About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of Refugee Vedran Djurasovic in a brown jacket

Vedran Djurasovic

Pictures taken in:

From:

Nationality:

Photo and interview by:

Sweden

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Montenegrins

Ali Jehad

I do hope that my songs and my way of thinking will be able to impact someone,” says Vedran Djurasovic (36), talking about his career in music. He fled conflict in his home of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the age of seven, along with his family. “I woke up in a different land surrounded with different people and nothing was ever the same,” he remembers. “From that day, I was an outsider.” Eight years ago, he came to Sweden, where he now lives with his wife and baby daughter. “It meant starting from scratch,” he says of the move. “It took quite a lot of time to deal with this, quite a lot of time to find mental strength.” These days, he tries to focus on the future: “I don’t dwell on negative things, probably partially because I know that they will bring more negativity, more bad memories for me.” Instead, he channels his thoughts and feelings into music, in the hopes of sharing them with others. “If anything,” he says of his experience, “it made me want to create more.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

OK, so, yeah, so we’re going to start this interview now. We’ve gone through the information and I think we’re ready to start. So first off, yeah, you know me.
Yes, I do.

I am photographer and, uh, first I want to talk about your, you know, the current situation in your life these days. You know, like how, what’s your house look, what kind of housing you live in?
Currently, I live in a large apartment that was always a dream of mine. And honestly, I never thought that it will ever happen, because my whole life I, all I’ve had is a corner for myself. And when, while growing up, there used to be seven of us living in twenty-eight-square-meters apartment. So I, it’s, it’s taking me time to actually get used to, to having space to, to put things in proper room. So I have been living in an apartment for let’s say almost ten years now, but I must say that I, I, I tend to put all my, all my things in a corner still and make it cozy for me in the corner. I’m still getting used to stretching myself out in actual apartment.

So old habits have stuck with you even though you have this bigger place to live in.
That is very true.

But who do you live with?
Currently, I live with my wife and my baby daughter.

What’s her name?
My name is…

No, no her name.
Her name is Ella, Ella.

Ella. That’s beautiful. And how do you spend your time here in Sweden?
Currently I work quite a lot being hired gun quote unquote and a musician my whole life. This is also something that I never thought I would be able to get used to as in having this kind of daily routine with going to work, being at work for eight hours and so on. My, my, my work always consisted of having gigs, having a couple of gigs throughout the week, and that would allow me to sleep throughout days or sometimes throughout days and nights. But right now my days consist of mostly working and trying my best to spend as much time as possible with my family and, and with the baby. And if I, if I can squeeze some time in to do some of my own project or music, because, yeah, that is what I, what I do.

That’s amazing. It sounds like you live a pretty busy life, like a lot of new routines.
And it is a very long work day and very short days here in Sweden. I feel sometimes that I live only during, during night. Sometimes it’s night when going to work, night when coming home. So I don’t mind it though. I am kind of a vampire myself.

And what are some of the things that you spend your time doing, like, you know, what are you, some of your favorite things that bring joy in your daily life?
In my daily life? Well, now I’m going to be a bit boring, but I have to say that there is spending time with, with my baby girl. She’s in a phase where she is learning so many new things. And with her or through her, I do feel that I am also really learning some, some things. So that is very exciting, however boring it may sound, or however boring it might have sounded to me just two years ago. Right now I am finding some excitement and pleasure in that. It is giving me quite a lot of energy, just spending time with her. And there is something that, that I, yeah, that’s where I drain my energy from apropos being a vampire.

So I’m looking at the other perspective. You know, since your time here in Sweden, you seem to have a lot of good things that, you know, bring you happiness and joy. What are some of the things that have been kind of tough for you in your life here since coming to Sweden?
Well, I can, I can say that there are two things that, that I find hard, very different. And constantly cannot get used to. One is a lack of social support, as in friends and family. I used to be surrounded with, with many friends and family. Where I come from is, is a big bunch of people usually. Sometimes, as it happens, also living under the same roof. But here I don’t have that. Friends and friendships are seldom and the few people that I’m surrounded with also are busy and have their own daily routines. So there is something that I’m, and I’m finding hard. Most of the days are spent with, with the family and there is no time for friends, social, social contacts and things like that. That is one of the things that is hard and I must say, different from, from where I come from, from the Balkans.

Yeah, I hear that a lot. It’s the lack of community, you know, lack of having that big family of friends and people around you that look after each other. I hear it’s not many people have mentioned in the past here in Sweden and even myself, I feel the same, same thing. Well, when did you arrive to Sweden?
I arrived to Sweden eight years ago, and I haven’t left Sweden since.

How does that make you feel coming here and just being here straight for years?
Well, coming to Sweden was a big step for me because it meant changing everything. It meant starting from scratch. It meant feeling the same way I felt when I initially had to leave my childhood home. And that is something that for me personally is, is a big topic. Big subject. I don’t talk a lot about it, but in this context, I must say that it is also one of my greatest fears, if not the greatest fear, and that is waking up and finding that everything is different. So there is, there is also how coming to Sweden was for me, it happened also in a sudden, abrupt way that I left my home country, that I left Montenegro. And it was just like that, just like I always feared that I will wake up and everything will be different. And it took quite a lot of time to, to deal with this, quite a lot of time to find mental strength, to deal with this, to reshape my career, to reshape my, my, my routines and, and reconstruct my, my thoughts in order to be able to, to live a life which is mindful and, and positive as is, as I mentioned, as I mentioned before, when I was seven, this exact thing happened. But that time it wasn’t even my decision. I woke up in a different land surrounded with different people and nothing was ever the same. Everything I knew the day before was never again there. So it was in that sense, traumatic for me. It was hard. I came to Sweden with, with nothing, but I did had the luck and privilege of having two family members here who could support me, however shameful that felt to me, it was a big plus. I’m, I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t be able to, to hold on and stay in Sweden if I didn’t, if I didn’t have that kind of thing, thing back then. Other than that, it was, it was a rough period for me, I must say.

So you said seven was when you came here?
For seven, when my family refuged from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Montenegro.

Eight years ago since you came here?
Yeah.

Ok gotcha. Um, and looking back at everything that has happened to you, could you have imagined, you know, when you were younger that you would go through these things you have gone through, no changes in your daily life and your habits and routines?
Absolutely not. I had friends who lived outside of Montenegro who lived abroad and who would tell me stories from their daily lives or their dilemmas and and questions. And I always found it pretty surreal. I could never, could never think that, that, that those things were really, were really problems living in Montenegro as living in a very small country. We I didn’t think about, uh, I didn’t think about that. I didn’t think that life can be the way it is. Uh, right. Right now.

Um, can you elaborate?
Yeah, I am. I am trying to do that. Uh, living, living in Sweden brought many challenges and required of me to, to teach myself how to communicate with people, how to make friends, simply how to, how to live life. Living in Montenegro from this point of view, I have a feeling that I lived in, in a, in the community where, where social norms were much different, where people cared or at least pretended to care much more than, than here in Sweden. I find that, for example, my friends who live abroad would say that people in Sweden are very cold. Then when I came to Sweden, I came to realize that, I came to understand what is it that he was talking about. But now, after, after eight years spent, spent here, I’m starting to feel, feel the same way. And it is not about coldness. It has nothing to do with that. It just has to do with, with upbringing. It has to do with, with part of the world. It has to do with everything. It has nothing really to do with coldness. If anything, I’m finding more of that coldness inside of me. And people from, from Montenegro, from my country are considered warm, pleasant, welcoming. And that is all correct, that, that is all true. But I am finding myself, I’m finding that I am discovering myself much more in, in Sweden because, because that warmness and that feeling of being welcomed is, is, is quickly, quickly disappears. When you, when you start, when you start meeting people to try to, to try to say, to try to say it briefly. If you meet a person, when you meet the person, of course I’m generalizing, but I have to do that in order to, to make a point. When you meet the person in Montenegro very quickly, you will, you will develop this warm, welcoming kind of relationship, this, this friendship. And over time it will fade. In Sweden, it is the opposite. In the, in the beginning, it will be let’s call it cold. But you would have to prove yourself and to that person that you are worthy of their time in order to get, in order to hear more from that person, in order to, in order to develop a friendship. So there is, there is a big thing that I’m learning that it takes a lot of work to, to, to, to develop a friendship. And that is something that I always took for granted while living in Montenegro. You would meet the person on the street and that person would be your friend. And that is, that is pretty much it. I am finding that, I was finding that very, very hard in the beginning when I moved here. But, but now I think I am also, also getting, getting used to that.

So what are some of the skills that you picked up to be able to deal with any of this, the things you just talked about?
Taking care of myself and learning how to say no. I can make those two things, I, I think are one of the, the most important things. I wasn’t able to say no, I would be, I would be eaten by guilt if I would say no to people, even if I had a reason to do, big reason, a strong reason to say, to say no to me. But now I’m realizing that it is about self-respect. It is about growing as a person. And there is, there is, there is one of the things that I am learning is for you, that you have, you have right to say no to things. You must respect your own time in order to respect the other person’s time. And yeah, you must start with yourself. The way you treat yourself is, is basically the best other person can get if they get close to you. There is something that I am learning here.

Do you think that you developed like most of these abilities to deal with these challenges, or do you think that you, somewhere inside of you, always had those skills or strengths?
The latter, I think. I think that I adjusted and still am adjusting, but I do think that I adjusted pretty quickly. I do think that somewhere inside I, I wanted to live life this way. I think that living in Montenegro was something that required of me special effort in order to accept, talking about social norms, standards and things like that, so I do think that I, that, that I am adjusting rather than developing in this, in this country.

Has COVID somehow affected, you know, your day-to-day life?
So it did in some ways, it affected, if it affected everyone’s lives. But I wouldn’t say that necessarily made my life more negative because I did use this time to rekindle my friendships that, that I took for granted, that I took—exactly, thank you—that I took for granted, that I did, I simply didn’t invest, invest time in and that, that didn’t feel good. So now when there’s this also physical barrier. Yeah. Also physical barriers and it’s hard to cross border and all that did made me realize that all those people are actually there and all it takes is just to talk with them. And I used this time and this whole COVID time to, to do that. And I am happy now that I have more people in my life and more social support in that sense in my life than I had before. So I am trying to use this period to, to work on that. I realize that. I do miss that.

Can you tell me a little bit more about, you know, your childhood at the time before you left and maybe what happened?
When, when I lived in Bosnia Herzegovina. Oh, me, my father, my mother and my father’s parents lived in a house, in a yellow house in the village next to a town called Mostar. I, as I remember it, it was an idyllic kind of a childhood where I had all the things kids should have had, all the freedom to run and all the people to take care of me. So that, that part, as much as I remember it, was just very nice. Was, was beautiful. The thing that, that happened and it changed everything was that all of a sudden, all of a sudden, I found myself in a situation where me and my mother and her father are in the car trying to, to flee the town, which is barricaded, and getting to this border where, where the, where the border police is, is wishing us good luck. And I mean, me asking my mother, how could he be so good like you? We have to leave our house. And I clearly remember that the things were burning not around us, directly around the car, but the hills, the hills were burning.

How did that make you feel?
I’m not sure. I’m not sure. I know that even today when I talk about it, it, it hits me hard. So I’m pretty sure that I didn’t think enough about all that and put all the, all the pieces together. But the scene that I do clearly remember and know that I need to talk about is the scene from the morning after, when, when I woke up and, and didn’t recognize anything. And that’s really when it hit me the hardest. Then I knew that, that those things don’t exist anymore. Literally, they come in. And from that day, I was an outsider or refugees in every school and I changed them often. And everything was a new start. New start, a new start, which on one hand is a good thing because you, because one needs to really learn some things to do to become better. But on the other hand, it is, it is hard because the child needs to feel, including, the kid needs to feel included in order to, to develop all kinds of, all kinds of skills. And that is the part of that. Like in my, my childhood, that’s where the fear comes from, that I will wake up and everything will be a little bit different. But clearly, to this day, these it is something that is hard to talk about. But in many ways, I am grateful for that whole experience. Looking at it from so many years of, as in from when so many years have passed. Looking back at it, I am grateful for it. And I, I wouldn’t change it. I would change the reasons for that happening. I would for sure change the fact that that war happened. But I do think that it did helped me develop certain skills that I found, find his qualities about myself. And I do think that I tend to appreciate things in general more than, than some of the people that, that I need, that I’m surrounded just by observing it. I do think that there is also one of, one of my qualities. I am great in general, grateful for things. And yeah, let’s leave it to that. I am grateful for things and wouldn’t really change much in that sense because it did allow me to see a whole different picture, perspective.

What do you think about those events often? Today of these things?
No, because I am, is a person, I don’t dwell on negative things, probably partially because I know that they will bring more negativity, more bad memories for me, but, and also partially because the type of person that I am is, is someone who, who is focused on solutions, not thinking about the problem necessarily over and over again, trying to figure out a solution. No. For me, it is more about thinking about solution or in this case is a metaphor about the future and focusing on that part. And by focusing on that part, anything that happened yesterday or decades ago is, is not as relevant because it doesn’t make some change. What I do tomorrow will make change.

Is this something that you learn when you’re older, or?
Can you repeat that question?

Is this, like this mindset you have that you do not dwell on things like that? Is this something that you picked up as he got older or is it something?
That’s what I thought. That’s what I thought. But I do have a few close friends to do with, with whom I’ve been hanging for, for all night for, wow, almost 20 years or so. And, and they did tell me that I used to be like that also, also as a child, that I used to be the one who, who comes up with the initiative and starts working on that and involves other people. So I maybe both, maybe I probably developed as we all develop our skills throughout the life. But I think it was also something, something in me from, from very early on. I think it might be partially because of the fact that I blocked many memories, many negative memories, and that has left my, my, my mind with a lot of, with a lot of empty canvas to, to paint the future with, I guess.

Where do you find your strength and support in life? Where do you get it?
Creativity and, and what I said before, finding solutions. I do, I do find it fulfilling. If a friend or family member or whoever has, has a problem that they want to talk about or are in that period when they’re searching for solutions or banging their heads against the walls, thinking about problem over and over again, I do find myself fulfilled when I am able to, to find a solution for someone and, and, and start some kind of path of change. So that and the creativity. And I do think that creativity is a similar, similar thing for me. It is, it is creating solutions. Most of the time it is. It is this self-healing, healing process getting into that whole creative, creative stage. But also I do think that, I do believe that, that art and creativity changes the world. And I do feel honored when I am able to, to do something like that. So that would beat creativity in finding a solution. But for me, creativity and finding solutions would be very similar, a similar thing.

Do you remember when you were younger and you have to leave your home what your dream was for the future?
Now that you ask that I never thought about what, what young me thought was a plan for the future, and I don’t think I clearly had it. The thing is, when I was really young, but by really young, I mean six, seven, I started going to musical school and it never stopped. Thinking musically, never stop learning about music, sure. I had phases, it phases when I was a teenager and wanted to throw the accordion or whatever I was playing at the time off the bridge. But those are, those are different things. Music has really been something that has not left my life since I was, let’s say, six or seven. So your question, your question was, can you repeat your question, is?

Do you have a dream for the future?
So, yeah, exactly. I do think that somehow it has always been about that, about creating music, about doing something in music, about playing in a band. Maybe when I was a teenager playing in a big band, when I was a teenager or something like that. I do think that, that music, however, however kitsch it may sound, sound it. I’m pretty sure that was it. Other than that, no, I never wanted to be an astronaut.

And do you remember before leaving your home, what were some of your strengths? I mean, do you remember any of the things that made you strong as a person before everything happened when you were a kid?
Well, I don’t remember much from that period. I do remember that. I do know from stories everything I remember would be from stories, I was always courageous. I always did things and jump into the, into the unknown and unexplored. And yet, like Dennis the Menace kind of, kind of style. And that is something that has never left me. And I don’t seem like a, like that kind of adventurous person. At least I think that I don’t seem that way. But there have been so many situations when, when when I was the one just taking all the, all the initiatives. So I think I’m, when it comes to fight or flight, I’m definitely, definitely fight kind of a person in, you know, metaphorical, you know, metaphorically. Of course, I’m not for violence. That’s the last thing I, I stand for. But I think that there is something that, that helped me so many times, not, not running away from problem, however hard it, it seemed. And, and there were really dark periods. And also, also being being in, in a depressed mental state for years is not something that is strange for me. I’ve gone through it and in some ways, once I think person goes through it, it is always there, just takes, takes a moment to, to, to, to, to activate itself. But it has never, it has never stopped me from, from creating because, never stopped me from creating. If anything it made me want to want to create more. So even if the world stops spinning tomorrow, if the world changes overnight, at least I will have a notebook in which I wrote something that it was always very important to me. That’s like there is a constant for me.

So you could say that, I lost my train of thought, that the qualities that you had, you know, as you were younger, majority of them have stuck with you until now. What would you say that everything that you’ve gone through since you were a child in the first events happened? Would you say that you’ve grown as a person experience-wise, way of thinking?
Well, I certainly, I certainly did, and I certainly did grow up as a person from, from there and share some experiences, accelerate this and some, some experiences propelled this growing, growing part. But in, yeah, in so many ways I did, I did.

So some good ways and some bad ways?
I’m sure, I’m sure I, I’m, I made myself a stranger to so many other people that, that I am embarrassed of that. But I’m also, but I’m not embarrassed of, of admitting that to all the same people, I, I have no problem admitting, admitting a mistake. So yeah, in some ways though, I also grow distant and I also develop, develop things that are not, that I’m not, that I’m not proud of.

You feel that, you feel that that’s something you have to do because of the situation you were going through or was the effect of the situation like was it something you have to do to survive?
Exactly. Being, being rejected or being, being a human, being a new kid in the classroom over and over again, being a new kid in the block and over and over again, being that one person who is a refugee, who is not from the, who doesn’t even know where he’s from, has for sure made it very easy for me to distance myself from people, because by default, I don’t think that people want to be around. I do always feel that I don’t have anything interesting to say or, or that, that I do always have this feeling that I am just breaking into, into some social circles where I don’t belong. There doesn’t stop me or prevent me from, from trying to do that. Because right now I do know that, I do have to say, I think I would be wrong to think that I don’t belong here or there or anywhere. But yeah, I am, I am thirty, almost thirty-seven right now and I have no idea where my national identity lies. For example, there is something that if somebody would ask me, I would for sure say that I’m an Eskimo or something. So yeah, I do feel like an outsider or rejected by default. That would be my default way of thinking. I do need to push myself in order, in order to, to deepen some kind of friendship. That is true. That is…

Do you have any hopes and dreams for the future now, like in your daily life now?
Yes. I hope that by continuing to, to write the songs, release the songs, I will be able to share my experiences. My experience with, with, with other people is something that I found out about myself in my writing a long time ago, without knowing, is that my songs do always, almost always carry this, this part of, carry this weight of both. Or let’s say that my songs always have this, this burden of sadness with them, but also carry, carry the hope for the better, for the better tomorrow. I do hope that my songs and my way of thinking will be able to impact someone or will be able to, to reach that person that is, there is thinking in a similar way and that needs someone to tell them that that is perfectly fine. That is absolutely fine. There is nothing wrong with being like that. Like there’s nothing wrong with thinking about things like that. There’s nothing wrong with everything around you is great. There’s absolutely nothing wrong to be an outsider. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with anything as long as you like yourself. So love yourself, you will be able to reach the hearts of other people, whether you are accepted into social certain circles or not, that really doesn’t have to do a lot with it. Hang on. Hold on. It will happen. Things do happen for a reason. At least I believe in that.

That’s awesome. It’s beautiful. That’s a great way of thinking of ending things. Yeah. I appreciate you for taking the time to tell your story. And yeah, I learned a lot, is, I can definitely relate with a lot of the things you say and thank you so much.
I enjoyed it and thank you for the time. I must say that I feel that I just blurred some, some things out. But also this is not something that I talked about. So I do have many mixed emotions about the subjects we were talking about. But I hope that I was able to relate to the part in which I am positive that, that, that all this happens because of something else that is, there is about to happen. And we should hang on. Hold on. And yeah, that is it. Sorry about being a bit blurry, but as I said, it’s because these things that I don’t talk about. Yeah. So they’re all from, from, from top of my head.

Yeah. That’s something great. Thank you so much.
Thank you.

Many 1000 Dreams interviews were not conducted in english. Their translation has not always been performed by professional translators. Despite great efforts to ensure accuracy, there may be errors.