In 1990-91 cracks appeared in Europe's last Stalinist state, Albania. The first independent-travelling Western visitors were allowed in and for the first time ordinary Albanians were approaching them without the fear of the omnipresent secret police, the Sigurimi. Monica Whitlock, then of the BBC, witnessed it first hand and remembers her journey:

These snapshots show one day in the port of Saranda in Vlore County, southern Albania. It was the summer of 1991. I caught the ferry from Greece, so close that you can see from shore to shore. As the boat approached, crowds of boys leapt off the docks and swam out, shouting to the passengers to throw them pens or coins. The excited town threw a lunch in welcome; grandees gave speeches. We took the bus to the classical ruins at Butrin, delivering bread along the way.

The photos unwittingly catch a moment of change in Albania. Enver Hoxha was dead - you can see his faded photograph above the ochre building. The man he designated his successor, Ramiz Alia, was - briefly - in power. Alia was a militant Marxist-Leninist, leading a country where none of that made sense any more. Signs of economic crisis were everywhere, from the lack of electricity to the worn clothes of the boys who kept us company all day.

© Monica Whitlock

Published in Photo Gallery Balkans

Yugoslavia 1926

In the mid-1920s the prominent German photographer Kurt Hielscher was invited by the government in Belgrade to travel to Yugoslavia and create a book with images of the state, founded only a few years earlier. Kurt Hielscher had already published similar and very successful books about Italy, Spain and Germany, so he took up the invitation with enthusiasm.

In Belgrade he got an interpreter, letters of introduction to all local authorities and cars were at his disposal. Hielscher gratefully acknowledges all help in this endeavour.  He also thanks the Zeiss-Ikon and Agfa factories for their outstanding cameras, lenses and photo plates.

The journey - from the Alps to Novo Mesto towards Bulgaria - produced 1200 photographs, from which he chose 191. In Hielscher's words, those were the few "which would try to show the attractive, diverse character of the landscape, the architecture, and way of life of the Yugoslavs... I didn't want to create a collection of postcards".

The result is a stunning and often moving collection, published in a book in 1926 in Berlin by Ernst Wassmuth AG.

On Agfa Chromo Isorapid plates.

Published in Photo Gallery Balkans

Prizren 1974

Do you remember the old Marash area from these days? Did you live here? We'd like to hear from you.

Published in Balkans

Serbs lived for centuries in Prizren, the capital of their medieval state. Some of their houses occupied the area of Marash, on a hill overlooking the historic town and surrounding the 14th century Church of the Holy Saviour.

In March 2004, nearly five years after the Kosovo war, most Serb cultural monuments in Prizren were damaged, set on fire, or destroyed in one single day. Empty and derelict, the old Serb homes in the Marash area bear silent witness to the acts of vandalism. In 1999 almost ten thousand Serbs were living in Prizren, while today there are just a handful of them.

People in Prizren say that the owners of the Serb houses, now far away, should either come back to repair them, or sell them. The owners feel that no one can force them to sell some of the town's most prestigious properties, nor would they return to an area where they do not feel safe.

What do you think? Do you recognise your old house here?

We would like to hear from you.


Photos summer 2013

© Velislav Radev

Published in Photo Gallery Balkans
Matija Biljeskovic - Return to Prizren

Matija Bilješković comes from the picturesque town of Prizren in Kosovo.

He's spent almost all his life abroad, but has returned home now to stay.

Published in YOUR STORY

Natalya Grebenyuk is a Moscow-based photographer. She is a fan of motor-rallies and daunting car journeys. Natalya crossed the Balkans from East to West at the height of the winter 2010: from Kosovo via Montenegro to Albania and Bosnia.

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Curious killed the cat but sometime one can find such the monuments behind the curtain National Art Gallery Tirana
First albanian word I've learnt in Pristine saying thank you to the waiter Read it on the building Faleminderit

© Natalya Grebenyuk

Published in Photo Gallery Balkans
Published in Balkans

In Memoriam Gaby Rado

7 January 1955, Budapest - 30 March 2003, Sulaymaniyah, Iraq

Gaby Rado was a high profile foreign correspondent at Channel 4 News, serving as a Moscow correspondent. He worked in Bosnia during the war, including Srebrenica.

Reported from Kosovo, later on covered the trial of Slobodan Milošević, work which won him two of his three Amnesty International awards.

Gaby Rado also covered the war in Afghanistan and the status of the Uyghur in western China. He died during the war in Iraq.

Published in Balkans

16-17 June. NATO forces move in.

BBC News, Kate Adie in Podujevo

Published in Balkans


First large-scale operations by Serbian forces in Kosovo. One of the first massacres committed against Albanian civilians, in the village of  Donji Prekaz, region Drenica.

'The Serbs' Last Stand', broadcast May 1998.

First serious action of the war began in early March when Serbian police pursued some of the Kosovo Liberation Army forces (UÇK in Albanian), resulting in the deaths of 30 Albanian civilians and 4 Serbian policemen in the village of Cirez.

Serb forces then attacked the Jashari family and their KLA followers in the village of Donji Prekaz. A firefight at the Jashari compound led to the death of more than 60 Albanians, of which 18 were women and 10 were under the age of 16. Special SAJ forces were used.

(more on SAJ and some propaganda video)

This  March 5 event provoked for the first time massive condemnation from Western capitals. US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that "this crisis is not an internal affair of the FR of Yugoslavia".  It took another year before the NATO air campaign began in March 1999.


'Correspondent' by Phil Rees. Includes close combat footage filmed by Vaughan Smith of Frontline TV News

Published in Balkans