Igor Petričević, PhD student, Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University

Distance and Closeness: Construction and Negotiation of the New Diversity in Zagreb, Croatia

Amid the transformation of transit migration into temporary or potentially permanent settlement on the Balkan route as the Schengen borders strengthen, the presentation introduces ethnographic material gathered in Zagreb between 2017 and 2018. The research focuses on the ways the new diversity in Croatia is constructed and negotiated through practices and interactions among former migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, local residents, and activists in the interplay with the changes in border regimes, migratory routes and legislation.

General aim is to unpack this new diversity from the inside via an ethnography in the reception neighbourhood and other contact spaces where it is experienced through everyday face-to-face interactions, practices, attitudes and feelings, by both migrants and local residents who engage in spatial, temporal, and emotional negotiations of places, relations, and group boundaries. In relation to social class, the role of experiences and memories of the 1990s war in Croatia is examined as involved in facilitating both empathy and xenophobia. Given Croatia's, and the Balkans' in general, geopolitical and epistemological position at the ‘margins of Europe’, and as a ‘buffer zone’ between the West and the East, the arrival and settlement of new “diverse” subjects from the Middle East and Africa gives rise to ambiguous racialisations and boundary negotiations. Migrants’ experiences and strategies to “fit in”, as well as local reactions to the presence of these new “Blacks and Arabs” in public spaces, reveal the situational and shifting understandings of difference where ideas of race, religion, and language are both crucial and challenged in social interactions.

The interface between transit and settlement is explicated as a contested and negotiated space where, instead of being clear-cut oppositions, temporariness and durability, passage and arrival, mobility and sedentarism can fluctuate and coexist. Furthermore, with the chronicity of migrant arrivals, the research highlights the gradual transformation of the feeling of reluctance towards acceptance of staying in Croatia among the migrants, as well as the dynamic oscillations between perceptions of danger and spectacle, resistance and indifference, compassion and rejection among Croatian citizens.

Igor Petričević is a PhD student at the Department of Social Anthropology at Stockholm University.

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