Saturday, 13 August 2011

What's wrong with saying "Croatian" Serb?

Recently I published an article about Serbs like myself from Croatia, called I'm a Croatian Serb! I received a few positive comments about it. However, I received a lot more comments from fellow Serbs criticising me for using the term "Croatian Serb" in an endorsing kind of way. The comments, via Facebook, were mainly in these veins: "I never use that term", "Nobody I know uses it", "We shouldn't divide ourselves according to this place and that place; we should just be Serbs", and "Nobody says "Serbian Croats" or "Serbian Albanians", etc, so why should Serbs from Croatia call themselves "Croatian Serbs"?". Some of them were in a mild tone, while others were more accusatory.

But more bizarrely, there was someone, I guess in Australia but also via Facebook, who told me that their wife thought that I was an "ass", and that, "if next time [I am] in Croatia [I] could stop by the ruins of her and her grandparents' house and then feel the need to call [my]self a Croatian Serb"! So someone I've never seen before, someone who's never met me in their lives, thinks I'm an "ass"! What a virtual slap in the face!

So I wrote and published a LENGTHY article, concisely describing the tragic history of Croatian Serbs and their varied present-day circumstances, and I even added a number of pictures next to the paragraphs, so nobody would get bored or tired while reading it. And what do most of the comments about my article concern themselves with? With the term "Croatian Serb"! What an intellectual slap in the face! And for what, exactly? For that DAMN label "Croatian Serb"!

So the question is why were these commentators so offended by me positively calling myself a "Croatian" Serb?

Well, you could be forgiven for saying that these critics are just being "shallow" for being fixated on labels, but this isn't just about labels. You see, it's also about people's personal experiences, i.e. their war-time memories, which they live with even today. And like I mentioned in the article that bears that term in its title, we Serbs from modern-day Croatia were caught up in a war that pitted us against the state of Croatia, which seceeded from Yugoslavia; our community was overwhelmingly opposed to independence for Croatia from the Yugoslav federation, and a war ensued between the Serb "rebels" (a label used by the Croatian media) of the short-lived state 'Republika Srpska Krajina'. And like I explained before on this blog, the war ended tragically for my people, the Serbs of Krajina in August '95. So bearing the recent history in mind, it's really not surprising AT ALL that many Serbs from modern-day Croatia do not wish to be labelled "Croatian Serbs".

So how did I cope and respond to this barrage of criticism? Well, I suppose I coped pretty well with it, and I even responded quite wittily to the more accusatory comments on my account. Surprisingly though, I wasn't the slightest bit shocked at being called an "ass"; I'm really not that bothered that someone on the other side of the planet thinks I'm an "ass" based on my rather positive use of the term "Croatian Serb". At least I mean something to someone I've never met, however unflattering it may be for me! And besides, you can't please everyone all the time, now can you?!

What really got to me more than anything was when that critic in Australia raised the issue of victimhood experienced by my fellow Serbs during the recent war in Croatia and further back in World War Two; apart from what his wife suggested (i.e. stopping by the ruins of her and her grandparents' house), he also suggested that I, "visit the grave of her relative that was crucified back in WWII by Ustasa, and the graves of those who were burned alive inside of a church in Glina in 1942". What was being suggested was this: that by endorsing the term "Croatian Serb", I'm showing "disrespect" to Serb victims from the last two wars, who've suffered at the hands of those who fought for some kind of Croatian state. That suggestion I found DEEPLY offensive, as many of my own relatives were murdered by Croatian fascists (Ustaše) during WW2, just because they were Orthodox Serbs, and many of my relatives' houses were burnt, bombed and looted in the recent war (as for my house, it got looted and later settled in by Bosnian Croat refugees).

However, this dispute, to me, represents a poignant example of the division between Serbs like me, who didn't live through the recent war in Croatia, and those hundreds of thousands of Serbs, who unfortunately did. For me, it is easier to say things like, "I'm from Croatia", or even "I'm a Croatian Serb", whereas for them it's not so easy. I'm sure a lot of them who live in Western countries like me do say that they're from Croatia to people who know very little about the Balkans, but I guess they will probably stop short of referring to themselves as "Croatian Serbs", all things considered.

Also, it's important to know that we Serbs are a nation always on the alert of any sign of division, that could lead to some degree of disunity. And indeed, some of the criticism I've faced has hinted at that possibility, however justified that was or not. And although a lot of these Serbs do hold very right-wing, nationalistic views, I don't believe it would be the least bit fair of me, as a left-wing anarchist, to dismiss them for doing so. Yes I'm angry at the intransigent Serb nationalists, who continue to promote the idea of a "Greater Serbia", despite its disastrous failure during the '90s! But nevertheless, my heart is always with those who've endured war and suffered loss, whether material or human, and especially with those from my hometown of Gračac and its nearby villages.

I put a lot of effort into writing an article about an issue, that is very close to my heart, i.e. my fellow Serbs from Lika, Dalmatia and other parts of war-torn Croatia. I wanted to discuss my people's tragic past and their varied present-day circumstances. I wrote about our refugees in Serbia, our returnees to Lika and other regions, and mentioned the presence of our people in the diaspora. And yet because of that one LOUSY label — that one GOD-FORSAKEN name — all my effort has been in vain, and my honest desire to discuss this issue has fallen on deaf ears … at least among fellow Serbs! So what has this taught me? Well, it's definitely taught me how one term like "Croatian Serb" can put a stop to a conversation quicker than you can say "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious"! That's what!


Asteri said...

You should just call yourself a Yugoslav. its easier that way:)

Balkan Ⓐnarchist said...

I know, Asteri. If only all those Serb and Croat nationalists thought that way too… :-\

Asteri said...

The Bosniak/Croat/Serb identity is now interchangeable with a resurgent post-communist religious identity. Unfortunate for those who are either atheist or from a mixed background.

Unknown said...

I am a Pakistani and although I've never been to India,
my parents were born there ... all my grandparents lived a good part of their life in India ... I'm never ashamed of calling myself a Pakistani with Indian roots ... Just don't understand the urge some people have, to differentiate themselves from the rest ... Why can't we all come to the common grounds that we are all humans and citizens of this world

Balkan Ⓐnarchist said...

Yes, we are all humans and citizens of this world, and fortunately for us all, there is a lot of common ground around!

We humans like to differentiate ourselves from other people around us on an individual level, so we can feel personally unique. But we may also want to align ourselves with others according to varous criteria, like town/region/country of origin, ethnic affiliation or religious conviction, so we can feel like we belong to a specific group, that differs from others. After all, none of us wants to be lonely in this world; that's the worst thing that could happen to anyone.

However, those who adhere to some kind of far-right ideology take things a step further: they want to separate themselves from "non-members", either on a personal level, a political level, or both. And wars between different ethnic/religious communities strengthen the resolve of those with hardline nationalist stances to maintain those divisions.

Anonymous said...

Yugoslav what the fuck??? U retard ... If u want to stay in Croatia . U become a Croatian or fuck off.. My family got forced to leave when it was run by a fucked up Croatian suppressing Serb run Yugoslav government .. So don't u give me yr poor story mate..we are in Australia mate we don't ask the Australia government oh theres 10000 Croatian in this town so we will run it our way. And changed the name off the town cause there is only 5 % Australians .... Fuck offff....check yr history Croatia = BiH Vojvodina..... Do the Croats in Vojvodina get any special treatment ... Can the Croatian Bosnians go back to there homes the Serb stay in now?????

Balkan Ⓐnarchist said...

Hello Anonymous 10 June 2012 14:14,

Anonymous, nowhere in my article did I propose that we Serbs should change the name of any town anywhere on earth and do everything we want without considering the concerns of other communities. However, I can understand why you feel we Serbs would do that, given the war crimes committed by Hague convicts Milan Martić and the late Milan Babić. Perhaps instead of forbidding me from sharing my own "poor story", how you put it, why don't you care to tell me where you come from, what happened to you and your family there, and how you long you've been living in Australia. I know there are lots of Serbs and Croats there, and I know relations between the two communities there are not all that good. How about you enlighten me about that? I've got a cousin who lives in Sydney, and she's half-Serb and half-Croat! ;-)

PS: I've been checking the history of the former Yugoslavia for many years now, and I still do. What's more, I'm quite familiar with the various national narratives on offer. If you want, I could relate to you the Croatian point of view of the Croatian war, then follow it up with the Serbian point of view thereof. Trust me Anonymous, I know my Balkan history! ;-)