Donald Weber Photographer

Kosovo, The Nightwatch of Democracy

While the world awaits the judgment of history in Afghanistan and Iraq, fearing the worst, the 2009 local elections in Kosovo, the country’s first free elections since declaring independence, shows that democracy in the Balkans retains the staying power of the nearby Adriatic Sea.

These photographs were taken during various political party functions, demonstrations, meetings and rallies in October and November, 2009. The nation’s ethnic diversity is evident from the character-driven faces of these mature men and women. They come from lower and upper classes, but all of them are equally hopeful of their future prospects. The calmness and deliberation of the participants in toto drew me to photograph these crowds from the perspective of the politicians at the head table, looking out. You will note that few in the crowd cared to look at my camera. The audience is the real camera, busy witnessing and recording the speeches and promises for the future history of a nation-in-progress.

The Albanian people are rich in detail, their faces are maps without words. These are the people to whom the politicians must answer, if elected. A social contract is being made here, word by word, in the press of flesh, the echoes of public voices, and the clouds of blue smoke. What I aimed for in these photographs was to document the invisible shadows of the past, the supreme rites of ancient assemblies – of Athens and the Roman Republic and the invincible parliaments of revolutionary Europe. De Toqueville said in 1850 that the armies of democracy would always prevail in the end, and so far he’s been right for a century and a half. This is where it begins: in a crowded room, with wide-awake children watching from the far corners for the magical appearance of a coherent world out of thin air.