The Formation of Croatian National Identity: A Centuries-Old Dream

The Formation of Croatian National Identity: A Centuries-Old Dream

The Formation of Croatian National Identity: A Centuries-Old Dream

The Formation of Croatian National Identity: A Centuries-Old Dream

Synopsis

This volume assesses the formation of Croatian national identity in the 1990s. It develops a novel framework that calls both primordialist and modernist approaches to nationalism and national identity into question before applying that framework to Croatia. In doing so it not only provides a new way of thinking about how national identity is formed and why it is so important, it also closely examines 1990s Croatia in a unique way.

Excerpt

What did it mean to be Croatian in the 1990s? As the Republic of Croatia enters its second decade as an independent state, with a new president and a new government for the first time, this book asks whether sentiments of Croatian national identity have changed and, if so, how and why. General theories of nations and nationalism are unhelpful when it comes to addressing particular cases, principally because very few cases adhere to the accounts they offer. I do not intend to rehearse these arguments here or to explore the relative merits of different theories with regards to Croatia. Instead, I propose a multi-layered approach to studying contemporary Croatian national identity. Adopting Paul James' theory of 'abstract communities', I argue that national identity is constituted by the interaction of three levels of social abstraction. The first level is an abstract level of 'big stories' that distinguish the nation from other nations. In and of themselves, such stories have little meaning in contemporary contexts. Therefore the second level looks at the political and intellectual elites who attempt to make sense of these 'big stories' in order to legitimise particular political programmes in the contemporary context. However, national identity derives its power from being embedded in individual subjectivity. Thus the narratives of national identity articulated by political and intellectual elites are manifested and constantly reinterpreted in social practice. None of the three levels can be prioritized because they are mutually constitutive. That is, social practices within nations make no sense outside the narratives of the first and second levels. The first, most abstract, level is politically meaningless without contemporary interpretation. The power of national identity derives from its existence at the nexus of all three levels. It is constituted by the first, contextualised and mobilised by the second, and embedded by the third. This is a constant process of contestation, without an end point, in which social practices in the everyday inform revisions at the levels of abstraction above.

With regards to Croatia, I argue that at the most abstract level Croatian national identity is constituted by the narrative of historical statehood (see Chapter 3). During the 1990s competing political parties and intellectuals (the second level) mobilised and reinterpreted narratives of historical statehood (the first level) in order legitimise their political programmes. The ruling party (the HDZ, Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica- Croatian Democratic Union) made use of the bureaucratic power of the state to enforce its particular understanding of Croatian national identity. Although such ideas enjoyed salience during the wars of 1991–95 there were always sites of resistance to this dominant account of national identity. As the 1990s passed, disjunctures . . .

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