Sunday, 21 November 2010

Croatia: Myth and Reality (11) - C. Michael McAdams - Croatia's Continuity

C. Michael McAdams

Croatia's Continuity

The Croatian Republic was born into hostility, war and suffering. It attempted to build new institutions of commerce and government while restructuring existing ones. Many in the Western press criticized the young Croatian state as being less than a perfect democracy, sometimes with good cause. Yet during its first five war-torn years, with thousands of refugees, cities ablaze and a dozen competing political parties, Croatia began the development of institutions that would serve well into the future. During the chaotic transition from communism to capitalism and from totalitarianism to democracy, the Croatian people relied on a great inner continuity, one much older and deeper than that of many nations.

Croatian continuity can be illustrated by the troplet, the triple braid that has been found in Croatian art, architecture, and design for centuries. Often the triple braid is unbroken forming a circle of continuity. There are many explanations for the design, which was probably borrowed from the ancient Celts. One explanation is linked to the Christian Trinity representing the body of Jesus, the blood of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

Croatia's continuity can be compared to that Trinity. The body of Croatia is its culture. Its lifeblood is its language. History is its spirit. Without the preservation of Croatian tradition, language, and history, Croatians would not exist today. Unless Croatian culture, language, and history are preserved, Croatia will not survive, regardless of political will. Croatia was robbed of political continuity by the actions of outside powers but found stability in its rich culture and history while building a stable political foundation.

That foundation gives every man and woman in a democracy the right to criticize the government, form political parties and exercise the franchise at election. After 1989 Croatia experienced tumultuous change from a singleparty captive nation within Yugoslavia, to a multi-party Republic. The wars of aggression against Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina made that transformation even more difficult. Numerous political parties emerged with many leaders and voices in Croatia, Bosnia and abroad. Some parties consolidated, others split, still others disappeared entirely. In war-torn Bosnia governance was sporadic and difficult. In the Croatian Republic, there was chaos and finger-pointing in Parliament and the government. A few voices even called for a return to communism or to some form of Yugoslavia.

Despite these tumultuous beginnings, Croatia can build democratic institutions for the future through its presidency and parliament. In order to achieve the continuity to preserve future democracy, the institutions must be held as separate and above the men and women who ocupy them. These are the institutions that will provide political continuity for the future. Although Franjo Tudjman and Alija Izetbegovic will be recorded in history as the first democratically elected presidents of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina, it is more important that they not be the last democratically elected presidents of their nations. They must be followed in future generations by men and women of many political persuasions. And with each new election, each peaceful change of government, the political continuity will grow.

Democratic institutions are not born overnight. They are grown and nurtured with, as Winston Churchill said, blood, sweat and tears. After hundreds of years, the United States, Canada and Australia are still defining themselves, just as Croatia is doing. The first U.S. President, George Washington, insisted on a one-party state and owned slaves. Australia was born as a prison colony. Canada was formed as a patchwork of very different provinces held together by the thinnest of threads. Yet each evolved into less-than-perfect democracies, but democracies none the less.

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