Joanna Kakissis

Slobodan Simic hardly looks like a donkey farmer. A 62-year-old lawyer and former lawmaker in the Serbian parliament, he's in dark glasses, chomping on a tobacco pipe.

"Jesus rode to Jerusalem on a donkey," he says. "They're special creatures, and that's why everyone in Europe used to have one. Ours was the Balkan donkey, and I want to preserve it."

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The hamlet of Sevnica, population 5,000, sits right in the middle of the small, alpine nation of Slovenia, in a green valley along the Sava River, surrounded by pine-forested hills.

"It's really an amazing climate," chirps Lidija Ogorevc, a cheerleader-peppy tour guide here. "You should try our wine, our salami."

She stops in front of a fenced-in building — not unattractive, but clearly closed.

"A cultural monument," she declares.

Marie da Silva is among the 25 percent of voters who are undecided ahead of Sunday's first round of voting in France's crucial presidential election.

The 52-year-old building manager and mother has soured on the men in the race, finding them too weak, unrealistic or communist.

Though she identifies as conservative, da Silva had never voted for the far-right party, National Front.

With his coiffed, salt-and-pepper hair and stoic demeanor, Francois Fillon looks like a president out of central casting. The 63-year-old conservative, a former prime minister under Nicolas Sarkozy, is even serious and prim at his campaign rallies, where his passionate supporters clap and chant his name.

"I'm not asking you to like me, but to support me," he told one crowd at an April 9 rally. "We're not choosing a buddy. We're choosing a president."

Fillon is also a practicing Catholic, and the only presidential candidate who speaks openly about his faith.

The tiny Balkan country of Montenegro may be best known for its stunning coastline on the Adriatic sea — and as a setting for the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale.

But in February, news broke that sounded like a twist right out of a 007 thriller.

Montenegro's special prosecutor, Milivoje Katnic, announced that "Russian state bodies" had backed a plot to overthrow the government and kill the prime minister during elections last October.

Abbad Yahya is used to controversy. For the last five years, the young Palestinian novelist has been writing books that have been criticized for including sex and politically unpopular opinions.

Yahya, who's 28, expected similar complaints about his fourth novel, Crime in Ramallah, published in Arabic late last year, which chronicles the lives of three young men affected by a woman's murder in the city where the Palestinian Authority has its headquarters.

The "most beautiful candidate in Serbia" (self-proclaimed) arrives in the sleepy town of Kovavica at midday, a loudspeaker perched atop his aging car.

He's tall, blue-eyed and wearing his signature white suit, tie and shoes, his long hair in a man-bun.

His name is Ljubisa Beli Preletacevic, or just Beli for short. It means "the guy in white who switches his beliefs for political gain," says the candidate himself.

"I'm every bad politician rolled up into one young, strong man," he declares.

Filmmaker Maysaloun Hamoud does not like being typecast.

"The Israelis say, you don't look Arab or Palestinian," she says, rolling her eyes. "Huh? If I wear a dress or outfit that [doesn't look] religious, I cannot be a Palestinian? I have to be, like, exactly how you design me?"

Hamoud is 35, wearing a long skirt, tank top and rose-tinted sunglasses. The title of her acclaimed and controversial film Bar Bahar — or In Between in English — is tattooed in Arabic and English on her right forearm.

Growing up in the West Bank, Amjad Hasan has watched his leaders trying to negotiate a so-called two-state solution, or a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

"The talks seemed to go on and on," says the 22-year-old electrical engineering student, who studies at Birzeit University outside the Palestinian city of Ramallah. "And nothing happened."

The death knell, Hasan says, came after President Donald Trump hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington this week.

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