 2006), p. 33ff.

[14] Source:


Bernd Buder Biography

Bernd Buder, born 1964 in Berlin - West, graduated in Political Sciences at the Freie Universität Berlin. 1996 - 2005 programme director of the Berlin art film cinema „Berliner Filmkunsthaus Babylon“. Cooperation with and curator for several film festivals (goEast Filmfestival (Wiesbaden), Filmfestival Cottbus, DokumentArt (Neubrandenburg), Zagreb Filmfestival). Since 2006 consultant for South East Europe for the Berlin Film Festival section „International Forum of New Cinema“. Co-initiator of the project Works also as a free-lance journalist for several magazines and papers, mainly on film and media in South Eastern Europe.

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