Being a small country, Croatia has wanted global recognition since its beginning. This doesn’t just refer to the political recognitions and diplomatic relations, but also to make its way into global pop culture. And, of course, hoping it will be in pop culture in a good way, not the Borat way like the country of Kazakhstan.
Back in 2011, the animated American sitcom „Ugly Americans“ (that follow a New York full of demons, zombies, and other magical creatures) made the news in Croatian media with a short clip of one of the characters eating a dead body and saying „My first Croatian, oh it tastes like Serb. “
As evident by comments, while some laughed at the edgy adult humor, many also expressed their dissatisfaction in 24 Sata’s comment section, feeling insulted by the clip.
Because America is America, almost anything published there travels globally as media content, but the same can’t be said for some other countries.
One such example is Sweden, where back in 2007, the „Croatian Invasion“ sketch was released by the comedy group Grotesco.
Check it out for yourselves.
To be frank, watching the video stunned me before I laughed through tears, although I really had no clue what the video was about. A quick internet search only informed me that Grotesco is a comedy group and that there is no music album to buy from them. But what was the message of the video? How popular is it in Sweden?
In the tradition of Croatians and other Balkan people going to European countries to work and live, Sweden is one of the many preferred destinations.
Early work of the popular comedy group
Vladan Laušević came to Sweden in 2003 as a teen from Bosnia and is today based in Stockholm, mostly working as a social entrepreneur. In 2017, he started writing as a columnist for a social and cultural magazine, Opulens, and his main responsibility later became taking care of the English section Opulens Global. He is also active in Croatian media, occasionally writing for Liberal.hr.
It was in an article Laušević wrote for Liberal.hr about Cuba that revealed one of his contacts sent him the „Croatian Invasion“ video, as comedian Michael Lindgren’s experiences in Cuba was the focus of the piece Laušević wanted to present to the Croatian public. „I was not familiar with the video before, but I recognized comedian Michael Lindgren and his humor collective Grotesco. When I moved from Bosnia to Sweden in the early 2000s, I started watching television also to learn Swedish and often was able to see Grotesco since they are a very famous comedy collective“, explained Laušević.
He added that during the 2000s, ads for Absolut Music compact disks (CDs) were viral, so he saw Croatian Invasion as a parody of those ads.
„Also, one must keep in mind that Lindgren and his alter ego Dj Trexx are making fun of Eastern European stereotypes and former communist countries. For me, it was funny to see that “Croatian Invasion” was like a predecessor of Dj Trexx’s later videos, such as about Russia and the former Soviet sphere, “Laušević pointed out.
DJ Trexx (Michael Lindgren) in the middle of the performance, screenshot / SVT
Humour in Sweden is well developed on many levels, from stand-up comedy and beyond. Referring to the comedy scene in Sweden, Laušević revealed that the Grotesco collective is mainly based on political parodies. For example, how Sweden dealt with the refugee crisis in 2016 or in real-life situations such as how parents behave during a school meeting.
„So when it comes to the video itself, it is more special because Dj Trexx was specialized in making parodies on stereotypes and cliches about Eastern and former communist Europe. I would not be surprised if Lindgren used to listen to techno music and watch videos from Croatia in the mid-2000s to develop his humor agenda“, concluded Laušević.
He isn’t sure how popular or famous the video was during the late 2000s, but today Laušević saw that the video had been mentioned in different chat platforms and forums as one of Dj Trexx’s early works.
When it comes to the impact on the impressions of Swedish people about Croatia, the video isn’t the trigger for any particular opinions about the country.
„I have only received a few questions about the video from people I know and who are older and remember it from the 2000s, and our discussions were mostly based on cliches and stereotypes regarding former communist countries. I have mostly seen and heard positive stories and experiences from my contacts and others when having spontaneous conversations about Croatia. It mostly has to do with tourism and the seaside because many Swedes love to go to Croatia during summertime. Older generations had positive experiences from vacations when Croatia was a part of Yugoslavia, while younger ones have more experiences with modern Croatia“, described Laušević.
Improvised writing and pure fun
Thanks to Laušević’s well-established Swedish contacts, Michael Lindgren, aka Dj Trexx of the Grotesco collective, recalled for TCN how the video was made.
„The original idea for Croatian Invasion was just to let our prejudices about the Eastern European electronic scene run wild. No deeper thoughts. My colleague and I were improvising while writing; I think we were quite drunk“, said Lindgren. „The video was a skit in the first season of our sketch comedy show Grotesco in 2007. The overall reception was good, although it was kind of a cult hit. Our broad breakthrough in Sweden was in 2009 when we made the entertainment part of the Swedish Eurovision competition Melodifestivalen“.
While at the start, DJ Trexx was Croatian, he later turned Russian. Humourous provocation (see the song “Tingaliin“) and artistic experimenting lead to the change of the character that continues to explore social solidarity and liberal freedom.
Performance of Tingaliin a parody of Eastern Europe stereotypes at Melodifestivalen 2009, screenshot / SVT
„Trexx evolved from Croatian Invasion. He became defined as Russian-East-German when we did Tingaliin in 2009 (because Russia was hosting Eurovision that year). I think he reflects a part of me that I wanted to experiment with all alter egos. He was born in East Berlin “behind the wall” (son to a red army officer and a German concert violinist), but he loved western electronic techno. Maybe I liked that story because I was a Swede struggling with the ideas of socialist solidarity and safety vs. liberal freedom. Trexx also loves the idea of a free united Europe“, described Lindgren.
Stating how he doesn’t know any Swedish-Croatians personally, Lindgren’s general impression is good with no particular prejudice.
„Croatian Invasion was just pure fun, not really meant to say anything intellectually – maybe a love-hate tribute to our prejudices about the newly liberated Eastern European techno scene around the 2000s. Also based on the eclectic and, through Scandinavian eyes, over the top and sometimes bizarre acts in Eurovision from the previous Eastern bloc“, concluded Lindgren.
In the end, he hopes he will have a chance to visit Croatia someday, and with Swedes having a positive experience in the country, it would be awesome for the Swedish celebrity to also enjoy the country and perhaps even visit some of the many electronic music festivals Croatia has to offer. Particularly on Pag’s Zrće beach.
Learn more about various Croatian destinations on our TC page.
For more about Croatia-Sweden relations, follow TCN’s dedicated page.