Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Krajina Chronicle Afterword

Srdja Trifkovic’s extremely informative history of a major strand in Balkan history The Krajina Chronicle: A History of Serbs in Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia which I reviewed in my previous two posts, has an Afterword by Dr Michael Stenton which puts the history Trifkovic recounts in wider context.

Stenton starts by pointing to an effect of the geography: that “mountain air made free”. Conquering Turks (or Croat or Hungarian magnates) could control and tax lowland farmers, but mountain stock-herders were a different proposition. Stenton describes the area as reminiscent of a (much bigger) Scottish highlands or (in its mutual raiding) an Anglo-Scottish border.

Stenton, like Trifkovic, sees Balkan tensions as neither inherent age-hold antipathies nor as recent concoctions but as existing in specific places for specific historical reasons. Part of what was going on was a civilizational divide, understanding which requires:
steady, adult recognition of an Other which is encountered as much as constructed (p.230).
Croatia was part of Catholic Europe, felt to be such and drew cultural and economic strength from the connection. Serbia was an isolated bastion of Orthodoxy, constantly suffering the depredations of war. In any common state, it was easy for Croatia to resist any assimilation that Serbia was nowhere near potent enough to provide. Stenton points to British experience with the Irish as an example of the limits of assimilation: and England was a much more vigorous, powerful and prosperous society than Serbia. Nationalist agitators (Irish, Croatian or ...) had material to work with.

Croatia felt threatened by Serbia: Serbia could be cheerfully indifferent to Croatia. This has not been a helpful dynamic. Stenton points to Pakistan, which is so threatened by India’s indifference it:
feeds the extremely dangerous, neurotic Pakistani apprehension that India intends to find a way to actualize the assumption of absence (p.231).
The Military Border meant Croatia had a Serbian question: before 1918, Serbia had no Croatian question; leading to different ideological flavours in their nationalism.

Not that Serbia did not manage its own form of over-reach – it recruited Bulgaria as an enemy by grabbing (non-Serb) Macedonia in 1912-1913 as compensation for Austria-Hungary barring it gaining northern Albania.

Without any common identity, without any real possibility of assimilation, Yugoslavia was always a fraught creation: failure to deal with Croatia’s Serb question turned out to be a fatal flaw. Yugoslavia never created an all-Serbs Serbia: it encompassed Serbs along with a Croatia threatened by a local Serbian identity and larger Serbian numbers. These were geopolitical realities that local politics was never of sufficiently high order to resolve.

Without such a resolution, geopolitics also encouraged German and Hungarian support for Croatian claims against Serbia: as happened in 1908 (with the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina), 1914-1918, 1941-1945 and 1991-95 under very different regimes in both Zagreb and Berlin.

Religion, economics, geography, geopolitics, civilizational divides: it is a fraught, dramatic and deeply revealing story. In Stenton’s concluding words:
The history of Krajina and its people is not the history of a country, nor even a vanished country. It is much bigger than the history of a province, however. It is an element in the story of most of the great wars in Europe from the Ottoman offensives after the fall of Constantinople to the last decade of the twentieth century (p.238).
One still with lessons to teach.

For example, to all those enthusiasts for a "single state" solution in Israel-Palestine.

No comments:

Post a Comment