Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Retracing the Past to the Cradle of Croatian History

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Retracing the Past to the Cradle of Croatian History

Article excerpt

I. THE PROBLEM AND METHODOLOGICAL DIFFICULTIES

Perhaps few questions related to the history of Croatia have been as controversial and difficult to resolve as that of the Croats' ethnic origins and of their early ethnic development. Significantly, the difficulty may lie not only in the paucity of early literary evidence but also in the research methodologies used in the past. This impasse indicates that new approaches and the contribution of non-traditional disciplines are needed if scholars hope to unravel and understand this complex and elusive historical process. This article will address this very problem and will argue that it is necessary to rely on the insights of alternative disciplines and to restate the basic research questions and, in the process, I will also suggest new ways of thinking about the question and will seek to provide some preliminary answers to this perplexing problem.

In tackling the issue of the Croats' ethnic development, a key consideration must be that the study of early Croatian history and the exploration of the Croats' roots can only be conducted properly within the broader framework of general world history. One must always bear in mind that the Croats, or more precisely the Proto-Croats, arrived in their new homeland at the twilight of the great migrations of peoples, and it is this event which is the starting point both for the genesis of Croatian history and, at the same time, for the integration of the Croats into the shifting tides then rolling onto the world scene as part of a broader international phenomenon. It is here, on what came to be historical Croatian soil, that the assimilation of the conquerors and the indigenous population occurred. Eventually, the nation resulting from this coalescence was to accept a Classical-Christian civilization, adapting the adopted culture, as well as being changed by it, especially in their "mentality," in a process which even today remains obscure to scholars.

The arrival of the Croats placed them geographically within the framework of today's "Balkans," but this political connotation imposed by the West at the beginning of the 19th century is not based on either valid historical or cultural criteria. Rather, a more appropriate term for a spatial definition of Croatian history (as well as for the history of the other Southern Slavic peoples) would be the old term "Illyricum." (1) It is within the boundaries of this "Illyricum" area that the Southern Slavic peoples were generally molded and it is here that we can trace the processes continuing from time immemorial to the present. In the aftermath of these early migrations, conflicts were common within Illyrian society--whose cohesion was based on the exercise of violence--conflicts which were intended to establish control and to wield power, and which were characterized by psycho-pathological symptoms such as paranoia and projection identification. It is to this period, very likely, that one can trace the emergence of certain archetypes with a "continuing" impact, and of factors which have fueled violence up to the present time. (2)

Since both written and archeological evidence clearly point to the unconscious of the ancestors of the present-day Croats, and since it was they who shaped the Croatian cultural "cradle," it is to psychoanalysis that one should look in order to help elucidate the genesis of the Croats. Within this context, the psychoanalytical term "matrix" (that is, a basic substance, source, womb, woof) can be of considerable assistance. This "matrix" is, in fact, a "hypothetical web" (cob-web or membrane) of communication and of relationships within a given group. (3) In our effort to understand this Croatian matrix, it is important to bear in mind the cultural and sociological conditions within which this matrix was woven and, in particular, to understand how culture acts as a matrix in the process of socialization. In various ways, it was the family, religious fraternities, and monasteries which had the strongest impact and which were the pillars of the early Croatian matrix. …

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