There are two approaches to language: that of the academy, and that of the seaport. The academy is nested in the nucleus of the state, and attempts to impose a standard that, like criminal codes or highway codes, is felt to play a vital role in maintaining the state's integrity, and to be the guardian of a nation's cultural character.

The denizens of seaports, however, are concerned not with purity but exchange. At the periphery of the state, they find quick and dirty ways of negotiating transactions (many of which are also quick and dirty). Illiterate urchins may be fluent in half a dozen tongues, continually stirring the pidgin stew.

This old antagonism is being re-enacted in a very different setting. The computer ports are the ones to which modems are connected; their users speak pidgin, like harbour brats, but they are more affluent and better educated. Theirs is the cosmopolitanism not of docksides but satellite television. The last Yugoslav generation was the first to get MTV Europe, and then the first for 50 years to go through war.

The effect on the liberal intelligentsia was strikingly illustrated by a book produced in Zagreb analysing the semiotics of the Croatian war with reference to Dick Hebdige's Subculture: The Meaning of Style. A few hundred miles away and they would have been studying punk or soap opera; instead they were obliged to apply cultural theory to young killers in bandanas and images of Croatia as Christ on the Cross.

This tendency of analytical dissent has a voice in ARKzin, the magazine of the Croatian anti-war organisation ARK. Its Web site ( gives access to Bastard, a review of books whose title belongs to the port rather than the academy. The English-language version of its manifesto explains that its name "stems from the concept of impurity of the race - a counterpoint to all cult-based families (races, classes, nations)". As a counterpoint, Bastard stands for an idealism of "using reason publicly".

Intellectually, it sees itself as a paradoxical hybrid of the Enlightenment and postmodernism, and defines being an intellectual as a series of liberal, committed, democratic principles. "There is no way by which all of these traits can be inherited from the Croatian cultural and political tradition," it continues. "So, to be an intellectual in Croatia today means to be [an] illegitimate child of Croatian tradition."

Articles from the most recent issue are posted on the site: discussions of nationalism and Romanticism, Kafka and Zionism, a tribute to Ernest Gellner, though these are all in Croatian. Just how Croatian they are may be a matter of controversy, since the new nationalist establishment has made strenuous and much-satirised efforts to accentuate the differences between the official Croatian and the Serbian forms of the language .

As the nationalists try to "purify" the language of Serbian elements, the dissidents revel in their mongrel argot. A photo-essay on the ARKzin site celebrates November's protests against the suppression of Zagreb's independent Radio 101. "La Lotta Continua", it proclaims, "Fight The Power": slogans of post-1968 Italian revolutionaries and a black nationalist rap by Public Enemy. A Croatian paragraph suddenly flips into English to conclude "But ... we shall never surrender".

There's also a photographic presentation with captions in English, celebrating the protestors' victory. The page is labelled "Cool", and the repeated incantation of the word gives the text its rhythm. These are the children of MTV Europe on the march.

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Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


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