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Book/Multimedia Review: Jaram (ed.), Povijest Hrvata ­ A History of the Croats, Reviewed by Maja Mikula

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  • Florian Bieber
    Balkan Academic Book Review 20/2001 _______________________________________ Vlado Jaram (ed.), Povijest Hrvata ­ A History of the Croats (CD Rom). Zagreb:
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 11, 2001
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      Balkan Academic Book Review 20/2001
      _______________________________________

      Vlado Jaram (ed.), Povijest Hrvata ­ A History of the Croats (CD Rom). Zagreb:
      Centar za transfer tehnologije, 1999. Price US$ 25.

      Reviewed by Maja Mikula (Institute for International Studies, University of
      Technology Sydney), Email: maja.mikula@...
      _______________________________________

      This CD Rom is part of a trilogy of multimedia CD Roms, which also includes a CD on the first president of post-Yugoslav Croatia, Franjo
      Tudjman, the ‘man who created the state’ and another one on Croatia’s main tourist attractions. The trilogy thus presents an official version
      of the national narrative, authorised by the regime of the 1990s: the long list of acknowledgments mentions, among other institutions, the
      Office of the President of the Republic of Croatia. Undoubtedly, histories always construct a ‘usable past’, reflecting the political
      exigencies of the time of their creation. Indeed, this multimedia project reveals more about the political climate in independent Croatia
      throughout the last decade of the 20th century, than it does about the bulk of history it sets out to describe. The CD Rom is driven by the
      desire ­ which dominated Croatia’s political life in the early years of its independence ­ to build a ‘positive image’ of Croatia in the world.
      It is prefaced by an excerpt from president Tudjman’s ‘epistle’ [1] written in 1995, on the occasion of the 5th anniversary of Croatian
      Independence: “for centuries the Croatian people fought both with the pen and with the sword, they suffered and died to achieve, in our time,
      their own state with the sublime intention that it may be for the people and the citizens of Croatia a land of freedom, peace, and happiness, of
      prosperity and dignity for all.” The sheer number of images of Tudjman shaking hands with world leaders reveals this project as part and parcel
      of the endeavour to build the late leader’s personality cult.

      Narratives of nations glorify the presumed common past and project scenarios of ‘salvation’ into an anticipated future for their imagined
      communities. By definition, they are mythical, heroic and black-and-white. They are powered by a desire to mould national identities. The Croatian ethnonationalist rhetoric of the 1990s was driven by an urge to fortify national unity, which was formulated in the
      policy of reconciliation of all Croats, ‘regardless of their political differences’. Such an ambitious project involved a careful reassessment
      of the more ‘sensitive’ periods of Croatian history, the most controversial being the period of the pro-Nazi Ustashe regime during the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) from 1941 to 1945. The official line
      ­ pronounced by Tudjman, but not cited on the CD Rom ­ was that the NDH was “not only a quisling organisation and a Fascist crime, but was also
      an expression of the Croatian nation’s historic desire for an independent homeland.” [2] Not surprisingly, the same stance is adopted
      in Povijest Hrvata ­ A History of the Croats: “The Croatian people had been striving for independence, freedom, and statehood for a long period
      of time. The Germans and the Italians were well-aware of that wish, and so both the Germans and the Italians, following their policy of
      installing obedient puppet regimes, decided to create also a Croatian state.” [3] A fairer guide to Croatian history would seem to demand
      acknowledging alternative historical visions.

      Another recognisable element of discourses promoting national unity is the argument which postulates a victimisation of the Croatian national
      community at the hands of its significant others. This argument informs the whole multimedia project, but especially its treatment of the
      history of the twentieth century. This segment builds a story of tensions between the Croats and the Serbs from the pre-WWI strategic
      coalitions through to the wars resulting in the disintegration of Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. At no point are we left in any
      doubt as to who the ‘good guys’ and who the ‘bad guys’ were. This is a pity. Even the most valiant of Greek heroes ­ Heracles comes to mind,
      with his philandering and excessive drinking ­ were occasionally allowed to indulge in some mischief… to make the myth more interesting.

      The design of the CD-Rom is fairly simple: the material is divided into five major historical periods and within each period it is possible to
      follow a series of comments on general history; or to select an alternative navigation path, which offers reviews of period
      architecture, sculpture, painting, literature, music, a selection of the ‘most honourable sons and daughters of the nation’ and an overview of
      Croats who have achieved international reputation. The project boasts thirty minutes of video clips, fourty-five minutes of audio recordings,
      more than a thousand image files and five hundred pages of written text. The underlying graphic metaphor ­ that of mystical transportation
      through space and time ­ is appropriate and its design visually pleasing. However, other design elements could be improved. For example,
      the quality of some image files is poor and the ‘cropping’ of maps and documents unjustified. Text is occasionally broken between two
      successive windows in the middle of a sentence; or, repeated over a number of consecutive windows. At times, the text does not logically
      correspond to its accompanying image. The suggested operating platforms are Windows95/98/NT. It works much better with Windows 98 and NT. I
      first tried to use it with Windows 95, but encountered problems with font recognition, text format, line overlapping and activating the sound
      files.

      The primary target audience for this project ­ produced, appropriately, in the Croatian-language and English-language versions ­ are the
      like-minded members of the Croatian diaspora, many of whom fled from communism after World War II or from the reprisals following the
      Croatian Spring revolt in 1971, and who saw Tito’s Yugoslavia as the main culprit for their displacement. The diaspora indeed was and still
      is instrumental for the functioning of Tudjman’s political party, the Croatian Democratic Union. The main ambition of the product, in this
      context, is to encapsulate and reinvigorate the national identity of the Croatian emigrants of the second or third generations worldwide. This
      ambition also limits the potential scope of the project, which is, by the way, advertised on the world-wide-web as a ‘must for every
      Croatian-American household’ [4].

      _________________________________________

      Notes:

      [1] The Croatian word poslanica, meaning ‘epistle’ ­ previously used only in
      ecclesiastical and Biblical contexts ­ has been commonly used to refer to
      Tudjman’s addresses to his nation.

      [2] Tudjman’s statement quoted in Marcus Tanner. Croatia: A Nation Forged in
      War. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1997. 223

      [3] The quote is from the book A History of the Croats, by Ivo Peric, which
      forms an integral part of the multimedia project. A printed version of the
      book was published by CTT the same year as the CD-Rom, 1998.

      [4] Available at http://members.aol.com/vgoss/nf1.htm. Last visited on 10
      September 2001.
      _________________________________________

      This an earlier book reviews are available at: www.seep.ceu.hu/balkans
      _________________________________________

      © 2001 Balkan Academic News. This review may be distributed and reproduced
      electronically, if credit is given to Balkan Academic News and the author.
      For permission for re-printing, contact Balkan Academic News.
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