Wild beauty

Return to Europe: Montenegro

Magazine > Feature > Wild beauty

With its mountainous geography and turbulent history Montenegro is a microcosm of the Balkans. Throughout its history Montenegro was known in Europe for its fierce tribes and blood feuds. For centuries, it has been the meeting point and battleground of Muslim (Ottoman) and Catholic (Venetian and Austrian) empires. In recent years, however, Montenegro has surprised those who expected it to be torn apart by internal conflict.

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.

Montenegro is Europe’s youngest state, having achieved independence in the summer of 2006. It hasn’t made much news since. For a country which was once feared to turn into a failed state in a troubled region, this, in itself, is remarkable.

Of the six former Yugoslav republics, Montenegro was the only one (since 1989) to have avoided violent conflict on its territory. It is a country without an ethnic majority; it is home to two Orthodox churches; and its national currency is the euro. Its 620,000 citizens include Orthodox Montenegrins and Orthodox Serbs, Muslim Bosniaks, Catholic and Muslim Albanians, as well as some Croats and other minorities.

In his 1993 essay on the “clash of civilisations” Samuel Huntington sought to explain, among other things, the roots of violent conflict in the Balkans:

“The great historical fault line that has existed for centuries separating Western Christian peoples from Muslim and Orthodox people… has been in roughly its current place for at least five hundred years… In the Balkans, of course, this line coincides with the historical division between the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. It is the cultural border of Europe.”

When, in the fourth century AD, the Roman Empire fragmented into western and eastern parts, centred on Rome and Constantinople, the new border ran through the lands of what is today Montenegro. The ecclesiastical schism of 1054 also put Montenegro on the border line between Orthodox and Catholic Christendom. With the Ottomans came Islam.

Such a storyline is, of course, typical of the Balkan states. What is less typical is that Montenegro – despite numerous wars and ethnic cleansing campaigns from the early 18th century until the 1990s – has managed to remain an extremely diverse society to this day. In recent years it has become even more diverse, as the number of Serbs has increased. And yet, contrary to Huntington’s prognosis, its mixed society has succeeded in avoiding internal clashes.

Upon re-establishing statehood, Montenegro drastically downsized the armed forces it inherited from the joint state with Serbia (to 2,500 men) and destroyed all except one of its 62 tanks. The adjective “wild” is no longer used to scare away potential invaders, but to attract tourists.

Montenegro – Wild Beauty

The full documentary

“This remarkable documentary series destroys all clichés”.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Director: Claudia Pöchlauer
Script: Wolfgang Stickler
In collaboration with: Kristof Bender
Idea & concept: Gerald Knaus, Martin Traxl, Knut Neumayer
Scientific research: Kristof Bender, Eggert Hardten, Verena Knaus, Alex Stiglmayer
Camera: Walter Reichl
Sound: Wolfgang Hähling
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: 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