Between YU and EU
It's not easy being an immigrant in Western Europe; being Croatian in Germany is a special story. Traditionally, Germany has been the primary immigrant destination for peoples from the (South-) East European “civilization”: the Turks, the Greeks, the Serbs, and the Croats. Generations of Gastarbeiters (“guest workers”): construction workers, waiters/waitresses and factory workers left their mark on the German economy; slowly but persistently they have been forming their own stereotype – with a touch of melancholy, they would tell mythical stories about their country's history; they are always ready to go back, but not just yet. Those are the people who spent more than a half of their lives in a “foreign land”, without ever succeeding in making it their own or becoming closer to it.
What best characterizes the diaspora and what troubles it the most is a constant pursuit of identity. Their national identity has been displaced and is constantly seeking confirmation, self-evaluation within a foreign context which is threatening, extirpating. Understood as an utterly abstract category, what is nationality exactly? What causes the diaspora to be so frozen in time and space?
While emanating a “global village” enthusiasm constructed by capitalism, focusing all our efforts on concepts of adjustment and assimilation, and swearing on our cosmopolitan identities, we easily forget that departing from one's culture is a very complex and challenging experience which entails a loss of intimacy, self-confidence, spontaneity, and even the disappearance of one's private life.
My departure abroad was, in the first place, voluntary, motivated by a desire for new experiences and, I suppose, by an insufficiently pronounced national identity, making me qualified to be called an existential migrant. However, I feel closer to Eva Hoffman’s definition of an “amateur anthropologist” who notices specific characteristics of a given culture, first the obvious, superficial ones that are much more obvious to those perceiving it from a distance than to those belonging to it, then the profound ones, and finally, accepting and evaluating them.
However, I cannot escape the impression that the receiving county has labeled me as an “immigrant from Croatia”.
So, in the distant Germany, I have been placed in a category that should exhibit signs of my national identity. Except from, as I admit, often suffering from symptoms of nostalgia for my family, friends, and certain places, I cannot say that I miss my country, its customs or the nation.
This is how I have been willy-nilly subjected to stereotypes; what is more, in that particular county I became just yet another worker - Gastarbeiter.
When life gives you stereotypes, make a theatrical play with a bitter-sweet after-taste. One of the best projects that touch upon the subject of national identity and stereotypes is a bag collection consisting of dense woven agricultural bags called “Croatia - As it is”, signed by a design collective Superstudio 29.
The project pushes to the absurd the subversion of tourism marketing slogans as it plays with the semantics of agricultural bags, and yet, so accurately points to our essence. The slogan “Between YU and EU” is by far best at describing the local state of affairs, and something from which no immigrant can escape – the ghosts of the past, and the ghosts of the promised prosperity.
The oversized bags are just big enough to fit a kulen sausage, and a prosciutto, and a homemade ajvar, and a plum jam, and sour pickles, and two pairs of grandma's woolen socks – all the things that are usually taken from home and “smuggled” across the border. That – if even needed – is actually the only part of our “national identity” we should carry along. The others will anyway constantly remind you of where you come from.