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 »  Home  »  Media Watch  »  (E) Mestrovic seeking divine relief from earthly agony
(E) Mestrovic seeking divine relief from earthly agony
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  03/19/2002 | Media Watch | Unrated
(E) Mestrovic seeking divine relief from earthly agony
 
 
http://www.dartreview.com/issues/2.4.02/split.html 
 
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 
around themselves. 
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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