Sunday, 20 September 2020

Hrvatsko proljeće - 2 book reviews - Journal of Croatian Studies Vol. 51

 HRVATSKA I HRVATSKO PROLJEĆE 1971. ZBORNIK RADOVA SA ZNANSTVENOG SKUPA ODRŽANOG U ZAGREBU 25. I 26. SIJEČNJA 2012. [Croatia and Croatian Spring 1971. Proceedings of the symposium held in Zagreb January 25 and 26, 2012]. Edited by Igor Zidić. Zagreb: Matica hrvatska, 2017. 740 pp. ISBN 9789533410876.

HRVATSKO PROLJEĆE I HRVATSKA POLITIČKA EMIGRACIJA [Croatian Spring and Croatian Political Émigrés]By Wollfy Krašić. Zagreb: Školska knjiga, 2018. 456 pp. ISBN 978-953-0-60032-4.

A cautious silence was a prevailing characteristic of Croatian life during the totalitarian Yugoslav Communist era (1945–1990). It was not a silence of tranquility and contentment, but one of subjugation. For example, in 1966, Tito’s regime itself acknowledged that in Croatia, a socialist republic at the time with a population of just over four million, more than 1.3 million people were under police surveillance. With just this fact in mind, it should be no surprised that silence was the loudest expression of the Croatian predicament. If a decibel meter could have been used on the national level during those dire decades, it might have detected screams and groans, church bells and religious songs alluding to national traditions, and jokes and curses that might easily have led to imprisonment, but the voice of the people was muted. Some symbolic outbursts by youth did take place, such as the Zagreb student demonstrations in 1959, but they were mercilessly crushed.

The ruling communist regime’s internal power struggle and growing economic problems provided small openings that were used by thousands of Croatians to leave for the West. As well, some daring intellectuals as well as a number of liberal Croatian Titoists started raising questions about the plight of their nation. A few subdued voices toward the end of the 1960s began to resonate and at the beginning of the 1970s a national movement blossomed. Demands grew asking for political and economic reforms, national equality in a multinational Yugoslav conglomerate, more freedom of expression, and “socialism with a human face.” But, on December 1, 1971, the dictator Tito, the ultimate arbitrator, abruptly crushed the hopes and dreams of the youth movement. Thousands were imprisoned, tortured, and dismissed from their jobs because they had dared to dream of freedom. A totalitarian silence was once again imposed, and it lasted until the brutal Serbian wars of aggression on Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and ultimately the collapse of the Yugoslav state.

The Croatian Spring and its demise were forbidden topics during the communist era, but to date there have been no serious efforts to research the movement, even after Croatia became an independent country. The fact is that many of those who were part of the oppressive regime (and their descendants, as well as their ideological progeny) continue to hold power in the country and in academia as well. They are those who would rather forget their personal or Communist-Party transgressions than allow open research and discussion of the communists’ bloody past. For that reason, even the Communist Party archives in Croatia are not fully accessible. Fortunately, the two books presented here are a sign that the time has come to explore in depth “one of the most important political processes” among Croatians in the second half of the twentieth century.

Following the introductory remarks in Zbornik by Igor Zidić and greetings by Stjepan Sučić to the symposium participants, the book Hrvatska i Hrvatsko proljeće 1971. is divided into three sections: “Introductory Thoughts,” by Igor Zidić and Dražen Budiša; “Studies and Treatises,” with twenty-two contributions, by Ivan Rogić, Božidar Novak, Božidar Petrač, Mato Artuković, Josip Mihaljević, Slaven Letica, Juraj Kolarić, Ivica Lučić, Darko Dukovski, Stjepan Trogrlić, Ivica Vrkić, Ivan Čizmić, Marin Sopta, Jakša Kušan, Stjepan Sučić, Tomislav Jonjić, Marko Zubak, Dragutin Pavličević, Tonči Trstenjak SJ, Božidar Brezinščak Bagola, Naco Zelić, and Dragutin Pavličević; and “Testimonies, Remembrances, Documents,” with nine contributions, by Marko Veselica, Ivan Mužić, Jozo Ivičević, Josip Bratulić, Hrvoje Kačić, Ivan Aralica, Veseljko Velčić, Milan Vuković, and Zvonimir Puljić.

At the infamous meeting of the communist leadership from Croatia with Tito in Karađorđevo, near Belgrade (November 30–December 1, 1971), which marked the end of the Croatian Spring, the old dictator declared, “We know about the existence of the so-called revolutionary committee of the fifty—and I call it counter-revolutionary—which commands all the actions [of the movement]. There are four or five [members] who are the most important, but we know that there are many more of them,” with headquarters at Matica hrvatska, the oldest cultural institution in Croatia. This book, however, brings a whole spectrum of topics, facts, and views regarding the Croatian Spring which makes it obvious that the movement did not even have a coordinating body, much less a “revolutionary committee.” It was a multifaceted and multicentered national movement.

According to all accounts, the three main animating forces of the movement were Matica hrvatska, the Alliance of [university] Students of Croatia, and the top reformists of the Communist Party in Croatia. Regardless of the lack of cooperation and coordination among the three, the book indicates that these forces (as well as people at large) shared three basic elements: dissatisfaction with the existing state of affairs in Croatia (and Yugoslavia), common dreams of a better future, and a readiness to undertake dicey actions in order to safeguard Croatia’s national and political identity, culture, and economic interests. However, each of the three centers had its own perspective and momentum. While the students were the most vocal, the Communist reformists were the most tactical, and the Matica hrvatska intellectuals were the most enduring in raising the bar in the ongoing national struggle.

As can be expected, the contributors who were directly involved in the Croatian Spring tend to emphasize the role of their particular group or institution in the movement. Thus, for example, Igor Zidić stresses that the Matica intellectuals articulated people’s desires for national emancipation, which included “getting out from under colonial subjugation, abolishment of the [Communist] Party’s monopoly of power, democracy, etc.” Other contributors accentuate the role of the reformist Party leadership, of the student leaders, the daring publications of Vjesnik, the merits of the publishing house Školska knjiga, the Croatian Writers’ Association, the role of the Catholic Church, or of other organizations or publications. Furthermore, the book brings much-needed accounts of movement activities in various cities and regions of Croatia, including Split, Dubrovnik, Rijeka, Zadar, Osijek, and Istra, as well as among the Croatians in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Vojvodina, and throughout the world. The book is a welcome contribution not only to the study of the evolution and nature of the Croatian Spring, but also to the research of the immediate consequences of its tragic ending, namely the magnitude of the persecutions that followed Tito’s actions in Karađorđevo. In this regard, the works by Marko Veselica, Jozo Ivičević, and Milan Vuković are especially valuable.

The wide scope and different approaches, views, and interpretations presented in the book are especially important for future in-depth studies of the Croatian National Movement in the early 1970s, which in many ways signaled the beginning of the end of the Yugoslav state and Communist regime.

Wollfy Krašić’s Hrvatsko proljeće i hrvatska politička emigracija, based on his doctoral dissertation of the same title, brings a new and valuable contribution to the study of two fields in modern Croatian history: the national movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Croatia, and a spectrum of responses to this movement by patriotic Croatians around the world. The fact that both topics, the Croatian national movement and the history of Croatian emigration, have been for the most part neglected by Croatian historiography makes this book particularly relevant.

By researching the political views of various emigrant Croatian political organizations, publications, and some better-known individuals with regard to the national movement in Croatia, and more specifically the reformist communist leaders in Croatia, the author offers a good survey of the Croatian émigré political and ideological landscape. Moreover, the book is based not only on primary sources and interviews, but also on written materials found in the UDBA (Yugoslav State Security Service) archives dealing with Croatian anti-Yugoslav activities around the world in the post-World War II era. The UDBA sources consulted also shed new light on the clandestine contacts between different individuals who had a role in the Croatian national movement and some émigrés, as well as information on UDBA agents befriending some of the better-known Croatian activists in the West at the time.

Regarding the views and positions of the emigrants toward the reformist movement in Croatia, the author examined the following organizations and publications: ObranaPregled, and Nova Hrvatska, concerning the idea of a Croatian national reconciliation; HOP – HrvatskaNezavisna Država HrvatskaHrvatska GrudaSpremnostHrvatski putokaz; HOP-Reformed – Hrvatski narodUzdanica; Croatian Peasant Party – Hrvatski Glas; Croatian National Committee (HNO) – Hrvatska država; Hrvatska republikanska stranka – Republika HrvatskaNaš putHrvatska borbaHrvatska RevijaHrvatski tjednik DanicaSlobodna riječOsvitBilten Hrvatske i socijalne akcijeOgnjišteBilten hrvatskih socijalista, and Socijalistička Hrvatska. Besides consulting these and other published sources, the author interviewed with several Croatian former political emigrants.

In examining the attitudes of Croatian political emigrants, the book brings forth the fact that all of them were united in their support of Matica hrvatska and the intellectuals around it, as well as the students and their youthful enthusiasm, but they had different stands toward the Croatian reformist communist leaders. For those who were firmly anti-Yugoslav and anti-Communist, the reformist communist leadership in Croatia was not genuinely the free voice of the nation and thus their reformism was seen just as a process that would extend the life of Yugoslavia and its Communist regime. Proponents of this view waited for an international victory over communism that eventually would also bring freedom and independence to Croatia. Others held that by supporting the Croatian reformist movement they were contributing to the process of democratization in Yugoslavia, which in the long run would lead to the fruition of liberal democracy and Croatian national freedom. Yet others stressed that the primary goal had to be the destruction of the Yugoslav state as a prison of nations by any means and with the help of anyone, and therefore, communist reformists in Croatia were to be supported because they were at the frontline of the struggle for a better future for Croatia. For them, the core issue was the dismantling of the Yugoslav state (socialist, royalist, or democratic), while the existing socialist system could be transformed into a truly free society with the passing of time.

The Karađorđevo debacle (December 1, 1971) and the persecutions that followed crushed all hopes that the freedom-seeking forces in Croatia could bring about the changes desired. Such a perception had two major effects on political emigrants: first, younger émigrés turned to more radical means in their struggle for freedom and, second, the Croatian National Council (1974) was formed as a body representing patriotic Croatians in the world.

In the post-independence era, some former political emigrants continue to debate the issue of who was right. The reformists accuse those more radical that their activitiewere harmful to the ongoing democratization process, while their opponents respond that the reformists, by their tactics, would have never achieved Croatia’s independence, that their approach would simply secure the existence of the Yugoslav state but not bring about Croatian independence and genuine freedom. Similarly, the question of radicalism, as opposed to moderate realism, has also been raised among the Croatian reformist communists. For example, the late Dušan Bilandžić, a well-known communist historian and one-time member of the reformist movement, claimed that Tito, by his drastic measures at the end of 1971 (and the persecutions that followed), saved Croatia from a looming disaster caused by the radicalism of the republic’s reformist Party leadership, Matica, and the students. For him and his ilk, Tito and those he appointed as new communist leaders in Croatia in 1972 were moderate realists and not traitors.

This book will most probably provoke more discussion, especially regarding the author’s interviews with some of the political émigrés who were thus given the opportunity of self-promotion and justification of their own views and activities. Also, questions will be raised as to why some peripheral émigré groups, publications, and individuals received undue attention while other, more prominent ones, were marginalized or ignored, and why the research did not include the activities and views of emigrants at a local or regional level.

The books Hrvatska i Hrvatsko proljeće 1971. and Hrvatsko proljeće i hrvatska politička emigracija are valuable contributions to the study of recent Croatian history, especially because they deal with two insufficiently researched subjects, that is, the Croatian Spring and Croatians in the world. The comments and clarifications that will follow these publications will not diminish their value but add to the understanding of these important areas and help future researchers of twentieth-century Croatian history.

Ante Čuvalo

Island of Pašman, Croatia

Journal of Croatian Studies

Annual Review of the Croatian Academy of America, Inc. New York

US ISSN 0075-4218 (print) 2475-269X (online)

Vol. 51, 2019, pp. 151-158

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