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We Are Now a Nation: Croats between 'Home "and 'Homeland'.

We Are Now a Nation: Croats between 'Home "and 'Homeland', by Daphne N. Winland. Anthropological Horizons series. Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2007. x, 224 pp., $60.00 Cdn (cloth).

Elusive Compromise." A History of Interwar Yugoslavia. by Dejan Djokic. Columbia/Hurst series. New York, Columbia University Press, 2007. xvii, 311 pp., $32.50 US (paper).

Considering Croatia's turbulent modern history, "Hrvatstvo" (Croat-ness) is obviously a prime example of the dynamic and contested construction of national identities. Dejan Djokic focuses on the tug-of-war between Yugoslavism (once invented by Croats) and Serb/Croat ethno-national politics in the interwar period. Daphne Winland has chosen an original angle to study another key phase of Croat identity formation--exile communities and post-Yugoslav Croatia.

All history-writing on Yugoslavism, the two Yugoslavias and their demise is inherently political. Djokic has tried his hand at an original and open-minded rereading of the evidence for the crucial interwar period. "Open-minded" may be saying too much. In order to counter the usual deterministic view of the Serb-Croat conflict, Djokic consistently argues that the conflict lines were by no means exclusively or even predominantly ethnic. Even though the Serb-Croat compromise eventually proved elusive, many politicians sincerely or pragmatically strove for a new Serb-Croat arrangement to save the common state. Quite contrary to usual perceptions, Djokic argues that the view that Croats and Serbs and maybe even Slovenes were part and parcel of one and the same nation despite their cultural and historical peculiarities was widely held at that time. Consequently, Yugoslavia was not an anomalous and a doomed exception in interwar Europe; indeed, new democracies failed all over Eastern Europe in the 1930s, without Serb-Croat antagonism as an easy explanation.

Djokic demonstrates that not all Serbs were of the same position concerning state centralism, and that more than a handful of Croats believed in one Yugoslav nation without accepting centralism as a logical consequence. The number and variance of proposals considered as serious alternatives to the centralistic Vidovdan Constitution of 1921 is indeed telling. The views of key players like Svetozar Pribicevic and Stjepan Radic, moreover, changed over time. Typically, the competition between the Croatian Peasant Party, the Radicals, and the Democratic Party in the 1920s was as much about political power as it was about nationalism. Not even under royal dictatorship was the cause of a sustainable compromise between King Alexander and Radic's successor, Vladko Macek, lost. In Djokic's reading, the 1939 Sporazum was not an impossible solution of last resort, but rather a serious agreement that was neither welcomed by all Croats nor rejected by all Serbs. The solidification of controversies into ethnic antagonism that nevertheless occurred after the agreement often began on the local level, as the study demonstrates in detail for the city of Split. Ironically, the new leaders of the Croat banovina instantly forgot their opposition to Serbian nationalizing policies after 1918 and acted the same way on a smaller scale, antagonizing the Serb minority.

Unusual for any study on Yugoslavism, Djokic condemns neither Serb nationalist leanings, nor Croat separatist tendencies, but rather distinguishes between integral Yugoslavism, centralism, and unitarism. As late as January 1940, politicians argued the case for combining Yugoslavism as a state idea with Serb and Croat national ideas (p. 252, fn 91). The study also highlights the often-forgotten Serbian rejection of the Sporazum on democratic grounds: Marek's deal with the royal autocracy lacked all parliamentary legitimacy. Djokic elegantly weaves the intricacies of interwar Yugoslav politics and politicking into a grand narrative underlining his main thesis that ultimately it was the politicians who failed and brought disaster to Yugoslavia, not predetermined ethnic conflicts. Oddly enough, the opposite traditional explanation, the pressure and constraints put on Yugoslavia by Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany, are only addressed in the conclusions.

The transnational role played by exile communities in nation building is a much-debated issue in politics and academia: Whereas the Croatian case was an obvious choice for Djokir, Daphne Winland's interest started at the wrong end. Rather than choosing Croatia as a relevant example of late-twentieth-century nation building, and exile communities as an adequate way of coming to terms with this complex process, it was demonstrations by exile Croats in Toronto that first attracted her attention. Thus, her book lacks distance and perspective. Her claim that the relatively small Toronto-based exile community was instrumental in shaping the views of Franjo Tudjman and his HDZ (pp. 7-8) is never substantiated. More importantly, the role of the exile community is perceived solely as an impressive case of laudable "involvement" without due attention to the political implications of Tudjman's uncompromising and aggressive nationalism in the Balkans. Too much constructivi'sm may create the illusion that nations are all about hopes, imaginations, and identities, whereas the realities of nation-building entail murder, rape, and trauma. Winland deplores the prevalence of misleading and "essentialized and historicized" views (p. 10), only to continue with a brief overview of a thousand-year history of Croatia that anachronistically essentializes and historicizes the Croatian nation as an entity fighting for its territory and sovereignty, against foreign domination. The conclusion that "[t]he nationalist aspirations of diaspora Croats and homeland Croatian nationalists do reinforce each other at some level, but they cannot easily be generalized beyond the level of political rhetoric, polemics, and ideology" is too gratuitous to really inform the subsequent narrative on the exile community (p. 25).

Having said that, Winland's book is an interesting micro-study of an exile community coming to terms with political and social upheaval in a faraway homeland that many of them have never actually visited. In understanding the discourses, tensions, and moods of the Toronto community, Winland's participant observation is actually an advantage. In the 1990s, second- and third-generation Croatian exiles suddenly had to redefine their stance towards the homeland and their own multilayered identity as a consequence of the Homeland War. Winland, however, also outlines the homeland Croats' ambiguous reactions to the exiles' efforts to insert themselves into the affairs of the newly independent state. Personal stories of Toronto Croats who returned to Zagreb full of ideals and illusions only to quickly return to Canada vividly demonstrate the complexities of national identity and loyalty to an imagined community. Initially, the shocking televised images of bloodshed in Croatia united the exile community, but schisms soon (re)appeared between political groups, exile generations, and individual leaders. However, a substantial gap between the verbose social-science jargon (for example, "lived experience of locality," "situatedness," and "selfhood") and the practical realities of the micro-study remains. Winland may be correct in arguing that assessments portraying exile Croats as "radical, rightwing, and corrupt ... overlook the local peculiarities that undergrid diaspora Croat bases of differentiation and compatibility," but her own account appears overly benevolent (p. 89).

In sum, to some extent both authors overstate their case. Winland has written an interesting micro-study of an exile community, but clearly overestimates the exiles' political influence on homeland politics. Djokic intentionally overstates the voices from Yugoslavia that disturbed the stereotype of all conflict being Serb-Croat and all Serb-Croat relations being conflictuous. The representativeness and weight of these voices is an important next question, but beyond the scope of this book. After all, Djokic challenges the historiographical consensus on a major, much-studied topic, whereas Winland merely sketches a theoretical framework for her views on a niche topic. Hence, Elusive Compromise is an original and provocative study of a key episode in Yugoslavia's history--controversial, but essential reading on the topic from now on.

Wim van Meurs

Radboud University, Nijmegen
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Author:van Meurs, Wim
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2009
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