The suspended step of the Prespa Agreement

In The Suspended Step of the Stork, the drama by Theo Angelopoulos starring Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau filmed in 1990 and 1991, a young journalist is struck by the personality of an elderly refugee who lives almost ascetically in a border town of northern Greece. Angelopoulos does not clarify the city in which the film is set; however, practically, it must be located near Albania or Yugoslavia, whose break up started shortly thereafter. Thus, a borderline film was created on the despair caused by the end of the century and the intersection of two bordering cultures.

This film attracted the interest of public opinion and the press for a long period because in Florina, where some of the filming took place, the film’s script reached the hard-right metropolitan bishop of the city, Avgoustinos Kandiotis. Kandiotis, among other things, was a hardcore opponent of any Macedonian linguistic or ethnic identity. He believed that the screenplay insulted the Greek nation and religion, and he threatened Angelopoulos with excommunication, ordering him to stop film-ing. Refusing to be intimidated, the director decided to continue. The same held true for his crew. For days, filming in Florina continued under terrifying conditions, created by “indignant citizens” led by Kandiotis. The matter took on international dimensions and, naturally, all international players took the side of Angelopoulos – in favour of artistic freedom and against censorship and obscurantism.

A large portion of the makedonomachoi (“Macedonian warriors”) of Florina swamped the city holding black flags and picket signs: Caricatures depicted the film director as a traitor holding a bag with 600 million drachmas, while the church bells tolled mournfully. The bishop – a considerable force in the region – did everything in his power to obstruct the completion and distribution of the film. In the end, despite the excommunication of Angelopoulos and the film’s star Mastroianni, the film was finished and made it to Cannes.

At present, the long-awaited Prespa Agreement is following the trail of Angelopoulos’ film. It was greeted around the world as a model international treaty for security, good neighbourly relations and peace; however, within the two states it remains “suspended” because, even today, there are “Kandiotises” with their own audiences on both sides who are rabidly against it – exactly as in the case of Angelopoulos’ film and the adventures it went through until it could finally see the light of day.

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