The Last Balkan Storm

The Last Balkan Storm

Boryana Katsarova, 2013 Finalist

A project about post-conflict Kosovo, concentrating on the divided city of Kosovska Mitrovia. Katsarova was a teenager when the war started and made one of her first pictures of a KFOR tank rolling across the countryside. Her project asks the question: “Could the cultural, ethnical and religious differences between two communities be actually their human strength, a path to common peaceful future and not their weakness, which will lead them to repetition of the near past?” The judges found Katsarova’s black-and-white work to be exceptionally nuanced and evocative in its storytelling.
Signs of the 1998-1999 Kosovo war still can be seen through the territory of today Republic of Kosovo.
Adem Jashari is considered to be one of the chief architects of the Kosovo Liberation Army, along with Zahir Pajaziti. He was killed in March 1998 by the Yugoslav security forces along with his entire family, including women and children in his home in Prekaz.The attacks, and the fighting that ensued, is considered to be one of the main reasons for the beginning of the Kosovo war in 1998. Jashari became a symbol of independence for Kosovar Albanians in the post war period.
KFOR peacekeeping military convoys are crossing the border between Bulgaria and Macedonia on their way to than province of Kosovo, within the territory of former Yugoslavia. The summer of 1999 Kjustendil, Bulgaria.
I have met this man near the remains of the former UNHCR refugee camp in the town of Cegrane, Macedonia. He was on his way to cross the mountainous border by foot between Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo. In April 1999 the Cegrane camp was a shelter for some 45 000 Albanian Kosovo war refugees. March, 2010.
The southern part of the ethnically separated city of Kosovska Mitrovica, Kosovo Albanian side. The city as well as the newborn country is divided to ethnically and religiously separated Muslim south and Christian north Kosovo, but the status of the northern part is still a problem. The majority of the citizens are Serbs, who refuse to accept the jurisdiction and the borders of the new state and desire to join the territory of Serbia.
The divided city. Kosovo Albanian children are playing in the backyard of a school in the ethnically divided city of Kosovska Mitrovica in the Kosovo part. Kosovska Mitrovica is a city and municipality in northern Kosovo. Since the end of Kosovo War of 1999 it became the symbol of the separation between the ethnic-Albanian-majority south and the ethnic-Serb-majority north.
Village of Prekaz October 2012, Drenica Valley central Kosovo. In the 1998 this village became the birthplace of the Kosovo Liberation Army KLA. The Attack on Prekaz village, also known as the Prekaz Massacre,was an operation led by the Special Anti-Terrorism Unit of Serbia on 5 March 1998. Many people were killed. Soon after the events in Prekaz the Kosovo war started.
The bridge. Albanians are seen near one of the three connecting bridges in the divided city of Kosovska Mitrovovica which separates around 80,000 Kosovo Albanians in the south from about half as many Serbs living in the north. The so called New Bridge, which was built over the Ibar River in 2005 by the French KFOR is placed just one km east from this old bridge.
Destroyed Serbian graves are seen behind barbed wires, which during and after the Kosovo war 1998-1999 were used to protect all the christian orthodox site, Kosovska Mitrovica. After Kosovo independence in 2008 the city became not once the focus for ethnic clashes between the two communities, exacerbated by the presence of nationalist extremists on both sides.
Ibar River, Kosovska Mitrovica. Only this narrow river, with two roads, one big pedestrian and two small bridges, separates the predominantly Serb north from the now purely Albanian south of this once multi-ethnic city.
Gracanica monastery is a Serbian Orthodox monastery located in Kosovo some ten kilometers away from Pristina. It was founded by the Serbian king Stefan Milutin in 1321. After the Kosovo war of 1999 the monastery has become one of the most important spiritual places and also the national and political center of the Serbian people in Kosovo. In the postwar situation in Kosovo the monastery was guarder for a long time by KFOR.
Young Kosovars are seen in the town of Kosovska Mitrovica, Republic of Kosovo. The tattoo written with gothic letters on the hand of the man reads "Kosovo".
The heroes of the newborn nation. Tombs in the name of UCK soldiers who died during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war can be seen all over Kosovo today. All they are considered to be the heroes of the newborn nation.
Portrait of Veronica. According to unofficial statistic more than 40% of today Kosovo population is under 25 years old. Both unemployment and poverty rates are estimated at close to half the population, though new data from the General Population Census in 2011 may alter data significantly, following lower than expected number of inhabitants.
Islam in Kosovo has a long standing tradition dating back to the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans, including Kosovo. Before the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, the entire Balkan region had been Christianized by both the Roman and Byzantine Empires. From 1389 until 1912, Kosovo was officially governed by the Muslim Ottoman Empire and, as such, a high level of Islamization occurred.
Paintball playground is seen some few kilometers before Pristina, Republic of Kosovo.Nowadays in Kosovo this typically war landscape can be seen just on this playground. With the support of US and EU the country succeed to rebuild all most 90% of its infrastructure in the years after the war.
Children are seen at a carousel in the Drenica Valley in Republic of Kosovo. Drenica Valley is the symbol of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).
The entrance of the Visoki Decani Monastery, which is situated in the western part of Kosovo. It was built between 1327 and 1335.During the Kosovo conflict of 1998-1999 the monastery brotherhood openly stood against the violence as a way of resolving the conflict. The monastery sheltered refugees of different ethnicities and distributed food parcels in the area. Today, the monastery is a thriving brotherhood with 30 young monks from all parts of Serbia who continue living under the constant protection of the Italian KFOR peacekeepers.
Landscape in the southern part of once multi-ethnic town of Kosovska Mitrovica. Since the end of the Kosovo War of 1999 it has been divided between an ethnic-Albanian-majority south and an ethnic-Serb-majority north.
Kosovo military officers are standing guard on the Memorial Complex of Adem Jashari in Prekaz on 10 September 2012. After 13 years of international oversight,Kosovo formally obtained full independence on September 10, 2012, when Western Powers terminated their oversight.
Republic of Kosovo declared itself an independent state on 17 February 2008. It was recognized by some 90 countries, including the US and most EU member states.
One of the most important problems which stands on the way of the reconciliation between the two ethnically and religiously divided communities, officially both citizens of the newborn country, is the humanitarian issue of the missing persons. According to EULEX, there are still 1,781 people missing from the Kosovo conflict, both Albanians and Serbs.
Many civilians from the ethnic Albanian minority in Kosovo lost their lives during the Kosovo war 1998-1999.Their graves can be seen all over the territory of the newborn country Kosovo today. The graves are also marking the places where the people have been killed.
Silence, Drenica valley, Republic of Kosovo.The villages surrounding the towns of Glogovac and Srbica are considered to be the birthplace of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which began armed operations in Drenica valley in 1996. During the 1998-1999 Kosovo War, the region saw many armed conflicts.
An elderly man is passing in front of posters with portraits of young Kosovo people in Pristina, the capital of the newborn country. According to unofficial statistic more than 40% of the Kosovo population today is under 25 years old.
“Handprints of Peace” are seen on the wall remains in the former UNHCR refugee camp of Cegrane, which in April 1999 sheltered 45 000 Albanian Kosovars war refugees. After the end of the bloody conflict the Kosovo Albanian people left their handprints on the wall of the camp which saved their lives as a sign of hope for future liberty, stability and peace in their country and the region.
The future generation. Samire Azizi is 12 years old. Republic of Kosovo, 2012.
A man from the Serbian ethnic majority is seen in the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica, which is the Serbian enclave on the territory of independent Kosovo today. The city as well as the newborn country is divided to ethnically and religiously separated Muslim south and Christian north. There are some 120,000 Serbs in Kosovo, of whom about a third are in the north.
The people are the future of the newborn country, especially in a moment when the peace is not yet secure and tolerance is needed on all sides.
Photographer's Statement: 

"The creation of ethnically pure territories in regions that for generations have been ethnically mixed is accomplished through conflict, persecution and violence -- what we now generically call 'ethnic cleansing'" - THE HAGUE, Netherlands, AP.

People always say there is silence before the storm. Some 20 years ago, the silence has been broken by cruel ethnical and religious conflicts on the Balkans.The last one of which was the 1998-1999 Kosovo war. The repression of Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian dictator at that time, culminated in a massive ethnic-cleansing campaign in 1999 in which 800,000 Kosovo Albanians were driven from their homes, thousands murdered and went missing.

Initially I’ve heard about Kosovo in 1998 when the war broke out. I was 17 years old and I was living in a town on the Bulgarian border with Macedonia, about 100 km as the crow flies from Pristina. My father was standing right next to me while we watched the KFOR peacekeeping military convoys that were crossing Bulgaria on their way to Kosovo. On this summer day in 1999 I took one of my early pictures -- a KFOR tank. I remember, how hard it was for me at this exact moment back then to imagine or understand the war.

The independence of the former Yugoslav province Kosovo was recognized in 2008 by some 90 countries around the world, excluding ones such as Russia, Georgia and China. Some of them fearing to encourage the separatist movements in their own territories. The responsibility for the province was passed to the international community. On 10 September, 2012 Republic of Kosovo was declared fully independent, when the International Steering Group (ISG)agreed to end the monitoring of the process.

The new country was born, but its territory still remains disputed and divided to ethnically and religiously Kosovo Albanian Muslim south and Serbian Christian Orthodox north. Today, Serbia refuses to recognize its former province, being split between the promise of EU membership and national violent dispute for its territorial integrity, which main issue is northern Kosovo.Lately US and EU officially declared that further change of the borders on the Balkans won’t be made because this could affect six more countries in the region and lead to instability. Despite that the tension in the region is rising once again.

Recently, I travelled extensively through the independent Republic of Kosovo with the intention to see, feel and understand for me the post war situation there. This is where the visual project “Kosovo: The last Balkan storm” was born. With it, I am looking also to find the answer of the everlasting question: “Could the cultural, ethnical and religious differences between two communities be actually their human strength, a path to common peaceful future and not their weakness, which will lead them to repetition of the near past?” In many ways the visual narrative documentation in “Kosovo: The last Balkan storm” is exploring the history and the many unsolved post war problems in Kosovo today, but at the same time it is looking to document the positive side of the human situation and relations there.

The city of Kosovska Mitrovica, which is the symbol of the post-war separation in the new state has a central place in my visual story. The Aftermath Project grant will give me the opportunity and time to create the intimate part of my project by documenting the everyday life of the people from both sides of the ethnically divided city of Kosovska Mitrovica. I intend to visit their homes, hear their stories and explore their memories and hidden fears, and try to give voice to their present dreams. For the continuation of my project I plan to shoot every two weeks of each month in the upcoming 2013. Following this time frame, I am aiming to include visual stories from the four seasons of the year in order to represent the reality and try to create a feeling of presence and immersion in the viewer. In this interval I will also follow some of the most important commemorations and anniversaries for both communities.

This personal project is a step toward better understanding. It is a visual research on what are the origins and consequences of a conflict based on ethnical and religious differences, and what is the future in such a place, in a moment when the peace is not yet secure and tolerance is needed on all sides.

Boryana Katsarova
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Boryana Katsarova, born in Bulgaria in 1981, is a freelance photographer specializing in documentary, editorial and portrait photography. Her work is represented by the Paris based COSMOS Photo Agency.