25 / 2007
Jasna Čapo Žmegač

Return to the Border: Migration Experiences in the Croatia-GermanySlovenia Triangle

The article analyses the experience of Croatian migrant-returnees who have come back from abroad to the south-western Žumberak region. The research into the returnees' experiences in this area is intertwined with research into the consequences of the raising of the international Croatian-Slovenian border. It has been established that the characteristics of the region of origin, combined with the phase in the life cycle in which the repatriation from external migration took place, influenced the choice of the place of settlement after return. For young people, the return coincides with internal migration from the economically undeveloped hill settlements, which are isolated in the sense of communications, to the well-connected and economically more developed settlements in the environs. At the same time, returnees who are in the older age group prefer to resettle in their immediate native place. Further, the author compares the life experience of four migrants after their return. It is obvious that, in order to understand such experiences, it is necessary to take into account the juncture in the personal and family life cycle in which they are returning (individual and family time), along with the juncture in the social and political development of the region and of the state of return (historical time). In the case of returnees in the younger age group, a twofold historical time is necessary for comprehending their current experiences: it comprises the period in which they returned (socialist Yugoslavia) and the current period (the separate States of Croatia and Slovenia). Therefore, both the experiences and current problems of migrants who returned thirty years ago differ to an extent from those of migrants who came back after the emergence of the Croatian and the Slovenian states. The returnee experiences of those who came back during socialism were formed on the former intrastate (republican) borders, while the changes brought into their lives by the transformation of republican into international borders are exceptionally negatively evaluated. For their part, the returnee migrants who have come back more recently, subsequent to the state and political changes, do not focus their complaints exclusively on the new border regime. Such issues are even completely absent or are somewhat overshadowed by general social criticism. The author concludes that those who have come back from external migration as returnees to the south-western Žumberak region can be described as pragmatic border inhabitants and/or as disenchanted Croatian citizens. They testify to the frustrating position of an economically, geographically and demographically marginal region of Croatia, where the state finds it economically unfeasible to invest in infrastructure and the economy, while, at the same time, wanting to retain it inside the existing borders, lead by the logic of the territorial national state.