I’ve written on these pages quite a bit on Croatia and its people. I have family there. It used to be my summer holiday destination. I have always been between two cultures – at the very least.
Since I lived for sixteen years in Spain and my wife and children are Spanish, this kind of became almost three cultures.
For me, my mother’s sister Tuga, my dearest dearest aunt, always represented what Croatia meant to me. There was the food, the family life, the strict education, the more than occasional indulgences, the slipper thrown in anger, the kisses and hugs given ever-so-freely – the sense, when all was said and done, of belonging to a nation I was nevertheless always going to be an outsider to.
There was also her impish manner – her laughter, her joy of life.
I remember conversations with strange people when we went back in the 1980s – young people who wanted to find out our political inclinations. I was naive at the time. Then, after almost a decade away, I went back in 2002 and had this experience – which only goes to show how me and naive are probably, even now, still bosom pals.
I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown – in part because I was running out of money; I was unemployed – and had been for three years. But, in hindsight, I think a more important reason was that I believed myself a fish out of water – and the pond I was inclined to hanker after was Britain not Croatia. In this, I was mistaken. In Britain, my instincts and reactions were misunderstood. Human love and physical contact are an intrinsic part of the Slav soul.
Britain believes in many things – but in its institutions, love and contact form no part.
That, then, is what – because of Tuga and people like her – Croatia really means to me: humanity, reality and sincerity.
I may be mistaken, of course – but no more mistaken than I am in gravitating towards a country which believes that when teachers duly vote in favour of a strike, this is disorder. And when governments use tear gas against the impoverished, this is order.