Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Where is Croatia?

My college roommates and I were out for dinner 10 years ago when I told them that I was dating a girl from Croatia. "Cro...what?" was the reaction of one of my friends. The others around the table confirmed that even if they knew what Croatia was, they weren't sure where they might find it on the map.

And while it is a relatively small country, in a part of the world where geographical borders have been redrawn often throughout history, it's worth talking about where Croatia is. Because it's not just a geographical question. Where one places Croatia, and how they talk about Croatia, can say a lot about what they think about the country, culture and people who live there.

Kukljica, Croatia 2013
In a post I wrote in the spring, I implicitly included Croatia as part of Eastern Europe. Several commenters took exception. In private conversations, I've talked with Croats who have, without hesitation, maintained that Croatia is indeed part of Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Others have adamantly argued that it's not.

So, I'd like to open up this conversation to those who would like to argue from either side. Is Croatia in Eastern Europe? Why or why not? Where are the geographical, ideological borders drawn? Does Croatia's inclusion in the EU change anything?

I'm not sure we'll come to any final conclusions, but I think a civil conversation may help us understand what the issues are. I look forward to hearing from you. 


Tatiana Kuzmic said...

Larry Wolff in the Introduction to his book Inventing Eastern Europe: "The advocates of Central Europe today are committed to shattering intellectually the oppressive idea of Eastern Europe, to redeeming the Czech Republic and Hungary, maybe Poland, even perhaps Slovenia." This was written in 1997 and the last 15 years have shown that the "advocates of Central Europe" have been more successful than even they anticipated when they didn't put Croatia on the list and felt the need to qualify Slovenia with "even perhaps." Eastern Europe, like the Balkans, is a geographic name that has accrued, over the course of history, negative connotations of backwardness, corruption, and violence. Saying Central instead of Eastern Europe might be compared to other linguistic transitions we make, such as saying "rainforest" instead of "jungle" or, closer to home, "Roma" instead of "Cigan" or "Gypsie." Entry into the European Union certainly helps in the linguistic transition, but if we use that as a criterion, then Romania and Bulgaria not only belong in Central Europe, but have gotten there 6 years before Croatia and who knows how many years before Serbia and Bosnia. Consequently, we would have to refer as Eastern Europe to countries that geographically lie west of what has now become Central Europe. But if you don't want to offend people, don't call anyone but Russians Eastern European.

Ivan said...

As Tatiana said, it's more of an impression that lies beneath the word "eastern", which is recognized as poor, corrupt, backward, violent (perhaps even savage), that makes Croatians wanna say - we're not in Eastern Europe / Balkans, we're central.

Throughout the history Croatia culuturally belonged to (western) Europe as it was a part of Austro-Hungarian empire and it keep track of many european cultural, academic and techonological trends.
Despite this, for almost a century, Croatia was under Yugoslavia and for 50 yrs under communism which is also in croatian collective mind depicted as eastern. And since we want to be as far as possible away from that unpleasant past, we dislike the term "eastern".

Geographycaly we can say, eastern, central, (maybe even southern), I guess it would all be right! :)
But culturaly and tecnologicaly we are no more in sync with Europe.

Daniel N. said...

actually, Croatia was never "in sync" with the Western Europe. It was one of least developed and least literate parts of Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Putting complex things to simple drawers is always oversimplification. I'd say it's Slavic (from language), southern (lifestyle), ex-Yugoslav, Catholic...