I have travelled to Slavonski Brod, Croatia, for the month of July since 2005. Whilst there, I work for a charity called Bless who connect with local young people and run sport & youth camps.
During my first few trips I was inspired by the people I met who had endured so much. For those who may be unaware, Croatia was part of the former Yugoslavia which was at war from 1991 – 1995. Croatia, along with Slovenia, was the first to declare its independence on the 25th June 1991. For the most part very little of this war was televised, even though the death toll was extremely high, and there were refugees displaced on both sides.
At the heart of my project has always been the young people of Slavonski Brod and how they fit into all of this. It is fascinating to talk to the young people of this small city and hear their views on the past and, more importantly, their hopes and dreams for the future. The majority hope to go to Zagreb, the nation’s capital to study and eventually find work. They would leave behind an older generation who are still recovering from the war, bereaved and finding ways to continue with life.
From my own experience everyone in Slavonski Brod has been touched by conflict in some small way. Many fled only to return to devastating conditions and were left to pick up the pieces and start afresh. Walking the city in the Summer of 2013 you can sense things are looking up and many lives have been rebuilt but there are still broken hearts and I have felt an overwhelming sense of place in Slavonski Brod.
Over the past few years I have been photographing the city and some of the local young people. The connections I have made have got me meeting people across the city from all kinds of backgrounds. Building relationships with these young people has been really special. Many I have known since they were pre-teens and now they are 20 somethings who are working and starting families of their own. Others are still restless and working jobs with no future only to earn a very small wage in comparison to what we call ‘minimum wage.’
This project is still ongoing and I hope to go back to Slavonski Brod again.
Written by Jonathan Cherry. Photography © Jonathan Cherry.