Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Imagining the Croatian Nation

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Imagining the Croatian Nation

Article excerpt

The Balkan War in the 1990's created a historical actuality where one could investigate the construction of national identity. For the purpose of this article, how Croats defined themselves and their "Croatness" will be examined. The sources used for this article come from twenty-five hours of taped interviews conducted during the winter of 1992-1993 in Croatia. The interviews in their entirety can be found in The Golden Apple: War and Democracy in Croatia and Bosnia, (1) published by the East European Monographs in 1996.

The interviews created a forum for "non-official" sources to comment on their understanding of historical events unfolding around them. Seldom are non-governmental, non-experts and non-official spokesmen--lay people--allowed to comment in substantive way on the "nature of things." Their understanding of the events that surround them are not privileged by a vast majority of traditional academic historians, hence their views are rendered as marginal to the production of history. One function of this article is to address this imbalance in the writing of history by providing a forum for individuals who are otherwise relegated to a marginalized genre, as viewed by most traditional historians, known as oral history. Traditional historians' reliance on primary written sources tends to validate the views of social elites. One could argue that any historical study investigating the construction of national identity cannot marginalize the people that imagine themselves as part of a nation. The understanding of an imagined nation by the vast majority becomes more important than the imagined nation by a minority of elites. By using government officials', economic elites' and intellectuals' primary written sources, "the resulting meanings, now mediated, acquire an eerie substance in the real world, standing outside their ostensible makers [the non-elites that constitute the vast majority of society] and confronting them as an alien force." (2)

Many historians have focused on how the nation-state has been constructed. Ernest Renan's lecture, entitled What is a Nation, delivered at the Sorbonne in 1882, is still used by many scholars as a starting point to discuss what elements constitute a nation. For the purpose of this article we have also used Renan's fundamental elements of what constitutes a nation and how it compares to the comments made by our sources in their understanding of Croatian national identity. These elements are: dynastic precedence, national right, race, language, religion, geography and military necessity. (3)

Our "non-official" sources, interestingly enough, did not raise Croatian dynastic precedence as an issue in defining the Croatian nation. Rather than referring to a Croatian dynastic precedence, our sources internalized the important connectedness to a dynastic empire, specifically to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Connecting Croatia's history to a dynastic empire constructs the notion that Croatia belongs to the European family of nations--a cultural development which denies the historical influence of the Ottoman Empire. Our sources internalized an ethnocentric world image dividing the world into ourselves and the others.

One interviewee named Kazimir, a land surveyor and the former mayor of Jastrebarsko, stated:

   Throughout the Balkan Peninsula there have been many wars. The
   Avars from Asia settled here and were stopped in Croatia. The next
   series of wars were part of an anti-Turkish movement in Central
   Europe. Croatia was under the tutelage of the Austro-Hungarian
   Empire and thus had always remained the bulwark of Western
   culture.... Historically Croatians defended Western [European]
   civilization and culture.

Then current mayor of Jastrebarseko, Vladimir, also invoked this notion of Croatia being part of Western Europe by stating:

   Throughout history, Croatian territory was under the domination of
   Western Europe. … 
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