Xhabir Derala is a writer in Macedonië. He’s from a mixed ethnic background and refuses to take sides. For Derala, the only frontiers are the ones you draw yourself.
It was April 1999. NATO planes flew over the Macedonian capital Skopje on their way to bombard the Yugoslavia of Slobodan Milošević. I was having a beer with writer-journalist Xhabir Derala in a local cafe. It was the beginning of a journey through the Balkans that has still not ended today. Xhabir was my guide then , and in some ways he still is. He has a mixed ethnic background, which is something that matters in the Balkans.
This is especially true in Macedonia, which is one of Europe’s most ethnically mixed countries. In my experience with Xhabir he has always efused to take sides. And he still does. For many this is a sign of weakness but for me it indicates his strength – certainly in the Balkan context. His self-esteem does not rely on the extent to which his blood marks him out as Albanian, Turkish or Croatian. His values are more universal. Some in his country see this as betrayal of his tribal identity.
Xhabir has been down in the depths in many ways – both personally and professionally, and I have witnessed many of his struggles. He went from being a journalist to working with non-governmental organisations, a world of donors, project proposals, round tables and financial statements. A world that is often just as corrupt as the official government, which is characterised by nepotism and suppression of opposition. And still Xhabir stayed true to himself. A friend and a moral beacon in this completely fractured region.
David Jan Godfroid has been working as a correspondent in the Balkans and Moscow since 1999. Three years ago he started reporting from Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, to cover ten countries in Southeastern Europe for the Dutch Broadcasting Company (NOS).
"I initially decided to participate with One11 because they asked me to. I thought the idea was nice, nothing more or less. Throughout the process my enthusiasm grew, especially when the idea of portraying Xhabir Derala came to mind. We like to think people from the Balkans are bloodthirsty savages, but the world outside the Balkans should see the honest, combative, beautiful people living in the Balkans. Xhabir is one of those. A friend for life, someone who shows that ‘other’ face of the Balkan more than anyone else. One11 gives the opportunity to zoom in on him. The Balkans are my big love: the area of the grand gesture, deep-seated hatred and heartwarming love. If I had to choose a place to die, it would be here.”