alexander nikolic on Mon, 4 Aug 2008 14:40:07 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> In-Between Castles and Baracks... from the Return of the Gastarbajter

Today is Sunday and Sunday?s in Serbia are usually very relaxed days.  
Too much for my taste, so I want to use this occasion to share some  
impressions with you. Our workshop now lasts for more than 2 weeks  
and that days have been very densed in terms of content. We have been  
introduced to the City of Pozarevac by few individuals and local  
active people, and have been well received here. After the first  
week, where we met local industrials, politicians, activists, people  
from various local cultural or social intitiatives, I face  
difficulties to find a way to relate with our workshop subject. What  
is somehow a burning subject here, is the disapearance of the middle  
class, so I walk arround between castels and baracks. If you press  
the gallery in this post, you will find few images, from the seminar,  
from the first steps arround the town, from our close encounter with  
the International Roma Union of Serbia, but also images from our  
visit to a local illegal settlement, inhabitated by IDP?s (inner  
displaced people) from Kosovo.

My initial motivation, to participate in that Workshop ?the Return of  
the Gastarbajter? was to have an broader overview on that phenomena,  
that is also part of my own story. My parents were migrants from  
Yugoslavia, and I was born and raised in Austria. People in Serbia,  
often claim that the reasons for migration were always only  
economical, and that only non-educated, almost illiteral people moved  
towards Western Europe and further. In my case, my parents had an  
decent education, and they managed to somehow focus to live, where  
they are, and not to build castles for a imagined future, for an  
uncertain return to the places, where they moved from.

Here we have here loads of houses, i call them castles, build by the  
gastarbajters, who seam more to an monument of their absence, than to  
serve for living. People started moving from this region, called  
Branicevski Okrug, from the 70ties, and their main destinations, were  
Austria, Germany and France. In the reagion Branicevo live about  
250.000 people, and they believe that 70.000 live in Austria. Another  
peak of the migration was also during the violent disintegration of  
the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRJ), and during that  
time, that phenomena of building huge represential houses appeared.  
During the period of the hyperinflation, were people in Serbia used  
to work for an average loan of 10 DM (german marks, 5 Euros today),  
for the Gastarbajter, earning money abroad, it was quite easy to  
build huge houses. They believed that one day, after 20 and more  
years working abroad, that they will return with their families and  
live in that huge houses. Also, as it was due to socialists law  
unpossible to invest in a kind of buissness, as buissness was part of  
the public affairs, and in an society which functions under communist  
premisses, private property in and public field was impossible. Than  
happended, that a kind of competition between, or about status  
symbols started, so everyone tried to build a house, which is bigger  
than the neighbours one. Although my fellow Serbs, believe that they  
are special with that attitude, i use to say that greedyness is  

You can for sure imagine, that building such hugh houses, during a  
period, where people worked for almost nothing, in an hard struggle  
to survive, feed a lot of hate, between that different layers of  
societies. On one side, almost everyone in Serbia, survided or  
suvives due to that money, sent back by people from abroad, but still  
ressentimants were feeded, somehow understandable if you have to cue  
for hours for bread, flawor, oil and sugar, while others are building  
palasts. On the other side, gastarbajter complained that they had to  
pay high bribes for the legalisation of their buildings, and that  
they are only seen and recognised as the one who bring or have to  
bring expensive presents and money, when they return once a year from  
abroad, usually in very fancy new and big cars. A very complex  

To add, or to illustrate our complex situation, you will detect, that  
I switch sometimes from I to we, and from we to I, as I want to  
provide you with a subjective perspective, but as there are more  
people in our workshop, some of my sentences match also common  
perspectives? so an additional complexitiy was provided by the Open  
Forum, during the Seminar, which was open for the local community to  
present their perspectives on the phenomena around Gastarbajter.  
Their impact on the local culture, economical situation, political  
situation etc? This was very well attended, and the local Roma  
Association, the International Roma Union of Serbia responded most to  
our invite. Many Roma people have been or are Gastarbajters, and the  
phenomena of the big representative houses is widespread between  
them. Also the Association IRU Srbija is run by a guy, who was  
himself Guestworker in Austria, till he lost his residency permit,  
due to an change of law. That what he percieved as being kicked out  
from Austria, was also his initial point and entrance to the field of  
Activism. IRU has now arround 70 members. They have an office and  
they organize different programs, like they remove old furniture from  
different household, mainly inhabited by old people, who don?t need  
them anymore, or can?t effort to pay these items being removed, and  
IRU redistributes that different stuff, to the needs of different  

Thanks to IRU, some of us also came in close contact to people living  
in shanties, and tragically one baby died today in such a temporary  
shantie, of meningitis. Reality intrudes in a tough way. In a way, if  
you try to focus on migration, you can?t ignore that fact, that many  
people here live in such conditions, and that by disappearance of the  
middle-class, solidarity faded away. Next Sunday there will be the  
opening of our show, or the presentation of our interdisciplinary  
artistic workshop. It will happen in public space, so all of you  
near, are invited to come.

to be continued? on


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