Ante Starčević was a Croatian politician and writer. His policies centered around Croatian state law, the integrity of Croatian lands, and the right of his people to self-determination. As an important member of the Croatian parliament and the founder of the Party of Rights he has laid the foundations for Croatian nationalism. He has been referred to as Father of the Nation due to his campaign for the rights of Croats within Austria-Hungary and his propagation of a Croatian state in a time where many politicians sought unification with other South Slavs. Some of his works and viewpoints, viewed by some historians as racist and Anti-semitic, served as tenets of Ustaše movement which has made him a controversial figure.
BiographyStarčević was born in the village of Žitnik near Gospić, a small town in the Military Frontier within Austrian Empire, to a family of a Bunjevac Catholic father Jakov and Serbian Orthodox mother Milica. Starčević attended elementary school in Klanac. Since the age of 13, he was educated by his uncle Šime Starčević who gave him his first lessons in Croatian and Latin. Šime Starčević was a pastor in Gospić and a well-known writer and linguist. In 1845, he graduated from Classical Gymnasium in Zagreb. During high school, Starčević further improved his knowledge of Latin, German, Hungarian, Greek and Italian. He then briefly continued his studies at the seminary in Senj, but soon moved to Pest in 1845 to attend a Roman Catholic theological seminary he eventually graduated from in 1846. Upon his graduation Starčević returned to Croatia and continued studying theology in Senj. Rather than becoming a priest, he decided to engage in secular pursuits and started working at Ladislav Šram's law firm in Zagreb.
He then tried to get an academic post with the University of Zagreb but was unsuccessful, so he remained in Šram's office until 1861 when he was appointed chief notary of Fiume County. He was also a member of the committee of Matica ilirska, a Croatian cultural society connected with the Illyrian movement, in the Historical Society and in the editorial board of Neven, a literary magazine.
In 1861, he was appointed the chief notary of the Fiume county. That same year, he was elected to the Croatian Parliament as the representative of Fiume and founded the original Croatian Party of Rights with Eugen Kvaternik. Starčević would be reelected to the parliament in 1865, 1871, and from 1878 to his death.
In 1862, when Fiume was implicated in participation in protests against the Austrian Empire, he was suspended and sentenced to one month in prison as an enemy of the regime. When he was released, Starčević returned to Šram's office, where he remained until 11 October 1871, when he was arrested again, this time on the occasion of the Rakovica Revolt. The revolt was launched by Kvaternik, and who had become convinced that a political solution of the type Starčević called for was not possible. While the revolt drew several hundred men, both Croats and Serbs, it was soon quashed by Imperial troops. The Croatian Party of Rights was abolished. Starčević was released after two months in prison.
In his old age, he moved to Starčević House, built for him by the Croatian people in 1895. He died in his house less than a year later, aged 73. According to his wish, he was buried in the Church of St Mirko in the Zagreb suburb of Šestine. His bust was made by Ivan Rendić. On his deathbed, he requested that no monuments be raised to his honor, but his statue was put up in front of Starčević House in 1998.
Political activityAfter being banned from practising law in 1857, Starčević travelled to Russia where he hoped he would gather support from his country's eastern rival. When this failed, he travelled to France, pinning his hopes on French emperor Napoleon III. While in Paris, he published his work La Croatie et la confédération italienne, considered by some to be the precursor to his Party of Rights' political program. In 1859, the Austrian Empire was defeated in the Second Italian War of Independence, during which time Starčević returned to Croatia. Austria lost control over Italy, and Austria's weakening status in the world paved the way for Starčević's career.
As the chief notary in Fiume in 1861, Starčević wrote "the four petitions of the Rijeka county". He pointed out that Croatia needed to determine its relationships with Austria and Hungary through international agreements. He demanded the reintegration of the Croatian lands, the large kingdom of Croatia of old, the homeland of one people, with the same blood, language, past and future.
On that ideological basis, he founded the Party of Rights with his school friend Eugen Kvaternik in 1861. That party demanded an independent Croatia independent of Austria and Hungary. Starčević's famous phrase was:"Ni pod Beč, ni pod Peštu, nego za slobodnu, samostalnu Hrvatsku"
Starčević was the only parliamentary representative who agreed with Kvaternik's draft constitution of 26 June 1861. He advocated the termination of the Military Frontier and persuaded parliament to pass on 5 August 1861 the decision annulling any joint business with Austria.
He advocated the resolution of Bosnian issues by reforms and cooperation between the people and the nobility. Starčević believed that Bosniaks were "the best Croats", and claimed that "Bosnian Muslims are a part of the Croatian people and of the purest Croatian blood".
From his first writings of 1861, until his last speech, Starčević, for 30 years, has tirelessly tried to prove that the main and lasting thing was to get rid of Austrian intimidation and that for the Croatian people there was no life or happier future "until it's under Austria-Hungary." He took up the hostile stance towards the "mindset called Austria, in which governments and rulers conspired against the peoples." He considered House of Habsburg to be the greatest enemy of the Croatian people.
With the speech he held in the Parliament on 26 June 1861, Starčević initiated the campaign aimed at rehabilitation of Petar Zrinski and Fran Krsto Frankopan.
Starčević saw the main Croatian enemy in the Habsburg Monarchy. He believed in the ability of the Croatian people to govern themselves and that sovereignty grew from the nation, the people, and not from the ruler that governed "By the Grace of God". "God and Croats" was the essence of Starčević's political ideas. Under the influence of the ideas of the French Revolution, he fought against feudalism and advocated for the democratization of political life. In politics, he relied on townsmen, wealthier peasantry, and intellectuals
IdeologyStarčević was at first a proponent of the Illyrian movement, later he adopted ideological views from the French period such as Nationalism and Liberalism. He developed his personal, as well as Party vies around Croatian nationalism, liberalism in regards to freedom and liberties of peoples and nations, religious pluralism and Parliamentarian Monarchism. In views of an ideal Croatian state he favored Croatia to be a Liberal, National Parliamentarian Monarchy instead of a Republic, were the people instead of the Church and Aristocracy would be the source of sovereignty for the Monarch.
Literary and linguistic workStarčević wrote literary criticism, short stories, newspaper articles, philosophical essays, plays and political satire. He was also a translator.
His travelogue From Lika was published in Kušlan's magazine Slavenski Jug on 22 October 1848. He wrote four plays in the period 1851–52, but only the Village Prophet has been preserved. His translation of Anacreon from Ancient Greek was published in Danica in 1853. His critical review of Đurđević's Pjesni razlike was described by the Croatian literary historian Branko Vodnik as "our first genuine literary essay about older Dubrovnik literature". His opus shows an affinity with practical philosophy, which he calls "the science of life". Josip Horvat said: "His literary work from 1849 to the end of 1853 made Ante Starčević the most prolific and original Croatian writer along with Mirko Bogović."
In 1850, inspired by Ljudevit Gaj, Starčević started working on the manuscript of Istarski razvod, a Croatian document from 1325. He transcribed the text from the Glagolitic alphabet to the Latin alphabet, analysed it and published it in 1852. In the foreword, young Starčević elaborated his linguistic ideas, specifically that the mixture of all three Croatian dialects and the Krajina dialect, with its 600-year history, was the Croatian language. Starčević accepted the etymological orthography and used the ekavian accent for his entire life, considering it the heir of the old Kajkavian. He did not use assibilation, coarticulation nor assimilation, accepted in Croatian orthography since Ljudevit Gaj. His orthography was adopted by the Ustaše regime in Independent State of Croatia. His language is a "synthetic" form of Croatian, never used before or after him, most similar to the Ozalj idiom of Petar Zrinski, whom he probably never read.
In that period, in the Call for Subscriptions to the Croatian Grammar he stated his opposition to the Vienna Language Agreement of 1850 and the linguistic concept of Vuk Stefanović Karadžić. He continued his dispute with the followers of Karadžić in a series of articles published in 1852. His opposition to Karadžić's work was based in utter denial of the Serbs as the nation, their language, their culture and history. He also did not recognize the Serbs, Slovenes, Bosniaks as separate nations or groups, referring to them all as Croats. This was not a popular or widely accepted theory; educated people headed by Strossmayer and Gaj supported Karadžić. It was demonstrated publicly immediately after Karadžić's death – when Croatian Parliament collected a considerable amount of money in order to erect a monument to honor Karadžić in Croatia and the Court chancellor Ivan Mažuranić got the Viennese Imperial Court to financially support Karadžić's widow.
When Srbski dnevnik from Novi Sad published an article saying that "Croatians write in Serbian", Starčević wrote in response: Instead of claiming that the Croats use anything else but the Croatian language, those writers who consider themselves Serbs would do well to write in the educated and pure Croatian language, like some of them are already doing, and they can call their language Coptic for all I care. He published the reply as an unsigned article in Narodne novine, the newspaper of Ljudevit Gaj, so the Serbian side attacked Gaj, wrongly attributing the article to him. Starčević subsequently proclaimed he was the author, not Gaj, who cared to maintain good relations with Serbia, distanced himself from his friend.
Starčević was the only Croatian politician from his era respected by writer Miroslav Krleža. Krleža used to compare Starčević's struggles to those of Don Quijote's. For Miroslav Krleža Starčević has been the most intelligent Croatian politician. Krleža, however, did not pay much attention to political aspects of his works.
In 1869, he published an affirmative article on the Ottoman Empire and Islam.
ControversiesA number of his views are considered by some people to be chauvinistic and remain controversial.
According to Croatian historians, Mirjana Gross and Ivo Goldstein, Starčević was a racist and an anti-Semite. His understanding of the basic human rights and the way he linked them to the civil liberties were extremely selective. For example, Starčević criticized socialism as "unshaped". He was delighted by the colonialism and claimed that "Algeria should be densely populated by a few million of happy Frenchmen and not to allow to have one hundred fifty thousand of them against two and half million of Arabs".
Starčević had based his ideological views on writings of those ancient Greek writers who thought that some people, by their very nature, are slaves, for they had "just half of the human mind" and, for that reason, they "shall be governed by people of the human nature". He spoke as of the animal breeds and used the word "breed" to mark the people and nations which he saw as cursed and lower ranked races.
He wrote a whole tractate about the Jews that included the following: "Jews... are the breed, except a few, without any morality and without any homeland, the breed of which every unit strives to its personal gain, or to its relatives' gain. To let the Jews to participate in public life is dangerous: throw a piece of mud in a glass of the clearest water – then all the water will be puddled. That way the Jews spoiled and poisoned the French people too much".
For Starčević, there was a race worse than the Jews. For him, the "Slavoserb" notion was firstly of a political nature: the "Slavoserbs" are his political opponents who "sold themselves to a foreign rule". Then all those who favorably look on the South Slavs unity not regarding them as the Croats.
Later, and with years, Starčević more and more marked the "Slavoserbs" as a separate ethnic group, or – as he used to say the "breed", ranked, as humans, lower than the Jews: "The Jews are less harmful than the Slavoserbs. For the Jews care for themselves and their people... but the Slavoserbs are always for the evil: if they cannot gain a benefit, then they tend to harm the good or just affair, or to harm those who are for the affair." – he wrote once.
Further, he claimed that the injustice was done to different "cursed breeds" what spoiled those breeds even more and made them "to be vengeful against their oppressors". As a convinced racist, he stressed that to the "cursed breeds", i.e. to the lower races should not be given any role in the public life.
As an aged man, he made the Serbs identical to the "Slavoserb breed" and mocked them for their historic defeats- which provoked negative reactions even in his "Party of Rights". On that occasion, the Party member Erazmo Barčić described Starčević's mockery and racism as "throwing mud at people and primitive cheeky invectives".
When once facing with negative reactions to his open racism, he temporarily retreated. Accordingly, he wrote an article in Sloboda, issue of March 23, 1883: The main thing is this: everybody should work for the people and the homeland, and let them call themselves as they wish... We have disputes and dissensions only because they are supported and strengthened from the outside... We believe that hungry and cold Serbs and Croats feel the same... Therefore, everybody can assume the name of Hottentots, every person can choose their own name, as long as we are all free and happy!...
Starčević's attitudes were further fully elaborated by Ivo Pilar The same book was translated into Croatian language in the year of 1943, by Pavelić's regime, as one of the tenets of his Ustaše and his Independent State of Croatia. This work was reprinted in 1990 in Croatia. In the preface to this edition, Dr. Vladimir Veselica, a Zagreb University professor, expresses his enthusiasm that the author had given "relevant answers" at the highest intellectual level. A quotation from this book is: " it was not without reason that I tried to show how the Serbs today are dangerous for their ideas and their racial composition, how a bent for conspiracies, revolutions and coups is in their blood."
Starčević and the Catholic ChurchStarčević espoused secularist views: he advocated the separation of church and state, and argued that faith should not guide the political life, and that the insistence on religious differences is harmful to the national interests. He sharply criticized the Roman Catholic clergy in Croatia due to the fact that it sided with his political opponents. He saw the Croatian Catholic clergy as servants of foreign masters who were instrumental in enslaving and destroying Croatian people on behalf of Austrian and Hungarian interests. At the same time, Starčević was not an atheist: he believed that a civilized society could not exist without faith in God and the immortal soul, which is why he saw atheists as untrustworthy.
He and the bishop of Đakovo, Josip Juraj Strossmayer, disagreed about Croatian politics. Strossmayer was sympathetic towards panslavic unity of South Slavs. Starčević, on the other hand, demanded an independent Croatian state and opposed any solution that would include Croats within some other multi-ethnic country. According to Starčević, the possible union of Croats with other South Slavs had no future because of greater Serbian expansionism. Rivalry between Starčević and Strossmayer has been described in the travel writing book Vidici i putovi by Antun Gustav Matoš.
LegacyCroatian writer Antun Gustav Matoš wrote a tractate about him. In it, he proclaims Starčević as the greatest Croat and the greatest patriot in the 19th century. He also describes Starčević as the greatest Croatian thinker.
For his political and literary work, Starčević is commonly called Father of the Nation among Croats, a name first used by Eugen Kvaternik while Starčević was still alive. His portrait is depicted on the obverse of the Croatian 1000 kuna banknote, issued in 1993.
Many streets and squares are named after Starčević; in 2008, a total of 203 streets in Croatia were named after him, making him the sixth most common person eponym of streets in the country. There are also schools named after him. Most right wing parties in Croatia claim his politics as their legacy.