Update 4: 29th August 2013

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We remember Kosovo for the brutal exterminations and expulsions of 1999, which led to NATO’s intervention and eventually to Kosovo’s independence. Not surprisingly, many Kosovars remain deeply traumatised by those events – and they are adamant about who to thank for the outcome.

Tony Blair Street      Bill Clinton Street

Less well known is the predicament of the country’s Serbs, who resolutely reject the new state and have blockaded the bridge between the two communities in the city of Mitrovica.

Serb blockade      Argument

Tensions run high on both sides, while an international KFOR team keeps an unsteady peace.

Abusive graffiti      Peacekeepers

Elsewhere in Kosovo, people are rebuilding their houses and their lives. The ‘Newborn’ sculpture in the capital Prishtina says it all. Here I sensed a cautious but real optimism.

Newborn sculpture      Multi-ethnic schooling

Kosovar man      Kosovar stallholder

In mid-August I crossed into North Macedonia, the southernmost part of the former Yugoslavia, whose capital Skopje was flattened by a catastrophic earthquake fifty years ago.

Skopje museum      Skopje arch

The rebuilding certainly hasn’t been half-hearted. If triumphal arches and Doric columns aren’t your cup of tea, you can marvel at larger-than-life characters from Macedonian history and mythology, all in gallant pose.

Another Skopje museum      Skopje statue

Away from the capital this is a country of soaring mountains and crystal lakes, and I made the most of it. Can you spot my tent in the left-hand picture below? (Click to enlarge.)

Lake Malo      Ohrid church

From there I turned west to southern Albania and the old Ottoman cities of Berat and Gjirokastra. Gjirokastra has an especially violent history: in the last century it was conquered in turn by Greece, Albania, Italy, Germany, and finally Albania again.

Berat      Gjirokastra

Since emerging from communist isolation, Albania has developed at a truly dizzying speed. Among its many colourful and inspiring characters, the ones below perhaps sum up the pace of change.

Albanian woman      Albanian family

Next week I’ll reach the Pindos Mountains in northern Greece, then cross into Bulgaria where it’ll be yet more high-altitude walking as I head towards Turkey. Watch this space for a Greek–Bulgarian update in September!

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