Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

Change and Contestation of Meaning in the Commemoration of Croatian Statehood Day

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

Change and Contestation of Meaning in the Commemoration of Croatian Statehood Day

Article excerpt


During the formation of independent nation-state in the 1990s, Croatia underwent dramatic socio-political changes, which consequently reflected in the changes of the symbolic dimension of its national identity. Old symbols, which were no longer relevant, were removed, in order to separate from former socialist Yugoslavian past, while new symbols were (re-)defined and (re-)created, in order to represent new democratic nationstate. The power of national symbolism in representing this new socio-political organization, on one hand, consolidated its members around common national meanings and values, and on the other hand, was recognized from the beginning of Croatian nation-state formation. Much of contemporary national symbolism was therefore (re-)established at the very beginning of the 1990s, including the three most prominent symbols and rituals of modern nation-states - the national flag, the national anthem and the Statehood Day.

During the 1990s, Croatian political elite and the citizens en masse and passionately celebrated the Statehood Day. However, when we compare this to the celebrations over the past years, there is an obvious lack of active involvement in its organization, promotion and participation by both the political leadership and the citizens. The aim of this paper is to examine the reasons behind the contestation of meaning of the Statehood Day in contemporary Croatian public discourse, and the lack of more active engagement in its commemoration by both the political leadership and "ordinary" citizens. We ask whether the issues that arise can be explained by natural multivocality of symbols, and the "cooling down" of "hot nationalism" of the 1990s. Or, whether there are additional issues, which stand in the way of this national holiday functioning more successfully as part of contemporary Croatian national identity.

In order to address these questions, the paper is divided into two parts. In the first part of the paper, we examine the ways in which Croatian Statehood Day was commemorated over the past 25 years, by comparing the first celebration in 1990 and the most recent one in 2015. We focus on the macro-perspective of Croatian political elite, in particular by exploring the changes of the dates of commemoration, the contestation of its meaning and the level of their involvement in its organization and celebration. We support our arguments by relying on other authors who also wrote about this topic, as well as archival research of available media resources from this period (national newspapers and video clips from Croatian National Television). In the second, main part of the paper, we move toward the micro-perspective of Croatian citizens who, in our qualitative empirical research conducted in 2013, discuss their personal involvement in the commemoration of national holidays, in particular the Statehood Day. As Brubaker et al. (2008) observe, while "the central role of elites in nationalist politics is indisputable" (p. 13), "viewing nationalist politics from a distance, and from above, fosters a kind of optical illusion" (p. 167). Or, as Hobsbawm (1992: 10-11) states, also cited in Brubaker et al. (2006: 13), "Nationhood and nationalism are 'dual phenomena': they are 'constructed from above', yet they 'cannot be understood unless also analysed from below, that is in terms of the assumptions [...] of ordinary people'." The wider socio-political context and the citizens' responses are interpreted within the existing sociological and related theoretical framework, which argues for the crucial importance of national symbols and rituals in the formation and sustenance of nations and nation-states.

The significance of national symbols and rituals

Kertzer (1988: 2) observes that despite the fact that symbols and rituals are used by every political organization ever created in the history of mankind, "few people recognize how important ritual is in modern politics." He continues: "According to mainstream Western ideology, ritual occupies at best a peripheral, if not irrelevant, role in political life. …

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