First in Zagreb we began to go deeper into the roots of nationalism in Croatia. As a group, we had many informative conversations with native Croatians about their views and experiences with nationalism throughout their lives, and how it shaped Croatia today.
We started on a tour of Zagreb with a local guide, Kristina, who grew up here during the Croatian Homeland War. She described how she saw the smoke and flames from bombings, and remembers hearing the warning sirens and running underground as attacks began. For Kristina, the war was central to her entire upbringing; the view of towns repaired and undamaged after fighting had stopped were a foreign site to her.
What amazed our group was how neutral and anti-nationalist she was. Despite being raised in a heavily nationalist environment, she believes that hate and grudges must be given up, or future generations will suffer. Even though her own home was damaged, and her colleagues told her about how they lived next to occupied lands, Kristina still feels that the only way to progress in society is to put aside differences for the good of everybody.
On our tour with Kristina she taught us much about the history of Zagreb and Croatia. We learned about all of Zagreb’s history, from its early 11th century roots to its present day status. Going through Zagreb, she explained all of the national symbols we saw and their origins. We saw many monuments, fountains, religious sites, and a ton of statues of Nikolai Tesla.
We focused heavily on the power of nationalism and the influence it had on the politics of the last century in Croatia. After learning about Croatia’s roots, we began to learn about the formation of the hatred and feuds some Croatians hold for their neighbors, especially Serbia. We talked about the governments between the World Wars, and the role and story of Croatia in Yugoslavia. We discovered more about the events from the formation of Yugoslavia all the way up to its collapse, and watched a video on the war of independence, and the many tragic events that led to the hatred and malice many Croatians hold towards Serbia.
We finished the day with a conversation with one of Adam’s Croatian friends, Nikola. Surprisedly, he held many of the same views as Kristina, perhaps even more neutral than she was. He too believed that nationalist hatred was horrible and was only hurting everyone involved. While he did not live here during the war, he still has lived much of his life in Croatia and prefers it over some of its neighbors. However, he still believes moving on is the only way to defeat dangerous nationalism in the Balkans.
Text by James R., photos by Dr. Jones.