We needed to leave our fears and dreads behind and simply face the challenge! And so we did. It was a genuine lesson of teamwork - and, as the next days would show, we aced that exam. Read how the "Graz Group" recalls their visit to the Austrian-Slovene Borderland.
We arrived in Bad Radkersburg around midnight on Friday, 16 September, after 22 hour journey from Warsaw. Can you to imagine our happiness when we finally ended up in the comfortable beds in Bad Radkesburg’s hostel? We immediately fell asleep trying to figure out what challenges and surprises await us tomorrow.
Our team consisted of 7 people from 7 different countries. Some of us already had had some previous experience in qualitative research and ethnographical studies, although none of us were experts in the field. Nevertheless, each possessed at least one unique skill and thanks to that we were able to create a good team.
Well then, let us introduce ourselves! The so-called ‘Graz Group’ consisted of Teresa Brenner who studies Translations at the University of Graz, Karolíná Bukovksá – student of History and German for Translation and Interpreting at the Faculty of Arts of the Charles University in Prague, Tena Lavrenčič – recent graduate in Social and Cultural Anthropology from the University in Leuven in Belgium, Andrea Sierra Baz who has graduated in Humanities and will continue her education by pursuing Master Degree in Contemporary History at the Barcelona University, Hanna Kovhan – student of Intercultural Communication at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt Oder, Germany and Sebastian Günzel who does a degree in European Studies in Eichstätt, Germany. We were accompanied by Marta Jakubowska who acted as a coordinator of the study visit on behalf of ENRS. We were also supported by two local coordinators: Alexandra Kofler – historian from the Ludwig-Boltzmann-Institut für Kriegsfolgen-Forschung (www.bik.ac.at) in Graz and a journalist for ‘Kleine Zeitung’, and David Kranzelbinder – coordinator at the Styrian-Slovene cultural association Pavel Haus - Pavlova hiša (www.pavelhaus.at) in Bad Radkersburg, also working as filmmaker, photographer and curator.
On Saturday morning we met Alexandra and David who told us how our week in Bad Radkersburg would look. We had to quickly adapt to their spontaneous way of working and meeting people. As a result, we conducted five interviews during the first day of our stay (sic!). It may have seemed terrible at first, but we realised very quickly that it helped us in a way. We needed to left our fears and dreads behind and simply face the challenge! And so we did. It was a genuine lesson of teamwork and of sharing responsibilities within the group. And as the next days would show, we aced that exam.
Tena and Teresa shooting the interview with Mr Gombocz:
Our first interviewee on Saturday, 16 September was Mr Wilfried Gombocz. He invited us to his home and we talked with him for about an hour, with Sebastian being responsible for conducting the interview. We heard the story of Wilfried’s grandfather who fought in the First World War and Wilfried’s father who was a soldier during the Second World War. Mr Gombocz showed us two books he had written about their lives. He also recalled his youth as a hippie and a traveller. ‘Make love no war’ – that was his message.
Afterwards we went for a lunch to a traditional Styrian restaurant called ‘Buschenschank’ - a kind of a bistro which is well-known and quite popular in the region. It serves only cold food, mostly meat, but also some cheese and fresh vegetables. Usually owners are also wine makers, so you can taste regional wine as well as home-made fruit juices. There we made a short interview with the owner of the restaurant, Mr Franz Menzinger. He discussed various aspects of being a wine producer, including the legal regulations. As many people there, he owns land on both Austrian and Slovene side of the border, which caused some difficulties for his day-to-day work.
Teresa talking with Mrs Andrea Haberl-Zemljič:
After lunch we went to Pavel Haus (Slovene Minority House) located in Laafeld. We met there with Mrs Andrea Haberl-Zemljič. In an interview held in German she pointed out that right after the Second World War the borders were created without taking local inhabitants into account. Thus, a lot of Slovene speaking people ended up on the Austrian side, leaving them no choice but to somehow adapt to the situation.
The next interviewee was Mr Simon Ošlak-Gerasimov, a journalist for ‘ORF’ – the Austrian national television. The interview took place in a beautiful garden of Pavel Haus. Teresa spoke with Simon, asking him about his childhood and youth, and inquiring how he learned both Slovene and German. He talked about the Slovene Students’ Club at the University in Graz, where he studied. He also shed some light on the difficult relationship between Carinthian and Styrian Slovenes.
A key moment of preparing for the interview - before a conversation with Simon:
The last point of our Saturday’s plan was visiting the mayor of Cankova, Mr Drago Vogrinčič. The interview took place in his office in Cankova, Slovenia and Tena who knows the Serbo-Croatian language conducted the interview. He welcomed us warmly and was very open from the beginning. Mr Vogrinčič told us how politicians could support the process of cultural integration in places like Cankova – small Slovene city near to the border with Austria. He showed us a bridge on the river Mur which, thanks to his initiative, was named the Bridge of Harmony and explained how proud he was because of that.
On the following day we went for a tour along the border. First, we made our way towards the border checkpoint in Bad Radkersburg/Gornja Radgona. The old custom office had been transformed into a gallery of contemporary art „Čezmejno genialno“. There we met with Mrs Helena Baur, the co-owner of the gallery. We conducted a short interview during which she told us the story of how she and her father bought the buildings and decided to create an art gallery there. It happened after Slovenia joined Schengen and the Austrian state decided to sell the buildings of the former custom houses, as a border checkpoint was no longer needed.
Art gallery on the border:
After this conversation we crossed the river Mur and, being already in Slovenia, we continued our border tour. We explored the beautiful region of wine yards, making stops from time to time to see all the interesting sites and objects, such as a raft propelled by human hands on which you can cross the river from one side (and one country) to the other or stones which in the past marked the border. We visited a place where in 2015 a refugee camp was set up and where refugees waited to enter Austria and then go to Germany. We also saw a place where for the last 70 years there had been a green border between Austria and Yugoslavia (and later Slovenia) and where last year the state of Austria built a fence in order to control the amount of people who were crossing the border.
New-built fence on Austrian-Slovene border:
In the second part of the day we went for a lunch to an ecological Buschenschank. There we had a chance not only to try delicious food, but also to continue with the interviews. We talked to Mr Otto Knaus, the owner of the restaurant and Mrs Dvoršak, a Slovene waitress working in the restaurant. Mr Knaus presented his projects for ecological farming in the region which he had introduced for both Austrian and Slovene farmers. In turn Mrs Dvoršak, as a student from Slovenia, talked about the economic reasons due to which she decided to work in Austria.
The last point of Sunday’s programme was visiting Mrs Angela Hussmann, an Austrian with Slovene roots. Mrs Angela told us about Styrian folklore, as she is a folklore singer and knows thousands of songs by heart, both in Slovene and in German. She talked about how for years she and her friends had kept the tradition of St. Florian’s Day alive and celebrated this day in a traditional way. She also showed us some photos depicting the celebrations. Finally, she agreed to sing for us and we have to admit it was an unforgettable performance.
Hanna operating the camera during the interview with Mrs Angela:
We came back to the hostel tired but full of thoughts and impressions. Day by day, we had been exploring the region and we started to see its beauty. At the same time we began to notice the complexity of living on the border and the feeling of being ‘in between’. We had started this project with some presumptions which now needed to be rethought. National identity was almost irrelevant for the interviewees – they self-identified simply as individual human beings and focused mainly on knowing the history and understanding the processes which stood behind it.
We started Monday, 18 September with a walk from Bad Radkesburg to Laafeld, to the Pavel Haus. At 10 am we conducted the first interview with Mrs Mojica Muhič, a Slovene artist from the nearby Slovene village of Gornja Ragdona. Mrs Muhič brought her family albums, so while Tena, Teresa and Hanna were conducting the interview, the rest of the group worked on archiving the materials.
After lunch we met with Mrs Maria Koertvelyesi. The interview was conducted by Karolíná and thanks to her we all got to know the touching story of Mrs Maria’s life. Born in Slovenia, as a teenager she was forced to move to Austria due to economic reasons and started to work on a farm. She stayed in the country for more than 40 years, up until now. She described the language difficulties, hard work and bad living conditions, prejudices Austrians had towards Slovene workers, but also helpfulness of her Slovene and Austrian friends.
Mrs Maria Koertvelyesi telling us her story:
We ended the day at Wilfried Gombocz’s house who invited us for a dinner. Home-made food and snacks were delicious, but served only as an excuse for an interesting conversation.
The next day once again started for us in Pavel Haus. After all the interviews we had already conducted, we had a lot of photos as well as sound and video recordings which needed to be processed and archived. That’s why we decided to work in small teams and distribute the responsibilities evenly within the group. At 10 pm we met with Mr Josef Majczan and while Teresa and Hanna asked him questions, the rest of the group did scans and descriptions of the materials. For us, the most interesting part of Mr Majczan’s story was his recollection of the 10-days-war which took place in 1991. It brought freedom and independence to Slovenia and meant separation from Yugoslavia. He showed us photos of soldiers and described the situation on the border at that time.
Tena and Sebastian working on metadata:
Our last interviewee was Mrs Sussane Weitlaner. She told us about the Cultural Association representing the minority of Styrian Slovenes and the cultural center Pavel Haus founded in 1998.
On Wednesday, 21 September we went to Graz and there met with Alexandra and David. They took us for a guided city tour and told us about the history of the city, while giving the special attention to the sights that emphasised Slovene-Austian relationship.
Last day in Graz:
During 5 busy days the Graz Group conducted interviews in four languages. We took hundreds of photos, recorded hours of sound and video. It’s more than 250 GB of raw material on which we are still working now. Currently, we are carrying out transcriptions and translations of the interviews. It’s an absorbing task, but it allows us to look back on what we have done so far, analyse data and draw conclusions. It’s the first step to create a presentation of the results of the study visit in South Styria and Štajerska Region for our December meeting.
Editor: Marta Jakubowska