From the ashes of former Yugoslavia an independent Croatian state has arisen, the fulfillment, in the words of President Franjo Tudjman, of the Croats' "thousand-year-old dream of independence." Yet few countries in Europe have been born amid such bitter controversy and bloodshed: the savage war between pro-independence forces and the Yugoslav army left about one-third of the country in ruins and resulted in the flight of a quarter of a million of the country's Serbian minority.
In this book an eyewitness to the breakup of Yugoslavia provides the first full account of the rise, fall, and rebirth of Croatia from its medieval origins to today's tentative peace. Marcus Tanner describes the creation of the first Croatian state; its absorption into feudal Hungary in the Middle Ages; the catastrophic experience of the Ottoman invasion; the absorption of the diminished country into Habsburg Austria; the evolution of modern Croatian nationalism after the French Revolution; and the circumstances that propelled Croatia into the arms of Nazi Germany and the brutal, home-grown "Ustashe" movement in the Second World War. Finally, drawing on first-hand knowledge of many of the leading figures in the conflict, Tanner explains the failure of Tito's Communists to solve Yugoslavia's tortured national problem by creating a federal state, and the violent implosion after his death.
Croatia's unique position on the crossroads of Europe—between Eastern and Western Christendom, the Mediterranean, and the Balkans and between the old Habsburg and Ottoman empires—has been both a curse and a blessing, inviting the attention of larger and more powerful neighbors. The turbulence and drama of Croatia's past are vigorously portrayed in this powerful history.
Rather than just focusing on the years since the break up of Yugoslavia, or the death of Tito, Tanner, correspondent for London's Independent has reached further back in history. In 1519, Pope Leo X described Croatia as the Antemurale Christianitatis, the "Ramparts of Christendom" and a little later, it was saddled by the Hapsburgs with a physical manifestation of that position, the Krajina, a border of castles manned primarily by Serbs. This swathe of militant Serbs would define much of the country's history, this, and it's long experience of foreign domination. There was constant tension with Hungary which claimed suzerainty over Croatia, and Tanner describes in great detail the unsuccessful attempts to Hungarianize Croatia. The South Slav movement of the late 19th century finally resulted in 1918 when Croatia became part of the South Slav Federation; however, by the mid-30s, old animosities between Serbs and Croats resurfaced. A few days after Germany declared war on Yugoslavia, the fascist Croatian nationalists, the Ustashe, began their brutal rule under the Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska (Independent State of Croatia or NDH). During the NDH, the Serbs suffered huge losses--though exactly how many died, is indeterminable with claims ranging from 50,000 to 600,000. Still when Tito (himself half-Slovene, half-Croatian) and his Partisans prevailed at the end of the war, they retaliated, killing at least 30,000 NDH soldiers. The final impression of this very accessible and consistently engrossing history is not optimistic. The brief period of Yugoslavian unity would seem to be an authoritarian anomaly, but for now, at least, division seems mandated by centuries of hatred.