How many Croatia’s are there? The construction of a modern nation state

Text by: Elena Crnalic 11.12.2017

By gaining its independence in 1991, the modern state of Croatia has been forged in conflict and war, which has set its course on fighting for freedom from Communism. With its separation from Yugoslavia, Croatia and its people were able to fully and freely declare their communal identity as ‘Croatians’.  Many saw the death of Yugoslavian leader, Tito as a sign to free themselves and fight for a communal cause. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the modern state of Croatia is a product of the nationalistic ambitions of a Slavic tribe. However, with such strong nationalistic identity, there are currently very distinct divisions present within the Croatian society for beliefs of what the state should be.  Croatia is rich in history. It’s beautiful shores and great geographical positioning has made it popular within the previous great powers of Europe such as Venice, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, Italy and recently Yugoslavia. Borders have shifted many times, altering the social makeup within the territory itself. Borders are easy to change; however, memories and emotions are not. People have a tendency to attach certain meanings and emotions to specific places, as this can result in shaping the conceptions of personal identities and actions (Harvey, 2009, p.170). Such notion of place and identity are still very much present in the modern state of Croatia. This can be seen in the region of Istria where Italian roots still run deep. ‘Yugo-nostalgia’ is still very much present within the modern state of Croatia. It can be said that the contemporary state of Croatia is a product of various past resentments each of the communities hold.

Vodnjan’s folklore uniform (Vodnjan:Na festival Leron devet folklornih skupina,2013.)


With its strong Italian roots, Istria continues to uphold its reputation as the ‘little Italy’. Following World War One and the fall of the Austrian- Hungarian Empire, the Istrian peninsula was ‘gifted’ to the state of Italy causing social demographic change over time in Istria, as well as the rest of Europe. Borders were constantly shifted and new states were created. Istria, which then belonged to Italy, became inhabited by their citizens. Italians brought their beliefs and culture to the peninsula, making the area their home as regions and places are not given, but made (Harvey,2009, p.170). However, this was short lived due to the annexation of Istria in World War Two by Marshal Josip Broz Tito who came out as a winner in his fight against the Italian fascism. Istria then became incorporated into the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia with its social demography changed once more. Unfortunately, many Italians who inhabited the region were forcefully banished and returned to Italy. While Italians continued to live harmoniously within the Yugoslavian borders, they still intended to keep traditions alive, passing them from a generation to a generation. As the communist state of Yugoslavia ceased to exist, Italians were able yet once again to showcase their Italian identity and perform them in the social sphere of every-day life. While the Italian population in Istria is relatively small, their culture is still kept alive through the use of Italian language, schools, newspapers and organizations, making it such an integral part of the Istrian daily life (Gregurovic, Valenta, 2014).  Vodnjan, Croatia, situated 15 kilometers north of Pula embodies this notion. The town is famous for its strong Italian heritage.  The inhabitants identify themselves as ‘Bumbari’ which are famous for performing acts that express their own sense of place and understanding of who they are (Harvey,2009,p. 176). Many of the older generations refuse to learn the Croatian language, even though they have lived in Croatia their whole life. They continue to pass their Italian heritage onto young generations though the town’s folklore dancing and various gatherings of the communities and festivals.

Inscription of ‘TITO’ visible from air next to a highway in Croatia. (Zahvalni su Titu: ‘Mi čuvamo Josipa Broza od 1946. godine’, 2016)


While the Croatian statistic of 2011 showcases 331 citizens who consider themselves as Yugoslavian, the number of such identification in the private sphere is much greater (Croatian Census 2011). Census and statistics do not tell us much about what Yugoslav means to people who identify themselves as Yugoslavians, both officially and unofficially (Willmer,2002). For many people being a ‘Yugoslav’ is providing an identity in a way that ethnic one cannot (Willmer,2002). During his research on the social construction of the ‘Man, State and War’, Willimer was able to conduct official interviews and gain an insightful knowledge of the post war Croatia as well as various proclamations by the public of their ‘Yugoslavian’ identity. Such, subsequently showcases reasoning for their resilient feelings of such and views of a Croatia, a modern nation state not divided by ethnicities, but a strong, inclusive and diverse state. Such is present in the statement given by of the participants who stated: “Yugoslavia was a place where people who are different could live together as neighbors” (Willimer,2002). There was no clear separation of ethnicity during existence of the Socialistic Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The feelings of “Yugo-nostalgia” are still omnipresent within contemporary Croatia throughout older and present generations residing in Croatia. Such notion is becoming more popular amongst the Croatian youth, which have no recollection of what life in SFRY was like, only speculations. It has been said that the younger generations within Croatia are carrying a burden imposed to them by the ethical conflict and division within the borders of the Former Yugoslavian Republic. Consequently, such is re-enforcing the ‘yugo-nostalgia’ within the Croatian youth and their hope for an economically stronger and ethnically free Croatia. The old Yugoslavian slogan of ‘Bratstvo i Jedinstvo’ (brotherhood and unity) is still being kept alive through the solidarity present within the society. Unfortunately, many fear that such solidarity is slowly subsiding and therefore, the modern state of Croatia needs to uphold and re-enforce such.

The presence of ‘Yugoslavinism’ has been suppressed by the Croatian government post the war for the independence as ‘communism’ is seen as a threat to the state and the society. Recently, the President of Croatia Kolinda Grabar- Kitarovic, has taken it upon herself to erase the name of Josip Broz Tito from the communal sphere. Such includes renaming the streets and local city squares which held his name and removal of his statue form the president’s office. Yet again, in various places around Croatia, the signs of communism and the public’s loyalty to Tito is still very much visible and present. On the houses and private properties, Yugoslavian slogans are visible (see figure 2) with their inhabitants refusing to give up on their identity and thus their view of an open, unified and nationalistic free Croatia. With the death of Marshal Josip Broz Tito, years long suppression of nationalism came back to the spotlight. The rise and creation of nationalist political parties all across former Yugoslavia came as a sign of a dissolution of ‘brotherhood and unity’. Henceforth, a strong reinforcement of the Croatian ethnicity became more popular across Croatia. Various historians would argue that the rise of nationalism and imposition of it on the peoples of Croatia came from a long-lasting suppression of Croatian identity.


When looking at Croatia as a ‘modern’ nation state, it would be hard to look past the deep-rooted nationalism which is present within the society today. Unfortunately, such nationalism which has been deeply institutionalized, is being performed and carried onto younger generations. Consequently, this reinforces Willimer’s idea of national and ethnic identities considered as narrative practices (Willimer,2002). Carried out through family and regional history and practices, Croatian nationalism was always omnipresent. As decades passed, nationalism started to subside, yet again, it’s presence continues to be felt and carried out within the contemporary society of Croatia. Nationalists and those who freely declare themselves as such, are not shy in expressing their views of a modern state of Croatia, ethnically Croatian. Such is showcased through discrimination of various immigrants. Racist remarks towards Bosnian Muslims, Serbian Orthodox, the Romas and asylum seekers are constantly projected and enforced. It must be noted that a deep sense of ‘Croatiness’ continues to be reinforced through religion and church. Religious conversions do conceal authentic ethnic identity (Willimer,2002). A famous saying of ‘God and Croatians’ became a symbol for Catholics of Croatia. It must be noted that during the war, Yugoslavia was divided both ethnically and religiously with Croatians being identified as Catholics. Consequently, Croatian identity is deeply intertwined with that of religious. Nation state does depend on the existence of the network of symbolic places, such as in this instance religious, through which they can secure their power and express social meanings (Harvey,2009, p.180).


Gregurovic,S., & Valenta,M.(2014). Ethnic groups and a dynamic of boundary making among co-ethnics: An experience from Croatian Istria. Ethnicities, 15(3), 414-439. Doi:10.117/1468796814529551

Harvey,D. (2009). Cosmopolitanism and the geographies of freedom. (pp.166-201). New York: Columbia University Press.

Hrvatski Census. (2011). Stanovnistvo prema narodnosti.Detaljna Kvalifikacija. Retrieved from

Istarski antifasisticki grafiti [Image] (2017, August 20). Retrieved November 12, 2017, from

Vodnjan:Na festival Leron devet folklornih skupina [Image] (2013,August 24). Retrieved November 12, 2017, from

Willmer,F. (2002). “The social construction of a man, the state and war: identity, conflict, and violence in former Yugoslavia”. Retrieved from

Zahvalni su Titu:’Mi cuvamo Jospia Broza od 1946.godine’ [Image] (2016, November 11). Retrieved November 12, 2017, from