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Identity match in Croatia 

Regissør: Nebojsa Slijepcevic

Srbenka is a skilled metateater that involves the actors' own experiences and memories of the war in the 90 century. It also provides a good insight into how everyday life is becoming apparent among the Serbian minority in Croatia. 

Some have said that the renowned theater director Oliver Frljic creates drama wherever he goes. He has, on several occasions, made it clear that to him the theater is to a lesser extent a goal in itself, than a tool for social struggle.

His pieces always relate to the traumas and anomalies of the historical, geographical and political space he is in. As a result, he has also been awarded many awards.

Srbenka – a documentary made by Nebojsa Slijepcevic -  is based on one of Frljic's plays. The struggle is between the Serbian minority and the Croatian national feeling. The Serbian identity struggle in Croatia began during the war in the 90 century, and has later changed character to a political ideology that persists long after the war officially ends. 

A struggle for identities

In the 90 century, the dominant idea of ​​many – both in Croatia and neighboring Slovenia – was that a liberal democracy could only be established through the demolition of Yugoslavia. In this mindset, there was a tendency to think that being a "communist" coincided  to be "Serbian". Therefore, a break with the communist past was dependent on severing ties with Serbia.

12-year-old Aleksandra Zec was lynched, shot and dumped on a landfill in Zagreb in 1991. 

The new Croatian nation was formed by creating symbolic representations that idealized their own citizens and warriors. It was created by demonizing the enemy, and by constructing contrasting images of the future that were about victory and defeat. The importance of "winning the war" became crucial.

In 2014, Frljic wrote a play based on the true and tragic story of 12-year-old Serbian-born Aleksandra Zec. Along with her family, she was lynched, shot and dumped on a rubbish dump in Zagreb in 1991. Parallel to the story of this incident – riotously recreated in the film by the actors – is the testimony of a young, female spectator who is still traumatized by the violence and abuse she experienced as a child in a Croatian school because of their Serbian roots. 

And then it is the confession of Nina (as a 12-year-old she is the youngest actress in the play), who reluctantly reveals that she comes from a Serbian family herself. This has kept her hidden from her Croatian classmates – although she was born as late as 2001. The point is: Ethnic nationalism that stimulated war among previous generations has today grown into a hatred among their children and grandchildren, to despite being born several years after the war ended.

Prisoners of history

Frljic's plays are rarely based on dramatic texts; they have come about through a work process as well as through trial by trial with the actors (who often revolt against him). The latter forms the backbone of Slijepcevic's film. The process works almost like a form of collective psychotherapy and creates a metateater that involves not only the play itself, but also the actors' own self-esteem and memory. Although the theater installations create some distance, the actors have to work on their own and inherited memories of the war.

Trauma and memory violence have been transmitted through generations – both socially and genetically.

The exploration of the effects of ethnic nationalism in Croatia through artistic expression makes sense. First, because it acts as a counter to popular culture in Croatia in the 90s, which – for example, in film and popular music -
became a political instrument in the Croatian state-building discourse. Frljic's special approach makes extra sense in this case: The legacy of war traumas is largely political, but it is also deeply personal.

Trauma and memory violence have been shown to be transmitted through generations – both socially and genetically – in the form of stress and depression. Traumas associated with social groups – such as the Holocaust of the Jews, or even the historical oppression of women – are transmitted in space and time, as ghosts that haunt later generations and are transmitted in a future of their own. Heavy trauma forms the inner representations of reality for several generations; it is an unconscious organizing principle passed on by parents and internalized by their children. Carl Jung describes it this way: History has caught us.

New progress for nationalism

In Croatia today, the national discourse has apparently faded.  It is no longer necessary: ​​independence is achieved. The international process of political normalization following a conflict is well underway, along with the introduction of democratic procedures and talks aimed at Euro-Atlantic integration. Yet, a new progression of nationalism lurks in the background, and it is not just a revival of the conflicts of the 90s. Years of economic crisis, rising geopolitical tensions and the growing foreign fear of refugee crisis have led to a radicalization of society that applies not only to Croatia and the Balkans, but to Europe as a whole.

The reactionary Western argument about the "wild and violent people of the Balkans" is no longer commonplace.

The idea that a liberal society can only be achieved through the establishment of borders is widespread, and political parties are again trying to stimulate nationalist sentiment for their own benefit. Newly elected and right-wing governments create symbolic representations that idealize their own citizens. They demonize the enemy and construct contrasting images of the future: either of national purity, or of "the other's victory". 

This time, the reactionary Western argument about the "wild and violent people in the Balkans" is no longer viable. Instead, Europe must consider itself with a critical eye. Nevertheless, it seems that what happened after the collapse of Yugoslavia has again become relevant over two decades later.

Poglajen is a regular film critic in Ny Tid, resident

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