A six-hour appraisal by Michael Ignatieff ambitiously sizes up the plights of Croatia and Serbia, Ukraine, Germany, Kurdistan, Quebec and Northern Ireland as they tussle with nationalism, “ethnic cleansing” and opposing factions. First two hours should cast a little light on who and what ex-Yugoslavians are fighting about, and what’s going on in the Ukraine since the Soviet Union split into 15 countries. That alone should earn Ignatieff a hero’s medal, second class.
Brief histories of Croatia and Serbia, along with more maps and name spellings, would better explain what’s happened but the hour at least sorts out the sides.
Taking Tito’s now-deserted Highway of Brotherhood & Unity, which was supposed to bind the two ethnic entities into one, Ignatieff starts off in Croatian Zagreb and heads east by car toward Serbian Belgrade. It’s a trip marred by war relics dedicated to ethnic nationalism — a phrase Ignatieff underlines.
Docu stops at the Jasenovac death camp site where Croatian forces destroyed most of the evidence, takes a long look at destroyed Vukovar (onetime Austro-Hungarian jewel on the Danube), and moves on to Belgrade.
Interviews, ruined buildings and determined opinions surface. The breakup of Yugoslavia brought on the continuing disaster in the Balkans; Ignatieff offers little cheer about the future.
Second hour investigates Ukraine, where the grandparents of the Canadian-born , American-educated Ignatieff lived; he sits by his great-grandfather’s tomb, which Stalin’s followers used as a butcher block.
Differences are pronounced between western Ukrainians, who joined the Soviet Union later than any other Russian satellite, and their fellow Ukrainians. People are interviewed, but diverse responses show only an agreeable, dedicated people.
The future of the Ukraine remains problematic because of ethnic nationalism. But many people, like a couple of interviewed sailors, see no difficulties.
The episodes, especially in the Ukrainian hour, are subjective on Ignatieff’s part. But there’s illumination as he works up good cases about regional self-government confronting national control. Poverty’s rampant, and the past chases the emerging country in its languages, traditions and faiths.
It’s better than a straight travelogue because it touches on the human side. But history’s an informative teacher, and just where the peoples’ heritages lie would be of inestimable help in watching the evening news.
Other chapters in the series air succeeding nights, except on Saturday. Tech credits are good enough.