AIM: start

THU, 31 JAN 2002 08:39:45 GMT

Ten Years After

AIM Zagreb, January 17, 2002

The tenth anniversary of its international recognition put an unthinkable challenge in front of Croatia. President of the Republic, Stjepan Mesic, used the solemn occasion to confront the all dressed up guests who had expected a speech about "the days of pride and glory", with the memories of ugly aspects of the ruling policy in the past decade. Almost simultaneously, a newspaper investigation practically raised doubts about the sense of creation of the Croatian state.

At the ceremony in the Assembly that should have been appropriately patriotically adorned, Mesic uttered a few sentences which according to ones turned into the central event that day and according to others - into a scandal. He refused to make his contribution to the festivity by listing empty platitudes about the meaning of the historical date. In his speech, he first stressed that "Croatia was not founded yesterday", that in various forms it had existed for centuries, that "nobody has ever managed to take it away" from the Croats, just as "nobody has ever given it to them as a gift". Indirectly it was a denial of the thesis about a single man as the creator of the Croatian state.

Second, stressing merits, Mesic also openly mentioned the sins of the former regime. He admitted that Tudjman's team had recognised "the factors that enabled Croatia to take the road to independence" that, he said, they would be remembered for it by history. But, he added, "history also remembers that some moves were made that objectively played right into the hands of Slobodan Milosevic and his ambitions of Greater Serbia". Among such moves he stated "deliberate stirring up of antagonism among the members of Serb minority in Croatia", in fact, pushing Croatian Serbs right into Milosevic's hands.

Third, he declared that the attitude of the world towards Croatia had not been determined by some a priori taken stand, but the international community had been suspicious "because of the policy pursued by Croatia at the time". In this context he mentioned open aspirations towards parts of the neighbouring Bosnia, neglect of human rights, grotesque democracy, criminal transformation...

Mesic's speech terribly irritated the Croat Democratic Union (HDZ); some of the members of this party left the Assembly session in demonstration, president Ivo Sanader estimated it was wrong and catastrophic. But the partners in power are not too happy either, for several reasons. Because he made the other two speakers, Prime Minister Ivica Racan and Chairman of the Assembly Zlatko Tomcic, with their appropriate bombastic speeches irrelevant. But also because the truthful President's speech imposed criteria they were not ready to follow. They would much rather be praised by HDZ. Sanader and his followers liked Racan's statement very much, they welcomed it as an example that should be followed. They claim that he gave an objective evaluation of their rule. The Prime Minister, indeed, spoke ceremoniously, a lot about Croat sacrifices and suffering, and not a thing about mistakes and sins.

Immediately, Mesic's performance was denied in various ways. People were reminded that he too had participated in Tudjman's regime. Critics also claim that he did not choose the right moment. Allegedly, it is not decent to spoil festivities by questioning one’s conscience. On the contrary, the President believed that the festivity occasioned by the anniversary of international recognition of the state obliged one to do much more than deliver empty speeches and stressed that by admitting facts one showed democratic maturity. Although he said nothing new in his speech, nothing that the public had not already known, Mesic’s declaration was a risky and courageous act. Other state leaders are persistently silent about everything he mentioned. Moreover, a special declaration was passed in the Assembly, for instance, which claims a forgery that Croatia waged only a defensive war and only on its own territory. How much courage was necessary for Mesic’s speech is illustrated by the information that secret services were allegedly ordered to reveal who had been its author.

Except by the President’s blunt confrontation of the nation with unpleasant facts, a part of Croatian public was shocked by an investigation of a daily that had decided to put an intriguing, previously unthinkable question. To the question whether it was worth going through the war, the occupation of a part of the territory and so many human victims for Croatia to become independent, only 55 per cent of the citizens gave an affirmative answer. Almost every fourth citizen declared that the war for independence was not worth its while, and every fifth did not know how to answer. The public massive discontent with the Croatian state which seems to be transforming into doubts about its sense should not be taken too tragically. It just shows that the attitude towards the state is becoming more rational. People have doubts about whether it was worth it because the price for what was accomplished was too high. The public is not discontented by the very fact of creation of the new state, but by its content, by what the state has come down to.

The fascination with the state is diminishing. The state-creating fervour that considered creation of the state – regardless of the cost, that is, at any cost – the very sense of the existence of a nation and its historical peak is dying down. The new situation seems to be the most difficult for the sincere and honest nationalists who had, as it is popular to say over here, “Croatia in their dreams”. They got Croatia but the dream turned into deformed reality.

Perhaps one fact is the most difficult for them. They would have to admit that they had contributed to such developments themselves. Their strategy had an error built into it. Because of the dream about the state they had reduced their goals. Or had they naively believed that once you had the state everything else came automatically with it? The obsession with the state and postponing of the resolution of all other questions has had crushing results. If the state is the supreme goal – any state is good and the questions of the nature of that state – are quite superfluous.

The raising of the question whether the state is worth its while is the first step towards changing things. Those who have a rational attitude towards the state, who put the question of its being worth its while can perhaps do more for the development of a high-quality and prosperous Croatia than those who idealistically dreamt about it. Drazen Budisa, one of the Croatian dreamers, somewhat consternated by everything that has happened on the occasion of the anniversary of international recognition of Croatia, said that “a people without its own independent state is – historically unaccomplished”, but he admitted that “the state in itself is not the end of the historical accomplishment of a people”. Croatian public, fortunately, is increasingly inclined towards the stand that the state is not an end in itself but that it is a means for the satisfaction of national interests.

Jelena Lovric