Croatia’s (New) Commemorative Culture and Politics of the Past

Thursday, September 16, 2010
1219 International Affairs Building

Please join the Harriman Institute for a talk by Vjeran Pavlaković, University of Rijeka

The conflict in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s was characterized by the unresolved issues of the past, namely the symbols, collective memories, and contested narratives of World War Two that were unleashed with the collapse of communism. In the Yugoslav successor states, ongoing debates, and especially the post-communist commemorative cultures, of World War Two perpetuated ethno-national and ideological divisions at a time when the region was seeking membership in the European Union. In Croatia, commemorative rituals of the war for independence (Homeland War), as well as the fascist and antifascist legacies of World War Two, have frequently set off political controversies. In fact, commemorations and memorial days often served as a barometer of the political situation in the country, since politicians from both the left and right constructed new representations of the past to justify their everyday political decisions. Historical facts were sacrificed for state-building myths and nationalist meta-narratives, alternatively reinforced and challenged at annual commemorative events that became political battlegrounds in the nearly two decades since independence. The election of President Ivo Josipović in 2010 seems to have signaled a new trend in Croatia’s commemorative culture. He has sought to depoliticize the memorialization of World War Two victims in Croatia and promote a reconciliatory commemorative policy with Croatia’s neighbors and former adversaries in the 1990s. While this shift has been well received across the region, and represents a radical departure from the wartime abuse of the past, recent counter-commemorations and an increasingly vocal (albeit marginal) radical right movement indicate that Croatia’s commemorative culture remains controversial political issue.

Vjeran Pavlaković is an assistant professor in the Department of Cultural Studies at the University of Rijeka, Croatia. He received his Ph.D. in History in 2005 from the University of Washington. He has published articles on the politics of memory, World War Two commemorations, war criminals and war crime tribunals, and democratisation in Croatia, and co-edited with Sabrina Ramet the book Serbia since 1989: Politics and Society under Milosevic and After (University of Washington Press, 2005). Recent publications include 'Flirting with Fascism: The Ustasa Legacy and Croatian Politics in the 1990s', in Una storia balcanica: Fascismo, comunismo e nazionalismo nella Jugoslavia del Novecento (Ombre Corte, 2008), 'Red Stars, Black Shirts: Symbols, Commemorations, and Contested Histories of World War Two in Croatia', anNCEEER Working Paper (2008), and 'The Commemorative Culture of Bleiburg, 1990-2009', in Kultura sjecanja: 1945(Disput, 2009).