Slovenia vs. Croatia As Seen By Boris Dežulović

Boris Dežulović is a brilliant journalist from coastal town of Split, Croatia, who always has a healthily cinycal perspective on things. When relations between Slovenia and Croatia really soured almost a year ago, he offered this witty perspective (in Croatian):

While this has to do with a particular border incident, please feel free to apply it to the entire scope of Slovene-Croatian relations.

Never in the last 15 years have Slovene Croat relations been more tense than these days. From the Bay of Piran and the River Dragonja the frontline has shifted to north-east near border crossing Hotiza on the River Mura, where the two countries have yet to draw an exact border.

It all began when Croats began building a levee in the disputed area. Slovene police have ordered the work to stop, Croatian police arrested Slovene journalists and immediately the banks of Mura and the forests surrounding it were teeming with Slovene and Croatian special police forces.

Slovenia and Croatia have thus found themselves in each other’s crosshairs, the fragile peace on Mura is approaching near bursting point of short policemen’s nerves, but even today, when an agreement [between Janša and Sanader] was reached at Otočec, noone really knows what Slovenes and Croatians are fighting about in the land and on the seas.

In the long history – especially contemporaty history – of the Balkan wars, it was always known why people were fighting: Slovenes, Croats, Bosnians and Albanians have fought with Serbs because they were attacked. Serbs have, on the other hand, fought Slovenes to save the Great Yugoslavia, they’ve fought Croatians to save Little Yugoslavia, they’ve fought Bosnians to save Great Serbia and they’ve fought Albanians to save Little Serbia. Montenegrins, however, have fought because of kitchen appliances.

These Balkan wars were more or less pointless, but they did have – what we were taught in school is called – causes and pretexts. And when a journalist would stumble upon a soldier hidden in the bushes, the latter would at least be able to tell him what he is fighting for, no matter how stupid the answer would have been.

Only in a conflict between Slovenes and Croats this question has no answer. Neither side has anything to gain in this conflict, their stupid little war has no point, no cause and no pretext.

If you asked an average Slovene or an average Croat why a new frontline has been opened, you’d be surprised to find out that no one has a clue as to what Slovenes and Croats are actually arguing about. Again. Except for the fact that both Slovenes and Croats know that – whatever it is that is – the other side is to blame.

But – as usual – the whole matter is so simple it hurts. The River Mura, a natural barrier between Slovenia and Croatia has changed its flow slightly to the south as a result of great floods some thirty years ago. Thus, on the »West Bank«, where the river used to flow, there is some Croatian owned real estate. And there you go: The same approach which Slovenes use in laying their claims on the River Dragonja, now works against them on the River Mura. And the approach, which Croatians use on the River Mura works against them on the River Dragonja.

In the media war, however, it’s all same old, same old: Slovene papers scream in big fat titles about »a resolute Slovenian response«, whereas Croatian papers write of nothing less than of »Slovene occupation«. Thus, Croats read about Slovene inspection teams stopping the works on the levees, but the papers omit the fact that Croatian workers have also destroyed forests privately owned by Slovenes. On the other side, Slovenes read about Croatians illegally building on no-man’s-land, but the papers omit the fact that this particular levee would also protect Slovene territory. Media report only half-truths, so one should follow media on both sides of the border to get a complete picture. But the problem is that Croats pretend not to understand Slovene, and Slovenes pretend not to understand Croatian.

And everything is like it was in the good old days. Journalists are being arrested, police special forces have each other in the cross hairs, helicopters are screaming over the sky, even the roads are (as per custom in this part of the world) blocked by fallen trees. Politicians are calling for calm and war-reporters are digging in. And everyone is waiting when in the bushes someone will find that scared soldier, who will squeeze the entire history of this war in one, legendary sentence: »They, like, want to build a levee, and we, like, don’t let them.«

Sorry it took so long to post, but there was a lot of text to translate….

UPDATE (re: alcessa‘s firs comment): Apparently this is another case of life imitating art imitating life…. Sheesh…

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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.

15 thoughts on “Slovenia vs. Croatia As Seen By Boris Dežulović”

  1. This guy is brilliant! His writing makes me forget about pretending not to understand the language 😉 I still don’t get the “bela tehnika” bit, but I’m sure it’ll come to me sooner or later.

  2. Phew… that was one helluva job. I’ve been translating it until 10 minutes ago.. I’m not sure I captured the sarcarsm of Mr. Dežulović. I hope he doesn’t mind the translation.

    @dr. filomena: Re: Bela tehnika/kitchen appliances. It’s a rather smart comment – from several points of view:

    1) Crna Gora (Montenegro), bela tehnika (lterally, white technics)

    2) The fact that smuggling and contrabant is the dominant activity in Montenegro

    3) The fact that it’s pointless – like Montenegrins’ participation in the war.

    I only got it after listening to it several times 😀

  3. Interesting. And here I was yesterday, coincidentally bumping into a Croatian girl with whom I had a – albeit very brief – discussion about the border dispute. On the other hand, she taught me how to say ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’ in Croatian, which I then promptly forgot. 😀

  4. @alcessa: And so he was… Post dully updated, of course 😀

    Ah, Croatian “newspeak”, yes… The limitless source of flacid jokes 😈

  5. @ARF: Snow White, huh? Are you sure you weren’t talking about a special type of weed? 😉

    BTW: it’s “Sneguljica i sedam patuljaka”…

  6. The weed type is actually called White Widow and its THC level is bordering on hard drug territory. Trust me, I know (another thing of my sordid past :P)…

  7. PS: although I’m not yet sure how it all fits into the big picture, I have been informed that Montenegro produces or at leased used to produce (?) kitchen appliances en masse in a factory called Obodin. Which, apparently, is an acronym for: O Blažo, obezbedi devize inače nadrljali smo. Just another piece of worthless info, waiting for its turn to come in handy 😉

  8. I did some more checking in Wikipedia: it turns out Borogravia was meant to resemble Jugoslavia, after all. There is much talk in the book about Zlobenia wanting to catch up with and participate in general progress and welfare as experienced in the more important parts of the Discworld and so on.

    In other words: this part of the world has some well-known, typical characteristics that could be dealt with constructively, if we weren’t so busy causing problems for no reason. Somehow, Mr. Dezulovic is right.

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