In Memoriam

Historian and politician Ivo Banac

Ivo Banac
Ivo Banac (Photo courtesy of Inter-University Centre Dubrovnik)

Ivo Banac, a historian of Eastern Europe who taught at Yale from 1977 until his retirement in 2009, died on June 30 at the age of 74. Banac died after an illness in Zagreb in his native country of Croatia, where he had taught and served in several prominent political positions since leaving Yale.

Banac, the Bradford Durfee Professor of History Emeritus, focused his teaching and scholarship on the Balkans. He served two terms as head of college for Pierson College, from 1988 to 1995, and also chaired the Council on Russian and East European Studies at Yale.

Coinciding with his time at Yale, Banac served from 1995 to 1999 as professor of history at the Central European University and was also director of its Institute on Southern Europe. Since 2008 he was a professor of history at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Zagreb, and was also a mentor to doctoral students in history at the Croatian Catholic University of Zagreb. He was the honorary head of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology.

In the political sphere, Banac was the minister of environmental protection and physical planning in the Republic of Croatia in 2003, president of the Croatian Liberal Party 2003-2004, and a deputy of the Croatian Parliament 2004-2007. He was a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe 2004-2008 and also served as chair of the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, which assists cases on human rights violations.

He rose to the position of leader of one of Croatia’s several parties, which in 2013, the last time I was with him, was in throes of a serious contest, and lost, I believe. He was at the moment beset by the news media, with which he had long had close relations,” recalled Yale colleague Ramsay MacMullen, the Dunham Professor Emeritus of History and Classics. “Clearly, he was looked up to for perspectives of wide interest, reflecting both his particular historical knowledge of his country, and the personal character which he projected into the grubbier corners of politics. Knowing his character, I could see how that might be.”

Banac also specialized in the history of international communism. His books include “The National Question in Yugoslavia: Origins, History, Politics” (1984), which won the Wayne S. Vicinich Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies. He also wrote the study “With Stalin Against Tito” (1988), the translation of which won the Strossmayer Prize for the best book in the social sciences published in Croatia in 1990. He edited the “Diary of Georgi Dimitrov,” whose subject was the general secretary of the Comintern between 1934 and the organization’s dissolution in 1943, and later was the premier of communist Bulgaria.

He was a true friend, a generous colleague, and an internationally recognized scholar who thought and wrote with passion and verve,” said Abbas Amanat, the William Graham Sumner Professor of History at Yale. “His well-received ‘The National Question in Yugoslavia’ … was insightful, almost prophetic, in foreseeing the tragic civil war that came after the disintegration of Yugoslavia. His deep knowledge of the societies, cultures, and politics of his homeland, Croatia, and the whole of the Balkans and of Eastern Europe, as well as his remarkable command of the history of international communism — a subject which he taught for many years in his popular lecture course at Yale — will remain part of Yale’s institutional memory. His free spirit, his welcoming demeanor, echoes of his happy laughter in the corridors of the Hall of Graduate Studies, and engaging discussion over luncheons at Mory’s, are in my mind as, I am sure, in the minds of his friends and colleagues.”

After leaving the university, Banac continued to teach a Yale course in Dubrovnik during the summers.

During the horrific wars in the 1990s, he worked to help refugees,” said Alan Mikhail, professor and chair of history. “Ivo cared about people. He was always concerned about the fate of Croatia, and the other republics of ex-Yugoslavia. One newspaper cartoon had him dueling with Franjo Tudman, some of whose policies he opposed. One had to be careful in those days and Ivo took chances.”

Another colleague in the history department, John Merriman, recalled his visits with Banac in Croatia. “To experience Dubrovnik and walk its magnificent ramparts with Ivo was to learn an incredible amount about that magical place,” said Merriman, the Charles Seymour Professor of History. “Ivo just knew so much.”

Banac was born in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia in 1947. In 1959 he emigrated to the United States with his mother, reuniting with his father who had escaped from Yugoslavia in 1947.

Before coming to Yale, Banac was an assistant professor at Stanford University and San Francisco State University. He was the editor of East European Politics and Societies, as well as other journals, and was a corresponding member of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts since 1990. He was an honorary citizen of Sarajevo since 2004.

A funeral was held in Dubrovnik. Survivors include his wife, Andrea Feldman, and his son from a previous marriage, Niko Banac. Messages of remembrance may be sent to feldmanandrea@gmail.com.

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