The waters of the Prespa Lakes are shared between three countries which border them: Albania, Greece and Macedonia. Over the past century the two lakes, located on a mountain plateau in the southern Balkans have been straddling the faultlines between different political systems, cultural backgrounds and ideological systems following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the subsequent creation of nation states and the Cold War. The once inter-connected communities around the Prespa Lakes were disrupted by the forces of history and a once homogenous region was transformed into three highly segregated cultural communities over the course of the last century.
As a native Greek, Georgios Makkas only recently visited the Albanian and Macedonian parts of the Prespa basin. It was then that he witnessed first-hand the sharply contrasting pieces of the Lakes' cultural mosaic. The most striking first impression is the enduring difference between the natural landscapes. Albania is still marked by communist era deforestation, Macedonia was lucky to have the Prespa shores declared a National Park and the Greek shore remains a wild, untamed bit of remote nature.
At closer inspection it is the people who now live around the lakes that show the sharpest contrasts as a result to their radically different experiences of the history of the past century. During the Greek Civil War, Prespes hosted the headquarters of the Communist-led army. After the collapse of the front, most locals left the area, leaving it underpopulated until people from other parts of Greece settled, resulting in a cultural hybrid.
The despotic regime of Enver Hoxha in Albania repressed its own people but was particularly harsh toward the lake villagers who were ethnic Macedonians and were seen as potential defectors to Tito's Yugoslavia. In Macedonia itself, life carried on in a more relaxed atmosphere under the Yugoslav government and the former Yugoslav republic escaped the worst of the wars that followed the country's breakup, though living standards have fallen in the years since independence.
Georgios Makkas travelled around the lakes, meeting locals from all communities that call the Prespa Lakes their home.