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Astra Film Festival

Astra Film Festival 2002

Workshop. Ethnic Issues and Human Rights in the Balkans

The workshop is to provide a forum for discussing the potentials and the constraints of the moving picture and especially the genre of documentary film, in representing ethnic issues in the Balkans.


One of the hottest problems in contemporary societies of the Balkans is the prevalence of ethnicity driven disputes, and latent and overt ethnic conflicts1. The state socialist systems in this region suppressed ethnic cleavages inherited from the past and often cultivated “state nationalism” against the ethnic minorities. After the collapse of these systems, one could witness a revival of ethnic mobilisation under new ideological banners. More often than not, ethnic mobilisation has become a tool for legitimising dubious post-communist regimes resisting democratisation. In some places, this resulted in heated conflicts, or even civil war, whereas in other places (old-) new discourses have arisen by using the rhetoric of enemy seeking, victimisation, or xenophobia. Ethnic mobilisation in the Balkans tends to obstruct democratic political changes, human rights protection, and sustainable peace and security.

The print and the electronic media take major part in the production of messages that could be used either to enhance or tame ethnic conflicts and conflict-centered discourses. Therefore, the organisers of the Astra Film Festival have decided to hold a separate workshop dedicated to the issues of ethnicity in the Balkans during the 2002 Festival.

Main issues of the workshop
The current state of the documentary production will be critically investigated through special lenses. The workshop will host presentations about pressing problems of ethnicity in each country involved and the way in which these problems are presented in recently produced documentary films.

The discussion is to address:
 * What are the advantages and weaknesses of the documentary film in picturing ethnic conflicts? Who is in a better position to make such a film: the “native” filmmaker or an outsider from abroad?
 * What does it mean to present ethnic problems by an “insider”? Can someone remain impartial as an “insider”? What may constitute a critical distance for an “insider”? How could time, if at all, create this distance?  

Although it has a major historical and political relevance, the proposal does not discuss the difference between ethnic and religious distinctions. As a necessary simplification, it uses the term “ethnicity” to refer to both.

* Is it possible to unveil stereotypical thinking in common sense social discourses? Could filmmakers be critical towards everyday social actors driven by ethnic mobilization?  
* What are the moral pitfalls in representing ethnic groups with direct references to the Yugoslav war? How do the means of visual persuasion lead (or resist) to separate the worlds of victims and perpetrators?  
* How can a documentary film be freed form ideological pressure in articulating ethnic issues? How could the production anticipate ideological debates emerging through consumption and interpretation of the respected film?  

Participants will give presentations on the current state of documentary production in their home country with a special reference to documentaries addressing ethnic issues. Each presentation will be supported by short samples of concrete films, preferably by those selected for the festival competition. Presentations will be followed by discussions in which the broader public will be invited to participate. Discussions are also expected to reveal the differences in major trends in documentary production in the Balkans and other parts of the world where ethnicity profoundly matters.

Invited commentators and moderators will be scholars in social sciences, specialists in ethnic issues, experts in documentary films, the media, and the history of the Balkans.  

The workshop will offer another occasion for the audience to watch the films selected to the Balkans Section of the 2002 Astra Festival in full length.

Csilla Kató