Last week, I received a letter from someone calling himself “a Serbo-Croatian friend”, complimenting my work. I became curious as to whether this “Serbo-Croatian” was a Serb or a Croat or both, so I asked him. Following is a composite letter that combines the heartbreaking emails he sent me in response:

Yes, I am what you call a “half” man from Zagreb; half Serb and half Croat. However, I would rather not talk about myself here but only mention that both my side of the family were financially, emotionally and even physically damaged in this war. Our family ties were severed, in particular on my Serb side of the family, never to repair again. My Serb cousins have abandoned the Serbian Orthodox Christian faith and replaced it with the Evangelical Christian or Catholic. The Cross against the Cross…. disgrace. This is what happens to people in mixed marriages. We don’t talk to each other because in today’s Croatia it is shameful to be a Serb. Even Serbs are ashamed to be recognized by other Serbs. Serbs of Krajina that live in Zagreb, many of them, speak like Zagrepcani (people from Zagreb) or even Zagorci (poeple from Zagorje) in order to conceal their own identity. Serbs in Croatia are strangers in their own land. The negative image of the Serbian culture and identity, generated by the Croatian media over the years and perpetuated by Serbs and Croats alike, will take years to change. Sadly, self-hate is terrible form of self-oppression. That is why I have decided to emigrate from Croatia once and for all….so that I don’t have to hate “half” of myself, “half” of my family, “half” of anything.

I know you didn’t invent the “half” term yourself, but I dislike it because it is misleading. In the Balkans, we are all very mixed but dislike admitting our belonging to the “other” side. We like to form our national identities with preferable disregard to our real roots. That is why many of us stress that, for example, his or her uncles had fought in Ustasha army and hide away the existence of his or her father who fought for partisans. To me this is unspeakable. The example I used does not employ one’s nationality but ideology as a basis for forming one’s identity (The person I used in this example is Croatian economist Ljubo Jurcic, the potential candidate for the Prime Minister’s position)…but I hope you got the point. There were and are many “half” men living, working and fighting in and for Croatia: Stipe Mesic, Ico Voljevica, Josip Broz Tito, Ante Starcevic, Ljudevit Gaj, Goran Ivanisevic, Mira Furlan, Josip Juraj Strossmayer, Nikola Zrinski, Lucija Serbedzija etc. Even Franjo Tudjman’s grandson Dejan Kosutic is a “half” man. I can go on and on.

Unfortunately for many, the Balkan wars necessitated selecting a particular national identity (Croatian, Serbian, Muslim, Albanian etc.) with disregard of some of our cousins, grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers, fathers, a few uncles etc. In fact, historically speaking, Croatian nobility intermarried with Hungarian, Italian, Polish and Serbian nobility as was the custom at the time. So who, among today’s Croats, can claim the “Limpieza de sangre” or “cleanness of blood”??? Nobody…However, this collective identity formation (i.e. the creation of Croatianness) has been done in order to restrict the encroachment of all things foreign upon the Croatian national being. Yet, the formation of Ustasha identity and equating it with the real Croatian identity required infiltration and encroachment of foreign elements such as Nazism, anti-semitism, xenophobia upon the Croatian national being. What has happened to “Dobro mi dosel prijatel” kind of Croatianness? (“Welcome my Friend” – a Croatian song celebrating friendship) Who are present-day Croatian friends? Unfortunately, there are none. Some might say Austrians or Germans, but then how to explain Kapfenberg and Bad Blue Boys’ attack on this little Austrian town? Friends do not act like that. [Bad Blue Boys are soccer fans of Dinamo Zagreb, the biggest soccer club in Croatia. Three weeks ago they caused mayhem in Kapfenberg, Austria when they clashed with police and town people. Since Austrians supposedly represent Croatians’ most valuable friends, an attack on innocent Austrian bystanders is outrageous.]

Please, Julia…if you are going to post my thoughts about Croatia, include this song for all honorable Croats and Serbs alike to enjoy….

(This is a rough translation of the song…Zagorje is a region next to Zagreb.)

Dobro mi došel prijatel
(Welcome, my Friend)

vu skromni zagorski dom,
(to a modest Zagorian home)

budi kak doma vu vlastitoj hiži,
(feel free as you do in your home)

tu pri pajdašu si svom.
(you are with your friend here)

V hiži toj kaj si poželiš,
(in this home you can have whatever you want)

to moje srce ti da,
(my heart offers it to you)

zagorci da su prijateli pravi,
(Zagorians are true friends)

to denes celi svet zna.
(the whole world knows that to be true)

Nek je stara hiža ova,
(This house is old)

al’ još navek tu stoji,
(but it still stands firm)

ne možeš srušit ovog krova,
(nobody can ruin its roof)

taj se nièeg ne boji.
(so don’t be afraid)

dobro mi došel prijatel . . .
(welcome my friend)

Zagorec bu navek prvi,
(Zagorian will always be first)

za pajdaštvo život dal,
(for friendship to give his life)

sve do zadnje kaple krvi,
(until the last drop of blood)

…By the way…I was in Borovo Selo, which is a Serbian village, when the whole thing started in Croatia. I have an aunt there. Luckily I left Croatia…I don’t want to go back to Croatia because I want to show them that Croats, especially those with militant Ustasha outlook are not right (to be honest, Ustasha mentality is the mainstream now in Croatia. An attack on Marko Perkovic Thomson or even Tudjman is like an attack on everything Croatian).

I don’t feel as an economic, but as a political emigrant. My mother is Croatian from Vukovar and she and her side of the family suffered as well. My grandmother and my uncle, who are both Croats, were forced to labour for the Serb villagers from 1992-96 and my uncle’s house was burnt (now repaired) by a Serb militiaman. So…things are not black-white…they never are.

On my father’s side everything is ruined…everything….we just don’t exist as a family. Houses in Dvor na Uni are burnt and my dad’s side of the family left for Belgrade. Those that remained live in Zagreb, but we don’t talk to each other, primarily because they consider themselves Croatians now and I can’t stand that coat-turning…and they probably think I am too radical or something, just for fighting for the rights of Serbs of Croatia. But maybe I am wrong to be so critical of them because I don’t live in Croatia anymore and don’t walk in their shoes. It is hard to judge people like that.

My wife’s side of the family is Serbian from Vojisnica, Croatia (near Vojnic) and they now live in Banja Luka and Belgrade. Her grandfather, who decided to stay and not leave with the others for Bosnia, was shackled by the Croatian army and badly beaten. He was 70-something at the time. Luckily, he survived the war. Their houses were also burnt but repaired now (badly should I mention). However, since there are no jobs, they are looking to emigrate to Canada.

Yours,
Janko

Note these two sentences:

In the Balkans, we are all very mixed but dislike admitting our belonging to the “other” side. We like to form our national identities with preferable disregard to our real roots. That is why many of us stress that, for example, his or her uncles had fought in Ustasha army and hide away the existence of his or her father who fought for partisans…I want to show them that Croats, especially those with militant Ustasha outlook are not right (to be honest, Ustasha mentality is the mainstream now in Croatia. An attack on Marko Perkovic Thomson or even Tudjman is like an attack on everything Croatian).

Countless Croatians have written me objecting to my painting the pro-Ustasha mentality as being Croatia’s mainstream. Many told me that their grandparents fought for the Partisans. I replied on my blog at the time that these should be the Croatians who would share my concerns about modern-day Croatia, built on a war that revived Ustasha patriotism and symbolism. But now I understand. In Croatia, it’s fashionable to claim an Ustasha connection, and not a Partisan one. So in Croatia, they are pro-Ustasha, but in dealing with a member of the Western press, they either deny having Ustasha sympathies — with one reader even claiming that the Ustasha regime of WWII enjoyed only 2 percent support from the Croatian population.

It sounds like the same game that Croatia is playing with the EU for membership: the country will be who the West wants them to be for the moment, as it serves them. This explains a country that can have a sign for returning Serbian refugees, reading “Welcome Home, Serbs” while at the same time have a national holiday that celebrates the cleansing of 300,000 Serbs from its borders.

Croatians also like to blame the Serbs for Communism when it was a half Sloven-half Croat (Tito) who brought Communism to Yugoslavia and executed Draza Mihailovic, whose Royalist Chetniks actually fought both the Communists and the Nazis. AND YET Croatians manage to find fault with Mihailovic and the Chetniks, blaming them for everything as well. The funniest part, of course, is that they continue trying to perpetuate the outrageous myth that Mihailovic was a Nazi collaborator. (Yeah — like America would award a Legion of Merit to a Nazi collaborator.) It all amounts to a desperate attempt to diminish Croatians’ Fascist guilt by equating the Serbs with themselves. Meanwhile, we know that Croatia during the Third Reich was an Axis power and went beyond “collaboration”, the Ustashas forming long before Hitler’s rise and waiting for an opportunity to wipe out the Serbs, which WWII provided. In fact, if I were Hitler I’d feel quite used.

A Croatian movie which made it to American theatres this year illustrated, to a degree, the modern-day Croatian dilemma. It was called “I Love You.” This was the short NY Times review, titled “In Croatia, an Empty Life in Full View”:

“I Love You,” a bleak drama from the Croatian writer and director Dalibor Matanic, is an unusually perceptive scrutiny of absence and emptiness. Set in the filmmaker’s hometown, Zagreb, the movie follows a young advertising hotshot named Kreso (Kresimir Mikic), whose life is a thoughtless round of drinking, drugs and sex. When he gets into trouble, his lawyer father bails him out; when he is lonely, his gym buddies are preferable to the live-in girlfriend he barely speaks to. Then he learns he is H.I.V.-positive.

…As Kreso’s life is stripped away (“The company has to be clean, both inside and out,” says his unrepentant boss as he shows him the door), Kreso’s surroundings appear increasingly insubstantial and his connections with others more raw and violent…Opening and closing beneath the clinical glare of hospital lights, “I Love You” conjures a disaffected post-Communist life of casual hedonism and emotional bankruptcy. In its simple, unforced way, the movie is as much about the loss of a generation as the redemption of an individual.

In other words, Communism sucked — but so does “hedonistic” democracy, according to this Croatian film. No wonder Croatia longs for its fun-filled days as a Nazi satellite. Life had meaning and identity.