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Cutting the lifeline

Return to Europe: Kosovo

Magazine > Feature > Cutting the lifeline

When Kosovo declared independence on 17 February 2008, the conflict between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians once again captured the attention of the world’s media. It is with concern that the international community looks at a crisis region whose relative calm in recent years was secured by a huge deployment of KFOR and UN peacekeeping forces.

What does independence mean for Kosovo’s stability? What kind of future awaits this new country? What challenges must the future EU mission tackle in order to solve the country’s problems? The documentary approaches these questions by focusing on one of Kosovo’s central problems – the catastrophic state of its economy, with the highest rates of unemployment in Europe, especially among women and young people.

Return to Europe

Return to Europe is a ten-part documentary series is one of the most ambitious TV projects on South Eastern Europe produced in recent years. It gives people who have contributed to the region’s progress since the mid-1990s the opportunity to comment on their present situation: artists, lawyers, journalists, activists, mayors and football players tell their version of the story.

In the past Kosovars relied on their large, traditionally close-knit families in order to survive poverty and hardship. A visit to a k ulla – the fortified stone house of the Albanian family, in which 60 or more family members used to live in largely autarkic self reliance – gives an impression of the traditional family structures. But even today, the family is most Kosovars’ only real support.

Yet these social structures are increasingly showing signs of being destabilised. Every year thousands of teenagers enter a labour market that creates almost no new jobs. Even with a good education one doesn’t stand much chance of finding paid work.

The film visits different families whose personal stories demonstrate the growing strains and pressures building up across Kosovo. Lacking a social safety net provided by the state, people have no other option than to remain rooted in the old structures of their large families. Especially rural women, including the young generation, often resign themselves to carrying out their traditional roles for lack of any alternative. In many cases households are financially entirely dependent on remittances from family members in the diaspora.

At the same time people have little trust in the state and its institutions. The independence movement Vetevendosje (“Self-determination”) and its leader Albin Kurti demand the withdrawal of the international community. As Kurti puts it in the film, “Kosovo remains a powder keg that maladministration, unemployment and poverty has nurtured. There is big disappointment with domestic and international politicians. It needs only a spark!” But prominent international civil servants, such as the head of the UN administration in Kosovo, Joachim Rucker, are also aware that it must be one of their foremost priorities to help the country set up a functioning economy. And they know that current efforts are insufficient.

Interviews with Kosovo’s Minister for Education Enver Hoxaj, and the author Migjen Kelmendi, as well as visits to KFOR-troops and the Serbian enclave Gracanica near the capital Pristina, all show the importance of economic problems for Kosovo’s stability. Their resolution – which must include an end to the country’s isolation – will determine the future of Europe’s youngest state.


Kosovo – Cutting the lifeline

The full documentary

“This remarkable documentary series destroys all clichés”.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Director: Gernot Stadler
Script: Wolfgang Stickler
In collaboration with: Gerald Knaus
Idea & concept: Gerald Knaus, Martin Traxl, Knut Neumayer
Scientific research: Kristof Bender, Eggert Hardten, Verena Knaus, Alex Stiglmayer
Camera: Werner Veits, Klaus Achter
Music: Andreas Fabianek, Georg Gratzer
Marketing & PR: Zlata Durakovic
Line producer: Bojana Stanisic
Production manager: Chimena Novohradsky
Producer: Nikolaus Wisiak
Editor: Herbert Schaden
General management: Martin Traxl
Thanks to Erhard Busek, European Stability Pact


Return to Europe / Balkan Express

Return to Europe is a co-production of pre tv, ORF/3sat and ORF. Initiated by ERSTE Foundation, the series was produced in cooperation with the European Stability Initiative (ESI) and was additionally funded by the Austrian Television Fund and CineStyria. The concept of Return to Europe was developed by Martin Traxl, head of the ORF culture department who also served as supervising producer, and is based on the idea by Gerald Knaus (ESI) and Knut Neumayer (ERSTE Foundation), written by Wolfgang Stickler. With powerful images, these ten 52-minute episodes provide a new perspective on the present and possible future of the region.

A ten-part documentary (DVD-Box)
Return to Europe