Book review by Rudi Tomic

We Are Now a Nation
Croats Between ‘Home’ and ‘Homeland’
Author:  Daphne N. Winland  –  University of Toronto Press (264 pps)

In her book, We are Now a Nation, Dr. Daphne Winland, Professor of Anthropology at York University, has written an up-to-date  historical account of the lives of diaspora Croats, their contributions during and after the homeland war, and their relationships with Croats living in Croatia.

Subtitled Croats Between ‘Home’ and ‘Homeland’ the book  is the result of almost 20 years of dialogue and interviews with several hundred individuals both in the diaspora and numerous citizens across Croatia; It relies on reference and research from 359 sources.

It seems what touched Winland initially was the war in Croatia and the tremendous reaction and generosity of Croats in Toronto to those in the homeland.

Secondly, the immense response from Croatian university students in Toronto, including students of  her own at York University, many of whom requested postponement of their exams in order to volunteer in the Croatian Army or Guard, because “our homeland is at war”(p.5).  Through them she understood the profound suffering their own family and friends were going through both here and in Croatia.

Winland took on the challenge to  explore and identify why certain events in Croatia’s recent history were glorified and publicized, yet other events and situations were ignored, silenced, criticized or slandered

Croatia’s history has been bloody and tumultuous. Under the yoke of Yugoslavia for most of the last century including communism for almost 50 years,  Croatia has been dominated by many nations surrounding her borders in past centuries. But now the time has come to recognize that Croatia, coveted for its strategic location separating east from west, has contributed much to the world. After 13 centuries of Christianity and one of the first nations in Europe to indoctrinate democracy, Croatia was and is an ancient protector and gateway to western civilization.

The author also identifies Croats’ personal intolerance toward one another, and states that it could not be described as an unfriendly war, but which builds walls instead of bridges, pointing out that the “Key to understanding the relative lack of a rapprochement between Croats ‘here’ and ‘there’, neither understands nor has the patience for the complexities inherent in the experiences and personal or political histories that have shaped the other’s outlooks on the meanings of Croatia as a homeland or more importantly, of Croatness”. (p.27).

An important insight and valid bone of contention for diaspora Croats, is that the Croatian Government has not fulfilled the promise given to diaspora Croats to leave an open-door for returnees to Croatia similar to what Israel did for their returnees.

“The Israeli law, established in 1950, began as an open-door immigration policy for Jews that, among other things, provided extensive support benefits for immigrants who have a ‘natural right’ to return to their historic homeland’ ), and they automatically acquire Israeli citizenship upon arrival: Ius Sanguinis – the law of the blood – determines eligibility  for citizenship by means of an ascriptive, ethnic-religious criterion based on identification which includes, Jews, children and grandchildren of Jews and their nuclear families, even if the latter are not Jewish (p.145).

The expectations of Croatians from foreign historians/educators are simply that they be unbiased and not politically motivated with assessments about Croatia’s history,  not distorting or falsifying historical truths.

The book’s title is quite controversial! We are Now a Nation, states that Croatia has just “now” become a nation, after the fall of Yugoslavia! The existence of  the centuries old Croatian nation and its history are, however, spoken of within the context of the book.  Perhaps Winland chose to use this title for her book to attract wider readership, it certainly caught my attention!

In her conclusion, Winland comments “For a long time Croats as a whole have been portrayed unsympathetically as fascists, terrorists and ultra-nationalist zealots.  At times homeland Croats have been complicit in this assessment about diaspora Croats as well.  Scholars, too, have not all been immune in generalizations of this nature.  Upon learning that I was conducting research with Croats, a colleague who specializes in nationalism and ethnicity remarked: ‘Why are you studying those fascists?’ (p.173)

It is refreshing to find that Winland has, with tenacity, sincerity and total accuracy, captured the true character and essence of Croat/s and ‘Croatness’, the heart and soul of  Croatian people, young and old, individuals and groups, as they are today in their homeland and in the diaspora.

Her writing indicates total awareness and knowledge of the myriad of world media biases and inaccuracies written in historical and reference books in the past, which took root and plagued Croats in recent history and for centuries.

The book We are now a Nation, a historical document  par excellence, is a modern political lexicon, historical reference book and historical dictionary which cannot be overlooked by historians, writers, students and politicians, and ultimately sets  many records straight!

I congratulate the learned and talented Dr. Winland for her tremendous effort. Croatians have long awaited a writer to uncover truths of  Croatia’s current and past unique history.  Winland has tied it all together by defining the meaning and importance of  ‘Croatness’ (Hrvatstvo) and also the  positive and negative impacts that Croatia’s independence is having on  diaspora Croats  and Croats in the homeland.  It is quite possible that this book could well serve also as a harmonious catalyst among Croats, leading to mutual understanding and closer relationships.

Rudi Tomic has lived in Canada since  1959. For 30 years years editor of Croatian Way, he has published books and written hundreds of articles on social and political problems facing Bosnia, Croatia and Herzegovina.

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