Books on Croatia
Update No: 137 - (27/10/08)
The Croats are not the luckiest of nations in Europe. They
must be ruling the days of communism, imposed on them by the Serbs, albeit under
the half Croat, half Slovene Tito - but also the nearly ten wasted years of
Franjo Tudjman, president of the country from independence in 1991 until his
timely death in December 1999.
But at least they have seen progress since then. They are as apprehensive as the
rest of us about what next, in their case with their application to join the EU?
They are widely regarded as the next in line for when the EU resumes accepting
nations into membership. They probably feel that the world’s economic shocks
have not helped that cause.
We are not going to know until next year, if then. In the interim let us take
stock and see how far Croatia has come.
The Croats are a people with a very long history. Actually so have every people
- but in their case with exceptionally interesting antecedents.
Modern Croatia was geographically the core of Illyrium in Roman times, the very
heart of the Roman Empire on the fault-line between the eastern and western
halves of the Empire. It gave it several of its most outstanding emperors,
notably the two responsible for the resurgence and transformation of the empire
at the turn of the third and fourth centuries, Diocletian, who famously divided
it in two and persecuted the Christians, and Constantine, who switched the
capital from Rome to Constantinople (modern Istanbul) and converted the empire
to Christianity, creating Christendom, than which it is difficult to think of a
more decisive event in history.
That division of the Roman empire also saw a massive Roman government-inspired
movement into the Balkans from northern Europe of a numerous group of slavic
tribes, whom the Romans hoped would act as a buffer against wilder barbarians,
still pressing on the frontiers of empire. But although ethnically Balkans slavs
are much the same, those in Serbia were under the rule of the eastern empire,
thus Greek Orthodox Constantinople, and those in Croatia, the western empire,
thus Roman Catholics. The religious divide has acted as an emblematic division,
even though the languages are the same.
Serbia also, with much of the Balkans was occupied for centuries by the
Ottomans; Croatia was not, being a frontier province of the Austro-Hungarian
empire and a bastion against the Ottoman turks.
The next Croatian of world historical significance is Tito. The parallel with
Constantine is rather apt, once it is accepted that the Yugoslav was operating
in a far smaller sphere than the Roman Emperor. If Constantine was a practical
man attracted to an otherworldly religion, to which he converted his worldly
polity, Tito was a revolutionary visionary converted to Marxism, a secular
recrudescence of Christianity, to which he converted his fractured Balkan
This was a highly contradictory thing to do. But then even Tito had a
contradictory ancestry, half Croat, half Slovene. Yugoslavia itself was a bundle
of contradictions, which is why it fell apart a while after he died.
It was not a rigidly communist state at all, but the only one of them to allow
its people to travel freely, to indulge in market activities and to prosper.
Tito was genuinely popular, a hero from WWII against fascism and the only
communist leader who was definitely not a fanatic - a Western-leaning
pragmatist, aided to power by Winston Churchill no less.
His legacy has been mixed, benign and yet malign, from whatever perspective you
take on it.
He gave Yugoslavia freedom from fractious wars for decades, yet never resolved
the ancient animosities between its constituent peoples - as who possibly could?
He opened up his country to the wider world, as no other communist leader dared
Let history judge him.
But Croatians now in an extraordinarily uncertain world would dearly like such
certainties that go along with membership of the European Union, which their
successive governments have worked towards, since the departure of Tudjman.