Croatian Viewpoint
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Only upon reflection of our lives within an historical context can we learn from our own personal journey, and the pathway of our society. This social/historical reflection is the purpose of autobiography and it offers us a foundation upon which to make more objective judgments. An autobiography, as opposed to a diary or journal, has the potential to challenge politically correct propaganda about our lives, about our personal predicament, and even about our nation's direction.
Whether our personal oral history is directed by an interviewer, or the context is self-imposed, the method used to examine one's life is essentially the same. We do not simply sit back and reflect on the good times, or on the bad times of our life, but rather we ask a set of questions which have an historical perspective. This historical agenda challenges the way in which we reflect upon our personal triumphs and tragedies, or even upon our self-described mundane existence. Unchallenged personal reflection is an egotistical pursuit which merely serves to instill subjective emotions or cultural arrogance.
Ethnocentricity is just as prominent amongst imperialist nationalities as it is amongst historically occupied nationalities. The British and the Croats are the examples with which I am familiar. The perspectives of both ethnic groups need to be challenged because one group has made just as many mistakes as the other.
As imperialist's, the British may be guilty of colonialism, however the willingness of the Croatian migrants to join the colonial experiment, to abandon families, and to migrate to unknown corners of the earth, in hindsight, is arguably just as unethical. After all, imperialists could not have been successful in colonizing the indigenous nations without the willing settlers who came in search of a 'better life'; those settlers who usually wrote fabrications in letters sent home to Europe that they were wealthy and successful, thus encouraging others to follow, unfortunately many to a premature grave. And, the question needs to be asked, whether or not European people would have suffered through two world wars if there had not been a brain drain.
Half a millennium from now the European settlement of the American continents and the South Pacific region will no doubt be seen as the end of the Anglo/American empire, when the cultures there have returned to the indigenous peoples.
I have argued that imperial conquest is one historical context that our life's reflection could be measured against, no matter who we are or where we came from. From that perspective do we see our lives as a positive contribution to world humanity and peace, or are we just innocent bystanders? Is there perhaps a relationship between the emptiness we feel sometimes in our souls, and the fact that our nations are on a negative historical path? How can we justify the actions of our forefathers, or make statements that we have nothing to do with the actions of our great grandparents, calling ourselves innocent victims, or democratic, or even Christian, and defend the 'nobleness' of our race or family when the unintended tragic consequences are scattered all over the pages of history? Genocide was, after all, inflicted on indigenous and aboriginal peoples, but of course 'we' had nothing to do with it. As migrants or the children of migrants, we have all had tragedies or periods of despair in our lives, yet is it not time to consider that this is partly because we have either participated in, or suffered from the inequalities of our cultural tradition of migration.
How much more ethical it could have been to remain in the homeland or closer to it, to lend one's voice to democratic change, perhaps a century earlier, or even a generation ago, or now. Isn't now the time to raise the issue that emigration from Europe to unfamiliar or hostile destinations has left an unsettling legacy behind for the next generation. How ethical is it to argue that our personal, often desperate struggles abroad, can be justified by claiming it is all for children, often not yet born. Yet, what chances have children had in a world without grandparents, in appropriately named nuclear families? What chance do those children have whose lives are supposed to be better-off, when pitted against economic recessions, amidst the ascendancy of indigenous nationalism? The vacuum left behind by our forefathers has left us with a gap in our family history, many unanswered questions, and an inability to grasp either one culture or the other.
Perhaps we all could learn now from the native peoples of the world, whom all of our European forefathers practically disinherited, that it is wrong to justify migration into someone else's homeland on any pretext. Looked at in this context, migration should not be seen as a civilizing mission but rather as an intrinsic feature of imperialism, and the real victims are the original inhabitants of the new world.
It takes two to tango as they say. One group in power may initiate and actively carry out selective migration policies, a century later, but those targeted in Europe for their skills, or for the colour of their skin are also targeted for their lack of historical consciousness. Falling into this category are many Croats who still view migration as a panacea to their individual problems, when in fact the past 200 years of the migration of Croats has contributed to their plight. It is time for individual self-reflection, and to accept the responsibility of building culture, civilization and democracy in Croatia . The building blocks of culture do not consist of one part personal fortune-hunting and one part broken family. In the past there were slaves, perhaps in chains, or slaves to fear. Today however there appears to be slaves to chain migration.
Let us then re-examine our lives from this perspective as we ask the question, what would our life have been like had we not migrated, or had we not been the child of a migrant. Do we have the right to criticize those who settle in our homeland today, whether it be in Croatia, or in parts of Great Britain, when we in fact ourselves have condoned the same settling on someone else's land overseas , even if by our mere compliance.
The outcry is that due to oppression, the Croats for example, had to leave their country. But what of the social oppression experienced by most ordinary people in Great Britain then, the coal mines, the squalor, the civil wars? Was this oppression any less, or was not this oppression even worse than that experienced by Croats? Did running away from the homeland improve the quality of life however for the vast majority of our forefathers, or was there simply more of the same in store for them in the new world - more coal mines, more premature death, more civil wars! Taking a stand at home might have made a difference! Perhaps it is time to learn from the past.
How is it that my life, allegedly so different from the lives of many who read this, leads me to the above conclusions? Firstly, I too am a migrant, and also a child of a migrant. Secondly, the theory of autobiography challenges the historical mythology we grew up with in the classrooms and especially in early Hollywood movies. Whilst politically correct history and philosophy teach us that we are advancing European civilization, autobiographical reflection challenges their selectivity. This challenge was the beginning of a new life journey for me. Now it remains for us to capitalize on this new dialogue between ourselves and history and apply its positive principles in our future endeavours. Decisions were made by us, or often for us, as migrants in the past. Let's not do the same for the next generation - let's at least try to make more informed decisions.
Jean Lunt Marinovic,
February 2003
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