Jasmine Legendre and Jean Balthazard
December 30, 2023 Analysis
As is the end-of-year tradition at Devoir, we take you behind the scenes of major reports. In the spring, video journalists Jasmine Legendre and Jean Balthazar packed their bags and headed to Serbia to understand why this Balkan country seems to worship Russia.
While the war in Ukraine is still in full swing and the international community generally agrees that Russia is the aggressor and Ukrainians are the victims, we wanted to know why the Serbia seems to worship Vladimir Putin. So we flew to this Balkan country last April to meet people who are shaking up our preconceived ideas.
Packing your bags as a video journalist is not easy. We try to travel with the bare minimum so that our travels, once there, are not too complicated. It’s quite a challenge when you have to transport lights and cameras. Our carry-on luggage and our large suitcases (especially Jean's) contained a happy mix of equipment wrapped in our clothes.
A different vision
First culture shock: cigarettes. In Serbia, smoking is allowed indoors in almost all public spaces. It’s quite destabilizing for two young journalists born in the 1990s, who never really knew the era of smoking rooms and ashtrays in bars and restaurants. So we had to get used to this smell of tobacco which slowly became embedded in all our clothes.
In one week and a half, we aimed to complete four video reports. A very different rhythm from that of our usual daily life. We had no time to lose. We filmed our interviews in parks and cafes hoping the sound wouldn't be too poor.
We were talking to people on the right, Serbs who are of the opinion that the West — therefore, us — has been one of their geopolitical enemies since the allied forces bombed Serbia in 1999 in the hope of putting an end to the Kosovo war.
Photo: Jean Balthazard Le Devoir Our video journalist Jasmine Legendre
One evening, at sunset, we met two young Serbs, one of whom had studied journalism, who explained to us the scars left by these bombings. “It’s difficult for you to understand us because you have never experienced war in your country,” they told us. The kind of conversation that helps you open up to different thought patterns and allows you to better understand their reality. We quickly understood that Canada and Serbia did not immediately have the same conception of the world. For them, Russia is one of the only great powers (along with China) that has never attacked them. Russia and Serbia are also two peoples of Orthodox Christian culture, which therefore overlap on several points. This informal discussion with the two young men served as a guide for the rest of our interviews.
The camera challenge
The challenge in video journalism is images. We need them to tell our stories well. One of the subjects we wanted to address was the Balkan migratory route, which is one of the most used to get to the European Union. Since Serbia is not part of it, several migrants remain stuck between its borders while waiting to pass through one of the checkpoints into the Schengen area.
We had experts to explain the situation to us, but we wanted to talk to migrants and hear their reality. When we showed up at some of the camps targeted by our experts, they were all deserted. Residents of the small town of Horgos met on site then explained to us that the police had dismantled the camps in the last few days. Posters written in Arabic on the squats left deserted told us that we would have to redouble our efforts to find migrants.
The images of these old, abandoned and unsanitary houses are striking. The fact that entire families lived in such poor conditions in the hope of ultimately achieving a better life is a testament to the amount of courage it takes to leave one's homeland and never look back. Without these people, no subject, and we only had one day for this shoot on the road.
Photo: Jasmine Legendre Le Devoir Our video journalist Jean Balthazard
So we ate up the kilometers without taking a break. Having left in the early morning, we would return late in the evening, exhausted by this quest for testimonies. Our food during the day was limited to a few meager bags of chips and a few chocolate bars. But if we compared our reality to theirs, we still found ourselves very lucky not to sleep on the ground, completely deprived of food.
At nightfall, our experts told us the location of a new camp, and we headed there. Victory ! We were able to speak with migrants, who told us about the injuries they suffered while trying to cross the borders through the barbed wire crossings.
Aside from the disturbing and heartbreaking stories we collected, we were pleasantly surprised by Serbia, especially by its “fusion” cuisine, a mixture of traditional dishes and fine cuisine. We returned from this country with a renewed outlook on the geopolitical situation of the world. Shows that the “bad guys” are not all the same for everyone.