Šid borderscapes II – Tobacco, development and forced migration in Kukujevci village

Šid borderscapes II – Tobacco, development and forced migration in Kukujevci village

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

“Kukujevci is the most developed village in the municipality, there are no unemployed people”, a taxi driver explained to us along the way. He said that the village was populated by Croats before the war in the 1990s. During the war, Croats who lived in Serbia swapped houses with Serbs who were living in Croatia. This exchange from one to another new nation-state was called “humane relocation”, “humane resettlement” or “population exchange”. From then on, Serbs have been living in Kukujevci.

The name “Kukujevci” somehow gave us the wrong impression that we are going to a poor or abandoned village. This is because the word kukanje or kukati in Serbian means “complaining”, “moaning”, “whining”. We did not expect to hear the stories about prosperity, success, high birth rate and good living standard. As ethnographers in Serbia, we are used to narratives about “ruined”, “shrinking”, “disappearing”, “poverty-stricken” villages. To some extent – this is our reality, which resulted from political, social and economic changes in post-socialist capitalism. On the other hand – these narratives may be interpreted as “auto-orientalism” or “auto-balkanism”, which further reinforce the stereotypes about “backwardness” of Serbia, or the Balkans in general. Either way, Kukujevci surprised us. No one was complaining.

So, what was it all about? Why is Kukujevci so special?
When we got to the village center, we spotted a metal board with the text:

Šid municipality
Kukujevci local community
The construction of the square was helped by the company
JT International a.d. Senta
the member of
Japan Tobacco Group.
August 2013.

We found the reports in media that since the purchase of Senta Tobacco Industry in 2006, “JTI has invested more than 181 million USD in Serbia, quadrupled the number of employees from 84 to 350, and launched the production and export of cigarettes to Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Albania, as well as the export of tobacco to the EU.” Japan Tobacco International buys dried leaves cultivated by tobacco growers in Kukujevci, which are further used for industrial production of cigarettes. JTI produces cigarette brands such as “Winston”, “Camel”, “Sobranie”, and “Monte Carlo”. We have been told that it is illegal to cultivate tobacco without the contract with the tobacco company, even for personal use. Tobacco cultivation is a highly controlled area. We heard that an inspection is showing up to search peoples’ houses.

Our interlocutors explained that “the new residents”, refugees from Croatia, brought the craft of tobacco cultivation to the village. This is especially being said for refugees from Slavonia, an area in north-east Croatia. This explanation could also be found in local media reports. For ethnographers, there is always a question how explanations are being generated and reproduced into narratives. And narratives appear in particular contexts and periods. The narrative about “hard-working” people, who had no other choice but to “start from the bottom”, connects migration and development. Stories about swapped houses, tobacco, hard-working refugees, economic development and employment made us think about unexpected dimensions of forced movements of people (from and to Croatia) during the 1990s. And of those forced movements that residents of Šid municipality face with today – on the road, in the woods, or in the market. However, we will open this chapter later.