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.

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.

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.

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.

—Thodoris Nikolaou

Photographer’s note: This work was sponsored by the Onassis Foundation.