CORRESPONDENCErnLetter From Zagrebrnby Thomas FlemingrnOut of the Rubble,rnA Christian State?rnAs the Air Croatia plane began its descentrninto Zagreb, it came to me that Irnhad no idea where I was going. ThernChesterton Society conference was tornbe held downtown at Europski Dom,rnbut the participants were being put up atrna Jesuit seminary. In a city of nearly arnmillion, the Jesuits would probably havernmore than one address. As I was to learnrnin the coming days, greater Zagreb isrnriddled with Jesuit seminaries andrnschools, to say nothing of other religiousrnhouses and foundations. Indeed, therncity sprung up around the cathedral, andrnthe oldest part—the “Kaptol”—takes itsrnname from the chapter of canons.rnAny traveler is understandably anxiousrnabout landing in a strange countryrnin the midst of war and political change,rnespecially if his command of the languagernbarely covers ordering a meal. Tryrnas I might, I could not recall even thernword for information (obvashtenje), although,rnas it turns out, the Great I is arnuniversal symbol. Mv fears were exacerbatedrnby the knowledge that, war or nornwar, communism or ex-communism,rnnothing ever seems to get done in thernBalkans, except after a long and bitter sequencernof missed appointments and brokenrnpromises that give victory the taste ofrnashes.rnWhat part of this mentality is the ancientrnlegacy of the Balkans and what partrnthe residue of communism, I am notrnprepared to say. Ibm Sunic, who nowrnhandles foreign press relations for thernministry of foreign affairs, came to thernconference and described the mind ofrnHomo yugoslaviensis as a compound ofrnsloth and dependency that justified itselfrnas a technique of subversion against thernstate, and the evidence for his thesis isrneverywhere in Zagreb.rnIf it had been up to Homo yugoslaviensis,rnI might still be in the airportrntrying to buy a map. Fortunately, 1 wasrnmet by a man apparently untouchedrnby years of communist rule. MarijornZhivkovitch, director of Obiteljski Centarrn(a program to help families), pickedrnme up in his van on the way to his warehouse,rnwhere a truck was waiting to takernold clothes to distribution points. Marijornis a Catholic activist and a personification,rnalbeit a gentle one, of the Churchrnmilitant. Strat Caldecott, the conference’srnmain organizer, calls Marijo arnsaint, and rather than blushing like anrnembarrassed Anglo-Saxon, Marijo shrugsrnhis shoulders and asks, “Man who keepsrnCommandments and does God’s work,rnwhat is he but saint? All good Christiansrnare saints.”rnIn the days to come, I came to lookrnupon Marijo as part saint and part SaintrnBernard, especially when I would see hisrnhuge frame striding across the snow tornrescue us from one minor disaster afterrnanother. Instead of a keg of brandy, Marijornhas a van usually stuffed with antiabortionrntracts, pro-family pamphlets,rnrosaries recently blessed by the Pope,rnfoodstuffs, and boxes of clothing.rnIt is not just the people of Bosnia whornneed clothing. Although food and rentrnare comparatively cheap in Zagreb,rnclothes and furniture arc valued on arnWestern scale. Unfortunately, a goodrnZagreb salary is $200 per month, and arnteacher is unable to afford the price ofrnthe suit he is required to wear. For all thernmoral erosion effected by communism,rnrespectable Croats are unwilling to linernup to receive clothing. Rather than letrnthem shiver and be damned, Marijo’srn”collaborators” take clothes directly tornthe needy.rnHis chief accomplices in this businessrnare Neda and Mato Mandir, who werernkind enough to put me up my last nightrnin Zagreb. Their apartment is stuffedrnwith secondhand clothing, much of itrnfrom Poland. (What is Vergil’s linernabout people that have known sufferingrnbeing more inclined to charity? Non ignararnmali, miseris succurrere disco.) Husbandrnand wife both work, and when the’rnarc not taking care of their five children,rnthey are packing and distributing clothes.rnTheir eldest daughter, who speaks excellentrnEnglish, shows me a suit destinedrnfor a gymnasium teacher too proud tornpick it up. I’hcy will take it to him tomorrow.rnMarijo and his friends do not speak ofrnwelfare or social assistance. Instead,rnwhen they provide food and clothing torna family with children—their usual targetrn—they enclose “beautiful letter explainingrnwe do this to honor you as parentsrnwho have taken on the noble task ofrnraising many children.” In the days torncome, as the members of the conferencerndebate the merits of the free market versusrnsome form of Christian socialism, Irnhave cause to think repeatedly of Marijornand of the difference between charityrngiven out of love, both to man and God,rnand the political schemes that use welfarernas a bribe to win support for arnregime.rnWhy pick Zagreb, of all places, as thernsite of a conference on economics andrnethics? Little enough of either, somernmiglit be tempted to say. Actually, thernplace and time are perfect. Whateverrnone thinks of the breakup of Yugoslaviarn(I’m all for it, but then I’m all for breakingrnup every repressive imperial state),rnthe successor republics are in a positionrnto rediscover their national identities andrnto create political institutions that reflectrntheir national character rather thanrnan imposed ideology, whether communistrnor capitalist.rnIt is generally said that Serbs andrnCroats are one people, united in languagernand blood and divided only in religion.rnTo me, iiowever, the seem as differentrnas the Germans and the French.rnHistorically, Croatia is a Catholic countryrnas much as Poland or Ireland. As arnprovince of Austria-Hungar, Croatia developedrnalong radically different linesrnthan those imposed on Turkish-dominatedrnSerbia. The Turks were a harshrnand alien set of masters, and the best ofrnthe Serbs developed a tradition of armedrnrebellion and national assertion. ThernCroats, on the other hand, shared the religionrnof the Austrians and Hungarians,rnand however much the latter succeededrnin bullying Croatia for nearly half a millennium,rnthe result was a prosperous andrncivilized people, outwardh’ almost asrnGermanic as the Czechs.rnI attend a dinner party given by thernPaneuropean Union. It is a very civilizedrngathering, but what I am reallyrnlooking forward to is the traditional musicrnI am told we shall be hearing. I walkrnFEBRUARY 1994/35rnrnrn