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Reading a wonderful book, Beautiful Souls:Saying No, Breaking Ranks and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times, by Eyal Press, I ran across references to Lavenka Drakulic, a Croatian journalist and author.  Her spare, anti-romantic take on the wars of the Yugoslav dissolution seem the right antidote to the typical nationalist support for war churned out everywhere at all times by ‘objective sources.”  Here is an excerpt from “My Father’s Pistol,” dated Zagreb, July 1991 [Two months before armed warfare came to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.)

I hesitate to use the word war, which has recently become tamed and domesticated in our vocabulary like a domestic animal, almost a pet.  It reminds me of typical Yugoslav movies from the fifties and sixties, war movies about Tito’s partisans like ‘Kozara’ of ‘Sutjeska’ where the most famous battles against the Germans were fought.  Our post war generation was raised on this sort of movie, on the cliche of blond, cold-eyed cruel German Gestapo officers or soldiers, of bloothirsty troops from the Serbian ex-royale army, the Chetniks, or of savage Croat Nazis, the Ustashe.  On the other side were the brave, intelligent, humane partisans, always victorious, shouting ‘Hurrah, comrades!’ in the mass battle scenes.

But war is not a single act, it is a state of facts and minds, a head spinning spiral of events and a gradual process of realization… War is a process: we in Yugoslavia are now witnessing this.  That is why it is hard to say when it started, who started it and who exactly is the enemy… On the one hand, it is clear that the beginning is rooted in political plans and concepts that preceded the war, as well as the readiness of the people to accept measures that would give rise to nationalist tendencies, for example the treatment of the Serbian minority by the new Croatian government before they started causing real problems

If there is an any reason at all behind the historical animosities dividing the Yugoslav nations, it is that this society never had a proper chance to become a society not of oppressed peoples, but of citizens, of self-aware individuals with developed democratic institutions within which to work out our difference, conflicts and changes and instead of by war.  Continuing to live with the same kind of totalitarian government, ideology and yet untransformed minds, is seems the people were unable to shoulder the responsibility for what was coming — or to stop it.  War therefore came upon us like some sort of natural calamity, like the plague or a flood, inevitable, our destiny.”

In another essay she describes what it is like to be “Overcome by Nationhoood.” [Zagreb, January 1992]

Some of my foreign friends from [earlier times] cannot understand that they and I have less and less in common now.  I am living in a country that has had six bloody months of war, and it is hard for them to understand that being Croat has become my destiny.  How can I explain to them that in this war I am defined by my nationality, and by it alone?  There is another thing that is even harder to explain — the way the awareness of my nationality , because of my past, came to me in a negative way.  I had fought against treating nationality as a main criterion by which to judge human beings; I tried to see the people behind the label; I kept open the possibility of dialogue with my friends and colleagues in Serbia even after all the telephone lines and roads had been cut off and one-third of Croatian occupied and bombed.  I resisted coming to terms with the fact that in Croatia it is difficult to be the kind of person who says, ‘Yes, I am Croat, but…”

In the end, none of that helped me.  Along with millions of other Croats, I was pinned to the wall of nationhood–not only by outside pressure from Serbia and the Federal Army but by the national homogenization within Croatia itself.  That is was the war is doing to us, reducing us to one dimension: the Nation… I can only regret that awareness of my nationhood came to me in the form of punishment of the nation I belong to, in the form of death, destruction, suffering and — worst– fear of dying.  I feel as an orphan does, the war having robbed me of the only real possession I had acquired in my life, my individuality.”

Change a few words, say Nation to Faith, and these paragraphs could have been written about Egypt, Syria or any of many areas trying to shed the cocoon of dictatorship and find a way other than the fire of differences.

As she says in a 2009 interview, nationalist propaganda had prepared the way to war for five years or so:

In Yugoslavia at that time, in 1989, for several years there had been a series of nationalist mass manifestations, especially in Serbia. The so-called ”hate speech” was at its peak. Mass media were reduced to propaganda machines, spreading nationalism like a fire. The fact is that you first need to psychologically prepare people for the war. I know that from the outside it looked as if wars [in Croatia and Bosnia] happened overnight. But that is not true – preparations were going on for at least five years.

Drakulic has written for the Nation magazine in the US, the Guardian in the UK as well as authoring many books, fiction and non-fiction. A film title “As If I am Not There,” has been made of her 1999 novel, “S – A Novel About the Balkans.” [Listed but not yet available at Netflix]