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 »  Home  »  Science  »  James J. Sadkovich's monograph "Tudjman, the first political biography"
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James J. Sadkovich's monograph "Tudjman, the first political biography"
By Julienne Busic | Published  12/11/2010 | Science , Politics , History | Unrated
Tudjman's most important legacy is Croatia


James J. Sadkovich, author of the first political biography of Franjo Tuđman


Front cover of the monograph by James J. Sadkovich

 
Interview with James Sadkovich, author of the recently released book, “Tudjman:  prva politička biografija (Večernji edicija, 2010)

"If not for President Tudjman, there would be no independent state of Croatia!"

Interview by Julienne Eden Bušić

Q: It’s hard to believe it’s taken so long for the first political biography of the first Croatian president, Franjo Tudjman, to be published, almost 20 years after Croatia achieved independence under his leadership.  When was the book actually written and what was your impetus for writing it?

Sadkovich:  I began the project in 2004 while on a six-month appointment as a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. I hoped to do a quick survey of Franjo Tuđman’s published writings to see whether they jibed with his public image. I was not sure of what I would find; I just wanted a better idea of who he had been. But a quick survey of his writings was not possible; there were just too many pages to read in six months. So I continued to read after I left the Wilson Center, and as I read, I began to write. By the end of 2006, the manuscript was complete enough to submit to the Woodrow Wilson Center Press.

Q: Has it been published yet in English?

Sadkovich: No. The Woodrow Wilson Center Press sent it to two reviewers, and then to a third because the first two could not agree on whether it should be published. Because the third review was negative, the press rejected the manuscript. I have tried to interest other university presses in the United States and the United Kingdom in the manuscript, but with no success. Why this should be the case, I do not know, but I suspect that it might be because Croatia is a small country. I had similar difficulties interesting university presses in my work on the Italian navy. One editor even told me that had I been studying the German navy, he would have been interested, but the Italian navy was marginal and nobody would buy a book on it. I suspect similar attitudes are at work with regard to Tuđman. Certainly, most people in the United States and the United Kingdom believe that Milošević and Serbia were more important than Tuđman and Croatia.

Q: You wrote an exhaustive study about the American media’s role during the Homeland War, “The U.S. Media and Yugoslavia, 1991-1995”, how they framed the conflict, and how the reports were often tailored to conform to higher political agendas.  Do you think the same thing has happened in regard to Franjo Tudjman, and the negative image held of him in certain U.S. media and political circles?  And, I might add, Tito’s image as well, which remains for the most part untarnished in the Western media, in spite of his widely-known role in mass executions, imprisonments, assassinations, and so forth?  Were they both “invented” by the U.S. media?

Sadkovich:  My research suggested that journalists read scholarly books and seek information from a variety of experts, including scholars, and even when they do not, what is published in scholarly venues and taught at universities tends to shape the minds of a country’s elites. I would say that the scholarly and the popular media shaped Tuđman’s image both abroad and in Croatia, with more than a little help from diplomats, politicians, statesmen, and bureaucrats, including those working for NGOs.  So there are several questions that one might ask about how Tuđman’s image was formed. Which politicians, experts, diplomats, bureaucrats, statesmen, experts, and scholars did journalists consult regarding Tuđman? Who appeared on TV and radio talk shows to discuss him? Which books did journalists and policy-makers read? What were the required readings in college courses on Eastern Europe and Yugoslavia? And so on.

To have access to influential publications is to shape opinion, and during the early 1990s, Croatian leaders and spokesmen had relatively little access to the top echelons of government and the most influential publications. In addition, many diplomats who influenced policy in the United States had been posted to Belgrade, not to Zagreb. I can only speculate regarding the effect of spending time in the Serbian rather than the Croatian capital because those American diplomats and journalists that I contacted refused to talk with me. However, I suspect that where diplomats are posted makes a difference, given what I know of Italian diplomats during the 1920s and 1930s. Those based in Belgrade tended to reflect opinions current in the Yugoslav capital, while those posted to Zagreb tended to relay information from the Croatian opposition. Something similar appears to have influenced how people viewed Tuđman.

For many people, Tuđman was the embodiment of nationalism, the fashionable evil of the late 1990s, a decade imbued with a multicultural ethos and a bias in favor of multinational business, multinational organizations, and “diversity.” Tito was the embodiment of “good” communism from the mid 1940s to the late 1970s, a period in which people were looking for a way to avoid nuclear war in a polarized world. He had fought with the Allies as the leader of the Partisans, and he had severed his ties with Stalin’s Russia in 1948. He then helped to launch the non-aligned movement in the 1950s, he purged Ranković and the other hard-liners during the 1960s, and he brought an economic miracle and lots of tourists to Yugoslavia during the 1970s. He had advocates in the West who praised him mightily, and with good reason if one compared Yugoslavia to Hoxha’s Albania, Mao’s China, or Stalin’s Russia.

Once formed, of course, an image is difficult to change. This is as true of Tuđman as it is of Tito. Tuđman’s image was that of a hard-line nationalist and a racist who destroyed the multicultural paradise of Yugoslavia; as Milošević’s evil twin, he supposedly connived to start a war so he could expel Croatia’s Serbs. Preoccupied with symbols, he donned outrageous costumes and lectured diplomats on history. He was not, of course, the embodiment of evil, just a Croatian patriot doing his best to defend his country. But he was a modern man in a postmodern world and many found him not only odd but also arrogant and annoying. By 1992 or so his image was firmly embedded in the imagination of scholars and journalists, and the Croat-Muslim war confirmed it, even though from what I have read he appears to have done his best to avoid conflict with the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Q: A lot of revisionism has been occurring lately; most recently, the formal admission by the Russians that the Katyn massacre of 20,000 Polish officers was committed not by the Germans, but by the Soviets. Do you believe in time that Tudjman’s historical role, often misrepresented and distorted, will be revised by future historians?  On what does this depend, in your view? Kissinger did tell President Tudjman at one point, as I recall, that his historical significance would certainly be acknowledged, but not before a significant passage of time.

Sadkovich:  I wish I knew! Historians are wonderful at dissecting the past and interviewing the dead. We have a more difficult time talking with the living and foreseeing what they will make of the future. This is as true of our relations with each other as it is of our relations with those in power. What any given historian will write is unpredictable, as is the next fashionable methodology or theory. At the moment, multiculturalism, postmodernism, and related research programs dominate academe, but their influence will wane over time. When I was younger, psycho-history, cliometrics (quantitative methods), social history, and cultural history (as practiced by people like Pieter Geyl and George Mosse) were all the rage. What the historical guild will do in future I do not know. I do know that once a dominant interpretation is firmly embedded in mainstream historiography, it is very difficult to modify or dislodge.

The consolidation of a methodology and the interpretations associated with it is what Thomas Kuhn refers to as a paradigm. Paradigms tend to “shift” in the physical sciences because questions arise that the paradigm cannot answer, but this is not the case in history, in part because the hierarchical system in universities tends to create schools of scholars with a vested interest in a particular interpretation or methodology, and they just ignore inconvenient questions. Historians also work with an enormous number of variables that can lead to differing interpretations; they do not conduct replicable experiments. We cannot therefore ‘test’ a theory. Instead, we offer “arguments” based on the available data. Because there are so many variables and because our experience is different from that of the people we are studying, it is easy to fall into the trap of arguing that all historical interpretations are just a tangle of competing narratives and to entrench oneself in one’s own paradigm and erect formidable intellectual defenses around it. This has certainly happened with regard to Tuđman. Whether the paradigm regarding him will “shift” in future I do not know. My guess is that it will simply be flanked by other paradigms.   

Q: Long ago, I wrote an analysis of the reception in some circles of President Tudjman’s “Horrors of War”, and found that it was apparently acceptable for Jewish historians to use the same historical data he did, and reach the same conclusions, but it was not acceptable for him to do so, or even to quote the Jewish historians.  This was very frustrating to him, and he often emphasized to me that he was concerned solely with historical facts and had no agenda.  Do you agree that nowadays, in our postmodern and post post modern era, history is often just a matter of opinion, a victim of political correctness?

Sadkovich:  Many people believe that it is impossible to choose among "competing narratives" and they give in to the temptation to see all interpretations as equal, a surrender that makes it impossible to discern scholarship from polemics and history from fable. For them, history has no meaning other than that embedded in a given narrative. And yet, as Franjo Tudjman learned, some narratives are not true and need to be corrected, while others are proprietary and outsiders discuss them at their peril. But if scholars cannot discuss controversial topics, what should they discuss? And if all narratives are equally true or false, why bother discussing them at all? Franjo Tudjman was convinced that it was essential for all peoples to understand their respective pasts, without benefit of myths and falsifications and that honest histories make for healthier societies.

Q: By the way, did you ever actually meet President Tudjman and, if so, what was your impression of him? Did he share information with you that you later used in this book?

Sadkovich: I began to research his life only in 2004, too late to meet him. However, his son Miroslav was kind enough to talk with me about his father and about Croatia. Several other people who knew Tuđman well and had worked closely with him were also very generous with their time and they have helped me to form a more complete picture of him. Thanks to an IREX grant, I was able to talk at length with many of these people and to discuss Tuđman with the scholars at the HIP, whose library and archives I also consulted. I have also discussed the project with a variety of scholars over the past six years, and I have read a good deal. All of this has made it possible to write about him, but I must admit that I wish I had begun the project a decade earlier so that I could have interviewed him in person.




Q: Long ago, I wrote an analysis of the reception in some circles of President Tudjman’s “Horrors of War”, and found that it was apparently acceptable for Jewish historians to use the same historical data he did, and reach the same conclusions, but it was not acceptable for him to do so, or even to quote the Jewish historians.  This was very frustrating to him, and he often emphasized to me that he was concerned solely with historical facts and had no agenda.  Do you agree that nowadays, in our postmodern and post post modern era, history is often just a matter of opinion, a victim of political correctness?

Sadkovich: Many people believe that it is impossible to choose among "competing narratives" and they give in to the temptation to see all interpretations as equal, a surrender that makes it impossible to discern scholarship from polemics and history from fable. For them, history has no meaning other than that embedded in a given narrative. And yet, as Franjo Tudjman learned, some narratives are not true and need to be corrected, while others are proprietary and outsiders discuss them at their peril. But if scholars cannot discuss controversial topics, what should they discuss? And if all narratives are equally true or false, why bother discussing them at all? Franjo Tudjman was convinced that it was essential for all peoples to understand their respective pasts, without benefit of myths and falsifications and that honest histories make for healthier societies.

Q: December 10, 2010, was the ten -year-anniversary of President Tudjman’s death.  What do you, as an historian and the author of the first political biography of the “Father of the Country”, feel is his most important legacy?

Sadkovich: Croatia!
Initially, I dismissed the idea that he was the father of his country, but at this point I am inclined to believe that without Franjo Tuđman, there would be no independent state of Croatia. Tuđman was, to borrow a term from Sidney Hook, an “event-making” person who shaped events; he did not simply ride the waves of history. Why I believe this to have been the case is a subject for another book, since this one covers only the years prior to 1989. However, I believe that it is important to try to understand something of what he thought and did before he became president of Croatia because he did not begin his life in 1990.



James J. Sadkovich is an independent scholar who holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A former Fulbright scholar and J.M. Olin fellow in strategic and military studies, he is the author of various works on Croatian and Italian history, including La Marina Italiana nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale (Libreria Editrice Goriziana, 2006); The US Media and Yugoslavia, 1991-1995 (Praeger, 1998); and Italija i Ustaše 1927.-1937. (Golden Marketing, 2010). He completed the initial research for Franjo Tuđman: Prva politička biografia (Večernji edicija, 2010) while a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.


 
Contents of the monograph by James J. Sadkovich: Tuđman, prva politička biografija, Zagreb 2010.

PREDGOVOR

Osobna napomena o motivaciji, izvorima i metodologiji

UVOD

Suprotstavljeni tabori
Tko je bio Franjo Tuđman?
Koga je briga što je Tuđman napisao?

1. POGLAVLJE: JUGOSLAVIJA, 1922.-1960.
Zagorje
Zagreb
Rat
Beograd

2. POGLAVLJE: DIREKTOR, 1961.-1964.
Zagreb
Institut
Zabadalo: Kritika Beograda i rječkanje s Bakarićem
Pucnji upozorenja

3. POGLAVLJE: POD OPSADOM
Predavanja u Splitu i Karlovcu
Ugled
Gospodarske reforme i političke čistke
Plagijat i politika
Amerika
Dijalekti i jezici
Izbacivanje

4. POGLAVLJE: ILUZIJA REFORME, 1968.-1972.
Umirovljenje
Hrvatsko proljeće
Stvarnosti jeseni
Zima
Zatvor

5. POGLAVLJE: DISIDENT, 1973.-1984.
Samoupravni radnički raj
Zatočenik
Kratka ekskurzija u inozemstvo
Poslije Tita

6. POGLAVLJE: NACIONALIST, 1984.-1989.
Nacionalno pitanje
Politička emigracija, iseljenici i povijest
Srpski radikalizam
Bespuća

7. POGLAVLJE: POVJESNIČAR
Uporabe povijesti
Povijest kao osobni identitet
Povijest kao objava

8. POGLAVLJE: TUĐMANOVA JUGOSLAVIJA
Nadnacionalne ideologije
Politike novog kursa i srpsko-hrvatski odnosi
Prvi svjetski rat i ujedinjenje
Srpska hegemonija i narodni otpor
Narodnooslobodilački pokret u Hrvatskoj
Jasenovac, ratne žrtve, ustaše, NDH i kolektivna krivnja

9. POGLAVLJE: EPILOG
Autoritarne ostavštine, optužnice i nacionalne težnje
Bilateralni sastanci, zavjere i pitanja bez zadovoljavajućih odgovora
Povijest, teorija i postmodernizam
Tuđmanov mentalitet, autoritarna naslijeđa i lojalna oporba
Važnost Tuđmanova intelektualna razvitka
Pojam zajedničkoga zločinačkog pothvata
Banovina Hrvatska, Herceg-Bosna i Bosanska Posavina
Neki provizorni odgovori na neka teška pitanja
Dojam u inozemstvu


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Comments
  • Comment #1 (Posted by Mladen Ibler MD)

    I met Franjo Tuðman accidetally in Zagreb 1994 and several times later.
    My memories have been published in Hrvatski iseljenièki Zbornik 2010.
    In interview given by James Sadkovich I recognize my own opinion as well opinion expressed by Folmer Wisti of Denmark in 1999.
     
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