It is today one of the flagships of world tourism. The Dalmatian coast of the still newly formed country of Croatia is back with tourist figures this summer starting to reach pre-COVID levels in a paradise that boasts the sparkling turquoise waters of the Adriatic, the medieval walls of Dubrovnik and Zadar , the Roman ruins of Split, the magnificent waterfalls amidst the abundant lakes of the Plitvice and Krka parks, and mini-cruises among the 700 Kornati islands.
Beneath the surface grandeur, however, lurk unresolved historical and contemporary tensions that threaten to interfere with the spectacle and make this land a new breeding ground for a new fascism, linked to a global Trumpist far right or alternatively. , or at the same time, a new experiment in a red-green, socialist-environmental coalition which could still counter this wave in Croatia and in all of Europe.
Rebecca West’s monumental calculation and sophisticated exploration of these tensions in what was then Yugoslavia in the pre-WWII era is titled Black lamb and gray hawk, the lamb being the predominantly Serbian sacrificial lamb that she hoped would not be devoured by the ominous hawk, a Croatian symbol she feared in her time of being simply an emissary of the Italian fascist Mussolini. Today, the budding red-green lamb of progressive Serbo-Croatian unity risks being invaded by these fascist vestiges. However, both are also embraced and subject to a global capitalist takeover, with Western European money particularly important in Dalmatian Coast real estate development, and with signs that US and Anglo money is on the way. on the way. This money, as we have seen in the United States and Brazil, is not above enlisting the specter of the black hawk to crush the red lamb if its profit ends are threatened.
In West’s day, “Balkans,” as she puts it, was synonymous with madness. It tells the story of a French saloon owner who runs in the street after a Slav shoots in the mirror of her establishment, shouting: “Balkans, Balkans.According to West, the much-vaunted “madness” is in fact a rational reaction to a land dominated by successive waves of exploitation by the Greeks, Romans, Germanic Huns, Avars of Central Asia, Mongols, Turks, subsequent empires of Venice, France, England, Austria-Hungary and finally the Vatican, Italian fascists and the Nazis.
The contemporary term that applies to this area is balkanization, with socialist Yugoslavia – the name itself meaning “kingdom of the Southern Slavs” – divided, with the help of instigation and intervention from the states. -United and NATO, in six countries: Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia -Herzegovina, Slovenia, Montenegro, North Macedonia (to distinguish this country now independent from Macedonia, a region bordering Greece), and the imperial protectorate of Kosovo. This division serves as a regressive example of tribalism and ethnic cleansing that makes each country fairer and less able to resist the massive infusion of Western investment capital that followed the split. It was also the model that the then United States, imitating the British in the 19th century, applied to the Middle East in Western terms, using the earlier Roman expression, divide and impera: divide and conquer.
The Croatian view of the break-up is that after the death of partisan socialist Tito, who was Croatian, and the fall of the Soviet Union, the Serbs, who controlled the country’s main military assets, attacked and conquered a third of the Dalmatian Coast, wanting to access the sea. The Serbs’ counterclaim is that they were protecting the Serbs in Croatia. With a massive influx of military aid, largely from the United States, the Croats pushed back the Serbs and, on August 4, 1995, announced the formation of the new country.
The next 25 years saw a massive development of the coast to the point that it is now one of, if not the, best European summer vacation havens, attracting Germans to Zadar, Scandinavians to the less touristy town. from the north of Rijeka, East Europeans who want access to a beach, and will soon be followed by Anglo celebrities and money. The large tourist town of Dubrovnik, whose walls are already known as the substitute for King’s Landing, the centerpiece of Game Of Thrones, was visited this summer by Harrison Ford, after completing the filming of a fifth Indiana Jones, and by Queen drummer Roger Taylor.
A current Croatian novel, Red water, by longtime journalist and regional observer Jurica Pavičić, details how the Irish developers enlisted a former police inspector to become their agent in order to buy land to turn into timeshare apartments, the cop, despite all his problems, only offered timeshare in the complex in the fall out of season. The Croats themselves describe these changes as massive privatization, as they see their own land being redeemed from them.
The three central poles of life in Croatia are family, sport and religion (Catholic). On a bus returning from Split, going up the coast to Zadar, the driver, who had a patriarchal air, hung above the rearview mirror a pendant from the local Hadjuk football team and a wooden rosary, thus combining the three . The country is hitting above its weight in many areas of the sport, once, for example, boasting of having a 28-year-old best outside shooter from the National Basketball Association of the United States, Dražen Petrović , who was tragically killed when his car slipped from one of the traitors. turns on the coast.
The religion is practiced in a form that is both tender and more mystical than the Western “symbolic” or metaphorical versions, with the faithful of the Church of Saint Simeon in Zadar parading in front of the saint’s tomb after Sunday Mass to touch him in order to reaffirm their faith. But the church has also been a source of division. As West points out, he sponsored uniformed fascist youth movements in the 1930s as the spearhead of a possible Mussolini invasion and, in general, fostered the division between Catholic Croats and Orthodox Christian Serbs, where “there is no difference … except their religion.”
The region is now largely divided into its individual ethnic components. Croatia, at the time of the last census, was 90% Croats, with only 4% Serbs. Croatia had been the site of two ethnic cleanses: the first, under the indigenous Ustache fascists after the Nazi invasion, carried out against Jews, Gypsies and Serbs, and the second following the 1995 victory, perpetrated against the Serbs. Virtually all that remains of a once thriving Jewish section in central Split is an enlarged colorized photo of former Jewish shops and street life attached to the double doors of one of the houses.
The family-religion-sport cocktail is of course fertile ground for a new fascism. This summer, along with Harrison Ford, Eastern Europe was also honored with an appearance by Fox’s Tucker Carlson, the wealthy father of a fortune, whose anti-truth discord carries on the tradition of his father as a media director. propaganda campaign Voice of America. Carlson interviewed Hungary’s “illiberal” leader Victor Orban, who sponsors a far-right global institute, not a think tank, but rather an “anti-think tank”, and who, although limiting the rights of a free press and thus illiberal, is an extreme supporter of the unlimited rights of capital and in this neoliberal sense. Carlson’s show featured a helicopter tour of Orban’s Fence to keep immigrants out and promoted this hijacking as a far-right way to concern citizens of Eastern Europe, many of whom are destitute after being ravaged by Western European capital in the fallout of socialism. In Croatia, the remnants of the still fairly active oustae movement are today the Trumpist anti-vaccines who refuse the compulsory masks in the buses, the main means of public transport.
Orban’s far-right frenzy, however, is in part a reaction to a growing progressive movement in the Balkans, with the mayor of Croatia’s capital and largest city, Zagreb, a socialist-environmentalist, a member of a red-green coalition which came to power in the wake of a broad student movement against the wave of austerity following the Great Recession of 2008 and represents a new positive reflection on the Yugoslav socialist period called “Yugonostalgia”. There is still a lot of enmity to be overcome, as a Croatian movement challenging real estate developers in Zagreb, trying to link up with a comparable Serbian movement on the issue of the Serbian capital emptied of its indigenous population and turned into a hub. luxury on the Danube. , is called “Let’s not drown Belgrade”.
The Dalmatian coast has a long history of domination and resistance, especially vis-à-vis the Venetian Empire. As the Venetians began to assemble the ships that would allow them to become the main force in the Mediterranean, they realized that they did not have enough wood for shipbuilding. So they crossed the Adriatic – which they later called “the Venice Canal” – and deforested many Dalmatian islands which are still today simply composed of shrubs. Ships built in the Venetian arsenal were then used in an attempt to enforce Venetian rule on the coast, including banning Croatian shipbuilding and taxing Croatian salt, an abundant product of the islands, which actually kept locals off from the coast to export their fishing catch. that they used salt to preserve.
When the towns revolted, just like Ŝibenik, whose medieval streets still stand, Venetian ships, ironically constructed of Dalmatian timber, appeared in the port and attempted to bombard them to subdue them. The city-states resisted and some of them, especially Dubrovnik, remained independent. In Zadar, in the monastery of St. Francis, named after the Italian saint who gave up his wealth and worked for the poor as shown in the biographical film by Italian director Rossellini, and who was supposed to have visited, there is a painted crucifix in the hall next to the sacristy where the city in the 14th century was ceded to Venice. During the 4th Crusade, the crucifix was carried to the city walls and brandished in front of Venetian and Western troops as a sign that the city was Christian. This didn’t stop the bloodthirsty Crusaders who then plundered the city anyway in an expedition, led by Venice, which never reached the Holy Land but instead ravaged the city’s Christian rivals across the country. Mediterranean.
As Rebecca West points out, this continual reshuffle is a difficult story to overcome. But as one activist from Zagreb put it, what unites these now fractured countries is not their membership or their willingness to belong to the increasingly corporatized central structure of the European Union but rather that, with the influx of Western capital, “They all belong to a semi-dominated periphery.