Croatia, the newest member of the European Union, will officially join the Eurozone in 2023. One of the figures to be minted on euro coins is Nikola Tesla, while Serbia claims his legacy.
On July 21, Croatia National Bank Currency Committee released the proposals for the motifs on the Euro coins. A poll was created to answer which figures should appear on the future coins and banknotes of the Croatian euro. And Nikola Tesla, an ethnic Serb, is likely to appear on several coins.
The obverse side, or head, of the euro coins is common between all members of the eurozone and the reverse side, or tail, is specific for each country.
According to the CNB, the checkerboard, Croatia’s coat of arms present on the national flag, will be used as a background for all coins. The 2-euro coin will show a map of Croatia and the 1-euro coin will have the marten. A marten is called a kuna in Croatian, which gave its name to the currency that the country will leave behind after 2023.
But the 50, 20 and 10-cent coins will feature an effigy of Nikola Tesla as a symbol of Croatia while Serbia claims he was Serb.
Recognized as a great inventor and engineer, notably for the use of alternative current in an electricity supply system, Croatia and Serbia dispute his roots.
Born from Serbs in the Austrian Empire in modern Croatia
In fact, Nikola Tesla was born and raised in today’s Croatian lands from Serb parents.
Tesla was an ethnic Serb from his father and mother, born in Smiljan in 1856 and grew up in Gospić. At the time, the villages were part of the Austrian Empire but are now located in Croatia.
He also acquired the American citizenship in 1891 at the age of 35, as he lived in the United States since 1884, where he spent most of his life, and died in 1943.
The controversy about Tesla’s origins is only a fraction of the tumultuous history between Serbs and Croats.
For instance, between 1941 and 1945, the Independent State of Croatia, a puppet-state of Nazis and Fascists, persecuted and executed between 200,000 and 500,000 Serbs. Later on, the Croatian war of independence between 1991 and 1995 opposed Croats and the Yugoslav People's Army, mostly dominated by Serbs. It led to genocide claims from both sides, which were eventually rejected by the International Court of Justice in 2015.
During this period of ethnic hatred, Croatian nationalists destroyed Nikola Tesla’s statue in Gospić in 1992. A replica was reinstalled in May 2021. Nowadays, statues of Tesla are also exposed in the streets of Belgrade and Zagreb, the capital cities of Serbia and Croatia.
Between 1970 and 1993, Nikola Tesla was depicted on 6 different banknotes of the Yugoslav dinar. Nowadays, Serbia still includes Nikola Tesla on its 100 Serbian dinars.
Tesla as a representative of Croatia
The President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, commented Croatia’s decision to put Nikola Tesla on euro coins. “Tesla said he was American and Serb. Croatia can put him on what they want but Nikola Tesla is a Serb, from a Serbian father and a Serbian mother. His family suffered precisely because they were of Serbian descent”, referring to the acts of the Independent State of Croatia that killed Nikola Tesla’s family during WWII.
According to the Croatia National Bank, "the motifs were chosen with an aim to be representative of Croatia in the international environment by featuring general symbols, leading historical figures, cultural monuments, national landmarks, inventions or historical events. The selection was also guided by the international recognizability of a particular motif as Croatian".
And Nikola Tesla was brought up by Croatians as one of the best representatives of Croatia.
Tesla not in the original proposed motifs
Citizens were asked to give their opinion about the motifs for their future currency: 1,000 of them were contacted in a structured national poll and 50,000 participated in an online survey.
Nikola Tesla was originally not in the proposed motifs from the CNB but Croatians called for the scientist in the free-form question in both the online survey and public opinion poll.
Citizens put more than 11,000 proposals of their own for what would best represent Croatia. Nikola Tesla gathered more than 20% of online suggestions, far before the other ones. Although online polls may not be representative of the population, Nikola Tesla was also included in the top proposals of the national poll, where only 300 in the 1,000 citizens suggested one. However, the Committee didn’t provide the detailed breakdown.
In mid-October, the CNB will submit the designed motifs to the European Commission and the Council of the European Union for approval, required by all member states of the Eurozone. But Serbia isn’t part of it.
- The motifs proposed to be featured on the Croatian side of euro coins, Croatia National Bank, July 2021, Free access
- Vučić se obratio naciji, Novosti, July 2021, Free access