Dr. Robin Harris – Croatia since Communism: Values, Structures, Prospects

Dr. Robin Harris, C.B.E., is a former adviser to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He is now a free lance journalist and policy analyst, consultant director of Politeia (London) and Visiting Fellow of the Heritage Foundation (Washington, D.C.). He is also the author of Dubrovnik - A History, and was awarded the Order of the Croatian Morning Star for cultural services by the President of Croatia in 2008.

Seminar held on 26 May 2010

 

Why Croatia?

Croatia is a small country with a more than usually complicated past and, for non-Slavs, a more than usually complicated language. Croatia is beautiful. It is varied. It is the ideal spot for a holiday. But we must keep things in proportion. Taken against the backcloth of crises shaking the world – nuclear proliferation, collapsing currencies, Islamist terror, let alone all the largely invented horrors with which we like to frighten ourselves – Croatia must appear of small significance. The world will not explode if Croatia implodes. European culture will not be irreparably ruined. International commerce will continue. And, probably, only a minor war or two will break out. So why should we be interested in Croatia at all?

I hope by the end of this talk to have provided a convincing explanation. But my starting point is strictly personal. Croatia matters to me – and it matters a lot. I never visited the old Yugoslavia. I didn’t want to. I wouldn’t visit communist countries, because I disliked communism. (I still do). It was also inconvenient, in those Cold War days, if you were a senior government adviser, as I was, to go behind even a rusty section of the Iron Curtain. So, when in 1991 I focused on a crisis that would lead to years of war in the region, it was with a lamentable lack of knowledge, which I felt I must rapidly rectify – as indeed I did. I had, though, my instincts and thankfully – not least for the Croats – those instincts were shared by Margaret Thatcher, for whom I had worked in Downing Street, and for whom I was still working once she and I were thrown out of it.

The basic issues in Yugoslavia were quite obvious. It was clear that there was an aggressor and there were victims. It was clear that this aggressor had easily identified ideological motives – a mixture of ethnic fascism and revanchist communism. And it was perfectly clear that the West had every intention of standing by and letting it continue, indeed in the case of Britain hoping it would be quickly successful. I felt, as others felt, that this attitude was wrong. So we started a campaign for the truth to be told and justice done. Ever since, I have been sensitive to Croatia’s interests and have tried to assist, however I could, Croatia’s success.

There are though other, different, reasons why Croatia should be of interest to people who don’t happen to share my eccentrically English dislike of seeing underdogs crushed. I began today, tongue in cheek, by rather minimising Croatia’s importance in the absolute scheme of things. But Croatia is, in fact, of more importance than it might appear.

First of all, it is like us. This shouldn’t matter but it does. We may try to behave as well towards people who share none of our characteristics as  towards those who do. We may even occasionally succeed. But a sense of solidarity only comes naturally when we experience at some level a common identity. Croatia is profoundly and manifestly European. It is doubly European, in fact – being part both of Central and of Mediterranean Europe. In Zagreb, known for years by its German name of Agram, you could think yourself in Austria. In Split, known for centuries by its Italian name of Spalato, you could imagine yourself in Italy – and the Italians secretly think you are. (The Italians are wrong). But the senses testify to reality. Croatia offers two sets of equally authentic insights into European culture – and more authentic insights I would hazard than you would find on your travels in Britain.

Croatia, unlike its Balkan neighbours, had a Renaissance. Its great public buildings still breathe the Baroque – which the Muslims and Orthodox never knew. Style is a marker for substance. One can illustrate the wider point from the history of the Republic of Dubrovnik, or Ragusa, which I know best.

That small city state spent its most successful centuries under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire. It had to play its cards with great diplomatic aplomb, in order to survive at all. It sent regular tribute to Istanbul via its ambassadors, called poklisari. Its nobles, on occasion, even entertained Turkish dignitaries with light dance music, played for them on the Dubrovnik Cathedral organ. Dubrovnik knew, in fact, every means to steal the affections of an Oriental heart, including by way of the Oriental pocket.

But, for all that, Dubrovnik was as completely European as you can imagine. It was an exclusively and very self-consciously Catholic state, run along much the same lines as the city states of Italy. At the same time, its society represented a rich symbiosis of the Slavic and the Italian. Dubrovnik’s literature, like that of the rest of the Dalmatian coast, was written in Latin or Croatian by the same literary masters, with no special political hang-ups or agendas about which idiom they employed. Its great families had equally authentic Italian and Slavic names.

Croatia is not just European. It is Western in its orientation. And it is, very importantly, at a crossroads, within the maze that is South East Europe. Yugoslavia notoriously straddled not only different nationalities but also different religions and cultures. Above all, it straddled the dividing line between West and East. Crudely put, Croatia (along with Slovenia) is West. Bosnia and Serbia (along with Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo) is East. Let me say at once that all are, in their different way, European, but the ways are very different indeed. The outlooks are different, the tensions are historically rooted, the fault-lines are real and always likely to split up beneath the unwary statesman’s feet.

Croatia is almost completely Catholic, and Slovenia now only a bit less so. Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia are mainly Orthodox (though Macedonia has a large Albanian minority, which is largely Muslim). Bosnia – or rather the bit which is not edging towards de facto independence or union with Serbia, the Republika Srpska – is principally Muslim, with Catholic Croats a declining minority. Kosovo is largely Muslim and ethnically Albanian, though some Kosovars are Christian. There is also a Serb enclave, which is the main flashpoint.

History and Geography

Croatia is strategically of importance in all this. Geographically, it is shaped like a kind of boomerang. It has a 2000 kilometre frontier and it abuts five other countries.

Croatia has different historic attitudes towards each of its main neighbours. With Slovenia it has a distant, competitive-cum-cooperative relationship. Slovenia is much smaller but richer, and in the EU. The Slovenes are perhaps rather jealous that Croatia has gained so much of the Adriatic, and this accounts for the bitterness with which the two countries dispute their frontier in the Bay of Piran. Slovenia until recently blocked Croatia’s entry to the EU, pending getting its way on this point, but a compromise seems on the way to being reached – though not yet. This isn’t in fact a very important squabble. The two countries have a lot in common – they were both for centuries under the Habsburgs, and it shows.

Croatia’s relations with the Muslim and Orthodox worlds are of much more significance – not least to the rest of Europe. In the case of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatia has sometimes played the part of elder brother, sometimes that of predator. Under the Fascist puppet state known as the Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska, or NDH) the two were united. Both, now as separate entities, then suffered from Serbian dominance, though the Bosnian Muslims played the Yugoslav system quite effectively. When Yugoslavia bloodily collapsed in 1991, in reaction to a constitutional coup against federal institutions mounted by Slobodan Milosevic, Bosnia was in the weakest position. It became the battle ground for the war of Yugoslav succession and the scene of horrible genocide.

In these circumstances, President Tudjman of Croatia – to whom I’ll return – discussed a deal with Milosevic to divide up Bosnia. Some of the ex-patriates around him were also by origin from West Hercegovina – the ethnically Croat heartland of Bosnia – and hoped to pull it out of the wreckage into Croatia’s orbit. In fact, the result was a nasty civil war between Muslims (or Bosniaks as they are now usually called) and the Croats, which the latter lost.

Nowdays, in the post-Tudjman era, Croatia is very wary of having any engagement with Bosnia at all. But the geopolitical realities can’t be denied. Because Croatia is much wealthier and stronger than its Bosnian neighbour, and because there is a community of Croats living there, Croatia’s prospects and policies will largely determine whether Bosnia flourishes or fails.

At the moment Bosnia is failing. In 1995 the Dayton Accords ended the war there but provided a highly unsatisfactory framework for peace. The result is a deeply dysfunctional state with no obvious avenue to reform or stability. The Serbian leadership summoned – and forced – the Serb minority to leave Sarajevo, and has established a more or less ethnically pure Serb para-state, the Republika Srpska, which covers just under half of Bosnia’s territory. Only a few non-Serb refugees have been allowed to return.

The Bosniak-Croat Federation controls the rest of the country. Federal institutions are weak and frequently paralysed. The country relies on foreign aid and remittances from young workers overseas. Of most concern to the West should be the steady trend towards Federation, Bosnia becoming a wholly Muslim state. Although reports of Bosnia’s descent into Islamism are exaggerated – often maliciously so – the threat is real, as poverty and corruption continue and Saudi money and Wahhabi influence grow. The West has a strong interest in not letting matters deteriorate further.

Relations between Croatia and Serbia are the historic key to the temporary successes and radical failures of Yugoslavia and in the long term will be decisive in the region. They are historically bad, and it is unrealistic to think that they will for the forseeable future be anything better than suspiciously polite. Within the First Yugoslavia the Serbs, in a relative though not absolute majority, but crucially with a Serbian dynasty on the throne, quickly obtained dominance and exploited it to the full. The same national tensions, resentments and tendencies then resurfaced in the Second Yugoslavia under Communism and Tito. Tito was a Croat. But in the early years it suited him and the Communist Party to turn their attention to suppressing Croatian national consciousness and persecuting the Catholic Church. Above all, Tito and the Party put on trial the Archbishop of Zagreb, Alojzije Stepinac, who had in fact denounced the Ustasha atrocities. Stepinac was sentenced on trumped up charges to hard labour and imprisonment. He died in 1960 under house arrest in the place of his birth, the parish of Krasic, south of Zagreb, the victim of ill treatment by the communists. (He was beatified by John Paul II in 1998.)

By the time of Stepinac’s death, the persecution of the Church had eased – it’s worth noting, though, that some 500 priests and religious were killed in the course of it. In 1948 Tito had broken with Stalin and sought to move Yugoslavia towards the West. This involved a degree of internal reform and a complicated balancing act between Yugoslavia’s constituent peoples, in particular between the main two, the Serbs and the Croats. In the early 1970s a movement called 'The Croatian Spring', which had begun with linguistic and cultural issues but then extended into the more dangerous territory of national and political freedom, got under way. Initially, Tito had been happy to see influence drain from the Serbs, who had gained a grip on the security apparatus. But he then started to worry that his own power was in danger. There was a sharp crackdown. The Croatian liberal Communist leadership was purged and many dissidents arrested. Some constitutional changes towards federalism were, though, accepted. The notion of 'sovereign republics' was incorporated into the new 1974 constitution. When Yugoslavia broke up, in the early 1990s, it was under this constitution.

A few further words about that break up and the wars which accompanied it. Impatience in the two wealthier, Western republics of Croatia and Slovenia grew at Serb behaviour, and in particular state-organised peculation by Belgrade at their expense. In Slovenia, this national movement was mainly based on students and took place within the Slovene Communist Party. In Croatia, it took the form of a new movement, called the Croatian Democratic Union (Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica – HDZ), led by a former Communist General and historian, Franjo Tudjman. To the astonishment of the communists, the HDZ won the first free elections in 1990, gaining an overwhelming majority as a result of the first-past-the-post system the communists installed to keep themselves in power. Slovenia and Croatia seceded from Yugoslavia the following year.

The Serb minority in Croatia, encouraged and armed by Belgrade, then rebelled. The Yugoslav Army – now Serb-controlled – intervened. Ostensibly, this was to stop the fighting. In fact, it was to ensure that Croatia lost control of the areas which Belgrade intended to carve out as part of Greater Serbia. Croatia gained international recognition in 1992, but only after a hugely destructive and bloody war. By the time a stalemate was reached, about a third of the country was under occupation. The Serbs did not manage to break Croatia’s boomerang shape by getting to the Adriatic. But the link with Southern Dalmatia was weakened and tourist revenue was reduced to a trickle.

Meanwhile, Belgrade had started since 1992 on the systematic destruction of Sarajevo, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. Finally, Croatia, the Bosnian Croats, and the Bosniaks, with American support and NATO air strikes, defeated the Serbs in a whirlwind campaign, known as Operation Storm in 1995. The large Serb community living in the so-called Krajina area of Croatia departed en masse –  partly in fear of returning Croatians, largely at bidding of the Serb leadership.

Croatia Today

So much for history, which I’m afraid has involved some repetition because different relevant players were concerned. Here, as a final piece of background, are a few contemporary facts about Croatia.

Croatia today has a population of about 4.5 million, which is slowly declining and ageing – a common problem, but a very serious one for small nations. It has quite a large diaspora, concentrated in next door Bosnia-Hercegovina, but also strongly represented in the United States, Canada, Australia and, of course, Central Europe. The country is fairly urbanised:  57 per cent live in towns. Life expectation is good: 72 for men and 79 for women. Health and education provision is better than might be expected. Literacy is high. The Croats, to the extent one can generalise, are practical, entrepreneurial, good at design, construction and engineering, and very good at sport. Croatia is nowadays very ethnically homogeneous. Those Serbs who were not living in the big cities largely moved out during the war of the 1990s, and not many have returned. So 90 per cent of Croatian citizens are ethnically Croat (and Catholic), though there are also flourishing Croatian Jewish and Muslim communities.

Although the Croatian political class often seems often over-awed and out of its depth when confronted by the outside world, I should not say this of the population as a whole. If I were to suggest that Croats are not, by and large, over-modest, I imagine they would reply, and perhaps with reason, that they had nothing to be modest about. Croats are proud of their culture and conscious of their centuries-long struggles for survival against various more powerful enemies. People who think like that are resilient.

The biggest trouble is that the historical foundations have been overlaid with a thick layer of poisonous detritus from communism.

An expatriate Russian intellectual once described what he called, ironically, the 'Seven Pillars of Communism'. You will not find them in the writings of Karl Marx, but here they are all the same – as told me by a Croat:

1. Everyone is busy, but nobody works.
2. Nobody works, but the Plans are fulfilled.
3. All the Plans are fulfilled, but there is a shortage of everything.
4. There is a shortage of everything, but everyone is provided for.
5. Everyone is provided for, but nobody is happy.
6. Nobody is happy, but every one supports the Party.
7. Everyone supports the Party, but everyone works against it.

The most striking feature of that system is not its inefficiency, or even its hypocrisy, but its sheer unreality. Everything is an illusion. It is primarily a description of the Soviet Union, not of Yugoslavia. But the Yugoslav system provided its own variants, and the legacy remains.

The war that accompanied Yugoslavia’s demise didn’t help either. In a war, you have to see that everyone is provided for, you need solidarity more than individuality, you seek political, social and economic consensus. These are not, though, favourable conditions for personal initiative and entrepreneurship.

Once Croatia had won its war, it was pressured to make economic reforms. At first it lacked the structures and expertise to do so. There was then a banking crisis. And there was, and still is, the problem of corruption – about which outside agencies loudly complain, and which fills with shock-horror headlines the pages of the Croatian press.

Corruption and its Causes

This is a real affliction. It is, of course, worth noting that in a profoundly corrupt system no one complains of corruption – or at least not twice. It’s also worth noting that anti-corruption drives often involve – and are devised to involve – a large amount of injustice. Both generalisations apply to Russia.

One should also note that corruption has afflicted all the countries trying to make the transition between socialism and capitalism. Two of those countries, Bulgaria and Rumania, were allowed into the European Union with their problems unsolved, and this has made people extra-sensitive to corruption in Croatia, as an EU candidate-country.

According to Transparency International which monitors these things Croatia is about where you would expect it to be. With the most honest countries at the top and the worst rogues at the bottom, Croatia is about a third of the way down – number 66 of 180, below Poland and the Czechs, and above Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece and Romania. It’s hard to know how seriously to take these figures because they are based on surveys of how people perceive a country. Perceptions are unreliable. But my hunch is that the picture is accurate.

Corruption in Croatia today has four causes – two general and two specific – which are revealing and worth investigating.

First, the attitudes of Communism have combined with the opportunities of capitalism. Communism encourages the mentality that every one is in it – whatever it is – for himself. And capitalism then comes along and gives people more ways of getting rich by fair means or foul. Actually, this is a bit simplistic. Capitalism, properly practised, isn’t a free-for-all. It depends on a clear rule of law, transparent property rights, open competition and last, but not least, personal honesty and civil trustworthiness. None of these elements was fostered by atheistic socialism in Yugoslavia, any more than they were fostered by atheistic socialism anywhere else.

It’s important to understand why communism’s legacy is so strong. The war which Croatia fought in the 1990s was to cast off Serb domination, and to cast off communism. But these objectives were not completely compatible. In order to secure the first, a compromise had to be reached on the second.

Those members of the Communist leadership in Croatia, who were willing take the country’s side against Belgrade and the Yugoslav Army were welcomed by Zagreb with no questions asked. This was most valuable, but also most ethically dubious, when it came to the leadership of the secret police. The incorporation of so many high level communists into the state apparatus meant that there was never any possibility of a far-reaching lustration as occurred in Poland and the Czech Republic. Individuals can, indeed, see their own secret police files. But the generality of this information is still withheld. No one, for example, has been tried for the crimes committed against the Church, or for the numerous assassinations of Croatian dissidents abroad. The affairs of the Communist UDBA (internal security police) and KOS (the spies) are simply not discussed.

One can argue that this is a commonsense policy – though it stands in marked contrast with the way in which the crimes of old Nazis are unearthed and punished. But, in any case, a damaging consequence is that precisely because the socialist system has not been fully discredited, association with it is not seen as shameful. A new generation of leftists, imbued with much the same materialist, anti-Christian and anti-national ideology, has acquired a grip on much of Croatia’s intellectual life, being particularly powerful in the media and with a lot of influence in academe as well.

The second, general, cause of corruption is closely linked to the first. It is that Government in Croatia is still far too prominent and powerful in the economy and society. It is a truth of universal application that wherever excessive power lies with government, and so with politics, you will find graft, back-handers and probably a large dose of gangsterism. The only people who should be surprised at this are those who have no experience of human nature. There is a close link here with economic policy – which I’ll say a word about, though it’s not our main interest.

The Communist Party of Yugoslavia coined what must rank as one of the silliest slogans in the pre-David Cameron era. It was designed to answer the worries about what would happen after the ageing dictator’s death it ran: 'After Tito? Tito!' Using a similar approach to what happened after the fall of communism one might respond: 'After socialism? Socialism!'.

Obviously, at one level that’s unfair. A lot of progress has been made with privatisation and establishing property rights and so on. But old attitudes of hostility to the market, over-confidence in subsidy, reliance on welfare remain entrenched. And government itself is far, far, too big and intrusive.

Of course, it might be worse. It might be Greece. The Croatians are better than that. The Croatian Central bank has, for example, performed a skilful balancing act with public finance. The biggest financial problem is one that reflects Croatia’s proximity to, but exclusion, from the Euro-zone – namely the fact that so much of its private and public debt is denominated in Euros, to which its currency the Kuna is pegged. Croatia, unlike Britain during this recession, has had to live with an over-valued exchange rate, because if it devalues, its debts may bankrupt its economy.

But the biggest problem is different – it’s the fact that government spending and so taxes (personal, rather than corporate) are much too high. The Washington-based Heritage Foundation’s 'Index of Economic Freedom' rates Croatia as an undistinguished number ninety-two out of 179 world economies. That’s somewhat below the regional average. There has been some improvement recently, but as the commentary on the Index says:

Croatia’s overall weakness stems from excessive government interference that erodes the economy’s efficiency and flexibility. In addition to high levels of government spending, government intervention in other key areas of the economy is considerable.

There are also, though, two other causes of corruption that aren’t fundamental but are, rather, incidental.

The first is the fact that the HDZ Party in the time of President Tudjman found itself handling just those kinds of financial decisions which bring out the worst in politicians. And some of them clearly succumbed. I am not convinced that the Party itself – which is again in power, but in a coalition – is worse than any other likely to take office. But, then, since I am not a Croatian voter, my opinion is of not the slightest importance. The present HDZ Prime Minister, Mrs. Jadranka Kosor, has surprised many people, including some of her colleagues, by cleaning house in a manner that has made her the most popular politician in Croatia.

The second cause that relates to particular circumstances, is a direct hang-over from the war. In the desperate search for arms from any source to defend Croatia, the Government of the day had to engage with anyone willing and able to break the international embargo. This created political connections with shady interests. Illegality spawns illegality, smuggling, fraud, and gangsterism. The stories coming out in the media confirm that. In time, as individuals are brought to justice or choose exile to some other lucrative haven for criminality – unfortunately, often to neighbouring Bosnia or Serbia – the problem should diminish.

The European Union

This brings me back to the question of the European Union and its role for good, and sometimes not so good. Croatia has been enthusiastic about joining Europe for a long time. When, nineteen years ago, JNA tanks headed North along the Bratsvo i Jedinstvo highway, that enthusiasm reached a desperate pitch. In Zagreb in the early 1990s, I found everyone was using Euro ball-points, wearing Euro tea-shirts, and eating at the Europski Dom. Though understandable, it was based on illusion.

The European Union offered no escape, nor could it. Germany was a friend, but only NATO could be a saviour, and it took a long time before, at American insistence, it acted as such.

Croatia, itself, is now a member of NATO. That is of much more importance than being a member of the EU, because of the article five guarantee of Croatia’s security – which it certainly needs. (The single most effective way of shoring up Bosnia would also, incidentally, be to bring it into NATO.)

Yet the Croats dream only of European Union membership. It seems a way out of the Balkans, and a way into civilisation. Perhaps, in a sense, it is. It’s not, though, a way into large amounts of money. Those days have gone, the bill for existing members will be large enough. But Europe is attractive, above all, as a way to solve Croatia’s internal problems, above all economic problems that its own politicians won’t dare face.

But that again is an illusion. The horrible saga of Greece illustrates the point. Croatia’s economic reforms will have to be made in Croatia, or the country won’t progress. This drachma hasn’t yet dropped.

It does make sense for Croatia to join the EU, but for rather different reasons. First of all, for the West as a whole, Croatian EU membership will be a sign to the rest of South-East Europe that countries that sort themselves out will be welcomed not shunned. Above all, it will reinforce – symbolically more than materially – the policy of creating conditions of stability and security in Bosnia, which for reasons I’ve given is of great importance.

Secondly, for Croatia itself, joining the EU will reinforce confidence. Put differently, keeping it out will catastrophically destroy confidence. Psychology matters. But, that said, there are costs.

The economic disadvantages lie in the problem of saddling what should be – but actually isn’t – a low-cost country with the high regulatory costs that come with subscription to the full European acquis communautaire. The administrative and institutional reforms are more of a mixed bag. There is anecdotal evidence that they are being rushed through too fast and creating confusion. But presumably, in the end, they will settle down. For small countries some harmonisation with big ones makes practical sense.

Croatia expects to become a full member of the EU in 2011. The Americans and most EU members – though not, conspicuously, Britain, at least under the last Labour Government – favour it. Three chapters haven’t been opened – as the negotiating jargon has it – i.e., negotiation has stalled on them. These are on competition (chapter 8), where the problem is loss-making, state-owned shipyards; on judiciary and fundamental rights (chapter 23), where the prosecutor in the trial of three Croatian Generals in the Hague is making a fuss about some probably non-existent documents that he claims Croatia hasn’t supplied; and on foreign, security and defence policy (chapter 31) where the Slovenes have yet to reach agreement on their border dispute. All these are manageable in the time-frame.

But, as I say, entering Europe won’t obviate Croatia sorting itself out.

Education

It’s not, though, just the economy. What’s often called 'civil society' needs attention too. Communism everywhere leaves scorched earth between the state and the individual. Those Burkean 'little platoons' have to fill in the gap. What Catholic social teaching calls 'subsidiarity' needs to be brought into play. And in a country like Croatia, it is, indeed, the Catholic Church which has the prime responsibility for encouraging this.

The immediate task for the Church after the war of the early 1990s was restoration. Some two hundred Catholic churches were damaged or destroyed. Moreover, the previous regime had prevented the building of new churches in newly settled areas. For example, only one church could be built on the left bank of the River Sava in the Novi Zagreb suburbs. Masses were held in schools, or in flats purporting to be private accommodation but actually purchased by the parishes.

The Church is now gradually stepping into the sphere of education. Religious orders have already opened some Catholic middle schools and kindergartens. But the basic model hitherto has been that Catholic spiritual and moral education was provided within the state-run schools.

The Church is now waking up to the fact that in Croatia, as elsewhere, the political class cannot be trusted. Under the guise of human rights and Europeanisation, aggressive secular humanism is directly challenging the Christian ethos in education. The Croatian Church is now – in my view courageously and rightly – planning to set up its own Catholic elementary schools and, still more ambitiously, a new Catholic University of Zagreb, an enormous undertaking. After some early setbacks, the property – a former barracks - is now ready. The right quality staff are being engaged. This autumn the first intake of students will begin to study history – which suggests they have the right priorities. A lot will hinge on it.

This policy of cultural and spiritual revival through education is, arguably, even more important for the Catholic Church in Bosnia. It is the best way to give confidence to the Catholic Croat minority while opening up advantages to non-Catholics. The Church in Bosnia has, in fact, been founding primary, secondary and technical schools since the 1990s. The most famous one, St. Joseph’s in Sarajevo, is very popular and attended by many Muslim children. In strengthening links between Western Christianity and European Islam, this may be potentially more valuable than any amount of dialogue and declarations.

Croatia has, traditionally, as I’ve said a deep consciousness of being in danger, living on the edge. During the centuries, it served, in the historic expression, as Antemurale Christianitatis – the bastion of Christendom – and it suffered the price. In his Trublja slovinska (Slav Trumpet) the seventeenth century Ragusan poet, Vladislav Menčetić, proclaims:

Italy would have long since
Sunk beneath the waves,
Had Croatian shores
Not broken the force of the Ottoman sea.

The trouble is that such preoccupation can lead to a defensive mentality, and to taking refuge in excuses. In general, I want Croatia exactly as it is – but this I would like to change.