The documentalist photographer Dragana Jurisic was born in Slavonski Brod, Croatia (then part of Yugoslavia). She completed her course in Fine Arts at Wales University, Newport. Currently based in Dublin (Ireland), Jurisic won a number of awards and exhibited widely both in Ireland and elsewhere. She is the author of “YU: The Lost Country”, work that explores the Yugoslavian desintegration consecuences, which can be visited until 16th of June at Biblioteca Esquerra de l’Eixample Agustí Centelles.
How was your life during the war in Croatia?
The war began on a Sunday, September 1991. I was 16. I was starting my third year of high school. My friends and I were walking by the river, which is a natural border between Croatia and Bosnia. It was unusually quiet that day, nobody was around, when suddenly we saw a group of men approaching us. They were military men, although they were dressed as civilians. They came and told us to leave immediately, but we were young and anarchists, so we stayed at first, but we finally returned home. When we were on our way, I remember one of my friends saying: “this town is very boring … hopefully something exciting will happen.” Two or three hours later, the conflict broke out. Croatian soldiers sent us to the basement because they were going to use the balcony of my house to shoot at the Yugoslav Army garrison. Obviously, they were spotted, so the Yugoslav army targeted our apartment with termo-cumalative missiles and burned it down. We escaped before this happened.
How did the war influence your career as a photographer?
Three or four days after settling in a hotel in which we lived for about six months as refugees, my father bought me a camera so that I could make sense of what was happening around me, but the truth is that I am not able to find many of the negatives from that era, we moved so many times … Even so, when I went to the University of Rijeka (Croatia) to study psychology, I found a dark room on a campus that nobody used, so I started developing my own film and making prints
What was it like to live in Slavonski Brod, right on the border of Bosnia and Croatia?
Living on the historical border between East and West opens your perspective towards other cultures. Croats, Serbs and Muslims in my small town became increasingly nationalistic; there was a lot of tension. I am half Croatian and half Serbian so I could see the manipulation of information during the conflict from all sides. During the war there’s no real journalism, there is only propaganda, and that’s frightening.
In the course of making “YU: The Lost Country”, where was the place where you had most problems?
In Kosovo. My first name is Serbian and I had a Croatian passport, so on the Serbian side I had problems because of my Croatian passport, and on the Albanian side I felt rejected because of my Serbian name. I felt very vulnerable: wherever I went, I had police with guns waiting for me and interrogating me. I felt constantly threatened and monitored.
What do you think of the rise of nationalism in Europe?
I despise nationalism because I have seen the damage it causes. Nationalism always presumes superiority of one group over another. For example, the Croats believed themselves superior to others in Yugoslavia, more Western, more civilized, less Ottoman. Nationalism is a very handy tool used to control the masses. From the moment we are born, we are taught that our roots are very important, and that is precisely what I question. Humans are not trees – do we really need roots?
Does Europe wants to remember its past?
In Croatia, some people try to deal with the sense of responsibility for what they did to the Muslim and the Serb civilians during the war, atrocities that only recently came to the light of day. I would like to have seen the model that was employed in Germany after the WWII. Really hammer into people a feeling of guilt so that the generations to come might remember what was done, take responsibility so it does not happen again. In Spain, also, I have seen that there is a great aversion to remember many thingsthat happened during the time of Franco, and that’s a shame. If you don’t deal with it, history starts repeating itself.
Do you trust in history?
I have seen contemporary history being rewritten very effectively and in a very short space of time. That makes me suspicious of everything. I however believe in personal stories. I think we can learn much more about humankind by looking at these.