Kurt Pitzer on The Balkans, Then and Now

Though media attention has shifted from the region, it’s still a hotbed of ethnic discontent, Kurt Pitzer says.
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TRANSCRIPT

Question: What was your first experience of the Balkans?

Pitzer:    It was during the refugee crisis in Kosovo and I just felt moved to go. It was such a terrible situation for hundreds of thousands of people who were being forced out of their homes, and I just felt like I needed to be there to experience and, if possible, play a small role in telling a story about it.  And I was sort of fresh and green and didn’t really know how to cover such a thing and it was all very sort of new and exciting.  And, I sort of just learned while doing it to, just to listen to people and try to gather the stories as best I could.

Question: What was your return visit like?

Pitzer:    We decided to go back to the Balkans...  I went with a photographer named Roger Lemoyne and we had gone to Iraq together.  And while in Iraq, we’re talking about the frustration of going from conflict to conflict to conflict and always covering the thing that is happening now, and there’s sort of attention deficit disorder that I think the media has in general of always shifting focus, and there’s a conflict here and we go and we cover it in the same way and then we move on ‘cause there’s something happening somewhere else.  And when the camera’s turned off and the laptops get packed up and the journalists move on, there are a whole people.  The story doesn’t end, you know?  The people are left in the place without the world’s gaze and, you know, it’s important to go back and check in.  And the Balkans has been the place that’s largely left out of the news since even before September 11th and “War On Terrorism.”  And… But it’s a place that’s still living with the aftereffects of war in a very big way, and the fact that Yugoslavia is now no longer a country and all these people who used to be Yugoslavs are now… have these fractured identities.  And we were hoping to go back and check in and, you know, make a series of visits to places we had seen in the 1990s and people we had met in the 1990s to see how they have recovered or not recovered from the war.  The Balkans are still a cauldron of, you know, ethnic problems, and, you know, especially a place like Bosnia.  As I said, they are not over the war, and I think that if somebody were to strike a match, Bosnia would go up tomorrow, if the conditions were right, if the, [we’re wrong], if the international community stopped paying attention and the wrong political actors came in, they’ll be killing each other tomorrow.