Diaspora Voices is an occasional series of conversations with ex-Yugoslavs living abroad. In this, the third installment, two millennials from Croatia living and pursuing their PhD in the UK share their stories, poems, and scholarly findings of emigration.
Featuring the song “Uvelo misto” by Bobo & Saša Antić.
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PETER KORCHNAK: This is Remembering Yugoslavia, the show exploring the memory of a country that no longer exists. I’m your guide Peter Korchnak.
Diaspora Voices is an occasional series on this podcast of conversations with people from the countries of former Yugoslavia who live abroad. In this, the third installment, I invited two guests to share their stories.
Both were born after 1991 in Croatia; both left the country and ended up in the United Kingdom after the Brexit referendum; and, which is perhaps the most interesting part, they both deal with emigration and immigration in more than just personal capacity.
Lana Bojanić writes poetry about it…
LANA BOJANIĆ: I write poetry I translate it I don’t mention you in it / It takes effort, not even the snow sticks to the ground here
PETER KORCHNAK: While Franka Zlatić studies immigration to the UK as part of her PhD…
FRANKA ZLATIĆ: What happens with those people, are they really left in the middle of not feeling that belonging in full sense, as they may have before they left their home countries.
PETER KORCHNAK: In a way, these conversations turned out to be less about Yugoslavia or the memory of it per se and more about emigration and settling in another country. Sure, emigration from any country of former Yugoslavia is a historical echo of working abroad as so-called Gastarbeiters during socialist times. But there are quite a few differences in today’s movement, least of all that today’s migrants, including both of my guests, intend on staying in their host countries.
I enjoyed these conversations all the more as someone who can relate to Lana’s and Franka’s stories on a personal level: I too left my home land for better, or at least different, opportunities without intending to return.
At any rate, before we get to it I must give you a quick cautionary notice: This is one of the very few episodes of Remembering Yugoslavia in which Tito does not make an appearance.
And as always, this episode of Remembering Yugoslavia is brought to you by…you. Thank you to everyone who has joined Remembering Yugoslavia as a monthly supporter on Patreon or donated one time on the Remembering Yugoslavia website via PayPal.
Today I welcome new monthly supporters slash patrons Jordon and Billie and extend my gratitude to Billie and Mike for their one-time contributions.
If you like the show and wish to support it and me in making it, join these generous people as a monthly supporter at Patreon.com/RememberingYugoslavia or donate one time at RememberingYugoslavia.com/Donate.
[MUSICAL INTERLUDE – PIANO]
Croatian Diaspora Voices: Lana Bojanić
PETER KORCHNAK: Lana Bojanić was born in 1992 in Zagreb.
LANA BOJANIĆ: I have been some kind of emigrant since 2017.
I, as many people from Croatia and Slovenia, parts of ex-Yugoslavia, decided to use the fact that we are now part of EU and that I can go to study somewhere within EU where universities are much better for not that much money.
I realized that the opportunities that I can have in Croatia are unfortunately not even close to the opportunities that are basically just outside. I wanted to do research and basically just do my work without worrying about corruption and nepotism. And, am I in the right party? Should I join a political party? Which unfortunately, I think is a big, big problem in contemporary Croatia.
I was first temporarily academic migrant to Utrecht, Netherlands. And after that, I became a proper one when I moved to UK, Manchester.
In Utrecht, I studied clinical psychology. And as a part of my master’s, I had to finish an internship, for which I went to University of Manchester, finished that, and then I was offered the job, which I took, a job as a research assistant. And since the beginning of 2020, I’m also a PhD student at the same lab.
PETER KORCHNAK: A fun tidbit: my sister finished the very same program at Utrecht a year before Lana started.
Lana Bojanić is a published poet in her home country. The title of her latest book, which came out last year, translates as Utilities for Hunting and Time Traveling. The jacket copy describes it as “poetry of emigration.” The poem “A Sunny Sunday in the North” is about Lana’s experience in the Netherlands.
A Sunny Sunday in the North
[BACKGROUND MUSIC – “Empty Trees” by Ketsa]
Flocks of elaborate beards push strollers under the January sun
In which guitars, cures for cancer, and spaceships nap peacefully
What a prize, a sunny Sunday in the north!
Thin tendons of light stretch over the canal
And today nobody will cry in the bathroom
Or remember their grandparents somewhere far away
Where people drink as if they want to melt something inside
Like they do with statues and church bells before battles
With their translucent wives they will count the cities where it is summer now
Cities they will attach to the refrigerator with magnets
Cities they will name their kids after
They will promise to buy them a goldfish that will float, forever idle
In the regulated aquarium in the corner of the living room
Out of which there is no need to jump
Today, one should enjoy themselves
Because tomorrow it will rain again, that is the rule
Hard drops will hit windows,
Asphalted roads and people and it will sound
As if thousands of journalists are typing on their computers all at once
Breaking news about a country somewhere far away
In which a civil war just started
And now everybody’s vacation tickets will go to waste
PETER KORCHNAK: Brexit looms large in Lana’s experience of immigrating to the UK.
LANA BOJANIĆ: In a way because of my job, I haven’t met anybody who voted for Brexit, at least willing to share that with me, which is I mean, understandable. However, what I’m told is that a lot of my colleagues’ grandparents and elderly parents voted for it. So I guess a better steer clear of those. I guess.
I mean, all jokes aside, it is a bit unnerving because the whole rhetoric of Brexit, the superficial one, the one around newspapers was basically Eastern Europeans, Slavs coming and stealing jobs. And then some of the catastrophic prognosis would be, “And then Serbia will also join the EU. And all of those millions of Serbs are going to also come to [the] UK and steal all of your jobs and see what’s already happening with Hungarians and I don’t know, Croatians, Pollacks,” all of that. So technically, you do have a small but constant feeling and fear of being at least nominally persona non grata, being Eastern European and being Slav.
In my lab, all of my colleagues are British, so I’m the only non-British person in my lab, which is sometimes, I mean, funny, in a way of, you know, cultural mishaps and jokes, and so on, but overwhelmingly positive. But I mean, on the grander scheme of things, I’m going to be here for three years in September. I have two British friends and all my other friends are various types of immigrants.
My personal situation is mostly positive. However, it’s this type of atmosphere that I’m saying that is within [the] country is a bit persistent and strange. I have zero problems with people in my immediate surroundings. However, the global atmosphere is a bit strange, I have to say.
PETER KORCHNAK: My immigration experience has been interwoven by a number of connecting threads. For starters, a desire to be invisible as an immigrant, which of course my accent continues to betray. Nostalgia was a big one for a while. What about you?
LANA BOJANIĆ: So one of the most basic characteristics of being an immigrant that I discovered is constantly comparing: comparing how is it here with how is it back home, you know, everything from people to weather to prices of beer. I think the gist of being an immigrant is that you either consciously or unconsciously compare everything you have now to what you left.
Another skill you hone while growing up in Balkans is catching up subtle differences between different regions of Croatia, between different regions of ex-Yugoslavia. You know, you can tell by somebody’s last name, whether they’re Slovenian or Serb, or how they call their grandfather, are they’re from south Croatia or the eastern part, you know. So it’s always about those subtle, subtle small differences. And then you arrive here and you’re just all banded up with everybody else, ah, Croat, Pollack, Bosniak, who cares? To them, that’s all the same. So it feels like I have a skill that I acquired just by being where I’m from that is completely useless here. They are just not interested.
PETER KORCHNAK: How do Brits react to the fact you’re from Croatia?
LANA BOJANIĆ: When I do mention Croatia, if people are interested, then it’s three possible topics: vacations, war, and football. Oh, I’ve been to Dubrovnik, I’ve been to Split, it’s so nice,. Or they have some vague idea about the war. Or, yes, I mean, since Croatia beat England in last World Cup football is also a topic.
PETER KORCHNAK: Do you associate with Croats in the UK?
LANA BOJANIĆ: I keep properly busy, not much time to explore anything, but I would not even be up for it, even if I had time.
I mean, expats naturally gravitate toward each other. In Utrecht, I was the only Croat at my Master’s. However, other Croats managed to find me through Facebook, and then I was hanging out with a couple of Serbs also. Basically, you know, it’s always your people, then people close to your people, then if that’s not happening, then other Slavs that’s okay, as well.
That type of interaction can often lead to you know, basically living in a ghetto, which is not something I’m keen on.
PETER KORCHNAK: Do you plan to stay in the UK? Or return to Croatia?
LANA BOJANIĆ: Yeah, I’m planning to stay, knock on wood, if they would have me.
My father’s family is from [the] island of Hvar. So I do have this idea in which I’m retired, you know, in my early 70s, and I’m there tending to an olive grove or you know, orchard of some kind…
PETER KORCHNAK: Lana’s grandfather inspired the poem called “A Letter to El-Shatt.”
LANA BOJANIĆ: When he was a little boy, he was living on Hvar, on island Hvar, and together with a lot of island dwellers, women and children were evacuated to El-Shatt, Egypt, during [the] Second World War. And basically this poem just started with me thinking, am I the only one in my family who emigrated who lived for a long time abroad. And at first, I couldn’t remember anybody, but then I remembered his experience.
A Letter to El-Shatt
[BACKGROUND MUSIC – “Empty Trees” by Ketsa]
[To I.B. (1928-2016)]
You edit newspapers in a language that tastes of different olives
And when nobody is watching
You peer through the keyholes left by pins
Where the children of your children are shooting satellites through the hoops
Signing your name on documents
I write poetry I translate it I don’t mention you in it
It takes effort, not even the snow sticks to the ground here
For dinner we both have cans of fish
Don’t leave them out in the sun lest they blow up like a dead whale’s stomach
And make the puppet inside cry so hard you lose your appetite
I almost called home to ask
If we had anything in common
Apart from bitterness and that mole under the left eye
But I sank into the night
Like into the dry sands of Sinai that do not partake in the flow of time
Every time when on one end of the timeline there is no hot
And on the other no cold water
So we search for each other, dirty and thirsty
Every time there is a shooting and there are shootings all the time
Don’t you worry, they won’t hurt us
I preserve you better than any black and white photograph
We hid into the far-away
Until it all blows over
PETER KORCHNAK: Even as an emigrant, who you are, where you’re from, stays with you, it cannot be denied. What’s your relationship to Croatia, to your people so to speak, now that you’ve been gone for a few years and do not plan to return any time soon?
LANA BOJANIĆ: I cannot see myself as anything other than a Croat. However, I don’t think that’s anything to be either proud or ashamed of. To me basically my nationality is something as natural as like color of my hair, right? So you can dye your hair but your original color would always be what you— And I mean, it’s nothing to do with blood or genetics, it’s basically the place that shaped you, the place you grew up at.
For example, okay, I might be kind of darting off the subject, but it always kind of got on my nerves when they, for example, when they call my generation Millennials, and especially when they use the Millennial definition from the USA. Millennials from the Balkan region, I think, have a completely different set of issues and problems. And we kind of I don’t think we can even identify at all with our North American counterparts,
So basically, I’m just a little bit younger than my own country, which most certainly shaped the whole situation, developing in Croatia, going through a big political, economical transition, recovering from the war, and basically growing up under these circumstances, most certainly that shaped who I am and the way I look at things, and that’s what I mean when I say a Croat. I’m a Croat born in [a] very specific age for Croatia. You understand?
I was kind of upset that I think a bar closed or something like that, a bar in the neighborhood that I really liked. And I think my mom commented like, “Oh, yeah, that happened a long time ago. And I said, “You know what, the only business you guys—you guys being like my family and friends and Zagreb and Croatia—have while I’m away, do not change. Nothing should change. I mean, every time I came back, everything should be exactly as I left it, which is of course, impossible and of course creates certain, I mean, emotions of frustration, longing, even jealousy, you know, like, come on. That’s that’s my place.
PETER KORCHNAK: One of the phenomena related to Yugonostalgia that fascinates me is the nostalgia for Yugoslavia among people who were born after the country disintegrated and who have no lived experience in it. So of course I must ask Lana how she feels about Yugoslavia.
LANA BOJANIĆ: The idea of Yugoslavia is always something both in my family’s narrative and in narrative in general, like, it’s like this kind of fairy tale. In high school, I played I played basketball, same as my father, and he would always tease me that his team was so I, I was while I was playing, we were champions of Croatia, and he would always tease me, “Ah, well, Croatia, I was always champion of Yugoslavia. That was [a] much bigger place.
So in a way, it sounds like it used to be this fairytale place where people could have played basketball all around, do poetry readings all around, and then something bad, something super bad happened, and now we’re here. So really, the only thing I know is what I’ve been told.
PETER KORCHNAK: Lana was a cofounder of the now defunct writers’ troupe Kniževna grupa 90 Plus, or Literary Group 90 Plus, comprising young authors born in the 90s.
LANA BOJANIĆ: We were going around former Yugoslavia countries, we went everywhere, basically, to read and basically socialize with other young poets of the generation, and you see how all of the resulting countries of Yugoslavia are kind of narrow, very narrow. If you want to just stick to your own, you’re actually going to miss certain things. You’re going to miss other I mean, again, in my context, other poets, other writers, new audience[s], interesting books, interesting venues, festivals, opportunities. Most of us, with certain deviation, we understand each other almost perfectly. Right? That’s basically the same language we speak.
We all have similar issues, that basically governments, don’t invest that much into culture, how paper magazines are dying one by one and how everybody is escaping to internet and to Facebook to read and share and promote their work. So it’s basically very, very similar situations in which we all are. So sometimes the way out of it is basically to band together, to group together.
Utilities for Hunting and Time-travelling
[BACKGROUND MUSIC – “Empty Trees” by Ketsa]
Sad Catholics wait until July to be born
Behind the white doors and in front of the library
With utilities for hunting and time-travelling under their pillows
And then a quarter of century later
Mothers proudly hang
Chequered shirts, sports bras
Black socks and band t-shirts
While those who they belong to play cowboys and Indians naked
Cowboys cut clouds into horses that drip with sweat
Indians drink cologne water and sleep near the motorway
They sneak looks at each other but never get out of the role,
Sometimes they sync their strides
Pay their library fines
And they are gone, just like that
Before the sunset, mothers collect clothes from the rope
And hug them until the sun’s warmth is gone
They will return when the Chronicle of the Day ends
When the tinnitus from air raid and evening sermon ceases
The sunset will throw up all the sour time in a stream
Spit back both the horses and riders
Straight into their laps
That is what mothers think when they draw the curtains
So nobody would mistake their wakefulness for waiting
PETER KORCHNAK: One thing I’m finding interesting in speaking with diasporans is that, even though they don’t wish to return, many of them want to make a difference in their home countries.
LANA BOJANIĆ: So I work at a Center for Mental Health and Safety at the National Confidential Inquiry into suicide and safety and mental health. So basically, my research deals with mental illness and suicide prevention in mental health services.
What I see and what I think is how much funds and money are invested into questions regarding mental illness and relieving the stigma and suicide prevention here in the UK. I mean, I’m both amazed in a positive sense and also shocked because I know that in Croatia, and I think, again, the whole Balkan region, we do have a lot of issues. I mean, suicide rates, of [the] Balkan region are high. And I mean, it is an objective problem.
A lot is talked about, for example, PTSD caused by the war etcetera but other things are not mentioned. There is still [a] huge stigma regarding suicidality, self harming behavior. And I mean, almost nothing is invested towards that. Yeah, so in a way I’m very happy that here I have all of these resources. But I mean, one of my big wishes is to start, start doing something start starting some initiatives or research back home aimed at suicide prevention, because I see it as a big problem now.
PETER KORCHNAK: Like my next guest, Lana emigrated after Croatia joined the European Union. The two are not alone.
A January 2019 article on Balkan Insight opened with, “An anaemic economy and widespread pessimism about the future is driving growing numbers of Croatians to leave for other EU countries, and few plan to ever move back.”
EU membership has failed to provide incentives to stay, says Alida Vračić, Executive Director of the Bosnian think tank Populari, adding that “the entry into the EU has been the final trigger and people began to leave the country in large numbers.”
According to official data from the Croatian Bureau of Statistics, 15,262 Croatian citizens emigrated in 2013, the year the country of just over 4 million joined the EU; by 2017 that number rose to 47,352. Croatia’s National Bank by contrast estimates that between 2013 and 2016, 230,000 people, or about 58,000 people a year, left the country for mainly Western European Union countries, Germany and Ireland for the most part.
By another estimate, in 2016, some 80,000 people left the country. That’s basically as if the population of Zadar, Croatia’s fifth largest city located on the Adriatic coast, just up and vanished.
On current projections, according to Tim Judah, by 2050 Croatia will have 22.4 per cent fewer people than it did in 1990. That’s nearly a quarter of the country’s population in three generations gone.
The causes are not just economic, like low salaries, poor working conditions, or lack of good job opportunities. Social factors are significant too, says Kresimir Ivanda of the Faculty of Economics in Zagreb, including “a negative perception of the future in Croatia, widespread clientelism and corruption, a feeling that it is impossible to realise one’s goals and wishes in Croatia.”
As you’d expect, the malaise is reflected in pop culture. Take the song “Uvelo misto,” or “A Withered Place” by Bobo & Saša Antić, which you’ll hear courtesy of Bobo Knežević and Croatia Records. Against the backdrop of a tune evoking the sunny Adriatic and the popular music of old, the duo raps about a place that used to be famous and busy and loud and clean and overflowing with food and honey, but now it is empty and deserted, even of stray animals, and wind whistles through the streets and everyone went to Dublin and the only thing remaining are grandma’s cries and grandpa’s slippers. “Grandma and I and grandma’s pension / Every day outside the store / We play cards waiting for people to return / And fill all the terraces…”
To underscore the message, the video to the song was filmed at the abandoned construction site of a university hospital in Zagreb and at an empty playground.
“Uvelo misto” (Withered Place) by Bobo Knežević & Saša Antić
[MUSICAL INTERLUDE – PIANO]
Croatian Diaspora Voices: Franka Zlatić
PETER KORCHNAK: Franka Zlatić was born in 1994.
FRANKA ZLATIĆ: I finished my high school education and my higher education in Rijeka. And after that, I really wanted to move, I really wanted to migrate. And literally three to four days after I graduated my master’s, I moved to the UK, to Leicester. Due to the coronavirus, I’m currently in Croatia.
I went to study cultural studies, so Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences. And, you know, being in Croatia, and I think in [the] Balkans in general, there are not so many job opportunities for social scientists and humanities. And I kind of knew, the further
along I got with my studies that the chances are I’m going to have to move unless I want to work for some really, I don’t know, underpaid job where I won’t be happy.
PETER KORCHNAK: I’m curious how, if at all, she is representative of her generation in terms of leaving the country.
FRANKA ZLATIĆ: I’m not the only one. If anything, I’m the last one that has left. I mean, that sounds, you know, scary, but it is like that. I grew up in a small village slash town, in a mountain province in Croatia. And you know, these villages don’t have that many people. I mean, obviously, later on in my life I moved to Rijeka, which is like a proper city, so, obviously, I didn’t, you know, stay in this small religion throughout my life, but I kept coming back, you know, for the weekends or holidays or stuff like that. And the more time went by like, especially from, I think 2014 and 2015, people started to leave, you know. Most of them went to Ireland and Germany, Sweden. It becomes a part of your everyday life that people are just not here. And that there’s someone in you know, every other house in this village that has a family member working abroad. My father has been working abroad for the past 15 years. My uncle’s working abroad as well. I’m abroad. It’s so incorporated into what we live now people don’t think about it that much anymore. I think it was a shock, you know, five or six years back when people started to leave, but now, it’s a continuous process.
I would like to come back some time. But I would like to come back some time and be happy and not just survive, you know, to live in a relaxed kind of way that you don’t have to worry about tomorrow. I’m not asking for anything luxurious, it’s just that you are able to live, you know, [a] relaxed kind of life that you can afford things that you don’t have to think twice about, if you’re going to spend that money or not. You can afford to go on a holiday or stuff like that. I would like to come back, but that plan is so blurry at the moment that I’m just trying to think one step ahead.
PETER KORCHNAK: Franka used one of the best programs in the European Union, Erasmus, to get an internship in the UK, which was still working on severing the ties with the EU, and ended up staying.
As with Lana, I’m curious what her experience has been in relation to Brexit, particularly whether she’s feeling any pressure to leave.
FRANKA ZLATIĆ: I think what influenced that feeling the most were newspapers and media in general, with all those titles from Brexiters saying they want to protect their country, protect their jobs, and keep their identity strong and clear.
Luckily, I never had a practical experience where someone was really acting badly towards me. So I didn’t have, you know, that discriminatory feeling of someone actually being mean to me because I’m European. But you can feel that. I mean, just being in the UK, at the point of Brexit, I didn’t feel comfortable, I really didn’t.
PETER KORCHNAK: As she settled in the UK, she got on the path of studying basically her own experience.
FRANKA ZLATIĆ: So I’m currently a PhD student at the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Nottingham. I got a scholarship. So I’m funded by my university. I currently teach at the school as well. And here I am, halfway there.
I’m doing a PhD in migration and to be more specific in individual migration to the UK. I want to examine what happens with identities of people who have moved to the UK alone.
All of these things that I’m currently researching, that’s what happened to me. I was having some new friends in the UK, but I was still balancing my old relationships and friendships in Croatia, you know, texting, video calling, my family being here. And at some point, I felt lost, because I knew that I will never be British enough to be considered British. And on the other hand, when I come back to Croatia, I had a feeling that I was not Croatian, in a sense that I was before I left.
And that was kind of my leading idea: so what happens with those people are they really left in the middle of not feeling that belonging in full sense, as they may have before they left their home countries.
I’m looking into people that have moved sometime in the past 10 years, which is quite important when talking about generation, because those people are more likely to be in the 20s and 30s, because not many people decide to move in their 50s and 60s.
The face of migration has changed quite a lot, especially with European Union, and I think people move now, more individually. You have young people searching for a better life, that don’t have commitments in their home countries, they still don’t have I don’t know, families, partners, children, they don’t have jobs. So they’re free to move and to look for something else. And that I think is especially highlighted, with students going abroad to study. And then they just stay there.
So they moved at, let’s say, 18, 19, 20. Moving to the UK meant literally moving to the adulthood. So this is the first time you’re moving from home, you have lived with your parents so far, and now not just you’re moving away from your parents, you’re moving to a different country, learning a different language, being completely independent. They don’t know what it’s like to live an adult life in their home country. So they don’t have that experience of trying to find a job, going to university, living on your own. It’s a bit scary because all your adult life has been in the UK and you know, you cannot identify as British.
What I’m most interested about is that liminality, which in really simple terms means being in between. And that theory is usually applied to rites of passage when you move from one stage in your life to another, for example, boy becoming a man, girl becoming a woman, and you have those, you know, traditional thresholds, let’s call them that way, of change. And what liminality implies is that through some changes, you don’t go through fully, you just remain in between, you kind of get stuck in between. And that’s what I’m really interested about is, are those people who move by themselves, you know, alone, stuck in between, and they can never identify with something so fully that they can say, “Yes, that’s where I belong.” And most of my participants cannot say that; they feel they don’t belong in the home country, they feel they don’t belong in the host country. And it leaves a question, Where do you belong? Where do you feel, I mean, you know, completely yourself, not just comfortable because you can feel comfortable wherever you think your home is, which is also one of the theories that I’m trying to explore and research. What is home? Is it a house? Is it people that surround you? Is it you and you being happy and comfortable? Is it, you know, routines and patterns of behavior that you have each and every day.
So that leaves that, you know, elementary question of, where are those people at home and what makes them feel they belong?
PETER KORCHNAK: It’s a fascinating study for me, because I see my own experience of immigrating to the US reflected in it. The question of identity, certainly. The question of home. I’m home here; Slovakia is “home-home.” I’m American by dual citizenship but I stand out as soon as I open my mouth. “Where’s your accent from?” is the number one question I get. In Slovakia, some have nicknamed me The American.
FRANKA ZLATIĆ: Me being a white person in the UK, is something that, you know, in theory, is often called protective whiteness, because when people see me, they don’t automatically assume that I’m a migrant. In those terms, race can be quite a determining factor when being a migrant and trying to balance your identity and trying to, you know, assimilate, integrate, and, you know, settle down.
And then you have obviously, your name demarcations, which tell a lot, and that’s what gives me out. No matter how good my accent can be, and obviously, I may sound British but British people hear that this is not an original accent. This is something that I’ve put together. The moment they see my name, they don’t know how to pronounce it. They know I’m not British, you know, they can see some East European origins but it’s quite blurry, you know. I think name is the thing that does it before my language.
What I noticed is, the longer you stay, in the UK, I mean, it’s harder to identify with what you were. Those relationships with your friends are not so intensive anymore. You catch up with them when you go home, maybe once a year, you congratulate each other’s birthdays or Christmases but you don’t keep in touch regularly as much as you do when you first come to the UK. And the more you save the UK, obviously, the more connections or relationships you have there, maybe you’ve switched some jobs, you know, you have work colleagues, maybe you’ve bought a house there, and you just became more and more settled, which obviously doesn’t mean that your identity becomes more British or that you feel more British, that you can identify with more British stuff. But I think it gets much harder the longer you stay.
And I had a feeling that the more you stay in the UK, the less are the chances that you’re ever going to go back.
PETER KORCHNAK: Like the subjects of your study, you moved to the UK alone. But you didn’t stay alone, whether in terms of work or neighbors or, of course, compatriots. What’s your relationship, if any, with the Croatian diaspora?
FRANKA ZLATIĆ: I do communicate with fellow Croatians. But some people move as a part of what’s called chain migration. So they have previous contacts in the country of destination that have helped them come there, find a job, find accommodation, you know, settle down. And that’s kind of a more of a traditional form of migration. What happens, I mean what happened with me is, I first got there and then I started to explore if there was maybe a network of Croatians, which eventually I did find. But I don’t take part in that that much, I have to admit.
And in terms of [the] Balkans in general, in the UK, I think those networks, they’re quite strong. You know, you have those international food shops, international restaurants, and you can buy, you know, some stuff from Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, some traditional Balkan stuff, you know, like sweets or coffee. I don’t know, meat, you know, traditional Bosnian meat, like ćevapi or something like that. And I have to admit, it makes me happy when I see that because for a tiny moment, it makes you feel like home.
PETER KORCHNAK: In discussing Yugonostalgia, Mitja Velikonja has termed nostalgia for Yugoslavia, and in fact anything, among those who have no lived experience or memory of it, “neostalgia.” I can’t say I like the term but regardless, what it describes is real. People born after 1991 hear about that disappeared country from parents or grandparents, are raised by people who were born and raised and educated there, read about it in the media, books, and so on, and a lot of them develop a sense of nostalgia for that place and time even though they don’t know it themselves. So I want to compare Franka’s experience with Lana’s.
FRANKA ZLATIĆ: That story has so many layers, there are so many different interpretations of it, it just feels like a constant walking on ice. You still have to be careful what you’re going to say in front of someone, how are you going to reflect on what you’ve heard or what you think.
It’s not only about what has been passed down through my family, but also what I’ve been taught, you know, in my higher education studies. There are always those good stories, you know, when people say, life was so much easier, we had more money, we were able to afford a holiday. It was nicer times, it was not so much discrimination, it was simpler to plan ahead. And that’s one side of the story. And then you have the other side of the story that says, it was not all so perfect, when you could ride your car on certain days of the week depending on your license plate. And there were certain parts of time when we were receiving international aid. There’s also that side of the story that not everything was so transparent as people like to think it was.
It’s hard to have an opinion on your own when you haven’t been there that makes you able to judge and to make something of your own of those stories that you’ve heard. I think it’s very difficult to think about Yugoslavia if you come from an ex-Yugoslavian country. But what I find really interesting, that being in Croatia or being in Serbia, for example, let’s just say, you have to be careful of what you say and where you say it, you know, in terms of what happened and what keeps happening.
When I was last time in Belgrade, there was a football match between Partizan and Crvena Zvezda, and, you know, I got some instructions from my fellow Serbian friends saying, maybe you shouldn’t go to that part of town because if they hear you speak, you might have some troubles. That disappears when you meet Serbians in international waters, when you meet them outside of the Balkans, where those values become so distorted, almost invisible, and they’re allies because you share a language, you share a culture, you shared a state once… It’s as if this geography makes us feel that way. And once we go out, it just disappears. It must be something in the air.
[BACKGROUND MUSIC – “European Populism” by Nosens]
PETER KORCHNAK: A few years into living in the US I wrote a blog, American Robotnik, about my experience of immigrating to the country and immigration in general. This was my first go at the study of nostalgia and one of the origins of Remembering Yugoslavia. Towards the end of the blog’s three-year run, I mostly posted quotes about migration from all the reading I did. One of the most impactful pieces was And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos by John Berger.
“Emigration does not only involve leaving behind, crossing water, living amongst strangers, but also, undoing the very meaning of the world,” Berger wrote. “[T]o emigrate is always to dismantle the center of the world, and so to move into a lost, disoriented one of fragments.”
“Every migrant knows in his heart of hearts that it is impossible to return. Even if he is physically able to return, he does not truly return, because he himself has been so deeply changed by his emigration.”
Lana’s and Franka’s experiences, writing, and findings confirm this, as do mine.
And I can’t help but relate the emigration experience to that of losing a country. In that sense, when Yugoslavia—or my own country, Czechoslovakia, for that matter—disintegrated, every one of its citizens became an emigrant even without ever moving anywhere. The country was behind them, in the past, the meaning of their world altered forever, the return impossible, their experience a collection of fragments and the remainder of their life a search for new meaning, for the new center of the world.
[BACKGROUND MUSIC – “Rainmaker” by Petar Alargić]
PETER KORCHNAK: Next time on Remembering Yugoslavia:
ANETA VLADIMIROV: It was not just neglected as a monument but it also was exposed to the stealing the material it was built from.
PETER KORCHNAK: The World War II monument at Petrova Gora is one of the most notorious derelict Yugoslav-era monuments. How did it come to be and what happened to it over the past three decades? And why should we care?
On the next episode of Remembering Yugoslavia, the Monument to the Uprising at Petrova Gora and its discontents.
Tune in wherever you listen to podcasts and subscribe to make sure you don’t miss out.
PETER KORCHNAK: That’s all for this episode of Remembering Yugoslavia, thank you for listening. Find the poems, song lyrics, and the transcript of this episode in the show notes at RememberingYugoslavia.com/Podcast.
If you wish to support the show, visit RememberingYugoslavia.com/Donate.
Outro music courtesy of Robert Petrić. Additional music by Nosens, Ketsa, and Petar Alargić licensed under Creative Commons. The song “Uvelo misto” performed by Bobo & Saša Antić, with lyrics by the two of them and music by Bobo Knežević, used with his permission and courtesy of Croatia Records. Special thanks to Ema Pavlović.
I am Peter Korchňak.
“Uvelo misto” (A Withered Place”) by Bobo & Saša Antić
Uvelo misto / A withered place
Nekad bilo čuveno / It used to be famous
Dolazili sa svih strana / People came from all directions
Uvik vreva galama / It was always loud
Cilog dana svakog dana / All day every day
Bilo svega sušija kebaba / There was sushi and kebabs
Kuvalo se frigalo peklo / People were cooking and roasting
Med i mlijeko teklo / Honey and milk flowed
Ono šta bi se reklo / What can you say
Sve bilo čisto / Everything was clean
Moga si jest sa poda / You could eat off the floor
Živili ka gospoda / Live like masters
Sad nigdi ništa / Now there’s nothing
Prazne zgrade igrališta / Empty buildings and playgrounds
Puste škole i vrtići / Deserted schools and kindergartens
Kladionice i kafići / Betting parlors and cafes
Vitar zviždi kroz kale / Wind whistles through streets
I nosi plač babe / And carries grandma’s cries
Prije je bilo malo misto / It used to be a small place
Poslije je bilo velo misto / Then it was a big place
Sad je samo uvelo misto / Now it’s just a withered place
Uvelo misto uvelo misto / A withered place
Baba i ja i babina penzija / Grandma and I and grandma’s pension
Svakog dana isprid dućana / Every day outside the store
Igramo karte čekamo ljude da se vrate / We play cards waiting for people to return
I napune štekate i misto / And fill terraces and the place
Sa domaćon pismon / With domestic letters
U kraju nema ni pasa / In the end there aren’t even dogs
Ni klape ne pivaju istog glasa / Even bands don’t sing in the same voice
Uvele ceste i kalete / Withered roads and streets
I furešti ritko nalete / And you rarely meet foreigners
Jer svi su iz mista ošli u Dublin / Because everyone left the place for Dublin
Ostaje samo plač babin / Only grandma’s cries remained
Ostale samo didove šlape / Only grandpa’s slippers remained
U Dublin su ošle pivati klape / They went to Dublin to sing in bands
Pošten vridan sve je džaba / Honest, hardworking, everything is for nothing
Slušaj šta ti repa baba / Listen to what grandma is rapping
Ako nisi neka klika / If you aren’t in some coterie
Moj sinko moš se slikat / You can take photos, son
Zato više nema niko / That’s why there’s no one left
Ošli svi u lipi Meksiko / They all went to nice Mexico
Uvelo misto / A withered place
Uvelo misto je to / It’s a withered place
Uvelo misto / A withered place
Misto je uvelo / The place has withered