Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Three [23]




In the last post, I briefly analyzed Johnstone's selective understanding of nationalism, an intellectual tool she uses to create artificial contrasts between Serbs and Croats. Let's break it down now:

As already noted, the first paragraph of this section contrasts the rise of Serb nationalism during the revolt against Ottoman rule versus the rise of Croat nationalism within the safety of the prosperous Hapsburg Empire. Or so she says. The oversimplifications in this contrasting portrait are many, but I will set them aside for now.

Let's break it down from there:

The second paragraph begins with this sentence:

"If in the 1990s Croatian secessionists dismissed Yugoslavia as "an artificial creation," [no citation of the quoted phrase, as per her usual tactic] "the irony is that it was primarily a Croatian artifice."

She expands on this provocative point for all of about three sentences, and leaves it at that. It goes without saying--if you don't know much about Balkan history, this is not the book to look for balanced information. Her point is not to honestly examine the genesis of the Yugoslav ideal, but to smear the Croats, who were only interested in improving their position within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As if this is any sort of indictment. But anyway...

"After seven centuries of submission to Budapest, the awareness of a "Croatian" identity was uncertain."

But five centuries of submission to Ottoman rule did not have the same effect on Serbs, Bulgarians, Greeks, and others? The Hapsburg Empire was a multiethnic empire the same as the Ottoman Empire, and the subject peoples all shared the Roman Catholic faith. Johnstone is remarkably uninterested in this comparison.

"Only the area around Zagreb was known as Hrvatska, or Croatia."

A remarkably uninteresting and ignorant 'insight,' considering that, for example, "France" was not the name of most of "France" when French nationalism was being developed. We could say the same for Russia, Spain, Germany, and so forth. This is really a useless and stupid point, but I don't bring it up merely to demonstrate how desperate and unfounded Johnstone's critique is. It should be noted that she does not apply this same criteria to Serbian nationalism--Serbia proper never incorporated all the areas where ethnic Serbs lived. For the purposes of this blog, it's most relevant to note that the border between Serbia and Bosnia--the Drina River--has been recognized as such for centuries, dating back to the High Middle Ages. The medieval kingdom of Serbia, like the medieval kingdoms of Bosnia and Hrvatska, was smaller than its modern-day incarnation.

"Like the Serbs, the Croats spoke a language derived from Slavonic, but whereas the Serbs had a Church that used and enhanced their language, the Catholic clergy suppressed the vernacular in favor of Latin."

Of course, this was true for every Catholic nation, but never mind that. The key here isn't just that she has found what she fancies to be yet another contrast between Serb and Croat which is unfavorable to the latter; it also allows her to get in a dig at the Catholic Church.

She continues with this selective examination of the importance of dialect and language codification:

"As a result, Croatian drifted into divergent regional dialects."

Very oversimplified. There were several dialects throughout the area encompassed by modern-day Serbia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, and Croatia. These dialects are geographical and often cross ethnic lines. Serbs outside of Serbia no more speak a standardized dialect of Serbo-Croat than any of the other Slavs in the area.

"Unification of the Croatian literary language was accomplished by choosing to favor the dialect that coincided with literary Serbian as it had been standardized by the poet and scholar Vuk Karadzic (1787-1864) in the first half of the nineteenth century. Just as modern Italian was based on the Tuscan dialect to facilitate Italian unification, modern Serbo-Croatian provided the southwestern Slavs with a single common language. This helped to unify Croats themselves, before turning into a source of resentment on the part of the Croats who wished to distinguish themselves from the Serbs."

We will consider the implications of that final passage in the next post.

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