To the Syrian Toni, 1 April represents his three-year anniversary of coming to Croatia. Here he is happy, retraining to become a chef and is already working as an interpreter in the Jesuit Refugee Service. His journey to Europe was very risky as he arrived on an eight-meter long boat carrying as many as 40 people, something he never explained in detail to his parents, who stayed in Syria. He was one of the models for the exhibition Oni / They as part of the accompanying program of the Festival of Tolerance, held from 7 to 13 April. At today’s opening of the exhibition at the Ban Jelačić Square in Zagreb, he says the exhibition is a good way of dispelling prejudices against refugees.                                                                                 

Well-known Croatian photographers Ana Opalić, Mare Milin, Stanko Herceg and Ivan Posavec shot portraits of four refugees from Syria, Iraq and Iran, which are exhibited on four Zagreb squares - Ban Jelačić Square, Petar Preradović Square, Square of the Republic of Croatia and King Tomislav Square. The exhibition is inspired by the project of the Studio Aleppo entitled Picturing (new) European citizens, and is organized under the auspices of the UNHCR and in collaboration with the Jesuit Refugee Service.

The photographed refugees had their careers and everyday life before the war broke out, and have now found a new life in Zagreb. Safaa, an architect whose husband was killed in Syria, fled the country with her three sons, and is retraining to become a nurse. She says that all she wants is peace, something she has found in Croatia. Nine-year old Mehdi from Iran lives with his father and is attending elementary school in Zagreb. The clever boy already speaks fluent Croatian, likes football and is well accepted in school. Kafia from Iraq used to be an actress, but is now lonely in her Zagreb studio apartment, waiting for her daughter and granddaughter to obtain asylum.

All of the photographers expressed great satisfaction with participating in the exhibition. Ivan Posavec, who used to document the suffering of our own displaced persons, says he feels like we have learned nothing from our own experience with war. Stanko Herceg agrees, pointing out he wants to sensitize younger generations to the issue of our relation towards refugees. Ana Opalić shot portrait sequences, suggesting there is a story behind the portraits that we do not know, but should be interested in. The photo shoots were very emotional, says Mare Milin, pointing out that she shot the refugees in front of a white wall, whose brightness represents consolation and faith in a better future.

The Festival of Tolerance means a lot to the City of Zagreb, because we want to encourage multiculturalism, said Nataša Jovičić, Senior Advisor to the Mayor of Zagreb for Culture, at the opening of the exhibition. “I would like it better if we called the people shown at the exhibition us, and not they. In order to achieve this, I feel our schools should introduce the subject of Empathy, as is the case in Finland”, says Jovičić.

The exhibition Oni / They will be shown until 15 April. The Festival of Tolerance is currently also preparing the exhibition As if they are not here: reviving memories of Polish Jews, which will be held from 6 to 17 April in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb. In collaboration with POLIN, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute in Warsaw, the exhibition will show reproductions of murals found all over Poland that depict the history of Polish Jews.

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