A lesson for the West: The Berlin Wall fell but Croatia Balkanized

The breakup of the artificial state of Yugoslavia was a result of the fall of an idea, symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall, but Croatia and Serbia are no better off than before. It seems statehood is not always all it is described to be.

Dr. Tom Sunic

OpEds Croatia

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 did not occur out of the blue. It was preceded by a fall in enthusiasm for “real socialism” which so many European world-improvers had been in love with for a long period of time.  By the mid-1980s the communist project in Eastern Europe and Russia had turned out badly, to the point that local communists and their Western sympathizers - who had once decorated themselves with the titles of Castroists, Titoists or Maoists - ceased to believe in the Marxian mystique. 

However, there is no need to delude oneself too much. Communism, as a social anthropology preaching egalitarianism, society without borders, multiculturalism, and eternal economic progress, had already come to fruition in a more insidious and more elegant way in the West. Even in comparison to famed communist repression in Eastern Europe, its Western counterpart had taken on far more sophisticated  features, of course under another garb and by using different signifiers such as "antifascism", "multiculturalism", "diversity", etc.

The fall of the Wall, followed later by the breakup of Yugoslavia, was therefore a logical consequence of the fall of an idea that had been popular among many Western academics for quite some time. It must be recalled that the communist universe, including the multiethnic now-defunct Yugoslavia, derived much of its intellectual legitimacy from its Western scribes.

The breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991 and the birth of modern Croatia were not the result of a secret plot devised by Croatian and  Serb nationalists, as the mainstream media in the West often reports. The birth of Croatia in 1991 was an instinctive reaction of Croatian citizens to Yugoslav Army aggression and to the armed uprising by the Serb minority in Croatia.

It suffices to observe the profile of the current Croatian ruling class, Croatia’s higher education professors, as well as the pedigree of major movers and shakers in the Croat mainstream media. Almost all of them are either former communist apparatchiks or their offspring, albeit  rebranded now into proud liberal Europeanists.

In large part the current Croatian leadership used to be staunch Yugoslavs who, at the time of the country’s breakup in 1991, became Croats by default. One could easily draw an anthropological parallel with the Left in France, which around the same time period considered it more advantageous to pontificate about the free market than to continue indulging in Freudo-Marxist scholasticism.

“Every cloud has a silver lining” – goes an old English proverb. Croatia  has less legislative autonomy today than when it was a constituent republic of now-defunct Yugoslavia. The current chest pounding by Croat nationalists about upholding the sovereignty and independence of their country sounds obsolete, given that half of Croatia’s legislation has been imported from Brussels anyway.

Moreover, it should not be forgotten that on the eve of its breakup in 1991 Yugoslavia was highly prized by European leaders who saw in Yugoslavia a prime model of the future multicultural EU.  Praising The European Union to the skies, as Croatian government officials are doing, while at the same time lambasting the defunct communist and multicultural Yugoslavia is a contradictio in adjecto. In psychiatric terms, it is a deliberate self-denial process practiced by an overwhelming majority of Croatian politicians and intellectuals.

While the former Yugoslav yoke is being openly criticized with hindsight and ridiculed by many, Croatia's ruling class enjoys being subjected to EU  ukases with very few voices to be heard against the grip of the new Brussels-based "euroslav" project. Not very different.

The additional problem consuming the energy of many Croat citizens is neighboring Serbia, a country which serves as an obsessive source of Croat negative identity. In popular Croat lingo one cannot be a good Croat unless one becomes a good anti-Serb first. Even in official discourse, Croatian politicians constantly regurgitate the mantra about “Greater Serbian aggression" without ever venturing to examine the ex-Yugoslav causes and the disastrous legacy of communism which were the origins of the 1991 war. Of course, such an anti-Serb rhetoric  exonerates former Croatian communists of any responsibility for crimes they committed during the Yugoslav era, It also provides them with an alibi for their failure to safeguard Yugoslavia whose eternal life they had preached for decades.

In truth, the war in the former Yugoslavia did not solve anything. For their part, Serbian politicians and historians continue wallowing in their antifascist victimology, inflating the figures of Serbs killed by the Croatian Ustashas between 1941 and 1945. Their victimology is supposed to serve them as a cover to conceal their own geopolitical aspirations of yesteryear and absolve them of crimes they committed during the last war in the former Yugoslavia.

Nor are the Croats lagging much behind in their commemorations. They also display their own brand of victimhood  whose anticommunist trope is especially pronounced among grassroots Croats. Extensive Catholic Church-sponsored commemorations are held for the victims of communist massacres committed after 1945 in early Yugoslavia in which tens of thousands of Croats perished.

Indeed, the Croats seem to suffer from collective neurosis that in many aspects resembles that of the Germans. There is, however, a clear difference. While the historical trauma in Germany results in collective rituals of penitence and self-hatred, the Croat people, in order to bolster its tragic identity, keeps evoking the communist post-1945 killings fields and the real or surreal Serbian evil.

Although the current Croatian government is cozying up to EU directives by mimicking the EU codes of political correctness, Croatia, at least for the time being, has no laws restricting freedom of speech as is the case with France and Germany.

Nonetheless,  being trapped in its WWII historical narrative it comes as no surprise that little mention is being made in Croatia of large waves of non-European migrants in its neighborhood. For example, in neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina, a dysfunctional and artificial state, there are around 50,000 non-European migrants en route to the to the West, whose rush may trigger an even more serious crisis in the Balkans any minute.  Willy-nilly migrants can further aggravate the persisting hatred lingering between Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims.

The fall of the Wall, the breakup of Yugoslavia, the establishment of the European Union  - none of them bode well for the European "happy together."

Dr. Tomislav Sunic is a writer, former Croatian diplomat, former professor of political science in the United States. Author of the novel Titans are in Town (2017)