Island of Žirje

Žirje Island (150 inhabitants) is an island and a settlement in the Adriatic Sea. It is situated in the Šibenik archipelago, about 22 kilometres southwest of Šibenik, making it the most remote permanently inhabited island in the archipelago. Its area is 15 km2, and has a population of 150 (2021 census). Its population steadily decreased (720 residents in 1953, 207 residents in 1981, and 124 in 2001). However, according to the last census, the population on the Island started to grow. Žirje was affected by extreme socio-economic transformation that changed the traditional way of life on the Island. The primary industries on the Island are agriculture (grapes, olives and cherries) and fishing. Tourism on Žirje has mainly remained undeveloped compared to the other islands in the Croatian Adriatic. Due to its use by the Yugoslav Army, the southern and south-western parts of the Island were off-limits to the islanders and visitors for nearly half a century. 

Authors: Lana Peternel, Ana Perinić Lewis


Theme: State, Statehood, Identity, Nature, Migrations, Aging, Nutrition, Property, Materiality, Connectivity, Post-war period, War aftermath

Figure 1: Island of Žirje (June 2023).

Figure 2: Island of Žirje – abandoned cooperative building (June 2023).

Figure 3: Island of Žirje – a beach (June 2023).

Figure 4: Island of Žirje – Ethnographic collection in-situ (June 2023).

Figure 5: Island of Žirje – Zvizdulje (June 2023).

Two abstracts were accepted for the conference “Anatomy of Islands” 2023, Jelsa.

Title: “Island exists only on paper“: Perception and visibility of the state on the island of Žirje 

Twenty years ago, the island of Žirje, as the furthermost island of the Šibenik archipelago, was an example of negative sociodemographic trends and neglect of island space. Nevertheless, both today the island is facing a loss of key indicators of vitality – younger population, due to a long-lasting historical isolation, gradual leaving of agriculture and neglect of infrastructure. The local population demands greater attention of state institutions in accordance with national plans for the development of islands and developmentally vulnerable communities. In the qualitative research conducted on the island of Žirje in 2023 the concept of state has the central position in descriptions of economic, demographic, and ecological challenges, while advocating for strong state interventionism in projects of revitalization. In the analysis of interviews with around twenty inhabitants the concept of state implies support of the local, regional and state authorities, despite the change of the political strategy of isolation in the past thirty-some years, and consequentially the orientation of a significant part of the community to their own initiatives in tourism. Focusing on the perceived role of state, we conceptualize it as a historically rooted construct, which is created, experienced, interpreted, remembered and felt. The analysis is based on three main topics that illustrate a layered relationship between the islanders and the state. The first level of analysis is the role of state towards the protection of infrastructure and its own heritage in the space, the second level is the relationship of islanders towards existing legal framework, and the third is the analysis of active relationship of the local population towards state institutions. For islanders, state is a construct that is emotionally shaped through feelings of pride, disappointment, distrust, bitterness, and frustration. We interpret the emotional construct of the state through the concept of “omnipresent history” at the same time combining historically different states and their influence on the island. Based on the experience and perceptions of state practices on the island, our interlocutors see the state as a “stepmother“ that is incapable, inefficient, frustrating and only occasionally benevolent. At the same time, they point to the importance of their own role and of the island they inhabit for the formation of the Republic of Croatia and defence of Dalmatia, expecting of that idealised state to take care of them now, to function, help and work.

New farmistry – island nutritional practices on the example of four Dalmatian islands

In this paper we are exploring the concept of island diet through a comparative approach to nutritional practices of inhabitants of Dalmatian islands of Brač, Hvar, Mljet and Žirje. Island nutritional practices are observed at three levels: the growing, provision and storage of food. Based on ethnographic research we interpret results in the context of complex infrastructural challenges that island inhabitants are facing in supplying groceries and providing energy and water. Consequently, the tradition of optimal use of available resources acquires various and complex contemporary forms. Non-existent, unfinished, neglected and devastated infrastructures aggravate greatly the supplying of food for everyday use or trade and hospitality. Long promised infrastructure projects in the form of roads, adaptation of pathways, building of electricity network, internet coverage or connection to water supply have not been implemented for even a few decades, and islanders navigate through the unfinished infrastructures by adapting them to their daily or seasonal needs. Faced with infrastructural shortcomings, all the interlocutors in our research grow fruit and vegetables and go fishing for their own needs. All that they cannot grow, catch, gather or buy on the island they provide in various ways from outside the islands, using some modern-day skills and combining them with traditional local knowledge and practices. Most of them engage in necessary and desirable skills in crisis situations and catastrophes, while the islanders themselves often define them as part of the island lifestyle or mentality. In line with theories of sustainability and coping with the crisis, we will present the perception and affective relation towards abandoned and decaying remnants of the farming heritage, which make a part of the construct of island diet. We are particularly interested in nowaday adaptations, strategies and orientations of islanders’ navigating through the supply of groceries and energy products for the growing, provision and storage of food on four Dalmatian islands with a particular focus on settlements and communities where infrastructural problems and (non)solutions aggravate island everyday living. Obtained results point to the “new farmistry” in which island nutritional practices are marked by crisis, unity, close neighbourhood, connectedness and improvisation skills in finding solutions for coexistence with the obstacles and challenges of isolation and neglect.