Book Review by Norman Cigar: Removing the Mask: Letters and Statements Concering Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina 1989-2000.


Journal of Croatian Studies

Volume XLII, Year 2001, pp. 149-151.


By Ante Čuvalo. Chicago: Croatian Franciscan Press,

2000. 352 pp. Index. ISBN 0-9674466-2-7. No Price indicated

bookThis book consists of a collection of letters and political memoranda which Ante Čuvalo wrote over more than a decade in connection with events in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Čuvalo is easily one of the most active Croatian-American academics, and this anthology highlights his remarkable energy and ability to apply his scholarly skills to the practical arena of policy. Beginning with a salvo in reply to an article by Serb intellectual Momčilo Selić in 1989, Čuvalo wrote letters to newspapers and magazines in response to news reports or opinion pieces which he felt presented misleading or downright biased positions. In doing so, Čuvalo crossed words with such personages a David Binder, Srdja Trifković, Bogdan Denitch, Robert Hayden, and Helen Delich Bentley. Many of his letters were published in such newspapers as The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The International Herald Tribune, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Even those of his letters to the press which were not published often elicited responses from the editors (which are also published here), and his efforts probably had at least some effect in changing how the news was covered.

In addition, Čuvalo sent other letters, also published here, to prominent public figures with the intent of providing criticisms or suggestions, including to Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, their Secretaries of State, Lady Margaret Thatcher, Ambassador Richard Holbrook, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and to numerous U.S. Senators and Congressmen. Often, Čuvalo would send along an analysis of political events when writing to policymakers, as well as copies of his Historical Dictionary of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and often received replies thanking him for his think-pieces.

There are also letters with Čuvalo sent to publishers of new educational textbooks and maps, seeking to correct traditional and new errors which recent reference works, if left unchallenged, would only reinforce. Particularly interesting is an exchange between Čuvalo and the organizers of a roundtable discussion at DePaul University in 1992, with Čuvalo focusing on the background and views of one of the sponsors, Bogdan Denitch, and the questionable framework for the proposed roundtable. This elicited a heated response from the sponsors which, as much as anything, probably characterized the extreme and rather naïve outlook of this apparently ephemeral group called “DiYUlog for Peace” (pp. 77-80).

There was probably no one as active in letter-writing on behalf of the Croatian cause during this period, something which must have required a significant amount of time and effort.

The themes in the letters reflect the topical issues over the span of a decade, beginning with the need to clarify to foreign observers the reasons for an implications of the impending and then actual disintegration of Yugoslavia, followed by the need to elicit action by the International Community (an specifically the United States) in dealing with the onslaught of Serb military actions in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and ending with the need to craft and support a viable post-war solution. Future historians one day may well use such letters to gain an understanding of how the various diasporas in the United States reacted to events in the former Yugoslavia, and Čuvalo’ anthology provides what may turn out to be one of the richest samplers of such primary material. In the meantime, this book provides a very readable and personal overview of one Diaspora intellectual’s perspectives and activities during an entire decade of momentous change in the region, as well as valuable insights into the views of other opinion-makers and policymakers, who engaged Čuvalo either in agreement or disagreement. In many ways, Čuvalo has set the standard for making available his correspondence to the public, and hopefully others will follow suit.


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