Roots and Practices of Croatian Nationalism

Nationalist ideologies are increasingly representing the significant points of reference in many political parties in contemporary Europe (Pazzanese, 2017) [1]. The aims of such attitude can be various; however, in most of the circumstances, nationalistic propaganda is conceived by politicians as a useful tool for unifying a deeply divided country. As a matter of facts, depending on the need of the ruling political élite and its correspondent positions in the political spectrum, aims and outcomes seem to differ one from each other. However, the core structure we can always observe in such phenomena is the conjunction of deep internal divisions and strong economic difficulties. For these reasons, nationalism is used to concentrate all the attention in shaping a specific identity based on a common culture, language, religion and ancestry in order to divert awareness on other running crisis (Gellner, 1983) [2]. Against this framework, it is worth to mention the Croatian case. The Country is independent since 1991, rising from the ashes of a war which had actually been fuelled by violent nationalistic claims.

Croatian Nationalism

After the Croatian War of Independence, right-wing parties have always had huge impact on the political life of the country, as they have had governmental responsibilities for most of the years so far. As a matter of facts, in almost twenty-eight years, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), one of the major centre-left political parties in Croatia, led the country’s government for seven years. Since 2016 the Croatian Democratic Union party (Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica, commonly named HDZ) is leading Croatia. It is biggest right-wing party in Croatia supporting conservative and nationalist ideologies. The new government had to face an unemployment rate of 16%, a youth unemployment rate reaching 40%, and a debt at 90% of GDP. The coastal areas are the only ones driving sufficient economical revenues. Most of the unemployed people, instead, leave the rural inner parts of the country to reach Austria and Germany (Mason, 2016).[3] In all this instable economical context, migrant crisis is dealt with an iron hand by the government, and consequently by the police force. The border between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia is heavily patrolled to deter immigration.


Everyday hundreds of migrants are severely blocked on the frontiers without being able to proceed (Armstrong, 2018) ,[4] and NGOs operating in the humanitarian field do not have easy access for monitoring and supporting migrants’ human rights. In 2015, a new law officially established restrictions in their activities. For the first time, all the organisations assisting migrants in the prihvatilištu (“reception centres”) in the Croatian territory must be authorised by the Ministry of Interior.  Secondly, and most importantly, the law prescribes that all the people conducting such programmes are obliged to keep the information they get from they work in the camps secret and not to publish it (Regulation Book of Interior Affairs, 2015).[5] Just a few weeks ago, the police started requesting to fill other documents for the personnel working for the previously authorised humanitarian organisations, who wants to enter into the camps and get into direct contact with migrants. For what concerns the camps themselves, there are three of them in the whole country.

In Kutina and Zagreb (Porin) there are two camps for asylum seekers, therefore for all those people who have been allowed to apply for granting the status of refugees and are waiting for an official response from the Ministry of Interior. The third infrastructure is the so-called “Reception Centre for Foreigners” in Ježevo, that is, instead, a proper prison for people whose freedom of movement has been restricted. In this detention centre are confined all those people whose presence on the Croatian territory is considered illegal as well as all migrants who had not been granted of the status of refugee and need to be repatriated (Hrvatski Pravna Centar, 2017).[6] Among all these detained people, there are minors as well (Croatian Ombudsman, 2017).[7] The Ministry of Interior has authorised the visits, prior established agreement, to only four organisations: the Jesuit Refugee Service, the Croatian Legal Center (HPC), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the Center for Peace Studies (CMS). These entities have specific restrictions, particularly in the number of visits they can have at the centre as well as the areas of the building they can enter, that is only a specific room for meeting prisoners. In addition to this, the access to the detention centre can be denied at any time by the Police Directorate with no specific reason (Bakalović et al. 2016).[8] For example, this is the case of the CMS, the organisation whose presence has been forbidden many times in Ježevo prison as well as in the other two asylum seekers camps. Even if these attitudes toward migrants make this country appearing extremely strict, a country which is instead better known for its touristic wonderful coast and its welcoming people, there is the need to mention its inner real malaise.


During and after the Yugoslav wars, the question of identity became extremely crucial among all local populations, and in particular those living in more heterogeneous ethnic territories. If – until the early 1990s – coexistence with different ethnicities was considered a normal aspect of the daily life, after the war this precious value could not be given for granted anymore. Even though everybody laid down their weapons, hostility between Croats and Serbs in particular, but also with Bosnians, did not cease. On the contrary, intolerance between the communities highly increased leading people from all sides to develop deep resentment. In the case of Eastern Slavonia for example, the most contested territory between Croats and Serbs, this question is still very impacting: from the Croat side, a profound sense of victimisation against Serbs creates a division between the ingroup and the outgroup and it is fuelled by war memories; on the other side, Serbs, which nowadays are numerically a minority in the region, are constantly discriminated and by mostly addressed as enemies. Media communication and mass mobilisation hold crucial roles with the consequent aim of establishing a Croatian national glue-symbol that can unify the whole country. For this reason, it is not rare to turn on the tv and, while zapping, to bump into programmes about war veterans and documentaries on the break-up of Yugoslavia or Serb war crimes. More specifically, what receive great public resonance are protests and the last biggest one was in Vukovar on the 14th of October. Ivan Penava, the mayor of the city belonging to HDZ, organised and led the protest for accusing the often-neglected war crimes committed by Serbs which still ought to be persecuted (Vladisavljević, 2018).[9] At the beginning of his speech he accused the “shameful silence of the Republic of Croatia, its military officials and its institutions for their cruelty, indecency and hypocrisy”(Patković, 2018).[10] The public event gathered thousands of Croats coming from the whole country as well as from Bosnia, and for a country of four million people, this fact became of huge relevance. Apart from all local authorities, great part of the manifestation was focused on the speeches given by Croat witnesses who spoke about their war experiences and the crimes Serbs committed against them. The testimonies included a Croatian soldier who witnessed tortures and killings in a Serb-run camp where he was imprisoned, a man who survived after being stabbed with a knife and thrown into a ditch and a Croat woman who was raped.[11]  From Dubrovnik to Pula and back to Slavonia, all medias covered the event but also it represented a new circumstance for highlighting once again the persistent hostility from the Croat side toward the Serb one and vice versa. Before the ending of the protest, the mayor of Vukovar proclaimed that the same event will be organised again next year on the 12th of October and reminded everybody the approaching of the 18th of November, the national day in memory of the Fall of Vukovar.

Question of Identity

Nevertheless, images of the protest in Vukovar were not the only one bombarding all medias that day. In all newspapers and tv news, the second crucial issue that has been mentioned was about the prime minister Andrej Plenković attending the Croatian military exercises in the central Adriatic island of Dugi Otok (Franić, 2018). [12] The Croatian Armed Forces military event represented the most relevant one this year since it consisted in a 72-hour exercise and it involved even 5,500 personnel. Plenković praised all the participants and claimed “I am confident that this operation will show that Croatia, in line with its national security strategy, is capable of effectively protecting its territory and contributing to international peace”.[13]

All these factors highlighted how complex is the root of Croatian nationalism. As a matter of facts, it does not just refer to the strict attitude toward an immediate challenge of nowadays world but, on the contrary, it represents the very starting point from which Croatians have built their own identity and for which they are still not ready to face others’ objections about it. Therefore, issues such as impeding immigration into its territory and blocking the Balkan Route, recall exactly the reflection of more profound wounds involving the whole country: the prolonged impossibility to overcome war memories, which are silently keeping in deepest pain its entire population, and the extreme need to defend fiercely its own fragile identity.

Angelica Vascotto

M.A. in Conflict Resolution in Divided Societies


Government of the Republic of Croatia, (2018, October 14), The Croatian Army has the ability to protect our territory in the most effective way, Central Government Portal, , , , retrieved from:

Franić A, (2018, October 14), Plenković na Dugom Otoku prati najsveobuhvatniju vojnu vježbu,in Jutarnji List journal, , retrieved from:

Patković N., (2018, October 14), Na prosvjedu u Vukovaru puštali snimke potresnih svjedočanstava žrtava ‘Umjesto pravde već 27 godina nam zatvaraju usta’, in Jutarnji List journal, , retrieved from:

Vladisavljević A., (2018, October 10), Croatians Protest ‘Silence’ Over War Crimes Prosecutions in Vukovar, Balkan Transitional Justice Journal, retrieved from:–10-12-2018

Center for Peace Studies,(2018, September) Report on detention of foreigners in the Republic of Croatia, retrieved from:

Croatian Ombudsman, retrieved from:

Hrvatski Pravna Centar, Report: “Letak s informacijama za tražitelje međunarodne zaštite”,retrieved from:

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Armstrong M., (2018, October 31) Concern for Migrants as Tensions Rise and Temperatures Plunge on Bosnia-Croatia Border, retrieved from: :

Mason P., (2016, September 12), Croatia’s elections is a warning about the return of nationalism to the Balkans, retrieved from:

Gellner E, (1983) Nations and Nationalism.Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell,

Pazzanese C., (2017, February 27), In Europe, nationalism rising, in “The Harvard Gazette”, retrieved from:


[1] Christina Pazzanese, In Europe, nationalism rising, February 27th of 2017, in “The Harvard Gazette”, available at:

[2] Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism, Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1983

[3] Paul Mason, Croatia’s election is a warning about the return of nationalism to the Balkans, 2016, available at:

[4] Mark Armstrong, Concern for Migrants as Tensions Rise and Temperatures Plunge on Bosnia-Croatia Border, available at:

[5] Official Gazette, Regulation Book of Interior Affairs, Article 14, 2015, available at:

[6] Hrvatski Pravna Centar, Report: “Letak s informacijama za tražitelje međunarodne zaštite”, available at:

[7] Croatian Ombudsman, 2017, available at:

[8] Center for Peace Studies, “Report on detention of foreigners in the Republic of Croatia”, available at:

[9] Anja Vladisavljević, “Croatians Protest ‘Silence’ Over War Crimes Prosecutions in Vukovar”,–10-12-2018

[10] Nikola Patković, “Na prosvjedu u Vukovaru puštali snimke potresnih svjedočanstava žrtava ‘Umjesto pravde već 27 godina nam zatvaraju usta’, in Jutarnji List journal, 14th of October 2018, available at:

[11] Ibidem

[12] Ana Franić, “Plenković na Dugom Otoku prati najsveobuhvatniju vojnu vježbu” in Jutarnji List journal, 14th of October 2018, available at:

[13] Government of the Republic of Croatia, Central Government Portal, “The Croatian Army has the ability to protect our territory in the most effective way”, 14th of October 2018, available at:

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