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

End of Soviet Power, Bukhara 1995.

End of Soviet Power, Bukhara 1995.

The 16th century Miri-i-Arab Madrasah defaced before its extensive renovation. It closed in 1924 and it was used as the city’s children’s library. The Madrasah re-opened in 1946 as part of Stalin’s post-war concessions to the region.

The Miri-i-Arab Madrasah was the only Islamic spiritual educational establishment in the Soviet Union.

The Miri-i-Arab Madrasa was the only Islamic spiritual educational establishment in the Soviet Union

The Austrian writer and soldier Gustav Krist was captured on the Eastern Front in WWI and ended up in Soviet Turkestan. Later on he returned to the area and in his 1937 book 'Alone Through the Forbidden Land' he recounted his visit to Bukhara - the ancient city known as Bukhara the Holy:

…The Russians were reluctant to rob it completely of an impressive epithet and is now entitled Bukhara the Noble. You may here see the Red Star or the portraits of Lenin in queer juxtaposition with the ancient text books of Sharia Law and commentaries on the Quran. The Madrasah Mir Arab is a typical example. The narrow cell of the Imam has shelves along the walls, laden with sacred books in Arabic and Kufic script, above which hangs a poster in Uzbeg which screams: 'Proletarians of all Lands Unite!'

End of Soviet Power, Bukhara 1995.

End of Soviet Power, Bukhara 1995.

Photography © Velislav Radev

Published in Red Square

Watched closely by the Kremlin elite, the Yugoslav Communist leader Tito receives the Order of Lenin. It's an unusual piece of visual history - the renegade Marshall had to embrace Soviet customs to receive Moscow's highest award: from the 'brotherly kisses' to laying a wreath at Lenin's mausoleum.

Moscow and Belgrade fell out after after the Kremlin gave orders to crush the Prague Spring in 1968. The moment here shows their reconciliation, and this visit to Moscow in 1972 comes only months after the Soviet leader Brezhnev's visit to Belgrade.

Grudgingly, Moscow acknowledged Yugoslavia's right to chose its own way. This is the time of détente between East and West, when Tito's role in the Non-Aligned Movement became more important for Moscow than what kind of socialism he chose for Yugoslavia. It's time to bury the hatchet.

Converted from 16 mm film, silent.

Published in Balkans

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

Juris Podnieks was a Latvian film director. He graduated from the Moscow VGIK film school in 1975 and worked at the Riga Film Studio.

Over 3 years Podnieks filmed his documentary 'Hello, do you hear us?' as the Soviet Union was collapsing. It showed civil unrest in Uzbekistan, survivors of the earthquake in Armenia, striking workers in Yaroslavl, former residents returning to Chernobyl.

Juris Podnieks, 1990, 51 minutes

More on Juris Podnieks (1950 - 1992)

Published in Red Square

'Bulgaria and Russia are marching in one column under the banner of labour...' goes this song. The march was a favourite of the Soviet Army Group in Bulgaria.

In September 1944 the Red Army crossed the Danube and entered Bulgaria.

It ignored the announcement of the Bulgarian government that it was withdrawing unilaterally from the Axis, pulling its troops out of Greece and Yugoslavia and then declaring war on Germany, hoping to avoid a Soviet occupation. By the time the Red Army entered Sofia on 16th September 1944, the Bulgarian capital was already controlled by armed Communist activists. The Soviet army presence enabled the Bulgarian Communists to later seize power and establish a Communist state.

One of the first tasks for Soviet Power in Bulgaria was to establish continuity between the XIX Century Russian presence in Bulgaria and its new rulers. The myth of the Dual Liberators was born.

The new administration was equally harsh towards all within Bulgaria's borders. Tens of thousands of White Russians lived in Bulgaria after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Legally, they were not Soviet citizens, some of them had Bulgarian passports, others the so called Nansen Passports (as stateless people in need of protection), issued by the League of Nations in Geneva.

Similarly to the post-1945 practice across Eastern Europe, some of those Russians were taken to the Soviet Union, others to Bulgaria's Forced Labour Camps: first the Kutsiyan Mine near the town of Pernik, later to Bulgaria's largest Gulag on the Danubian island of Persin.

Published in Bulgaria