Borderland temporalities: About movements and halts in Croatia’s periphery

Carolin Leutloff-Grandits, Lara Lemac

Since Croatia’s integration into the EU in 2013, the quality of its borders is changing rapidly. While Croatia’s borders to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia are increasingly securitized, especially against so-called “illegitimate” migrants from the global South, the inner EU borders have been opened for labour migration, of which many citizens of Croatia take advantage, as the possibilities for employment within Croatia are meagre.

Considering these divergent border dynamics, the research focusses on the perspective of the local inhabitants of Donji Lapac, one of the
marginalized regions along the Bosnian border in Croatia, and wants to explore the experience of movements and halts and their effects on everyday life.

In fact, this region, which is inhabited mainly by Serbs who had fled at the end of the war in the 1990s and who only slowly returned, experienced a rapid economic outmigration of younger inhabitants within the last couple of years. This fosters depopulation and an economic standstill, symbolized by many empty and decaying buildings. Migrants, on the other hand, who unofficially passed the Bosnian-Croatian border, rush through this region as invisible as possible, as they are hunted by policemen who are regularly push them back as soon as picked up


In order to grasp the changing quality of the borders and their impact on the everyday life from the perspective of local inhabitants, the research mainly builds on biographical interviews which link the present to past and future perspectives. It is shown that with the changing materiality of Croatia’s borders, the region of Donji Lapac becomes a place of transit and outmigration, despite, or because, Croatia’s integration into the EU. For those still living in the region, migrants are like ghosts in the region, who may be potentially dangerous, while they experience their region as increasingly as a dead-end, as slowly and quietly dying, like many of the growingly old inhabitants who stay put and who have been left behind by the younger

Reporting Pushbacks at Southeastern Fringes of EU: Case of Vernacular Ethnography?

Marijana Hameršak


The proposed paper aims to present part of the textual production of the anti-restrictionist and pro-migrant local and transnational groups, sometimes conceptualized under common denominators of solidarity, vernacular, citizen or volunteer humanitarianism (cf. e.g. Brković 2017; Rozakou 2017; Sandri 2018), active at southeastern fringes of EU.  Following the main points of the debate about intersections of activism and academia within field of the critical migration research, this paper will focus on the analysis of the reports about pushbacks, fast track expulsions of migrants to neighboring state, here from Croatia to Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina or Montenegro. Settled on the crossroads of ethnography and forensics, testimonial and administrative, political and affective, these reports evoke, but also significantly depart from the reports introduced in the framework of the so-called second age of international humanitarianism (Cf. Fassin 2007, 2008). Based on the analysis of textual and paratextual elements of selected push-back reports collections (i.e. their front pages, titles, subtitles, prefaces etc.) published by different solidarity groups stationed in area in issue, this paper aims to explore the possibility to address these reports as instances of “vernacular ethnography”.

Šid borderscapes: memories, experiences and interpretations of borders and refugee movements.

Ildiko Erdei, Marta Stojić Mitrović, Teodora Jovanović, Katarina Mitrovic

In this research we will follow the 30 years’ dynamics of the bordering processes in the case of Šid, a small town in Serbia, located on the very border with Croatia. Ildiko Erdei will focus on the period of 1990s, during which the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia dissolved, resulting in the creation of new nation-states. She will present memories and experiences of mobility of the residents of Šid related to changeable existence and permeability of borders, of forced movements of 1991/1992 and 1995, as well as how the “old” residents perceived, accepted and/or othered, the newly arriving ones. Marta Stojić Mitrović will connect manifestations of migration movements in the Šid area in the period 1995 to 2013 with administrative transformations which aimed at regulating cross-border and intra-state mobilities and stay, reflected in laws on borders, foreigners, citizens and refugees. Besides bilateral relations between Serbia and Croatia, she will discuss the influence of the EU and the EU Accession Process.Teodora Jovanović will focus on (transit) migration movements of non-ex-Yugoslav foreigners in Šid area from 2014, and in particular on modes of accommodation, such as the official camps and self-made squats, on aid provision as well as the Covid-19 pandemics induced militarization. She will put special emphasis on perception of these developments by local residents. Katarina Mitrović will discuss education of migrants as perceived and experienced by students, parents and teachers. She will try to illuminate what the correspondents see as main conditions for a successful inclusion of migrant children into local schools. Together, we will discuss how these transformations and encounters shaped memories, experiences and interpretations in borderscapes at the margin of the EU.

Inclusion of migrant and refugee children in the education system of Bosnia and Herzegovina: An example of integration in the Una-Sana Canton

Vildana Pečenković,  Nermina Delić

Since the beginning of the migrant crisis in BiH, the integration of migrant and refugee children inthe education system of BiH has only begun in the last year.The first to initiate activities for the inclusion of migrant children is the Una-Sana Canton where the largest number of this population currently resides.It is estimated that 20 per cent of the total number of migrants in BiH are children, of which one third is without parental care. Therefore, inclusion in the education system is very important for the normal psychophysical development of these children, because the right to education is a fundamental right of every human being. Examples of good practice implemented in schools in the Una-Sana Canton, as well as the activities of professors and students of the Faculty of Pedagogy of the University of Bihac in teaching Bosnian as a foreign language, as a basic prerequisite for inclusion in the regular teaching process,will be presented in this paper.Methods and examples that help migrant and refugee children overcome psychological, cultural and sociological barriers will also be presented.

Mapping Cruelty

Duško Petrović


The  research’s aim is to discuss  violent  practices over migrants in  the  Bihac  area from  the  point  of equality,  or  more  precisely,  they  will  be  discussed  and  conceptually  rearranged  according to  the  concept  of  equal  moral  status. The  work  of  local and/or  activist  groups warn  about continuous  practice  of  violent  “push-backs”,  and  the  overall  degrading  and  inhuman practices  by  various  actors  towards  migrants  on  the  move.  These  practices  vary  from inadequate  accommodation,  practices  of  exclusion  and  the  separation  of  migrants  from public  spaces,  frequent  police  security  controls,  public  stigmatization  through  various practices and speech. The paper will demonstrate that the common denominator of abovementioned violent practices is treating someone as inferior, or as moral unequal. The paper will  propose  the  thesis  that  violent  practices  towards  people  on  the  move  are  not  just wrong   because   of   the   inflicted   pain,   physical   suffering, or   because   these   practices transgress  the  national  and  international  laws, they  are  wrong  because  in  these  practices people  are  treated  as  inferior, and  morally unequal,  and  because  they  are  subjected  to social cruelty. In order to tackle the issue of “wrongness”of these practices, the typology of social cruelty will be presented and developed.

Colleague, sister, dangerous foreigner: Activism and participation in ethnographic research among the residents of Bihac, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Elissa Helms

In this presentation I will discuss my main strategies of participant observation while doing research on the responses of an entire town to the influx of non-European migrants and refugees.
One activity was to volunteer with an NGO that works in the official transit camps. Here my goal was to understand the day-to-day workings of the system set up by the local authorities where
most of the workers were also from the local community. This was partially successful but it also
placed me into some dilemmas when regional activists launched campaigns against the international organizations running the camps. The other main activity was to become a donor and a “person who helps” migrants living outside the camps. I came to this strategy both because I saw a way I could be useful but also out of frustration with my mostly unsuccessful efforts to get to know the local volunteers who provide aid to migrants. They are all specific personalities (one might say difficult!) but were also very wary of outsiders and of calling attention to themselves given the high level of disapproval of these activities among the local population and, most alarmingly, increasing pressures from the police to refrain from offering aid to migrants. I launched a call for donations among my friends and colleagues and used the money I raised to support some of the local volunteers but also to become a helper myself – and this showed me first hand what they were also going through.

I got to know several of the volunteers this way, though not all, and there was also a draw-back: my call caught the negative and quasi-public attention of a local politician who is a vocal opponent of migrants and of any form of assistance to them, including the maintenance of camps or organizations that distribute aid. As a result, I gave up my plans to interview the politician himself and I also felt nervous about approaching members of his group, although I continued to attend protests he organized.  This situation brings up several points about activism and research that I will discuss in the
presentation: 1) how to classify the activities of local volunteers providing help to migrants as well as those active in protests against them – is this activism? 2) how far can or should researchers go in engaging in activism, humanitarian aid, or even being vocal on social media? and 3) how to research multiple “sides” of a debate while being clearly positioned in that debate yourself. I draw lessons from years of engaging with these questions by ethnographers and especially feminist researchers, while also opening up a discussion of how the present situation poses new challenges for ethical and productive research.

Refugee Encounters, “Hybrid” Anthropologists, Data Extraction and Knowledge Production in Bihać

Azra Hromadžić


In   this   research, I   put   into   action   what   Comaroff   and   Comaroff   (2012)   call “theor[izing] from the south.” More specifically, I consider Bihać’s dystopic “migrant presents,” “refugee  pasts”  and  ethnographic  lifeworlds  not  only  as  rich  places  for  data  extraction  and repository,  but  rather  as  sites  where  both  our  questions  and  our  insights  about  “hybrid,  native” ethnography and anthropological knowledge production are transformed and reconfigured.  I  reflect  on  how,  when  I  arrived  to  Bihać  in  June  2018;  I  was  “ethnographically paralyzed”  by  the  site  of  converging  human  tragedies,  politics  of  impasse  and  infrastructural accretions.  In  my  journal,  I  wrote:  “Bihać  looks  different.  It  has  been  a  year  since  my  last  visit and the town appears uncanny – familiar but not mine. The main public spaces are sprinkled with groups of devastated people, the ‘human flow.’ They are mostly young males, but there are quite a few families as well. They are sitting in the main parks, usually on the grass, suspended in their waiting  to  cross  into  the  EU.  Some  are  sleeping  in  larger  groups  next  to  each  other,  their  bags, their  only  possessions,  under  their  heads.  Stray  dogs,  another  symbol  of  Bihać’s  postwar ‘transition,’  are  roaming  around  them.  The  sight  is  overwhelming,  unbearable  and  dystopic.  It creates ‘the limit’—existential, methodological and semantic…”  In  this  presentation  I  take  seriously  this  and  many  other  similar,  disconnected  journal notes  from  the  field  in  order  to  (self)challenge,  probe,  unpack  and  complicate  the  position  of  a “hybrid/native”  anthropologist,  without  vilifying  or  glorifying  this  position.  Rather,  I  plan  to historicize  this  unique  position  which  has  been  especially  important  in  constructing,  production circulating “knowledge” about the Balkans. I hope to “theorize” and untangle the production and “branding”  of  this  type  of  knowledge,  and  to  examine  the  expectations—ethical,  disciplinary, and  political—of  “hybrid”  Balkan  ethnography.  In  the  process,  using  the  Balkan  “semi-periphery”  as  the  starting  point,  I  highlight  the  unique,  extracting  nature  of  anthropological endeavor and anthropological knowledge production at large.


Zooming in activist organisations –an analysis of local activist movements in Serbia

Chandra Esser, Julia Bantouvaki, Jana Pirlein, Santiago Cuervo Escobar,Elena Schmid

Migratory flows through the Western Balkan region became more visible in 2015. After the closure of the so-called Balkan route in the spring of 2016, thousands of people on the move from the Global South were forced to interrupt their journey to their desired destinations in the European Union. Instead they found and still find themselves stuck in transit –the Western Balkans. In our research, we would like to focus on activists on site who are supporting people on the move in Serbia.


Inspired by the activist groups Women in Black Serbia (Žene u crnom) and No Border Serbia we will zoom into these two intertwined activist movements to achieve a better understanding of their work and aims. With reference to the main topic, each one of us will follow her/his field of interest ranging from  personal  motivation,  general  agenda,  goals,  hierarchical  structures  as  well  as  the transnational  character  of  the  aforementioned  movements. Due  to  the  current  COVID-19 pandemic we are unable to conduct ethnographic research on site.


 Therefore, our collaborative research  will  be  solely  done  remotely  and  based  on  digital  research  methods. Through  the conduction of semi-structured and narrative interviews with short-and long-term activists, we are seeking to put our research objective into practice.

Oral Stories about Migrants Recorded among Bihać Residents

Amira Dervišević

The refugee crisis is one of the current political issues in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This issue is particularly emphasized in the area of the Una-Sana Canton, which is part of the BiH route for refugees moving to EU countries. In Bihać, the capital of the Una-Sana Canton, temporary reception centers “Borići”, “Bira” and „Lipa“ have been established, and refugees ready to continue their uncertain journey to the West are seen in the city on a daily basis.
Since the refugee crisis is undoubtedly reflected on the local population, the aim of the paper is, recording, analysis and interpretation of the stories about migrants recorded among the residents of Bihać and its surrounding.In addition to the residents of Bihać, they will also talk to volunteers of the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations that help migrants and refugees. During the research, I will use a semi-structured type of interview.
Research of life stories, but also other stories that belong to the oral tradition of this part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, shows how residents of Bihać and the surrounding area individually experience the migration crisis.Having in mind that everyday life is reflected in people’s stories, this research can help us gain a more complete insight into the situation in which the participants of the migrant crisis have found themselves.

Transformation and Construction of Homes among Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Zagreb

Iva Grubiša

The aim of this research is to analyze and rethink the concepts, imaginaries, and experiences of home and home-making processes among refugees and asylum seekers in Zagreb. My research, therefore, stands on the junction of two field nodes: migration and refugee studies on the one hand, and spatial studies on the other. Thus I will be looking into the constructions of home(s) through the concepts of both (restrained) mobility and (new) rooting and emplacement. The key research questions can be put in three (necessarily intertwined) analytical frameworks: (1) what do(es) home(s) mean and represent in the context of refugeehood; (2) how are home(s) being imagined, constructed, and experienced through spatial practices; and (3) what is happening with the neighborhoods in which refugees and asylum seekers temporarily or permanently reside.