Vitor Blotta:USP SPECTRESS Fellow in Zagreb

Estrangement and familiarity: Notes on my stay in Zagreb – Dec 2015 – Feb 2016

Project: “You Will Never Understand: the monopoly of the place of speech though cultural trauma narratives in Croatia and Brazil”

I went to Zagreb with the intention of verifying if cultural trauma narratives may help me explain the recent worldly phenomena of conservatism and antagonistic approaches to politics, in all sides of the political spectrum.

Because the project involved an immersion into different accounts of traumatic events that speak to the identity individuals and cultures, I gradually began to identify similarities and distinctions amongst groups within the Croatian cultures, who were different from me, but did not seem at first different amongst themselves. I learned that independently from ethnic group, Croatians are warm-blooded, have strong family and friendship bonds, and are responsible and ethically oriented citizens. In this process I also found out similarities between Croatians and Brazilians, such as cheerfulness, and extroversion, communicative abilities, and love for sports.

Sunny day at Bundek Park. Zagreb

Sunny day at Bundek Park. Zagreb

This experience of living in a foreign country can be a good analogy of the ethical or scientific process of being impacted by an otherness that defies our categories of understanding. Firstly there are relations of estrangement, then labelling, distinguishing and in the end relating to the differences. In traumatic events, this estrangement process occurs over and over again, hindering the possibilities of identifying similarities between different sides. All this has made me try to identify commonalities in the antagonistic groups within Brazilian politics, especially in the transitional justice debate, such as general demands for safety, order and the search for a just outcome to all involved.

It was with this spirit that I came to Zagreb between December 2015 and February 2016. After spending this time studying Croatian post-war literature and relating to colleagues and citizens in Zagreb and the surrounding regions, I hope I am not too imprecise when I say that my impression is that Croatians get their importance to freedom, individuality and personality from the Catholic winds of the Mediterranean, the more disciplined and socially oriented values from the Slavic and Orthodox worldviews, and the cultural and artistic effervescence from the ritualism and selflessness of the Muslim faith.


Two views from the city of Split

Two views from the city of Split

The Faculty of Political Science of the University of Zagreb (FPZG) is well equipped with very interesting and collaborative professors, with courses and research groups in the areas of politics and communication. In a school were the students can major in politics or journalism and participate in courses such as Enes Kulenovac’s ‘The Politics of Human Rights’, Marijana Grbesa’s ‘Pop Politics’, and Slatan Krajina’s ‘Media and the City’, with vibrant Student Radio and TV shows, the intellectual and cultural exchanges are mostly enriching. Even though this combination of Political Science and Journalism comes from the Yugoslavian period, in democratic times, much of the discussion on the legitimacy of power comes from bringing about a fair balance between free press and politics. All the more reason to consider FPZG a special Faculty, located in a special region of Europe.

During the end of the year, I travelled from Zagreb through the Dalmatian coast until Dubrovnik and returned through Bosnia and Sarajevo. It was an astounding experience, and it led me to the strongest insights of the research. Watching the lonesome beauty of the changing grey mountains of Dalmatia and Bosnia, and listening to heartfelt testimonies on Croatian history and homeland war from all different sides, made me more aware that the unending challenge of testimony literature and cultural trauma narratives is to keep the representations as alive as possible, in order to enable all sides to ‘step in the other’s shoes’.

playing basketball in Dubrovnik

playing basketball in Dubrovnik

Sunset in Dalmatia

Sunset in Dalmatia

This ethical calling within cultural works could inspire the political attempts of complex conflict resolutions between opposing parties. The SPeCTReSS project responds to this calling by enabling a continuous thread of different scientific ways to interpret and deal with our culturally traumatic events.

Although I did not learn as much as I should have of the Croatian language, I felt that the attempts to understand and practice it have been an important part of becoming more familiar with the cultures of the Balkans. The truly friendly environment amongst the colleagues was what in the end enabled me to feel free not only in the sense of adapting to a different environment, but as being able to identify myself in the others, who are the same time equal and different from me. In the classroom, in the streets, playing Tuesday basketball. Hvala, moji prijatelji, hvala Hrvatska!

About Jennifer Edmond

Dr Jennifer Edmond, is the Director of Strategic Projects in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Trinity College Dublin. Trained as a scholar of German literature, Jennifer is mostly engaged professionally with the investigation of knowledge exchange and collaboration in Humanities research and in particular the impact of technology on these processes.
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