Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

It is well known that one should not attempt to engage with a troll, if only because you can never truly win an argument. Unfortunately I am all too prone to ignoring said advice, and while I can do naught but stand by my opinions or whatnot, I often wonder why I ever even bothered. I spent any number of internet hours being harangued as I firmly nailed my colours to the mast in opposition of last December’s referendum which sought to (and ludicrously did) enshrine in the Croatian constitution that the term marriage could only ever be used to describe a union between male and female… I was decried from on high as I called Šimunić an idiot for his part in the events post the Croatia-Serbia match, which brought Jinkin’ Joe’s international career to an ignominious end.  Joe, you see, decided in his finite wisdom to grab a hold of a microphone and start a chant amongst the gathered crowd… one which historians and sociologists would know as the chant which the NDH used during their time in the sun, back in the 40s.

The country was divided at the time, but of course those who supported Joe were all too happy to sling accusations of Communism at those who were not…because that’s how things seem to work around here. Sort of a reverse Godwin’s Law. You’re either Communist or Ustaše. No middle ground. Black and white, never grey. Those on Joe’s team would say that the Communists made sure the chant was firmly associated with Pavelić and the Ustaše, but that it should still be perfectly fine to use today… An admirable position perhaps, but one that will never gain traction while Croatian football fans (a minority admittedly) and players continue to act like children.

But that’s the issue really… It hasn’t been black and white in reality for a long time now. In fact, I doubt it’s been black or white since the mid 50s for Croatia… Communism, as we all know by now, failed and failed horribly. The power that a nation could bring to bear found its way into the hands of a select few, and that continued until the great fall in ’91. In Croatia, as the learned should already know, that break from Communism was not a pretty one (for the record I do know that Croatia was not a willing part of Yugoslavia and remained almost predominantly Catholic throughout, although I dispute the real level of religiosity which the numbers seem to indicate). Despite being legally entitled to vote to cede from the union, Belgrade decided it didn’t want to let them go… I think, in hindsight, this was probably (as unfair as it sounds) a mixture of a rush of blood and a lack of time in which to consider options… you know how it goes… shoot first, ask questions later.

Twenty years on the country has yet to fully recover. Serbia is the same. It could be said, and surely is being said, that both Zagreb and Belgrade (and Dubrovnik one supposes) might as well be countries in their own right, because outside of the two capitals there is close to zero infrastructure to speak of. Failed factory complexes abound, ghost towns and villages are more the norm than the exception. And still the accusations of Communism.

It doesn’t help that the current party in power, the Social Democratic Party, were formerly the Communist Party, but it could be argued that any politician who was involved during the late 80s and early 90s would have been – even if only on paper – a Communist. But it’s hard to make such a point here, because you’re automatically accused of being a Communist if you do. It’s probably the same in most countries where two parties dominate the political scene; everything boils down to what they did or didn’t do, and accusations of support are thrown about as if such support were a crime.

Two days ago Croatia commemorated the anniversary of the deaths at Vukovar. Every news portal ran stories, photo montages, and all the TV and radio stations were back to back with reports, coverage, etc. It’s to be expected. It’s recent. That didn’t stop someone commenting on an unrelated news item on one portal… calling it an Anti-Croatian site because it posted a story about how Croatians swore more than other nationalities… and with it screaming why did it not cover Vukovar. But the thing is, the site did cover it. And the second massacre with took place near Zadar on that same day was also covered. But this woman – a second generation Croatian expat if not third – ranted on about how she was more patriotic than the others etc… I stupidly posted the links to the articles she claimed did not exist, and then she started on me because they didn’t show up on her FB feed, even though that’s entirely her fault and no one else. I fed the troll. But her reaction is endemic of what life is like here in Croatia. For her, and many others living outside of the homeland, the idea of being Croatian is so deeply ingrained that almost any deviation is not only a slight but a downright insult. Those who left in the 30s, or 40s, or 50s (etc.) still have this idea of what life is like back in the old country, and despite life moving on in their new home, it is assumed that nothing changes back over the water… except that it does, and in some ways it doesn’t. Because in 2014 people are still bandying about the word Communism – in a country that seriously, 100%, has zero interest in doing anything other than trying to build a real economy, but can’t because every social effort by the government is labeled Communist, who can’t privatise anything because the pro-privatisation party can sit in opposition and call such moves un-Croatian (the populist HDZ nuts), and because – at least from this perspective – the country has yet to find itself.

Croatia has an awful lot going for it. But as things stand it will never get there. Any efforts on the part of the government are stymied by local corruption and right-wing agents. 30000 fewer Croatians are born each year than die here, while over 15000 leave on an annual basis (the majority of which are the people needed to revitalise the economy). Outside of the major urban centres foreigners are viewed with great suspicion, often being forced to take their foreign millions elsewhere because some local alderman wanted to act big for the local fish wrapper.

It’s a shame really, because it’s a great place. During the 1970s Yugoslavia was one of world’s leading nations in industry and wealth, and alternative energy. Now? Croatia leads the world in tax fraud. The country was given a new lease of life, but has yet failed to capitalise on all the opportunities laid out before it. It might as well be the 80s all over again. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.


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