CROATIA: MYTH AND REALITY
C. Michael McAdams

MYTH: "IN SEARCH OF THE FASCIST FERRET"

Myth: The Croatian currency, the kuna, has links to fascism.

Reality: The kuna, a small wood marten similar to a ferret or mink, was traded as a pelt in Roman times and was first struck as a Croatian coin in 1256 A.D.

The Fascist Ferret

From 1991 through 1994, the Western media, fed a steady diet of fascist finding directions from Belgrade, had uncovered fascism lurking throughout Croatia. In 1994, the fascist finders turned their attention to Croatia's currency. When Croatia declared independence in 1991, the Yugoslav dinar was replaced with a transitional currency called the Croatian dinar (Hrvatskih dinar). It traded at par with the Yugoslav dinar and was subject to tremendous inflation. From 1991 until mid-1994 the nearly worthless paper dinar, (there were no coins) traded at up to 6500 per U.S. dollar.

Each of the dinar banknotes, from one dinar to 100,000 dinars, depicted the famed Croatian Jesuit scientist Rudjer Boskovic (1711-1787). Boskovic was an astronomer and mathematician who developed the first geometric formula to determine the equator of a planet. He joined the Jesuits in 1726 and studied at the Collegium Romanum. After teaching at a number of colleges, he accepted a post at the court of King Louis XV as director of optics for the French navy. In Paris he met Benjamin Franklin. On behalf of the city-state of Dubrovnik, Boskovic granted recognition to the new republic of the United States of America. Dubrovnik was perhaps the first nation, and, certainly the first republic, to do so.

The dinar was to be a temporary currency until a Croatia had stabilized sufficiently to issue its own distinctive unit of trade. On May 30, 1994, the new Croatian currency called thekuna was introduced. It was divided into one hundred lipa (linden leaf). The kuna was named for a European wood marten, similar to a ferret or mink, whose pelt was used in trade in ancient times. The selection of the seemingly innocent animal and plant unleashed a media fire storm. "Croatia revives currency from Nazi era!" proclaimed the Washington Post. The Los Angeles Times headline read: "Money is named after an animal that the Nazi puppet regime displayed on World War II bills." Another paper was distressed that the Currency "glorifies Croatian nationalism." A New York Times' columnist used the currency change to dredge up very negative Croatian myth conceivable in condemning kuna. A small, furry, wood marten had suddenly been ormed into the "fascist ferret."

Some journalists felt that Croatia should have kept hated Serbian dinar or reverted to the Austro-Hunrian kruna or "crown" despite the fact that a dozen other countries used the "crown". Like the dinar, it too was a symbol of foreign oppression to Croatians. The difficulty that the kuna it seemed, was that it had also been the currency of the pro-Axis government in Croatia during World War II. However, the claim that the symbol of the kuna appeared on World War II Croatian currency was accurate. The name was used, but the animal was never portrayed on any note, coin, or stamp in war-time Croatia.

One economist sarcastically asserted: "When the United States introduces the beaver to replace the dollar because 200 years ago trappers and Indians conducted commerce in hides, then it would be appropriate for Croatia to use the kuna." Apparently the economist was oblivious to the origin of the term "buck" to describe the American dollar. Like the "penny" (one cent coin) and "nickel" (five cent coin), the United States has never actually had a unit of currency known as a "buck." Despite that and over two hundred years of independence from Britain, Americans still use the term "penny." Every American, whether a descendant of the Mayflower or a recent immigrant, knows that a "buck" is a dollar even though trading in "buck skins," the hide of a male deer, has long since ceased.

The kuna was depicted on the Austro-Hungarian coat of arms, representing Slavonia or eastern Croatia, for centuries, and it appeared in both Royal and communist Yugoslavia as a symbol of the region. With all of the focus the Croatian flag received in 1991 with its "fascist" chessboard shield, the fascist finders did not notice the "fascist ferret" in the crown above the chessboard.

In fact, the animal was not pictured on any Croatian currency but could be found on three Croatian coins. Other "fascist" themes on Croatian coins included a tuna fish, a bear, and a bird.

Overlooked in most of the articles was the fact that the kuna, in the form of its pelt, had been used as a unit of trade in Croatia since Roman times and was first introduced on silver coins in 1256. Also ignored was the fact that while the kuna was used by the Ustase government, it was also used by the Partizan government during the Second World War.

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Edición electrónica de Studia Croatica, 1998