I don’t know how Kosovars imagine life is in Croatia, but through conversations with Western Balkan people I noticed the one thing that they pointed out the most: A European passport.
Croatians have freedom of movement through the EU with only their ID’s and don’t need a work visa or any working permissions, unlike its southeastern neighboring states.
The desire to flee the Balkans has intensified in the last 30 years and locals began to see that the diaspora were leaving for different reasons. People used to leave because of personal financial crashes, but now the young ducklings are not flying to escape poverty. They flee to escape narrow-mindedness, political conformism and corruption.
We must acknowledge that Croatia is not that far from European standards, yet it has experienced the same demographic decline as the rest of the region.
It has become a trend, this image of a progressive young working force, a definition of self-initiative, courage, and skill.
People with various vocations, including those in the cultural field, decide to test their luck and skill outside of their native country.
But, what if you are a young person with an itching desire to work in the cultural sector in Croatia?
Life in Zagreb
Zagreb can be seen as a crossroad between Central and Eastern Europe, a metropolis with potential to find a decent job. The cultural sector has almost no jobs elsewhere in Croatia, but in Zagreb you can find a job even as a student.
I took the opportunity as a young woman from the province, rushing to climb the ladder of career success. Soon enough, I found myself in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb as a tour guide and an assistant in tour management. I thought that was brilliant.
It was the best spot I could be at this point. I enjoyed my student job and continued to stay at the museum outside my working hours just to improve the quality of my tours.
Simultaneously, I worked at the Art Pavilion, an old gallery space that hosts various exhibitions, as protection staff, telling people not to touch any paintings.
The grass isn’t always greener on the western point of the Balkans. As COVID-19 cases skyrocketed, all the tours were canceled. We all know the drill: Lockdown, masks and two months of introspection. The job’s off but it’s fine.
In autumn it will all come together.
March 22, 6:10 a.m. The ground beneath me is violently shaking. ”Please don’t let the building collapse, please don’t let the building collapse” I manically repeat as I jump under the door frame.
I became instantaneously religious to any sort of divinity that has power to stop this chaos. My heart was beating in my ears, my legs were shaking as I was holding strong onto my Dear One’s chest.
As the ground stopped trembling, the sound of car alarms and dog barks were murmuring from the streets.
Zagreb was hit by a 5.5 magnitude earthquake. The Archaeological Museum, as well as the Museum of Arts and Crafts, suffered immensely. Both Art Academies in Zagreb almost collapsed and are still not safe for any form of study. Unfinished artwork remained on fragmented walls, dusty hallways were full of bricks, and wooden construction beams were peeking through the broken roof.
The Art Pavilion is closed for at least a year alongside other cultural institutions. Local underground scene institutions were most devastated, especially AKC Medika.
Young people spontaneously started gathering around the National Theatre, partly because every other alternative was unavailable due to damage caused by the earthquake.
I thought to myself: In autumn it will all come together.
Regarding the current urban situation, there is not much to do. Most decisions about the renovation of damaged buildings are in the hands of the current mayor who is known for poor urban interventions helped through partnerships with building companies.
Restaurateurs, conservators, urban technicians and other valuable positions are underappreciated and their voice is of little relevance when it comes to decisions about the damaged buildings.
And a bit about the future
Croatia has had parliamentary elections at the beginning of July, and because of it, the recovery plan was postponed. Cultural workers are terrified of losing their jobs, and students are quickly and surely waving goodbye to their cherished 4 euro per hour paychecks. I said goodbye to my potential curatorial qualification.
Now there are two options: Flee the country and go to Ireland, Austria, Germany or continue this painful bureaucratic struggle filled with corruption and political conformism.
Should I volunteer for years before becoming a bitter cultural worker?
Should I change my vocation?
Is there any hope that I will one day learn how to pull financial resources from the European Union cultural fund to provide myself a paycheck?
My utopian vision of curating amazing exhibitions collapsed along with the earthquake. I will continue working on my graduation thesis on the Western perception of the Balkan’s culture and what it means to be from the region.
I would like to learn how to collaborate with international agencies in order to revitalize the cultural scene in this region and to help establish a regional collaboration where we can help each other learn how to overcome mutual and common issues that happen simultaneously.
That’s why I contacted Kosovo 2.0; and that’s why I’m writing in English.
I’d like to use my passport wisely — not to leave, but to enable building bridges.
This blog is part of our #Youth2020 series. Want to share what’s on your mind? Click here to find out more.
Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.