Including the Serbs of Croatia into Croatia's History Writing

By Seim, Oyvind Hvenekilde | Serbian Studies, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Including the Serbs of Croatia into Croatia's History Writing


Seim, Oyvind Hvenekilde, Serbian Studies


Introduction

The central objective of this article is to trace the ideological background of the frequent exclusion of the Serbian minority in Croatia from Croatian history books. Croatian avoidance or non-recognition of its Serbian history is sought-after in relation to the development of the Croatian state-nation ideology in the nineteenth century. In tracking the ideological background for exclusion the explanations appear not to be purely local ones, but to be closely linked to developments of nineteenth-century European nationalism and national ideologies. This paper analyzes some key modern historical events and processes that have influenced the relationship between Croats and Serbs in Croatia. The topic is exemplified through examination of history textbooks for high schools in Croatia. The article suggests strategies to support for achieving inclusion and identifies the main obstacles in this regard, but methodologically it concentrates on bringing about awareness of the background of exclusion as a necessary step in fostering inclusion.

The Demographical Decline of the Serbs in Croatia

The history of the Serbian minority population in Croatia continues to be systematically overlooked and to a certain degree is not recognised as Serbian history by the Croat majority. Before giving evidence for this claim and tracking the ideological background for Croatian exclusion of its Serbian minority, some key demographical data will illustrate the topic. Serbs and Croats share a common history during the Habsburg Empire as soldiers in the Austrian Military Border known as Krajina. In the mid-nineteenth century the Serbian population of the territory of the province of Croatia-Slavonia, including the Krajina region, constituted more than 30 percent of the population. (1) In Dalmatia, which only became a part of Croatia after the First World War, the Serbian minority was less than 20 percent. These percentages were slowly declining until the Second World War, but then the genocide perpetrated on the Serbs by the Croatian Ustasha regime and the post-war immigration to Serbia proper drastically reduced the size of the Serbian population. Territorial changes in 1945, with the Srem province being exchanged for the Baranja province, Boka Kotorska given to Montenegro and Istria and Zadar Town added to Croatia, further reduced the proportion of the Serbian population in Croatia. In the census of 1961, 15 percent identified as Serbs. In the censuses of 1981 and 1991, 11.6 percent and 12.2 percent declared as Serbs, but many also identified as Yugoslavs or as "Other."

Serbs from Croatia have made important contributions to Croatian cultural, scientific, and political history and were a constitutional element of Croatia during Tito's Yugoslavia. This status was annulled by Croatian president Tudman in 1990, one of numerous actions leading to civil war in Croatia. Several waves of expulsion and flight of the Serbs of Croatia took place during and after this war. From being a constitutive political element and an integral part of the Croatian state and history, with a sizeable population share, after the wars of the 1990s the Serbian population of Croatia has become a forgotten stigmatized minority of less than 4.5 percent according to the census of 2001. A majority are older persons, indicating that the negative demographical trend will persist.

It follows that the diminishing number of Serbs in Croatia's population reduces their prospects to influence a renegotiation of the content of Croatia's history books. The challenges facing Croatia of the need to open national memory to minority narratives is contemporary problem of relevance for many minorities or expelled people in Europe, especially in Eastern Europe. The history of the Serbian predecessors does not disappear because their descendants have disappeared or fled. However, the history of the Serbs in Croatia is nowadays left out from much of the information material available to the public, (2) but also from text- and history books. …

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