Malcolm Tanner, “Croatia: A Nation Forged in War”

Malcolm Tanner presents a history of Croatia that starts with their ancestor’s descent onto the Balkan Penninsula in the fourth century and culminates with the most recent manifestation of Croatia following its war for independence from Yugoslavia.  In fact, one of Tanner’s themes is the many different forms that Croatia has taken throughout its history; this chameleon-like existence is driven both by a desire to survive as a nation and also by its unique position on the land bridge connecting East with West.  Tanner effectively communicates the history of the Croatia people in a way that does justice to their struggle with identity that results from being caught between two worlds.

Croatia has had to alter its allegiance in response to the external threat from numerous empires and enemies on its borders.  Tanner notes that Croatia sought refuge in the Austro-Hungarian empire as protection from the Ottoman Turks, but later rooted for the demise of the empire during the first world war.  Its unique geography has meant that it  has been coveted by many larger states because of its position and thus forced to behave sometimes sporatic in order to ensure survival.

 A second important dichotomy that Tanner notes is the struggle between nationalism and communism.  This struggle started during the second world war between the Ustashe and the Partisans.  The Ustashe were fervent nationalists and the Partisans, led by Tito,  communist.  Tito, like Stalin before him, attacked nationalism as a movement for the bourgeoisie and a distraction from the struggle of workers and their supposed union.  These two ideologies resulted in the destruction of hundreds of thousands of lives of Croats, Serbs, Jews and others in a few short decades perpetrated in the name of nationalism and communism.  The most recent spate of nationalism was played out during the Croatian war of independence from Yugoslavia and the atrocities committed by all sides.

 Tanner’s comprehensive account of Croatian history is a lucid tale of a nation that has struggled with identity and direction from its beginning because of its unique position on the map.  Tanner persuasively argues that to understand Croatia is to understand nationalism and its dangerous consequences.

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