Yesterday at my internship, one of my supervisors wandered into the office and pointed at a strange cardboard cutout near the door. “Do you know him?” he asked me. I looked at the strange outline of a man riding a horse (plus a real scarf that had been placed around his neck). “I don’t think so…” I cautiously answered, wondering where this conversation would lead.
He immediately launched into explanation, saying that the cutout was Croatia’s first president, Franjo Tudjman. There are currently plans to memorialize Tudjman by erecting a 3.5 meter tall statue in Zagreb, in which he will be depicted as a hero, my supervisor told me.
At this point, the entire office jumped into the conversation. My coworkers leaked into the room (I literally did not know all of them were in the office), and suddenly I was surrounded by people speaking in bursts of passion. They said Tudjman was not in fact a hero, but rather an antisemitic, racist, communist leader. Their voices overlapped one another as they collectively explained that the cardboard cutout was their own version of what his statue should truly be: not a hero but instead a man on a horse, arm outstretched and pointing, presumably giving some sort of harsh command.
Although the conversation had a comical air the entire time – everyone was laughing about the ridiculousness of his real statue versus their own – I was struck by the darkness at the core of the moment. Even though Croatia outwardly seems to be leaving the worst part of its history behind, the government is still trying to control perceptions of the past. I worry that their efforts to enforce specific perceptions does not speak optimistically about the future of this democracy.