A Macedonian commercial promoting religious tolerance has become the first spot from the Balkans to win the Titanium Lion at the Cannes Lions, the largest advertising festival in the world.
The award-winning clip
, called "Ten Meters Apart," shows the first-ever joint prayer by members of the country's Christian and Muslim communities.
It is part of a broader campaign, initiated by Macedonia's government, to encourage coexistence and "to try and reintroduce religious tolerance."
The joint prayer is led by Miftar Islami, an official representative of Macedonia's Islamic community, and Father Mihail, an official representative of the Macedonian Orthodox Church.
It highlights efforts by the Christian and Muslim communities in the war-torn region to come closer together.
Local media in Macedonia have praised the commercial's treatment of a sensitive topic.
"The message of this campaign is powerful, this is our contribution towards tolerance in our country," Dusan Drakalski, the film's creative director, told local media
on June 23. "People made a step towards peace, understanding, and mutual respect."
The two-minute clip opens with recitals of Orthodox and Islamic prayers in archival footage from the 2001 conflict between ethnic Albanian rebels from the National Liberation Army (UCK) and Macedonia's security forces.
"Once a crossroad of cultures is now a country divided between two ethnic groups" flashes across the screen against a background of prayers, gunshots, and coffins.
The commercial eventually goes to a remote village in which a single temple is used by both Christians and Muslims.
The most sensitive section of the clip is the joint prayer by Miftar Islami and Father Mihail at the 1:20 mark:
It ends with the words "Peace is a never ending process."
The film's directors advocate for an initiative in front of the Macedonian parliament to recognize October 18, the day of the joint prayer, as National Day of Prayer.
The annual Cannes Lions Festival of International Creativity, which ended on June 22, is attended by around 11,000 people from the international communications community and showcases more than 34,000 entries from all over the world.
Macedonia's short-lived but violent conflict ended with the signing of the Ohrid Framework Agreement in August 2001, giving ethnic Albanians more rights in the country and reintegrating former rebels into the government.
Last month, a survey
by the Macedonian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights concluded that authorities in Macedonia are downplaying a rise in the number of hate crimes driven by ethnic and religious motives. Political parties in the March local elections traded accusations of incitement and exploitation of ethnic tensions to score political points.
-- Deana Kjuka