Myth About Homeland War
That myth has the same role in Croatia as the myth about anti-fascists struggle had in the former Yugoslavia, while the resistance to the Hague Tribunal is a variation on the motto "better grave than slave"
by Dejan JOVIC
Slobodna Dalmacija, Split, Croatia, September 28, 2002
Much that has recently been said in the political circles (except of course for those around president Mesic) and in the media supporting General Bobetko indicates that a myth about the Homeland War has been created in Croatia. The creators of the myth claim that only that myth can today unite and defend Croatia, while "unity" (under no circumstances pluralism!) continues to be the most important political and national value for most Croats. National homogenization under the circumstances in which most media and important Croat political parties, representatives of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, and other public personalities support that myth isn't strange at all. Wars (true and verbal) unite voters, and provide security for elites. It seems that the Croatian government has successfully learned that lesson from its predecessor Franjo Tudman, Serb president Slobodan Milosevic and American president George W. Bush. Consequently, out of pragmatism (besides conviction) the Croatian political elite finds it favorable to recall the war and prompt "unity" in face of possible (negative) "consequences".
Small and Unarmed
In new (especially small) states, frequently established based on (grandiose) visions, myths have the key role for consolidation of national identity. Although in our region many are still inclined to believe that nations are some sort of biological-territorial units, determined by ethnic-biological origin, it is obvious that nations are above all constructed on myths, common memories, identical interpretations of the past or present (and perhaps even the future), associations and symbols shared by all (or at least most) of their members. That emphasis on subjective (belief, interpretation) as opposed to objective (institutions, population) is the result of the fact that in our region (in wider sense, not only in Croatia, but in all of Southeastern Europe) institutions are weak, while states are only temporary constructions. The importance of myth for creation and destruction of the former Yugoslavia was convincingly presented in the book "Making a nation, breaking a nation" by Andrew Wachtel. Once a myth (for example about the unity of southern Slavs, or about anti-fascist struggle and resistance to Stalin) was created anything was possible; once that myth disappeared, the state fell apart. States - we should know that! - are not given once and for all. Their existence (although at some moments it may appear natural and undisputed) is not guaranteed. That is especially true for new and fragile states. Of course, even the larger and more stable states (for example the United States of America) have their own myths (for example the myth about "American dream", land of the free, in which, allegedly all have equal chances to climb to the top of the social hierarchy). They use those myths when they feel threatened and insecure.
However, it is interesting to what extent the old (Yugoslav) myths are similar to the newly created myth about the Homeland War. In new Croatia, the myth about the Homeland War has the same symbolic role as the myth about anti-fascists struggle had in the former Yugoslavia, while the resistance to the Hague Tribunal has the role of the myth about Tito's resistance to Stalin. Even the terms in general use are similar. According to the new interpretation "heroes of the Homeland war" are a substitute for "heroes of anti-fascist struggle", while the "Homeland war" is a substitute for the "anti-fascist struggle". "Unity" of the nation in WWII, under Partisan leadership, is the same as "unity" in this war. Interpretations are also similar. Small, unarmed, or badly armed Croat nation, despite all odds, decided (out of principles, not because of opportunism) to fight a many times stronger enemy, "the fourth largest army in the world" (a myth, naturally, must exaggerate to be as convincing as possible); in that struggle of David and Goliath, despite all difficulties, local traitors, Masonic, liberal, and communist global conspiracies, the Croat people in the end triumphed. That victory, as the chief creator of that myth, former president Tudman, emphasized many times, was "a true miracle", which turned Croatia into an economic, military, political, and cultural "regional power". Just like the resistance to Hitler, Churchill and Stalin, according to the interpretation developed under socialism, in the former Yugoslavia, turned Yugoslavia into a global power (within the non-aligned movement).
The Bobetko affair today gives an opportunity to solidify all the elements of the old, anti-fascist struggle myth, in the new myth about the Homeland War. In that sense, it is not a coincidence that General Bobetko stresses his participation in WWII, trying to link fight against fascism with resistance to the Hague Tribunal. For him and those who support him, the Croat "No" to the Hague is only a new version of Tito's "No" to Stalin. It is also only one in the series of variations of the motto "better war than alliance" [with Nazi Germany in WWII] and "better grave than slave" [of Nazi Germany]. However, the problem is that myths (no matter how unavoidable as the very heart of nationalism) are after all only myths. That means that they may include a grain of truth, but that around that grain of truth (with systematic support by state authorities - through education, media, and political rhetoric) a balloon of interpretations is being blown up, while most of these interpretations consist of semi-truths or outright lies. For example, the myth about decisive Tito's "No" to Stalin "ignores" that Stalin, rather than Tito, was the one who actually said "No". The myth about Partisan anti-fascist struggle "forgets" that the number of those who voluntarily joined the Partisans was relatively small before general mobilization on the liberated territory. The myth about the American dream forgets that in practice only wealthy individuals can run for the president of the US, etc. Every new indictment from the Hague, and every newspaper article about crimes committed by the Croat side published by the local media is a new reminder of the facts "forgotten" by the Homeland War myth.
Namely, the myth about the Homeland War forgets that reality never (and especially not in wars) imitates myths and fairytales, in which "good" fights "evil", while, naturally, "our guys" are always "good", and "their guys" are always "evil". Such Manichean picture of the world exists only in myths, not in reality. Myth and reality (i.e. the truth) are more frequently at loggerheads, than in agreement. That is why, most likely, in Croatia there is almost no research and/or serious academic discussion about the causes of war in the former Yugoslavia and the Croat role in that process. Wherever myth is strong, the truth is highly unpopular! In that sense, of course, the Council for Promotion of the Truth About the Homeland War has a wrong name. It should call itself the Council For Protection of the Myth About the Homeland War. Or at least drop the term "promotion" from its name. Among other, that term, namely, has the meaning reserved earlier (under socialism) for terms "agitation and propaganda".
Translated on November 13, 2002