Subject: [balkans] Book/Multimedia Review: Jaram (ed.), Povijest Hrvata - A History of the Croats, Reviewed by Maja Mikula
Tue, 11 Sep 2001 12:37:52 +0200

Balkan Academic Book Review 20/2001

Vlado Jaram (ed.), Povijest Hrvata ­ A History of the Croats (CD Rom). Zagreb: Centar za transfer tehnologije, 1999. Price US$ 25.

Reviewed by Maja Mikula (Institute for International Studies, University of Technology Sydney), Email:

This CD Rom is part of a trilogy of multimedia CD Roms, which also includes a CD on the first president of post-Yugoslav Croatia, Franjo Tudjman, the ‘man who created the state’ and another one on Croatia’s main tourist attractions. The trilogy thus presents an official version of the national narrative, authorised by the regime of the 1990s: the long list of acknowledgments mentions, among other institutions, the Office of the President of the Republic of Croatia. Undoubtedly, histories always construct a ‘usable past’, reflecting the political exigencies of the time of their creation. Indeed, this multimedia project reveals more about the political climate in independent Croatia throughout the last decade of the 20th century, than it does about the bulk of history it sets out to describe. The CD Rom is driven by the desire ­ which dominated Croatia’s political life in the early years of its independence ­ to build a ‘positive image’ of Croatia in the world. It is prefaced by an excerpt from president Tudjman’s ‘epistle’ [1] written in 1995, on the occasion of the 5th anniversary of Croatian Independence: “for centuries the Croatian people fought both with the pen and with the sword, they suffered and died to achieve, in our time, their own state with the sublime intention that it may be for the people and the citizens of Croatia a land of freedom, peace, and happiness, of prosperity and dignity for all.” The sheer number of images of Tudjman shaking hands with world leaders reveals this project as part and parcel of the endeavour to build the late leader’s personality cult.

Narratives of nations glorify the presumed common past and project scenarios of ‘salvation’ into an anticipated future for their imagined communities. By definition, they are mythical, heroic and black-and-white. They are powered by a desire to mould national identities. The Croatian ethnonationalist rhetoric of the 1990s was driven by an urge to fortify national unity, which was formulated in the policy of reconciliation of all Croats, ‘regardless of their political differences’. Such an ambitious project involved a careful reassessment of the more ‘sensitive’ periods of Croatian history, the most controversial being the period of the pro-Nazi Ustashe regime during the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) from 1941 to 1945. The official line ­ pronounced by Tudjman, but not cited on the CD Rom ­ was that the NDH was “not only a quisling organisation and a Fascist crime, but was also an expression of the Croatian nation’s historic desire for an independent homeland.” [2] Not surprisingly, the same stance is adopted in Povijest Hrvata ­ A History of the Croats: “The Croatian people had been striving for independence, freedom, and statehood for a long period of time. The Germans and the Italians were well-aware of that wish, and so both the Germans and the Italians, following their policy of installing obedient puppet regimes, decided to create also a Croatian state.” [3] A fairer guide to Croatian history would seem to demand acknowledging alternative historical visions.

Another recognisable element of discourses promoting national unity is the argument which postulates a victimisation of the Croatian national community at the hands of its significant others. This argument informs the whole multimedia project, but especially its treatment of the history of the twentieth century. This segment builds a story of tensions between the Croats and the Serbs from the pre-WWI strategic coalitions through to the wars resulting in the disintegration of Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. At no point are we left in any doubt as to who the ‘good guys’ and who the ‘bad guys’ were. This is a pity. Even the most valiant of Greek heroes ­ Heracles comes to mind, with his philandering and excessive drinking ­ were occasionally allowed to indulge in some mischief… to make the myth more interesting.

The design of the CD-Rom is fairly simple: the material is divided into five major historical periods and within each period it is possible to follow a series of comments on general history; or to select an alternative navigation path, which offers reviews of period architecture, sculpture, painting, literature, music, a selection of the ‘most honourable sons and daughters of the nation’ and an overview of Croats who have achieved international reputation. The project boasts thirty minutes of video clips, fourty-five minutes of audio recordings, more than a thousand image files and five hundred pages of written text. The underlying graphic metaphor ­ that of mystical transportation through space and time ­ is appropriate and its design visually pleasing. However, other design elements could be improved. For example, the quality of some image files is poor and the ‘cropping’ of maps and documents unjustified. Text is occasionally broken between two successive windows in the middle of a sentence; or, repeated over a number of consecutive windows. At times, the text does not logically correspond to its accompanying image. The suggested operating platforms are Windows95/98/NT. It works much better with Windows 98 and NT. I first tried to use it with Windows 95, but encountered problems with font recognition, text format, line overlapping and activating the sound files.

The primary target audience for this project ­ produced, appropriately, in the Croatian-language and English-language versions ­ are the like-minded members of the Croatian diaspora, many of whom fled from communism after World War II or from the reprisals following the Croatian Spring revolt in 1971, and who saw Tito’s Yugoslavia as the main culprit for their displacement. The diaspora indeed was and still is instrumental for the functioning of Tudjman’s political party, the Croatian Democratic Union. The main ambition of the product, in this context, is to encapsulate and reinvigorate the national identity of the Croatian emigrants of the second or third generations worldwide. This ambition also limits the potential scope of the project, which is, by the way, advertised on the world-wide-web as a ‘must for every Croatian-American household’ [4].



[1] The Croatian word poslanica, meaning ‘epistle’ ­ previously used only in ecclesiastical and Biblical contexts ­ has been commonly used to refer to Tudjman’s addresses to his nation.

[2] Tudjman’s statement quoted in Marcus Tanner. Croatia: A Nation Forged in War. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1997. 223

[3] The quote is from the book A History of the Croats, by Ivo Peric, which forms an integral part of the multimedia project. A printed version of the book was published by CTT the same year as the CD-Rom, 1998.

[4] Available at Last visited on 10 September 2001. _________________________________________

This an earlier book reviews are available at: _________________________________________

© 2001 Balkan Academic News. This review may be distributed and reproduced electronically, if credit is given to Balkan Academic News and the author. For permission for re-printing, contact Balkan Academic News.