There were no good guys in that psychotic conflict. At different times and in different places there were members of all religious and ethnic groups – including the Muslims – who exhibited varying degrees of awfulness. And yet the nightmare had a beginning, and at the root of it all was the post-Communist desire of Slovenia and Croatia for greater independence, and the virulent and manipulative reaction of the Serb leader, Slobodan Milosevic.
It was certainly about the revival of “ancient ethnic hatreds”, in the sense that there was plenty of latent poison to be potentiated by maniacs like Milosevic. But it was also about nationalism – the furious desire of one group of people not to be subject to another. It was about the rights of national minorities, whether in Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia or in Yugoslavia as a whole, and their struggle against the majoritarian tyranny —whether from Belgrade, Zagreb, or even Sarajevo. Peace was only brought about by the complete dissolution of Yugoslavia, the loss of tens of thousands of lives, and the biggest forced movements of peoples since the Second World War.
Croatia effectively won its war in 1995, when Ante Gotovina led the operation that booted the Serbs out of the Krajina. But by then the Croats already boasted all the attributes of full statehood – the logical inevitability of the German-led recognition of January 15, 1992. They had an independent parliament, an independent legal system, and they had what every country needs if it wants to be truly the master of its own destiny. In 1994 the Croats scrapped the Yugoslav dinar – symbol not just of Communist oppression but rule from Belgrade – and introduced the kuna.
The kuna is named after the word for a pine marten, whose pelt was used in medieval Croatia as a store of value, and in the last 18 years it has served the country well. The place is obviously prosperous. The streets are clean, the roads are fast and smooth, the supermarkets are stocked with every conceivable delicacy in the kind of air-conditioned hygiene you might expect in Austria. Tourist money is flooding in on Easyjet flights and on the yachts of the super-rich.
The Croats are making their mark on the world of sport, with three gold medals at this summer’s Games – six medals in all – which is not bad for a country of only four and a half million people. Croatia seems to have a wonderful future.
That makes it all the more astonishing that the Croats should apparently be prepared to swap one doomed federal structure for another. As we are seeing in the eurozone today, monetary union is not remotely compatible with fiscal independence. In the case of Greece, Spain and other countries, it means a protracted process of greater or lesser humiliation at the hands of bureaucrats from Brussels. It means the hollowing out of democracy. It means ignoring and overruling the sovereign politicians of minor states.
The euro makes an absolute mockery of independence, self-determination – all the things so many Croats fought and died for. Sure, the tyranny of Brussels is not a violent one, and it is not as poisonous as the tyranny of Belgrade. It is a velvet kind of tyranny, but a tyranny none the less.
Avoid the euro, my Croatian friends. In 10 years’ time I want to go back, order a bottle of superb red Dingac, and pay for it in kuna.