Ante Čuvalo 

The Role of the Hrvatski Književni list

Croatian Literary Gazette in the Croatian National Revival in the Late 1960s

Since the creation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918 (known as Yugoslavia after 1929), the unresolved question of inter-national relations in the country, or perhaps more correctly, a design of a Greater Serbia, has been the Achilles heel of the country.  In 1941, the state broke up because the Karadjordjević dynasty, the Belgrade regime, and the Serb-dominated bureaucracy and military treated the country merely as an expanded Serbian state.  Soon after the Second World War, the Communist Party, specifically its leader, Josip Broz Tito, proudly declared: “The national question … has been solved and to be precise, solved very well, to the general satisfaction of all our nationalities.  It has been solved in the way Lenin and Stalin have taught us...”[i]

         However, centralism, unitarism, and “Yugoslavism” of the post-1945 regime were experienced by non-Serbs as expressions of the same old Serbian hegemony reinforced by Communist ideology and its claims to monopoly of power.  Slowly the Party “liberals” and intellectuals among the non-Serbs began to oppose growing powers of Belgrade and the Serbs at the expense of others.  Thus, after the ouster of the Vice-President Aleksandar Ranković in July 1966,[ii] changes began to take place; in particular, more freedom of discussion was allowed. 

         Leading Party “liberals” at the time attempted to control discussion on national issues by wrapping them in Marxist phraseology, but some younger intellectuals began to “unwrap” the crucial issue and started to talk more in national rather than in class terms.  The March 1967 Declaration on the Croatian Language was clearly a product of the on-going change.[iii]  The Declaration was the result of cooperation between Croatian Marxist and non-Marxist intellectuals.  It was also the first public act in which the Croatian national question was openly discussed in the post-War period.  It clearly indicated that a national revival was in the making.

HKL – First Independent Paper

In April 1968, the Hrvatski književni list (HKL) or Croatian Literary Gazette began to publish in Zagreb, capital of Croatia.  The paper, a kind of a sensation from the outset, was the first fully independent paper in the country since World War II.  Its readers fell neatly into two categories: they either enthusiastically praised it or condemned it.  However, both sides agreed that the paper, even in its short existence (April 1968 – October 1969), had a significant impact on the development of the Croatian national awakening in the late 1960s.  It also contributed to process of widening the political and social space on the unresolved economic, cultural, and even political relations of Croatia to the federal center in Belgrade.

         The paper was published by the Association of Independent Writers – TIN, an organization founded in 1968 upon the unification of three smaller groups of artists: the Independent Group of Writer – TIN, Society of Worker Writers, and a small circle of writers who were in the process of forming an independent group but decided instead to join the TIN group.[iv]

         The name TIN was taken in honor of a Croatian poet Tin Ujević (1891-1955), who was well-known for his bohemian life style and sharp criticism of everything that restrained freedom of the human spirit: “This is why we follow Tin.  The colors of our flag are the magnitude of the World, and power of the Letter; true Love and freedom of Truth”[v] - the paper declared.

         A number of characteristics distinguished this group of writers and their paper from other literary circles in Croatia at the time.  This was the first independent paper in the country, published without any institutional or government support.  It was also the first to be identified as Croatian in its tile name.  In the first issue, the publishers stated: “The title of our paper clearly defines its [Croatian] identity and its initiators, but we explicitly emphasize that its pages are wide open to all.”[vi]  The paper also stressed its closeness to the common people, and it opened its pages to literary talents who were not acceptable to the cultural establishment.  It criticized the existing literary journals and their publishers for living in “an ivory tower” distant from the cultural needs of the people.  Because of their snobbery, HKL maintained, Croatian culture had been losing ground and its true tradition.

         We ask who are the guilty ones? The immediate creators of such a cultural climate are sailing today on the Adriatic.  They are buying baroque furniture or are immersing themselves in cabalistic texts; to them everything is boring, about disappointments we will not even talk.[vii]

         The editors of the new paper believed that the existing literary publications in Croatia were ignoring national heritage and local talent while showing off their supposed cosmopolitanism by paying too much attention to foreign writers and literary trends.  In their program, the TIN group announced: “We, in contrast to some other attempts, are starting in another direction – the opposite way – from the national towards the international.”[viii]  They also emphasized that their goal was to raise the cultural level of the Croatian people, not by rejecting the nation's heritage but by building on old foundations. It was declared: Culturally inferior people are not able to cooperate on an equal basis with other peoples. Their position will remain inferior!  That is why we firmly stand in the defense of traditions and consider its affirmation our main goal.[ix]

         Socialism was accepted by these young writers, but they praised a different kind of socialism than the one they lived in:

         Socialism is on our hearts, the real one, the inspired human life in socialism, full of beauty and justice;

         the one which our forefathers wanted for us, life free of insinuations by its enemies!  We are for truth and victory of true self/management, where we will truly govern with our voice in our realm.  We are not for social reform in word only, we are for the reform of human relations...[x]

       The HKL attempted to close the existing gap between different social, regional, ideological, and even ethnic groups in Croatia.  The members of the board ranged from the best known Croatian composer of the century, Jakov Gotovac, to worker and peasant writers.  They resided in different places in the republic and came from various religious and ideological backgrounds: Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim, Marxist, and non-Marxist.  The paper covered a variety of subjects that other cultural literature or school textbooks had ignored since World War II.  It provided an opportunity for the younger generations of Croatians to discover their national heritage.

         In the HKL, the young learned about people like Grgur Ninski, the leader of the Croatian Catholic church in the Tenth century who fought for the use of the vernacular in church liturgy;[xi] Markantun de Dominis, a Croatian humanist and “heretic” of the Sixteenth century;[xii] Ante Starčević (1823-1896), founder of the Croatian Party of Right and advocate of an independent Croatian state;[xiii] and the brothers Antun and Stjepan Radić, founders and leaders of the Croatian Peasant Party, that became the most important political force among the Croatians in the inter-war Yugoslavia.[xiv]

Testing the Waters

Besides unveiling the past, the paper slowly began to deal with the problems of the time.  A number of touchy issues were brought to the public's attention: a massive Croatian emigration,[xv] the economy,[xvi] division of “surplus of labor,”[xvii] etatism,[xviii] resolutions of the Ninth Congress of the Communist Party,[xix] World War II casualties,[xx] and other.  The question of subordination of the Croatian language was mentioned one way or another in almost all of the gazette’s nineteen issues.  Actually, what broke the camel's back in the eyes of the regime, as far as the existence of the paper was concerned, was the November 1969 article on the use of language in the Yugoslav armed forces by Jaka Avšič, a retired army brigadier general from Slovenia.  The regime used the article as an excuse to ban the paper.[xxi]

         The board of the Republican Fund for Advancement of Cultural Activities refused to grant any financial aid to HKL.  In its explanation for the refusal, the board denounced the “conceptual and esthetic orientation of the paper,”[xxii] but without giving any specific objections to the paper's content.  The publishers made public and legal appeals in response to the verdict, but all their efforts were in vain.  It was clear that the Party stood behind all of the anti-gazette decisions.

         The paper, however, proved that it could exist on its own.  In its eighteen months of existence, its circulation tripled, from 12 to 35 thousand copies.  It had “far more [readers] than all other literary journals combined in Yugoslavia” at the time.[xxiii]  Even Party officials publicly acknowledged that “the circulation of the HKL was growing [too fast] and that the phenomenon should be examined.”[xxiv]


 HKL was discussed at a number of Party meetings including those of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Croatia (CC LCC).  The paper was unanimously condemned by all of them.  At one such meeting Party members declared that “some papers and magazines” in Croatia, “especially the HKL,” insist on a re-evaluation of the recent Croatian cultural and political past. Hrvatski književni list, from issue to issue, publishes treatises from cultural history in which it tries to correct the judgments of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia....[xxv]

         Although the official reaction to the appearance of the HKL was one of condemnation, Party leadership did not ban the paper immediately or confront the publishers with trials and imprisonments.  This was a major departure from traditional dealings with “nationalist elements.”  The bulk of public confrontation with the paper and its publishers was “delegated” to those who were “paid to write,”[xxvi] to the Zagreb Committee of the LC, and to other groups under Party control.  Their duty was to discredit the paper on intellectual, esthetic, and ideological levels.  One of the chief accusations was that the paper dealt only with ghosts of the past and not with present needs and problems.  But once the paper began to discuss contemporary problems, especially economic ones, it was attacked for meddling in political issues.[xxvii]

Under Fire

The most vehement attacks on the paper, as well as on the alleged rise of nationalism, came from Miloš Žanko, Vice-President of the Yugoslav Federal Assembly at the time, a Party “conservative” from Croatia.  His fierce onslaughts, however, came without the blessing of the republican Party leadership in Zagreb.  He wrote a series of articles in Borba, the Party organ, immediately before the Third Plenum of the CCLC of Croatia (February 21, 1969).  It was obvious that he was not only condemning the alleged rise of nationalism but also putting pressure on the Central Committee LC in Croatia to change its “liberal” policies.  Eventually, those articles and another series published in the same paper from November 17 to 21, 1969 cost him his political career.

         Even though the Central Committee condemned the paper and the Zagreb League of Communists in July 1969 declared that the paper “has formulated ideas and a political program directly opposed to the policies of the League of Communists,”[xxviii] its publication continued.  The Party's new method of dealing with the situation was expressed by an official who stated at a Zagreb meeting on “socio-political questions” (May 1969) that the Party must face “certain problems” and influence them “not by decrees, but more often by contacts, arguments, and confrontations.”[xxix]  Because of such new tactics, the paper and its supporters experienced constant “confrontations” which in reality were blatant harassments.  For example, the post office would simply “fail” to deliver the paper to the readers.  Or teachers would “caution” students not to read it.[xxx]  Borba announced that workers in various print shops in Croatia refused to print the paper because of its anti-socialist ideological content, and for that reason, Borba alleged, its printing site was changed four times, ultimately moving to Ljubljana, Slovenia.     HKL, however, maintained that it had excellent relations with workers but was required to change printers in Croatia because of financial reasons and strikes in printing plants.  The paper also accused “political and administrative” officials of putting pressure on the printers in order to prevent its publication.[xxxi]  But when the paper ceased publishing in October 1969, it was alleged that workers in the name of self-management refused to print it.  Hence, Savka Dapčević-Kučar, President of the Central Committee LC of Croatia, boasted at the Tenth session of the CCLC of Croatia (1970) that the paper “died out without being banned.”[xxxii]  In 1974, however, one high Party official in Croatia openly stated that the paper had been practically “banned.”[xxxiii]


Hrvatski književni list had an important impact on the development of the Croatian national movement in the late 1960s.  Most of all, it tested the waters before the movement shifted into a higher gear after the Tenth Plenum of the CCLC of Croatia in January 1970.  It is interesting to note that the paper did not attract open support among most of the best known names in contemporary literary life in Croatia, as the Party leadership was proud to point out.[xxxiv]  But neither did they come out against it.  There are several possible explanations for why the Croatian cultural establishment as a whole did not lend its name to HKL.  As mentioned earlier, the paper distanced itself from that establishment from its beginning.  After the affair with the Declaration on the Croatian Language, the leading intellectuals and institutions possibly held back in order to see what would happen to HKL and the people associated with it, individuals who were younger in age and less known.  But even more importantly, while declaring that it accepted socialism as an ideal the paper and its publishers were critical of socialism as implemented in Croatia and the country as a whole.  At the same time, mainstream Croatian intellectuals began to accept the “liberal” platform of the Party, deciding to work through the existing system.

         While HKL was still in existence, new cultural periodicals began to appear in Croatia.  They followed the course charted by HKL.  However, these new periodicals had firmer ground to stand upon than an independent paper like HKL.  They were published by old and established institutions like Matica hrvatska (Latin: Matrix Croatica), the Yugoslav Academy of Arts and Sciences or the Writers' Association of Croatia.  Their contributors were leading professors at the Zagreb University and other intellectuals, many of them active members of the Communist Party.

         One semi-official interpretation alleges that there was a “conspiracy” between individuals associated with HKL and the mainstream intellectual establishment in Croatia.  Allegedly, Hrvatski književni list served as a diversion while other forces, namely those around Matica hrvatska, were better organized[xxxv].  Although there is no evidence of such “plot” the proponents of the regime felt the need to create such theories in order to justify the persecutions of the students, intellectuals, and others in the post-Croatian Spring period (December 1971 and after).  However, the paper might have attracted too much of the Party's attention and that provided more space for other groups of intellectuals in Croatia to strengthen their position.

         HKL also had a mobilizing and unifying effect among the Croatians at large.  From its beginning in April 1968, the number of readers grew quickly.  By informing them about their culture, history, as well as contemporary problems and inequalities, it increased the interest of the readers, especially the younger generation, in their national past and present, as well as in the future prospects.  Its liberal socialist tone also provided a platform for national reconciliation between the Marxists and non-Marxist, even anti-Marxists.

         Probably the most significant contribution of the Croatian Literary Gazette was that it served as a catalyst in the process of differentiation within the communist party elites in Croatia.  On one side, Žanko and the “conservatives” attacked HKL and the growth of the national movement in general.  On the other, “liberals” were relatively silent about the issues raised by the paper.  The “liberals” regarded Belgrade unitarism as a greater threat to the country and the system than an open discussion of national history and inter-national relations in the Federation.  However, many of the “liberals” of 1969 became “neo-conservatives” before the 21st Session of the Presidium of the CC LCY on December 1, 1971, which marked the end of the Croatian national movement, know also as the Croatian Spring.  Among those who were purged or jailed after December 1971 were many of the contributors to HKL, despite the fact that its publishing was halted in October 1969.  Zlatko Tomičić, its founder and editor, was sentenced to a five-year jail term.  The Croatian national movement was crushed.  The Party's “democratic centralism” was strengthened, and inter-national relations in Yugoslavia continue to be unresolved.

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