The Albanian renaissance

Return to Europe: Albania

Magazine > Feature > The Albanian renaissance

Communist Albania of Hoxha was a fortress state, seeing enemies everywhere. There were regular purges, the death penalty was applied, and there were a large number of political prisoners. There were thousands of executions of political enemies and of enemies of communism. Albanians did not have the right to a passport until May 1990.

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.

Two decades later Albania has undergone a dramatic transformation. And yet, few countries in Europe are less understood than this Adriatic republic. Gratuitous violence, organised crime, human trafficking, blood feuds and grinding poverty are the images that first come to mind when the country is mentioned. This is not all due to the particular ferocity of Enver Hoxha’s communism. The first post-communist decade has also produced its fair share of dark images, culminating in the anarchy of 1997. It is this dark and difficult legacy which makes the story of Albania’s recent transformation all the more remarkable.

“By Christmas 2002, we were all home for the holidays. We met at a café catching up with each-other after years away. At some point, we couldn’t avoid the million dollar question: ‘What the hell is wrong with this place? Why is it lost in transition and led by incompetent politicians’? Our relatives would argue that the 500 years of Ottoman rule were to blame, or others would blame the communists. Yet, we couldn’t help but realize that in few years we’d most likely have our own children, and we couldn’t blame their broken schools and hospitals on the Turks and the communists any more. We had to find better answers. There had to be something we could do.”

Erion Veliaj

At the centre of this film are ordinary people who have found their own solutions, in the mountains of Northern Albania, in the new suburbs of Tirana, or as miners suffering from terrible work conditions. The film also tells the story of MJAFT (“Enough”), a youth movement set up in 2002 that quickly became one of the country’s most trusted institutions. Mjaft sought to shake Albanian apathy and to rehabilitate a culture of peaceful protest and civic engagement. In this it succeeded to a striking extent.

Albania – The Albanian Renaissance

The full documentary

“A fascinating caleidoscope of impressions.”

Die Zeit

Director: Claudia Pöchlauer
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: Walter Reichl
Sound: Rene Schuh
Cut: Tom Pohanka
Online cut: Christian Soppacher
Sound design: Raimund Sivetz
Speaker: Karin Steger, Peter Faerber, Susanne Grohma
Music: Andreas Fabianek, Georg Gratzer
Marketing & PR: Zlata Durakovic
Line producer: Elisa Spiropali
Production manager: Chimena Novohradsky
Producer: Nikolaus Wisiak
Editor: Herbert Schaden
General management: Martin Traxl
Thanks to MJAFT and 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