Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1999


Paul Stubbs (1999) 'Virtual Diaspora?: Imagining Croatia On-line'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 4, no. 2, <>

To cite articles published in Sociological Research Online, please reference the above information and include paragraph numbers if necessary

Received: 12/05/99      Accepted: 21/06/99      Published: 30/6/99


This article, concentrating on contemporary Croatia, explores the role of computer-mediated communication in new relationships between the homeland at war and diaspora. Computer mediated diasporic public spheres are discussed as forms of creative imaginings of a national space from diverse global sites. The text is critical of any suggestion that diasporic identifications are able to be read off, simplistically, from dominant forms of homeland nationalism. Through an exploration of the socio-historical bases of Croatian diaspora communities, and the complexities of callings from the homeland in the 1990s, a more nuanced picture of contestation emerges. A 'netnography' of the Soc/Culture/Croatia newsgroup reveals a dominant habitus of processes, forms and content, in particular, the construction of Croatian identity in relation to a, more or less, monolithic 'Other' but, also, emerging innovative currents. More work on diasporic affinities as complex, contingent, and fluid is clearly needed, with political as well as theoretical importance.

Computer Mediated Communication; Croatia; Diaspora; Netnography; Soc/Culture/Croatia

Migration and Media

The recent concern within anthropology, ethnology, cultural studies and sociology, amongst other disciplines, particularly in their post-colonial variants, with the vexed question of identities, has involved an attempt to develop and promote "a theory of rupture that takes media and migration as its two major, and interconnected, diacritics and explores their joint effect on the work of the imagination as a constitutive feature of modern subjectivity" (Appadurai, 1996; p. 3; emphasis in original). This article focuses on the conjunction of one aspect of migration, or rather post-migration, namely the construction of particular kinds of diasporic affinities, together with the rapid growth of computer-mediated communication (CMC), as one aspect of modern media, primarily in terms of the construction of new public spheres through the use of Internet and computer-mediated newsgroups.

Going beyond theoretical abstractions, in which particular 'cases' are manipulated beyond 'local' recognition to fit as 'evidence', the text concentrates on contemporary aspects of the imagining of Croatia as a national form emerging into independence through war, post-socialist transition, mass forced migration, and a politicised interpolation of 'homeland' across geographical boundaries. The existence of computer-mediated diasporic public spheres deepens the understanding of what have been termed transnational and postnational imaginings since, as complex discursive and historical fields, they represent particular constructions of the national space from diverse global sites, which become, effectively, a unified imagined place or homeland.

The focus of this article is on Croatia, a country where I have lived since 1993 and which has been the base for my involvement in a range of projects including academic research, activism, work with refugees, and a range of initiatives in terms of social policy. Above all, it is relevant to note that my engagement with globalisation, as a sociologist from Britain, began in Croatia (Deacon et al, 1997; chapter 7; Stubbs, 1997). In addition, from late 1994 onwards, I have used eMail and, later, Internet, as key sites of academic and activist discourse, being a member of the zamir ('for peace' in Croatian) network originally conceived as linking individuals and groups working for peace and human rights in the post-Yugoslav countries (Stubbs, 1998; ¶3.1).

The New Croatian Ethnography

The article is influenced also by my engagement with what might best be termed the 'new Croatian ethnography', and the work of a group of ethnologists based in the Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research in Zagreb. Part of this work addressed 'War, Exile, Everyday Life' (Jambresic Kirin and Povrzanovic (editors), 1996) through the development of cultural perspectives on "concepts of identity in the context of a cluster of refugee problems" (Povrzanovic and Jambresic Kirin, 1996; p. 8), which became part of a wider analysis of 'identities in war' (Povrzanovic, 1997).

Space precludes anything more than a crude summary of the relevant core themes of this body of work for the ideas presented here. Firstly, there is a critique of the inadequacy of prior, absolutist forms of knowing, applied as much to notions of 'anti-nationalist' as to 'nationalist' discourses. The attempt to construct what has been termed a 'multivoiced ethnography of war' (Jambresic Kirin, 1999; p. 20) does not, however, degenerate into a stance of moral relativism. Rather, and secondly, there is a clear statement of the importance of combining "critical abilities together with emotional commitment in providing proper scholarly responses to everyday situations of (post) war time" and thereby creating the possibility of accepting "ethnography as a form of critique of the misuse of cultural heritage in political discourse" (Jambresic Kirin, 1996; p. 65).

Thirdly, the new Croatian ethnography is suspicious of all attempts to essentialise the experiences of forced migrants or to assume any kind of instant correspondence between those experiences and similar experiences. In the axiomatic statement that "(I)dentity does not exist prior to social practices and cultural patterns which negotiate and regulate it" (Povrzanovic and Jambresic Kirin, 1996; p. 9), a profound historical, social and cultural specificity is being presented, which distrusts reductionist explanations which seek to 'read off' everyday life as an expression of broader political motifs.

Ethnicity and Primordialism

This approach finds echoes in Appadurai's critique of primordialist conceptions of 'irrational' ethnic violence, preferring to see ethnicity as "a historically constituted form of social classification that is regularly misrecognized and naturalized as a prime mover in social life" (Appadurai, 1996; p. 140). The idea that 'styles of identity politics' can be consciously worked out strategies of 'irony and satire', rather more than being "a knee-jerk symbol of buried and semiconscious ideologies" (Appadurai, 1996; p. 145), to which could be added even in war time, and even in diasporic public spheres, is explored further here.

Unfortunately, in the search for 'an equally general perspective' with which to move beyond the primordialist thesis, Appadurai's approach to understanding 'ethnic implosions' through notions of betrayal and treachery as "large-scale identities forcibly enter the local imagination and become dominant voice-overs in the traffic of ordinary life" (Appadurai, 1996; pp. 154-5), can only take us so far in understanding the specificities of the wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina since 1991. Indeed, in conjuring up notions of competing decontextualised 'ethnic' rages, it may be no less primordialist than the argument it seeks to supersede.

This slippage from a general theory to the particular case occurs all too often in post-modernist texts on 'new ethnicities'. The assertion of a 'new Croatian ethnicity' was, in part at least, a response to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's knitting together of nationalism, conservatism, religious fervour, and anti-bureaucratic populism, as well his appeal to the interests of the Yugoslav Army, which should, in my view, be seen as the main contributor to the wars and huge population displacement from 1991. Nationalist forms inside and outside Croatia, must be examined in this context and not seen as equal and opposite ideologies. Within this, the significance of diaspora identifications should be emphasised but, as I shall note below, even this is far more complex and contested than primordialist explanations, including post-modernist variants, seem to be able to allow for.

I continue to argue in this article against any notion of a unitary 'Croatian experience', whilst recognising at times of crisis that this may appear to be the case, and instead write of 'Croatian experiences' and, indeed, 'imaginings', which include all those who live in or have lived in the space of Croatia; those whose ethnicised identifications are Croatian who live elsewhere (including, but not reducible to, the diaspora); and those affected by any kind of 'Croatian interpolation'. In other words, the recent past can be seen to have produced transformations of, and new choices and restrictions on the choice between, different identities and identifications (Stubbs, 1996) which have to be analysed carefully. The ways in which new national identities define themselves in relation to a monolithic 'Other', must be deconstructed for all ethnicised groupings in the region, including the currently demonised 'Serbs', without this lapsing into moral relativism .

Diaspora, CMC and the Construction of Ethnoscapes: New Diaspora Theory

One of the most sophisticated overviews of 'new diaspora theory' is provided by James Clifford who cautions against elisions between "invocations of diaspora theories, diasporic discourses, and distinct historical experiences of diaspora" (Clifford, 1997; p. 244), Clifford sees 'diaspora' as one of a number of interpretative terms used to characterise 'the contact zones of nations, cultures, and regions' (Clifford, 1997; p. 245). His approach emphasises the ways that diaspora groupings "maintain important allegiances and practical connections to a homeland or a dispersed community located elsewhere" (Clifford, 1997; p. 250). This construction is based on Paul Gilroy's (1987) notion of diaspora discourses constructing 'alternate public spheres' or "forms of consciousness and solidarity that maintain identifications outside the national time/space" (Clifford, 1997; p. 251), so that "(s)eperate places become effectively a single community" (Clifford, 1997; p. 246).

Axiomatic to this approach seems to be the increased opportunities of border relations made possible by "modern technologies of transport, communication, and labour migration" (Clifford, 1997; p. 247), involving the "transformation of everyday subjectivities", so that the 'diasporic public spheres' so created "are no longer small, marginal or exceptional" (Appadurai, 1996; p. 10). Providing they are treated as useful tools rather than predefined realities, Appadurai's distinctions between diasporas of hope, diasporas of terror, and diasporas of despair; and, by extension, between cold and hot diasporas, in terms of their implosive aspects; and between diaspora in itself and diaspora for itself, capable of moving beyond 'shared imagination' to 'collective action' (Appadurai, 1996; p. 8), are all of use in understanding the multiplication of diasporic possibilities, and of ways in which "the idea of the nation flourishes transnationally" (Appadurai; 1996; p. 172).

The Caricature of the 'Long-Distance Nationalist'

It has become axiomatic, in recent literature, to state that "the emergent nationalisms of many parts of the world may be founded on patriotisms that are not either exclusively or fundamentally territorial" (Appadurai, 1996; p. 21). In two highly influential texts, Benedict Anderson whose 'Imagined Communities' (Anderson, 1983) is, of course, the starting point for any understanding of nations as imagined, sketches the phenomenon of 'the long-distance nationalist' which he sees as a new type of nationalism precisely formed at the junction of modern mass migration and mass communication. The caricature is worth quoting in full:

(W)hile technically a citizen of the state in which he comfortably lives, but to which he may feel little attachment, he finds it tempting to play identity politics by participating (via propaganda, money, weapons, any way but voting) in the conflicts of his imagined Heimat - now only fax time away. But this citizenless participation is inevitably non-responsible - our hero will not have to answer for, or pay the price of, the long-distance politics he undertakes. He is also easy prey for shrewd political manipulators in his Heimat. (Anderson, 1992; p. 13).

Two years later, Anderson describes today's long-distance nationalism "as a probably menacing portent for the future" (Anderson, 1994; p. 327), creating a serious but radically unaccountable politics often of an extremist kind, of which he gives some examples including:

... the malign role of Croats not only in Germany but also in Australia and North America in financing and arming Franco (sic) Tudjman's breakaway state and pushing Germany and Austria into a fateful, premature recognition. (Anderson, 1994; p. 327).

In this crude construction, the complexities of positions taken by persons in the diaspora, and the range of callings from the homeland, are collapsed into a supposedly sinister new trend behind which Anderson smuggles in his prejudiced analysis of the geo-politics of the post-Yugoslav space, inaccurate not only in terms of the first name of the Croatian president. The existence of a hot Croatian diaspora, and the galvanising of this within a particular political project, needs to be proved and not simply asserted as in this caricature. Furthermore, the complexities of diasporic identifications need to be addressed given the impossibility of total closure. In addition, whilst modern forms of communication are noted, their effects are seen as somehow all pervasive and, again, unilinear, although it is hard to imagine the fax machine, for example, ever having played the crucial role in a new identity politics which the first quote appears to imply.

Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) and the Problem of Community

Whilst the fax machine hardly generated a huge sociological interest, this has certainly occurred with CMC, as email and later Internet, themselves, of course, having a huge base in academia, have been the subject of a large number of essays, books and, increasingly, research projects. Whilst there have been very innovative attempts to develop, and to propagate on-line, both 'cybersociology' ([1] and a more cultural studies oriented 'cybertheory' (, much of the print-published sociological literature remains somewhat narrowly focused on whether CMC users constitute a 'community'. One source for this comes from Howard Rheingold's seminal text which contains within it a number of assumptions which merit further exploration:

Virtual communities are social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on ... public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace. (Rheingold, 1993; p. 5).

The problems of how to operationalise some of the concepts in this quote in any kind of meaningful social science are legion, begging not only the question of how many is 'enough'? but also the vastly more taxing issue of what is to constitute 'sufficient human feeling'? In addition, all of the theorising about whether CMC users constitute a 'community' stemming from this kind of approach, rests upon a kind of bi-polar view of a 'real' off-line world and a 'virtual' on-line one. Elsewhere (Stubbs, 1998; ¶2.8), I have sought to reframe the question of whether groups of CMC users are, or are not, a community, in terms of the complex identities which users present on-line and off-line, and the ways in which CMC satisfies some of their needs, some of the time.

In order to analyse the significance of CMC in terms of social, cultural and political change, particularly in relation to diasporic public spheres, different kinds of approaches and frameworks may well be needed. Whilst it is certainly possible to overstate the impact and, indeed, the 'newness' of the 'new' information technologies, they carry immense potential in terms of 'networking', itself a term which embraces both technological and political possibilities. Whilst some CMC uses, notably private eMails, resemble the one-to-one communication of the telephone, and others, notably non-interactive web pages, are very much like the centralised and hierarchical products of broadcast media, although with a vastly greater choice, still others, including eMail discussion groups, newsgroups, interactive web pages, chat rooms, and so on, may involve highly decentralised forms which "permit a many-to-many dialogic practice to be instituted in a global environment of exchange" (Poster, 1998; p. 190). Whilst it is not the case that for dispersed diaspora communities, "the electronic space is the only common space that they can occupy" (Mitra, 1997; p. 70), it certainly affords new possibilities for the polytextual production of images and self-imaginings of particular nations and peoples, both in and for themselves, and in relation to equally stylised, but also radically unfinished, 'Others'.

For this reason, a traditional rationalist anthropological-sociological study of 'the use of technology w' by 'community x' as 'migrants in country y' in relation to events in 'homeland z' is singularly inadequate for the task in hand. Whilst such studies can be of use and, indeed, some are noted below, the development of what Appadurai has termed a 'transnational anthropology' or 'macroethnography' will always be greater than the sum of such national anthropologies or microethnographies. The attempt "to capture the impact of deterritorialization on the imaginative resources of lived, local experiences" (Appadurai, 1996; p. 52), incorporating 'the complexities of expressive representation' not as 'technical adjuncts' but as 'primary material' (Appadurai, 1996; p. 64) is a central element of this.

Within a new anthropology less oriented to 'fieldwork', at least in one locale, than to scattered multi-locales and to the study of 'spatial practices', there will be much more attention to CMC, in a kind of 'netnography'. This would assert the scientific value of, for example, monitoring diaspora eMail and Internet newsgroups in which particular groups can be observed 'worrying together', akin to other kinds of 'intensive listening' in more traditional ethnographies (cf. Clifford, 1997; pp. 57-58, referring to Edwards, 1994). Insofar as this article begins with theory and then expands, through a range of examples, to examine empirical material, it is but one possible kind of 'netnography', itself by no means ruling out other approaches, including those more grounded in computer based fieldwork.

New Ethnoscapes?

An additional theoretical refinement is provided by Appadurai's discussion of the relationship between five dimensions of global cultural flows: ethnoscapes; mediascapes; technoscapes; financescapes; and ideoscapes, which he sees as "deeply perspectival constructs, inflected by the historical, linguistic, and political situatedness of different sorts of actors" and which, together, form the building blocks of 'imagined worlds' (Appadurai, 1996; p. 33). In Appadurai's terms, ethnoscapes refer to "the landscape of persons who constitute the shifting world in which we live" (Appadurai, 1996; p. 33), although there is nothing in his approach which would question a widening of this concept to include a much wider range of 'identity-producing activities' (Appadurai, 1996; p. 183) about nation-states and their 'Other'-obsessed border relations.

Ethnoscapes are continuously constructed, practically and discursively, in complex ways which question bounded notions of 'the local' and 'the global' and point to new relationships between the two. These include what have been termed 'multiple diasporization' and "pluralistic readings of national identity that are constantly and openly contested" (Alleyne-Dettmars, 1997; p. 165). This is similar to Poster's notion of 'virtual ethnicity' in which virtuality involves "the articulation of new figures of ethnicity, nationhood, community and global interaction" (Poster, 1998; p. 194). In this frame, the focus is very much on the ways in which electronic encoding and decoding 'disrupts and reconfigures' ethnicity (Poster, 1998; p. 195), so that a crucial research question becomes the ways in which 'specific figures of ethnicity' are constructed, altered and, even, deconstructed, 'by their electronic constitution in virtual spaces' (Poster, 1998; p. 200).

Aspects of the Croatian Ethnoscape: Delineating Croatian Diasporas

In seeking to understand aspects of the Croatian ethnoscape, it is important, following Poster, to be aware of their 'underdetermined nature' (Poster, 1998; p. 201) in terms of a relative unpredictability or logic of associations. However, "while we can make our identities, we cannot do so exactly as we please" (Appadurai, 1996; p. 170) and, indeed, even more starkly, "(o)ne man's (sic) imagined community is another man's political prison" (Appadurai, 1996; p. 32). In this vein, it is important to make some preliminary remarks about the specificities of diaspora and CMC in the Croatian ethnoscape.

The exact number of Croats living abroad and forming, therefore, some kind of diaspora, is unclear. The Croatian World Congress, which presents itself as "the authentic voice of the Croatian Diaspora" ( suggests that 4.5. million "Croats and people of Croatian heritage live outside the Republics of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina" (ibid.). In a press conference in December 1995, and following military actions to liberate Croatian territories held by 'rebels' which led to the exodus of up to 250,000 ethnic Serbs from Croatia, the Croatian President Dr. Franjo Tudjman, stated that "we must do everything possible to bring back as many as possible of the 3.5 million Croats dispersed throughout the world", therefore suggesting a lower figure ( He pointed out that there were now many 'deserted' and 'depopulated' areas in Croatia which would make perfect homes for diaspora returnees.

The true number is, perhaps, less important than the complex ways in which the diaspora is being invoked in a unified construction of 'the Croatian Homeland and its Diaspora' (The Croatian World Congress, op.cit., capitals in original) and in which the idea of the Nation as a 'political symbol' (Verdery, 1996; p. 103) involves the exclusion of some groups, 'non-Croats within', from parts of the National discourse, and the inclusion of others, 'Croats abroad', who need not necessarily be so constituted within a territorially-bounded notion of the national space[2].

When 'Croats and those of Croatian heritage living abroad' is deconstructed somewhat and broken down into its constituent parts, what is most apparent is the diversity and range of identity formations rather than any unified Diaspora. Such a breakdown would include, as the largest diaspora group, those living in neighbouring Bosnia-Herzegovina, numbering some 740,000 including both the contiguous diaspora in Herzegovina, as well as Central Bosnian Croats with, in many ways, a very different religious, social and political profile (cf. Peirce and Stubbs, 1999). In addition, significant numbers of Croats live in other former Yugoslav Republics, notably in the Vojvodina area of Serbia which, like Kosova, had its status as an autonomous province revoked by Milosevic in 1989 where, at the time of the 1981 census, some 109,000 declared themselves as Croat, and in the republic of Slovenia where the same census recorded some 57,000 Croats (Magas, 1993; p. 18).

A different group are the 'guest workers' who, from the 1960s onwards, in a climate of more open borders but also because of limited economic opportunities at home, took advantage of the demand for skilled and semi-skilled labour abroad, and worked in a number of countries, particularly in Western Europe, notably Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Sweden. Again, this is also a very diverse group, including those who went alone and whose remittances formed a key family income and investment 'at home', through to those who took dual citizenship or actually emigrated, often as family or extended kinship groups. Mesic records that, by 1991, over a million people from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia were working abroad, the majority of whom were from Croatia and Slovenia (Mesic, 1992; p. 180).

In many ways the most interesting diaspora group are those who left, or were expelled, from Croatia at the end of the Second World War. The traces of the civil war in Yugoslavia which involved the victory of communist Partisans, led by Tito, over 'anti-communist nationalists' (Pettan, 1998; p. 10), both the Croatian ustase (Ustasha) and the Serbian cetnici (Chetniks), continues to have huge resonance in the narrative of the Croatian and Serbian ethnoscapes regarding the conflict from 1991. In particular, different constructions of the nature of the Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska (the Independent State of Croatia or NDH), the Ustasha-based Nazi-puppet state led by Ante Pavelic, which held a kind of sovereignty over most of Croatia and parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1941 until the end of the war, and which was marked by the systematic killing of Serbs, Jews, Roma, and Croat oppositionalists (cf. Magas, 1993; pp. 314-5), can be seen as an example of the way different groups 'remember the past in different ways' (Ramet, 1996; p. 41).

For our purposes here, the events immediately following the Partisan victory, and in particular the mass expulsions of 1948, which could be described as based on a kind of 'collective guilt' for Ustasha crimes, produced a new diaspora of between 200,000 and 300,000 people (Mesic, 1992). Whether all these Croatians "took with them the spirit of pre-war nationalism" (McAdams, 1978) is debatable, but it is important that leading Ustasha, including Pavelic himself, who fled to Argentina, and their many sympathisers, formed radicalised Croatian diaspora communities in a number of countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Chile, and Argentina.

Another wave of emigration occurred in the aftermath of the suppression of the 'Croatian Spring', a complex mass populist-democratic movement, in 1971, following which the 1970s was a period of increased political activity by sections of the Croatian diaspora. In many cities in the United States, Canada and Australia, where newer migrants mixed with long-standing Croatian emigre communities, some of which had been established in the nineteenth century, 'hot diasporas' were formed, as evidenced by a range of activities. Often, these interpenetrated with cultural and sporting activities, such as the formation of Croatian diaspora football clubs, for example, which oriented the narrative to the Croatian homeland and, in some cases led to a negative stereotyping of Croatians in the 'host community'. Indeed, this was so much the case in Australia, for example, that Vietnamese refugees were even dubbed as 'yellow Croatians' (Skrbis, 1995; p. 161). These diaspora communities existed in complex relations to other Yugoslav groups, particularly Serb communities, and to official emphases from Yugoslav embassies which, themselves, changed considerably over time (Kolar-Panov, 1997; chapter 1).

HDZ and the Mobilisation of Diaspora: Bringing it all Back Home?

Overall, whilst I would suggest that it is analytically flawed to speak of 'the Croatian Diaspora' as a unified phenomenon, outside of a wide range of structures, histories, and logics, which combine to create differences, some of which I have noted above, I would also concur with Kolar-Panov that war 'reconfigured' many relationships within the diaspora and, in particular, "prioritized the homeland-diaspora relationship" (Kolar-Panov, 1996; p. 289). At such a time, perhaps, the 'underdetermined' nature of 'ethnoscapes' may come to be more 'overdetermined' and, in particular, for heightened awareness and sensibility in diaspora communities about events 'at home' to coincide with, and be reinforced by, political projects which seek to 'speak to and with' the diaspora, through specific kinds of interpolations which seek to produce particular kinds of unity and action. However, and this is crucial, there is nothing in either of these forces, nor in their coincidence and mutual reinforcement, which is inevitable or a result of frozen diasporic nationalisms just waiting to be taken out of the freezer and served afresh.

A crucial role in this active process was, and continues to be, played by the Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica (HDZ, or the Croatian Democratic Union) a political party which was formed ahead of the first democratic elections in Croatia in 1990, which it won, consolidating power in four subsequent elections. Its leader, Dr. Franjo Tudjman, became the first, and thus far only, President of newly-independent Croatia. Jailed by the regime for periods in the 1960s and 1970s, because of his revisionist national history and views regarding the extent of killing in the NDH, Tudjman had begun, in his later years in the formal political wilderness, to cultivate connections with sections of the Croatian diaspora. In the year before being allowed to function legally, HDZ had built a powerful network of offices not only in Croatia but also in parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Vojvodina, and within Croatian communities abroad, notably the United States.

It has been argued that funding for HDZ from the diaspora gave it a distinct advantage over its rivals (Cohen, 1993; p. 95). Whilst HDZ voters, in the first elections, were quite specific in terms of their traditionalism and pronounced religious identity (Grdesis, 1991; p. 241), it is perhaps more useful to conceive of HDZ as a popular or populist social movement attaining hegemony, in part at least, due to the acute war circumstances in Croatia from 1991 onwards. In this vein, the articulation of Homeland and Diaspora in the affirmation of Croatian identity and sovereignty, particularly when threatened by horrific aggression, and which mobilised music, art, culture, and historical symbolism in the service of a new 'common sense', was immensely important.

One of the most important figures in the HDZ was Gojko Susak, born in 1945 in the Herzegovinan town of Siroki Brijeg, a town renamed Listica by the regime in 1951 because of its strong association as a base of support for the Ustasha. Susak migrated to Canada in 1969 and became a very successful businessman owning a chain of pizza restaurants in Ottawa. Throughout the 1980s, he played a leading role in the Canadian Croatian community and met Tudjman on his first visit to Canada in 1987 (Interview in Hrvatsko Slovo 27 December 1996, available in English translation at <>). Susak returned to Croatia in 1989, playing an important, and controversial, role in the new Croatian politics (cf Silber and Little, 1995; p. 153), and later becoming Croatian Minister of Defence, holding the post until his death in May 1998.

The significance of Susak's role is complex partly because he sought to suggest that, amongst diaspora returnees, he was unusual if not unique, and that many others "can't find their bearings ... and expected that Croatia simply had to accept their offer (to serve) and appoint them to a position where they need not do any work" (Hrvatsko Slovo interview, as above), even though six such returnees attained the rank of General in the Croatian Army. Susak formed a vital link between the Croatian regime and what became known as 'the Herzegovinan lobby', many of whom became leading politicians and businessmen in Zagreb, and were advocates for a 'Greater Croatia' politics to include wide areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

After the military actions in 1995 which returned three of the four occupied areas to Croatian Government control, snap elections were held which, for the first time, and partly through Susak's lobbying, set aside twelve seats, almost 10% of the total, in the House of Representatives for a 'Diaspora list'. In fact, most of the votes cast in this way were by Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina but it included Croats in other countries whose votes were organised through Croatian associations or, de facto, HDZ clubs. Perhaps not surprisingly, all of the seats returned HDZ representatives. Also, perhaps not surprisingly, the coalition of six opposition parties formed in 1998, which may contest the 1999 elections as a bloc, are campaigning currently for a new election law which would revise the role of the diaspora, not excluding them completely but abolishing separate seats and thus, presumably, diluting the impact in terms of total support for HDZ.

A more nuanced understanding of the diverse role of the diaspora in the 1990s is beyond the scope of this article. It would have to address the wide range of roles taken by people from the diaspora as soldiers, humanitarian workers, lobbyists, journalists, and so much more, as well as the complex and varied identities which were produced in this lived encounter with what, for many, had been a, more or less, distant Homeland.

War, CMC and the Croatian Technoscape

These nuances appear lost on the influential commentator Mary Kaldor, a key figure in Western European 'civil politics', who has suggested that 'a new divide' is opening up between 'cosmopolitanism' and 'nationalism' with diaspora groups playing a much more important role in the new nationalism 'because of the speed of communications' (Kaldor, 1996; p. 53)[3]. This seems a very crude argument which also leads to a problematic politics precisely because it pits 'cosmopolitanism', hardly likely to be supported by large parts of a society at war, as the only meaningful opposition to 'nationalism', itself rendered monolithic. In addition, the argument suggests something of a technological determinism which fails to address the diversity of forms and ways in which global communications have impacts and effects.

I have argued that war is something of a limit case in terms of CMC and, by extension, other forms of global communication, representing a particular form of 'global amplification and restructuring' and the extended reproduction and assimilation of the conflicts into 'various kinds of transnational discourse' (Stubbs, 1998; ¶2.20). There have been very few studies of this phenomenon with one of the most extensive, Kolar-Panov's pioneering and valuable study of the innovative use of video technology by Croats in Australia (Kolar-Panov, 1996 and 1997), criticised by Skrbis for failing to make "a more concerted effort to reconcile empirical evidence with fashionable modes of theoretical discursivity" (Skrbis, 1998; p. 272).

A more nuanced understanding can only come from examining the complex links between CMC, satellite tv, the telephone, videos, films, music, and so on, in a context mediated by family, kinship, and community relations and by travel and various kinds of lived encounters with the homeland. Distinctions between various forms of encoding and decoding, and the complex processes involved in negotiating and renegotiating particular narratives, would also have to be central to this analysis, as would the often complex relation between 'official', 'unofficial' and 'everyday' discourses. I state this here simply because of the fact that whilst studies of diaspora communities, even during periods of conflict 'at home', tend to show that CMC is utilised by a tiny minority, although more passive satellite tv or short-wave radio broadcast viewing and listening may increase, this does not mean that CMC is without impact.

An unsystematic search for Internet sites about Croatia yields, of course, a very large number and diversity of 'hits'. Many of these originate in, or are aimed at, the diaspora. One often finds sites exclusively in the English language, or with both English and Croatian language versions. In addition, print and broadcast media have their own Internet sites, including Dom i Svijet (Home and the World) which is an eight-page insert included every Monday in the international edition of the popular Croatian newspaper Vecernji List (Evening News) and which 'aims to inform the Diaspora about issues and events occurring both in Croatia and abroad' <>. It is hosted by the Croatian Information Centre <>, whose main site itself contains links to a wide number of sites including Croatianet <>, a site for and about the 545,000 Croats which, it claims, live in the USA. Other sites which are interesting are the web page of HOP (The Croatian Liberation Movement) whose origins lie with Ante Pavelic in Argentina in the 1950s <>, and the intriguing, if somewhat shadowy, 'Ustasa net' site <> which, upon first accessing, presents a picture of Ante Pavelic and an Ustasha symbol above links to the real audio version of the Croatian national anthem as well as to a number of other sites.

In many ways, these different home pages, whilst interesting, are not designed for, nor seeking, any kind of interactive use or development of new forms of transnational narrative about Croatia. My earlier text on eMail and the wars (Stubbs, 1998) sought to compare and contrast three eMail networks or discussion groups: zamir; APC/Yugo/Antiwar; and Soc/Culture/Croatia, drawing the conclusion that the political role of zamir derived, precisely, from its position as part of a 'localised repertoire of counter hegemonic meanings' (Stubbs, 1998; ¶6.1) but doubting whether, even here, there was any engagement in real dialogue or encounter with everyday lived realities. In none of the newsgroups I studied was there any 'place for the profane, the dubious, the doubting, or the simply confused' (Stubbs, 1998; 6.3). Nevertheless, I would continue to suggest, in the context of the theoretical analysis presented here, that there remains much to be understood about discourses in newsgroups and, in particular, the relationship between forms of creative national imaginings and the emergence of "(news)group-specific forms of expression, identities, relationships, and normative conventions" (Baym, 1998; p. 38).

The Lives and People of Croatia? Re-reading Soc/Culture/Croatia: The Contours of Usenet Newsgroups

For this reason, I look again at the Soc/Culture/Croatia newsgroup from Usenet which I discussed briefly in the earlier article (Stubbs, 1998; 5.1-5.7). Usenet, one of the first CMC interactive systems, operates as an open forum for specific interest communities through over 13,000 'newsgroups' organised hierarchically (Baym, 1998; p. 39) so that there are 26 different 'Society' or 'Soc/...', newsgroups; 87 current 'Soc/Culture/...' newsgroups from 'Soc/Culture/Afghanistan' to 'Soc/Culture/Yugoslavia'; including a 'Soc/Culture/Croatia' newsgroup gathering together people ostensibly with an interest in 'the lives and people of Croatia'. Baym quotes figures suggesting that, by September 1997, Usenet carried a daily average of 682,144 messages (Baym, 1998; p. 39), with Soc/Culture/Croatia, according to the latest figures, having a daily average of 102 messages and being accessed by an average of 12,000 people per day <>. It is possible to write to Usenet newsgroups without reading them and to 'crosspost', where a user can post the same message, simultaneously, to a number of different newsgroups. The 'Soc/Culture/...' newsgroups, typically, have a high degree of crossposting and 'Soc/Culture/Croatia' is no exception, with 45% of its messages cross-posted to at least one other group.

In a similar study of 'Soc/Culture/Indian' and related Usenet newsgroups, Ananda Mitra (1997) has suggested that, by concentrating on 'the textuality of the system of messages that are exchanged' (Mitra, 1997; p. 74), it is possible '"to identify how the discussions proceed through a discursive process in which authors interact with each other, contributing opinions about issues, and collectively producing a portrait of the virtual community" (Mitra, 1997; p. 62). His method of monitoring the newsgroups is similar to my own although the fact that the 'Soc/Culture/Indian' newsgroup has some ten times the volume of messages of 'Soc/Culture/Croatia' sets certain limits for Mitra. For my earlier article, I resubscribed to 'Soc/Culture/Croatia' for a brief period in May 1998, at the time of the death of Gojko Susak. Subsequently, I have monitored the newsgroup periodically, and have systematically collected information on all 554 messages posted in the ten day period between Friday 24 September and Sunday 5 October 1998 (currently these are available as headers, although not necessarily the full text at <>) which, apart from coinciding with the Pope's second visit to Zagreb, can be seen as a fairly 'typical' period.

Monitoring Soc/Culture/Croatia

From the messages over this period, it is possible to make some general observations about the formation of this on-line group and its broad contours, codes, and norms. As far as I can judge, 285 of the 554 messages (51%) were in English, the remainder in Croatian and other languages of the post-Yugoslav countries, except for two written in German and four in Italian. There is a large measure of cross-posting and, whilst about half the messages are actually 'replied to' in some way, by quoting the message title and, in some cases, parts of the message, there are very few long 'threads' of messages on the same topic. Most of the postings assert some position, sometimes backed up by some item of news, a photograph, or some such, but more usually consisting of statements and counterstatements about Croat and Serb crimes, including those from the Second World War, essential character traits, and prognoses for the future. Most crosspostings occur with the 'Soc/Culture/Yugoslavia' newsgroup.

A small number of frequent posters dominate, including 'Barry S. Marjanovitch' (91 postings); 'peterpan' (44 postings); 'Tony Juricic' (33 postings), and 'Stjepan Balog' (17 postings) who, together, account for one third of all messages posted in this period. Headings with titles such as "Was God mad at us when he created Serbs?"; "A Serb is a Serb is a Serb (they are all alike)"; "Servs are evil" (spelling as in original); "Serbs are no different now than they were in 1912", and "Hrvati su arogantan narod seljaka" ('Croats are an arrogant peasant people'), are a major part of the newsgroup, although there are also more specific references to war crimes, to Slobodan Milosevic (always referred to by Barry S. Marjanovitch as 'Satan Slovo'), and to the current Serb offensive in Kosova, amongst other items.

From the archives it is impossible to state where most of those who post messages live and, indeed, therefore, how far this is predominantly a newsgroup of the Croatian diaspora. There are certainly many posters from North America, particularly the United States and Canada, often with apparently Croatian surnames, and very few posters with eMail addresses which originate inside Croatia. Barry S. Marjanovitch, by far the most frequent poster, is part of the Croatian diaspora in North America. Marjanovitch's postings, accounting for almost one sixth of all messages in the period surveyed, and much more than this when the average size of each message is taken into account, are of quite a specific nature. He rarely replies to postings directly, preferring to repost news reports, from Associated Press and other agencies which can be received over the Internet, which are about Croatian achievements in sport, current events in Croatia, or any negative news reports about Serbs. In this way, he could be seen as producing a kind of on-line scrapbook which is of interest, primarily, in terms of what he chooses to include and the headings he provides.

In a typical instance, he reproduces an obscure news report, on 27 September 1998, from the San Jose Mercury, about a Serbian national who pleaded guilty to passport violations in connection with a long-standing child custody case, and heads this "Servian culture is cheating, threatening, lying, stealing, ask their neigbors" (spelling in original). This seems, on first reading, quite a long way away from 'the lives and people of Croatia', the ostensible focus of the newsgroup on which it was posted. Yet, in terms of the way in which national communities are defined in relation to 'the Other', in this case, the Serbs or, as he would have it, Servs, the posting, and others like it, becomes central to the presentation of Croatian identity. In addition, by generalising from a rather unremarkable, specific, instance in the United States, to a whole culture, a crude kind of racist discourse is being, quite deliberately, generated, again symptomatic of many other postings[4]. The key to the posting may well be when Marjanovitch suggests we 'ask their neighbours' - as no neighbours are mentioned at all in the news report, we can assume that, in this case, the narrative is pointing to, and thus imagining as it were, the territory and people of Croatia and the need for continued vigilance against the neighbour as enemy.

The Soc/Culture/Croatia Habitus

In terms of understanding 'Soc/Culture/Croatia', it is worth pausing for a moment to consider some elements which are, on the whole, not present. First of all, there are almost no postings which, in his study of 'Soc/Culture/Indian' (or 'sci' as he terms it), Mitra describes as 'introduction' or 'looking for' messages:

... in which a user announces his or her presence on the network, or uses the network to try to find someone who they expect is also a member of the community. Although these messages do not address specific issues, they affirm the communal assumptions that implicate the way in which sci has evolved. ... This signifies that the community produced by, and around, sci is a representation of the allegiances that existed before the diasporic experience occurred. (Mitra, 1997; p. 63).

In addition, there is very little comment on the processes of the newsgroup itself and very rarely any expression of dissatisfaction with the nature, form, and content of the postings. It is as if what Bourdieu (1977) would term a 'habitus' of taken-for-granted codes has been formed which appears to meet the needs of a relatively small number of frequent posters in spite of, or perhaps because of, their antagonism to one another's point of view. This habitus seems rather more stable and much less improvised and unfinished which Appadurai (1996; pp. 55-56) suggests is more likely in contemporary diasporic public spheres.

Of course, without triangulation of research methods which begins to interrogate those who continue to read, post, and reply to messages in groups such as 'Soc/Culture/Croatia', it would be wrong to speculate overmuch on the crucial question of how such activity satisfies certain needs and in what ways it relates to other aspects of identity. As Baym has rightly pointed out (Baym, 1998; p. 45), innovations in software technology, particularly ever more sophisticated filters in newsreaders, do allow many more options than the need to read all messages in a newsgroup. This may well have facilitated more selective encoding and decoding of texts and, certainly, "allows users to avoid topics or messages from particular individuals" (Baym, 1998; p. 45), but has also meant that such newsgroups are not, at all, dialogues or arenas for debate but more like a propaganda wall of unlimited dimensions on which different kinds of notes can be pinned.

Innovative Currents

Nevertheless, within this bounded habitus, particular kinds of innovation are ongoing. For example, the longest 'thread' in the period I studied, a series of 40 messages headed 'Zbogom lijepi Zagrebe' ('Farewell Beautiful Zagreb'), all in Croatian, begins with a reposting of a news item from the Newsletter Independent Weekly by 'etc', which is an account by a Croatian Canadian, of his day in Zagreb which cost, all told, 550 Canadian dollars. Many people reply to this, including the most frequent posters to the newsgroup, and a series of interesting debates ensue about the cost in relation to average salaries and pensions in Croatia; whether cheaper alternatives could have been found; and what these costs may signify regarding Zagreb as a 'European city'. One very interesting strand looks at the potential disappointment of 'homeland nostalgia', and even the way in which those brought up in Canada may have become so used to their 'Anglo Saxon' surroundings that they can no longer appreciate the beauty of 'Middle European' cities.

A complex discourse merging realities, images, and narratives of travel and everyday life is constructed which is quite exceptional in the period in which I have monitored the newsgroup. Perhaps recognising this, Barry S. Marjanovitch seems to take exception to all this concern with prices and mocks it as some kind of wish for a return to communism, factory kitchens, and power to the people. Others, notably Tony Juricic, appear in these interactions in far broader perspective than is usual within their normal postings. Whether this offers an insight into a different, post-war, range of postings, is unclear and only time will tell. It does indicate, however, that whatever their apparent stability, computer-based newsgroups can and do fluctuate in terms of their themes and their capacity for interaction.

Concluding Thoughts

In this article, I hope to have shown that the work of collective imagining which may be found within diasporic public spheres, including newsgroups, cannot simply be juxtaposed to notions of 'cosmopolitan', anti-nationalist identities which, by implication at least, are always and everywhere superior and, somehow, non contingent. Its inventory of dominant meanings, images, and themes, as history becomes the present and supports particular visions of the future, exist as narrative forms which rely on, but are never wholly reducible to, the available 'stock' of such themes. Nor should the themes themselves be conceived as obtainable from some kind of bargain basement warehouse of cheap, unfashionable, national sentiments, past their sell by date, and available at reduced prices for bulk purchase. The work of creation, as such it undoubtedly is, from this inventory takes particular forms in the realm of computer-mediated communication, all of which merit further study and a refinement of the 'netnographic' approach which I have advocated here.

The possibility of challenging particular kinds of National narratives within these diasporic public spheres is likely to take very different forms when these spheres are conceived in this way. This is far less likely to come from really existing 'postnational movements, organizations and spaces' (Appadurai, 1996; p. 177) than from the minutiae of understandings of, and consciously articulated disruptions to, the slippage from politically oriented National discourses to the sphere of everyday life. These disruptions are more likely if diaspora identities are seen as complex, contingent and fluid and, in and of themselves, worthy of study.


1References to web pages and sites are given in the body of the text itself, unless the page is individually authored and resembles a print-based academic text which is then cited under the author's name and listed in the bibliography together with the web address. The problem is, as already noted elsewhere (Stubbs, 1998; ¶1.6), that such Internet links, whilst operational at the time of writing, April 1999, may subsequently change or disappear.

2"Dragi Hrvati i Hrvatice i gradjani Hrvatske" ("Dear Croats (male and female) and citizens of Croatia") was, for a long period, the opening remark of Croatian President Dr. Franjo Tudjman in any public address. Of course, the complexities of 'nation' and 'nationality' which this draws upon were not invented by Tudjman but are a product, amongst other things, of the uniquely Yugoslav 'socialist federated states' nationalities' policy (Bringa, 1995; p. 25). The call to the people outside the borders of the Homeland has also, of course, been made by other post-communist states such as Hungary and Romania (cf. Verdery, 1996).

3Indeed, elsewhere in an article written with Radha Kumar, also of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, the suggestion is that:

Mercenaries, criminals, the unemployed, unscrupulous politicians, romantic expatriates, and twisted intellectuals are all pulled together under the umbrella of identity politics. (Kaldor and Kumar, 1993; p. 21).

4The best example of this are the postings of Stjepan Balog as in his posting headed "Never Forgive-Never Forget":

It is in Serbia psyche (sic) to kill, conquer and expand ... Behaving in a civilised and forgiving manner towards the Serbs only encourages them to plan for more. (Soc/Culture/Croatia, 27 September 1998).
Even here there is a complex narrative being constructed in his following argument that "The only thing the Serbs understand is an "OLUJA" (liberation of Krajina, 1995) type comment", explicitly seeing military action as a form of discourse. Moreover, the posting ends with a quote from Mark Twain on lies and malice with a note that states "even Mark Twain knew about the Serbs".


Detailed comments on a first draft of this article by Renata Jambresic Kirin and Maja Povrzanovic were of immense value in the process of revision.


ALLEYNE-DETTMARS, P. (1997) '"Tribal Arts": a case study of global compression in the Notting Hill Carnival', in J. Eade (editor) Living the Global City: globalization as local process. London: Routledge.

ANDERSON, B. (1983) Imagined Communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. London: Verso.

ANDERSON, B. (1992) 'The New World Disorder', New Left Review, 193; 3-13.

ANDERSON, B. (1994) 'Exodus', Critical Inquiry, 20; 314-327.

APPADURAI, A. (1996) Modernity at large: cultural dimensions of globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

BAYM, N. (1998) 'The Emergence of On-Line Community' in S. Jones (editor) Cybersociety 2.0. London: Sage.

BOURDIEU, P. (1977) Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: University Press.

BRINGA, T. (1995) Being Muslim the Bosnian Way: identity and community in a Central Bosnian village. Princeton: University Press.

CLIFFORD, J. (1997) Routes: travel and translation in the late twentieth century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

COHEN, L. (1993) Broken Bonds: the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Boulder: Westview.

DEACON, B., HULSE, M., and STUBBS, P. (1997) Global Social Policy: international organizations and the future of welfare. London: Sage.

EDWARDS, D. (1994) 'Afghanistan, Ethnography and the New World Order', Cultural Anthropology, 9(3); 345-360.

GILROY, P. (1987) There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack. London: Hutchinson.

GRDESIS, I. (1991) Hrvatska u izborima '90 (The 1990 Elections in Croatia). Zagreb: Naprijed.

JAMBRESIC KIRIN, R. and POVRZANOVIC, M. (editors) (1996) War, Exile, Everyday Life: cultural perspectives. Zagreb: Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research.

JAMBRESIC KIRIN, R. (1996) 'Narrating War and Exile Experiences' in R. Jambresic Kirin and M. Povrzanovic (editors) (1996) War, Exile, Everyday Life: cultural perspectives. Zagreb: Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research.

JAMBRESIC KIRIN, R. and POVRZANOVIC, M. (editors) (1996) War, Exile, Everyday Life: cultural perspectives. Zagreb: Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research.

JAMBRESIC KIRIN, R. (1999) 'Personal Narratives on War: a challenge to women's essays and ethnography in Croatia', Estudos de literatura oral, forthcoming.

KALDOR, M. (1996) 'Cosmopolitanism Versus Nationalism: the new divide?' in R. Caplan and T. Feffer (editors) Europe's New Nationalism: states and minorities in conflict. Oxford: The University Press.

KALDOR, M. and KUMAR, R. (1993) New Forms of Conflict. In Helsinki Citizens' Assembly Conflicts in Europe: towards a new political approach. Prague: HCA; 12-34.

KOLAR-PANOV, D. (1996) 'Video and the Diasporic Imagination of selfhood: a case study of the Croatians in Australia', Cultural Studies, 10(2); 288-314.

KOLAR-PANOV, D. (1997) Video, War and the Diasporic Imagination. London: Routledge.

McADAMS, M. (1978) An Overview of Croatian Nationalism to the End of the Croatian Spring in 1971. Croatian Information Service, <>.

MAGAS, B. (1993) The Destruction of Yugoslavia: tracking the break-up 1980-92. London: Verso.

MESIC, M. (1992) 'External Migration in the Context of the Post-War Development of Yugoslavia' in J. Allcock (editor) Yugoslavia in Transition: essays in honor of Fred Singleton. New York: Berg.

MITRA, A. (1997) 'Virtual Commonality: looking for India on the Internet' in S. Jones (editor) Virtual Culture: identity and communication in cybersociety. London: Sage.

PEIRCE, P. and STUBBS, P. (1999) 'Peace Building, Hegemony and Integrated Social development: UNDP in Travnik' in M. Pugh (editor) The Regeneration of War-torn Societies. London: Macmillan, forthcoming.

PETTAN, S. (1998) 'Music, Politics and War in Croatia in the 1990s: an introduction' in S. Pettan (editor) Music, Politics and war: views from Croatia. Zagreb: Institute for Ethnology and Folklore Research.

POSTER, M. (1998) 'Virtual Ethnicity: tribal identity in an age of global communications' in S. Jones (editor) Cybersociety 2.0. London: Sage.

POVRZANOVIC, M. (1997) 'Identities in War: embodiments of violence and places of belonging', Ethnologia Europaea, 27 (2), 153-162.

POVRZANOVIC. M. and JAMBRESIC KIRIN, R. (1996) 'Negotiating Identities?: the voice of refugees between experience and representation' in R. Jambresic Kirin and M. Povrzanovic (editors) War, Exile, Everyday Life: cultural perspectives. Zagreb: Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research.

RAMET, S. (1996) Balkan Babel: the disintegration of Yugoslavia from the death of Tito to ethnic war. Boulder: Westview, 2nd. edition.

RHEINGOLD, H. (1993) The Virtual Community: homesteading on the electronic frontier. Reading: Addison-Wesley.

SILBER, L. and LITTLE, A. (1995) The Death of Yugoslavia. London: Penguin.

STUBBS, P. (1996) 'Civil Society, Social Movements or Globalized New Professional Middle Class', paper presented to the American Sociological Conference, New York, August.

STUBBS, P. (1997) N'GO Work with Forced Migrants in Croatia: lineages of a global middle class', International Peacekeeping, 4 (4), 50-60.

STUBBS, P. (1998) 'Conflict and Co-operation in the Virtual Community?: eMail and the wars of the Yugoslav succession', Sociological Research Online, 3 (3), <>.

SKRBIS, Z. (1995) 'Long Distance Nationalism? second generation Croatians and Slovenians in Australia' in A. Pavkovi (editor) Nationalism and Postcommunism. Dartmouth: Dartmouth Press.

SKRBIS, Z. (1998) 'Making It Tradeable: videotapes, cultural technologies and diasporas', Cultural Studies, 12(1); 265-274.

VERDERY, K. (1996) What Was Socialism, And What Comes Next? Princeton: University Press.

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1999