Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Currency Is an Insult to Croatia's Serbs

ZAGREB, Croatia -- Almost three years after declaring its independence from what was Yugoslavia, Croatia will introduce a new currency. Farewell to the Croatian dinar, and hello to the kuna. But should we really be welcoming the kuna? If you look up "kuna" in a good dictionary, you will learn that the word translates as "marten," a furry animal, similar to a weasel, that inhabits Croatian forests. You will also learn that "kuna" was the name of the currency of the Nazi puppet state of Croatia during World War Two. This state systematically slaughtered Serbs, Jews and Gypsies between 1941 and 1945, and memories of the killings were one of the factors behind the outbreak of the Serb-Croat war in June 1991. It is difficult to fathom why the Croatian state -- which, in essence, means President Franjo Tudjman and his ruling Croatian Democratic Union -- has chosen this moment to resurrect one of the most potent symbols of the darkest chapter in Croatian history. It seems evident that the kuna's introduction will merely reinforce the determination of Croatia's rebellious Serbian minority never to live in an independent Croatia. If ever there was a hope of reconciling them to rule from Zagreb, the kuna's introduction seems certain to bury it. Tudjman and his supporters assert that the kuna was first mentioned in Croatian documents as early as 1018. They regard its association with the murderous Ustashe regime of 1941 to 1945 as irrelevant. Certainly, one can understand the Croatian desire to abandon the existing currency, the dinar. That was the name of communist Yugoslavia's currency and is still the name of Serbia's money. But a close look at the new kuna banknotes is revealing. The largest bill, worth 1,000 kunas ($150), bears a portrait of Ante Starcevic, a 19th-century Croatian nationalist who was notorious for denying the existence of a separate Serbian nationality: He simply regarded Serbs as Croats who had switched to the Orthodox faith. He also viewed Slovenes as "mountain Croats." Putting his image on a banknote sends a very clear message. Contrary to Serbian propaganda themes, Tudjman's Croatia is not the reincarnation of the fascist Croatia of the 1940s. Its track record on democracy and civil rights leaves something to be desired, but it is not a fanatical dictatorship. However, the decision to revive the kuna is the act of a first-class dunderhead. It speaks volumes about the refusal of almost all Balkan states to take into account the feelings of national minorities living within their frontiers. To make this point is not to minimize the responsibility of many Croatian Serbs for the eruption of war three years ago. Backed by Serbia's political authorities and the Serbian-led Yugoslav armed forces, many Serbs were intent on confrontation from the start. It is quite likely that they would have launched a revolt even if liberals had come to power in Croatia in 1990 instead of Tudjman and his fellow nationalists. But not all Serbs in Croatia wanted such a showdown. To this day, many have distanced themselves from the extremists and tried to operate within the Croatian political arena. Their task, never easy, will probably become all but impossible as a result of the kuna's introduction. Tudjman is guilty of a fundamental error of judgement whose only outcome can be more tension, strife, fear and suspicion in a part of Europe that badly needs a rest from obsessive and exclusive nationalism.