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» (E) Mestrovic seeking divine relief from earthly agony
|(E) Mestrovic seeking divine relief from earthly agony
|By Nenad N. Bach |
(E) Mestrovic seeking divine relief from earthly agony
Nationalism in Split, Croatia
by Christian Hummel
Robert Kaplan's praised (and despised) Balkan Ghosts considers the region
through the eyes of a well-informed traveler. Rather than merely reporting
what he sees or writing tales of the places he visits, in this book, as in
his others, Kaplan attempts to map the dynamics at work today and the future
processes. To account for Croatian nationalism, for example, Kaplan turns to
the stories of two bishops, demonstrating the links between Croatian
identity and the Catholic Church. While the two are often deemed synonymous,
Kaplan only weakly brings the two together. His biggest problem was that he
went to Zagreb in search of nationalism. He should have gone to Split.
Split is the second largest city in Croatia, although its population is only
a quarter of Zagreb's. Located on the Dalmatian coast, the city has always
drawn its share of visitors. Having divided the Roman Empire, Diocletian
built a palace and camped out in Split for the remainder of his days. The
town's history is a veritable "who's who" of Mediterranean conquerors, with
the Greeks, Romans, Slavs, Venetians, Turks, French, Italians, and Serbs all
having overrun the place in the last 2000 or so years.
Split's archaeological museum, like the ruins of the Roman town of Salona
just outside the city, is a tribute to Franjo Bulic, the dean of Croatian
archaeology. The museum itself consists of a fairly straightforward display
of items from across the ages, while, outside, spectacular monuments are
arranged unobtrusively and so largely unnoticed by visitors.
Although the archaeological museum and its accompanying ruins are among the
better of the Adriatic, the best museum in Eastern Europe must surely be the
Ivan Mestrovic Gallery. And, while ancient ruins are nice, the true story of
Split is to be found beyond Diocletian and his palace.
Ivan Mestrovic was a 20th century sculptor, whose works can be viewed in
such diverse weave's as Chicago's Grant Park, in front of the United Nations
building in New York, and all throughout Croatia.
The development of Mestrovic's style is historically illuminating; it
chronicles the decline of the Austro-Hungarian state and the rise in the
aspirations for independence of the south Slavic peoples.
Mestrovic trained in Vienna and his initial works display a strong emphasis
of classical styles. His subjects are the characters of Greco-Roman
mythology and generally lack any originality or excitement. Later, though,
his sculptures develop a unique character. Mestrovic embraced curved shapes,
conveying alternately a sense of motion or one of stillness and
contemplation. Consistently though, the sculptures of this period are of
figures with their heads bowed submissively. This aspect, present in works
like "Contemplation" or "The History of Croatia," lasted until the outbreak
of World War II. In the 1940's Mestrovic embraced a fascination with
religious figures that would persist for the rest of his career.
Among the many striking works of his later career, "Job," dated 1946, best
reflects his connecting of religion and Balkan politics. Mestrovic's
tortured Old Testament figure comments on the war and Croatia's fate in the
new Yugoslavia. No longer submissive, his figures gaze upward, seeking
divine relief from earthly agony.
Mestrovic is clearly an important figure. His career is reminiscent to those
of other important figures in Croatian history, such as Bishop Strossmayer.
Strossmayer was educated in Vienna but rejected the control of the
Austro-Hungarian Empire over the South Slavs. He was disappointed by the
problems of the first Yugoslavia, created after World War I, as the
ambitions of the Croats were relegated, in his eyes, to the dominating
interests of the Serbs. Ultimately, he left Yugoslavia and settled in the
United States, teaching at Syracuse and Notre Dame.
Split remains a stronghold of nationalist sentiment.
Walking towards town center, my friend and I noticed a group of people
gathered in front of the Franciscan monastery holding large banners. The
largest sign read "Hungry for Justice," and it was clear that a hunger
strike was underway. Smaller signs mentioned indicted war criminals and
Operations Storm and Flash. The strikers themselves were large men, for whom
a few days without food might prove beneficial. They gathered in the shade
of the monastery, juice boxes and water bottle's in hand, and lit candles
The next day, the striking men all donned identical hats: ballcaps with a
checkerboard red and white design and HRVATSKA written on the back. The men
were cheerful and determined. On the final day of my stay, things changed.
A huge crowd had gathered in front of the men; something was afoot.
I meandered over to see the Bishop of Split talking to the strikers in front of
cameras from local media outlets. Later, I learned that he had asked the strikers to
leave the monastery's premises. He did, however, give them books and a crucifix.
Voting patterns also indicate a strong nationalist bent in Dalmatia. The
HDZ's biggest stronghold is Dalmatia. That party controls most county and
municipal governments in the area. I suspect there are several reasons for
this pattern, because, historically, Dalmatia was never considered a part of
Croatia proper until recently. First, the borders of Dalmatia include much more
than the coast. In the hinterlands above the coast, the small, scattered population is almost
entirely nationalist. Many served on the front-lines during the war. This
did not make them sympathetic to weaker politics.
Second, the influx of refugees into the cities is a factor. Related to the
point above, Split and the other large cities saw an influx of the
displaced, not only from within Croatia, but from Herzegovina as well. This
population movement skewed the political demographics to the right.
Not that I have any problem with right-wing politics. It's just violent
nationalists I distrust.
Mr. Hummel is a graduate of the College and a Fulbright Scholar Studying in Croatia.
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