Balkaniotheque: in Search of a Region’s Identity

Thodoris Nikolau was born in Chalkis, Greece in December 1982. His first interaction with investigative journalism comes in 2007, in the newspaper TA NEA (Lambrakis Press Group). He specialized in social reportage, focusing on migration and socially excluded groups. Working for different newspapers, digital media and magazines he carry out missions in Greece and abroad, completing a series of researches and photography projects. For more than three years, he has been studying and photographing Balkans, sponsored by the Onassis Foundation. Travelling in ten countries of the Balkan Peninsula, his first goal was the making of a narration which would manage to synthesize a common fate between the people. Meanwhile, he teaches visual storytelling and has a project in progress about mental health and social stigma.  

By Thodoris Nikolaou

Years ago, I started a major project on the Balkans. My main purpose was to capture the Balkan people with my camera lens—I wanted to make a Balkan ‘mosaic,’ to record the deep, uniquely human characteristics that connect people across the peninsula. My intention was to bring the repressed Balkan identity to the forefront of our minds in the hope that it would stay there for years to come.

Albania, Kukës. A girl looks at the photographer.

To achieve my aim, I visited ten different countries and dozens of cities, towns, and villages. More importantly, however, I met hundreds of Balkan people. After all, people comprise the real core of this project. There’s a commonality between the people you meet when you travel from long-suffering Srebrenica to the divided Mitrovica; from the slums and suburbs of Pristina, Kosovo, to the alleys and coffeehouses in Constantinople; from the northern villages of Albania to the Roma ghettos of Plovdiv and Skopje. I traveled from one city to another, from one village to the next—but above all, I feel that this series brought me on a journey from person to person.

Bosnia&Herzegovina. Gravestones at the Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 massacre.

In a time when countries are erecting fences and walls—not only among countries in the Balkans but also in the rest of Europe—what really matters is for people to remain united. Our shared fate should be the guiding principle of our thoughts and actions. Thus, we must pinpoint and give prominence to the elements that promote peace.

Bulgaria, Plovdiv. A boy is playing on a trampoline.

My hope is that this project will spur its viewers towards a much-needed debate and exchange about Balkan identity as well as humanity’s need to stay united as one entity. After all, what unites people is always far greater than what divides them

Kosovo, Pristina. A boy is standing into an abandoned house in the suburbs of Pristina.
Macedonia, Sveti Nikole. Abandoned aeroplanes.
Montenegro, Skepan Polje. A girl is resting behind the bar counter.
Turkey, Istanbul. Women in dresses.
Romania, Black Sea. The sea at night.
Serbia, Belgrade. A man with his cat. The last years he has lived in makeshift houses under bridges in Belgrade.
Greece, Evia Island. Representation of the Trojan Horse.