Croatia and Croats
"Qual è colui che forse di Croazia viene a veder la Veronica nostra, che per l’antica fame non sen sazia, ma dice nel pensier, fin che si mostra: 'Signor mio Gesù Cristo, Dio verace, or fu sì fatta la sembianza vostra?" (Dante, Paradiso, XXXI, 103-108)
"Like one who comes from Croatia perhaps to see our cloth of Veronica, and is not sated with looking because of its ancient fame, but, as long as it is visible, says, in thought:
‘Lord Jesus Christ, true God, was this then your face?’ ...
(Dante, Paradise, Canto XXXI:103-108, translation: A. S. Kline)
Veronica (vera icona - true icon, the image of Christ), shows us the image of Jesus Christ, known as Veronica's veil.
Dante spent some of his time travelling in Croatia (including Zagreb, where his great-grandson opened a pharmacy). Accompanying him on his journey was the Croatian Bishop, the Blessed Augustin Kažotić.
Croatia was the country that served the great Dante, the unquestioned father of European literature in the sense of today's pan-European integration, as an example of a country from which pilgrims came to wonder at the face of Christ impressed on the veil of St. Veronica, the woman who wiped His divine blood, sweat and spit covered face on His way to the cross. These pilgrims were from Croatia, on their way to the source of holiness, culture and knowledge - Rome. In today's terms, we would say that they were those who were firmly walking the path of European integration. So Dante took Croatia as an example of a far-away, undeveloped country, which had firmly decided to be part of the western cultural world. The fact that Dante's choice of Croatia was aided by the appropriate rhyme (Croazia - sen sazia), does not in any way detract from the significance or importance of that choice. Croatia was to quickly prove its status in its nickname "Antemurale Christianitatis" (the “bulwark of Christianity”), which it earned by its bloody struggle and sacrifice defending European and Christian values from the onslaught of the Ottoman Empire. We mention all this because in some western European circles there is a persistent and malevolent tendency to belittle and even to ignore Croatia. This tendency has continued until the most recent times, up to the Greater Serbian aggression against Croatia, aggression which those circles whole-heartedly supported. That is why it is good to know that one of the greatest Europeans, Dante Alighieri, back at the beginning of the 14th century, knew very well who the Croats were and where Croatia was, in contrast, for example, to the Great Hungarian politician, Lajos Kossuth, the arrogant minion of those same western European circles, who in the 19th century, "did not see Croatia on the map", and also in contrast to the just as arrogant prosecutors and judges in the initial period of the work of the court in The Hague, who prosecuted Croats and condemned them simply because they dared to be Croats. These same arrogant western European circles existed long ago.
The Croatian nobleman, Count Vuk Frankopan, gave a famous speech to Emperor Charles V and the German aristocracy in Augsburg in 1530, advocating the defence of the remainder of the remnant of the once famous Croatian kingdom (Ivo Frangeš, The History of Croatian Literature). And what was Europe's reaction to his desperate cry and call for help? Nothing. They completely ignored it. Just like in 1991. But it is good to know that the greatest names have always recognized us. Like Dante Alighieri. Like Saint John Paul II. Like Alain Finkielkraut, the French philosopher. Like Marco Pannella, the leader of the Transnational Radical Party, who spent the very first days of the aggression alongside the Croatian defenders in the trenches at Osijek. Like Alois Mock. Like Hans-Dietrich Genscher. Like Mother Teresa. And like, in the end, the greatest Russian alive today, the world chess champion for many years, Gary Kasparov, who, as he himself admits, stood on Croatia's side for the simple reason that Croatia was under attack. In the period between the two World Wars, the shameful silence of the great wide world following the assassination of Stipica Radić was broken by one of the greatest - Albert Einstein - writing an article in the New York press which disclosed the crimes of the Karađorđević dynasty, which that same, rotten Europe priced so highly.
It is not our intention to speculate about conspiracy theories against Croats. Rather we would like to find a rational reason for the ignorant attitude of Europe towards Croatia. The reason lies in the fact that we are small. Croatia is small and the Croatian nation is small. But is that actually the case? True, the country is not big, but it is bigger than Switzerland and Belgium and The Netherlands and Denmark (without Greenland of course), and Slovakia, and no one thinks about those countries primarily on the basis of their size. We ourselves have contributed to the attitude of the world, as in many similar cases, by our own strange inferiority complex. We can still recall very well the clumsy advertising slogan for Croatian tourism, "A small country for a great holiday". Why "small"? As though that was important. What is important is the great holiday, and the actual size of the country is irrelevant. So what happens is that when people come to Croatia, with the idea in their heads that it is minuscule, some of them are surprised, like the Canadian taking a Croatian language course in Vodnikova, who for some reason had to travel from Osijek to Dubrovnik. When he reached the half way point, around Zagreb, he said to himself, "This country is actually big!"
Regarding the population, it is indeed small in the country as a whole, but first of all, you don't notice this fact on the streets of the cities, they are always busy, in large and small towns alike. And secondly, some countries, such as Norway, Denmark, Ireland, Scotland and Slovakia, have the same or slightly larger populations, and no one talks about them as demographically impoverished countries. Since a large number of Croatian nationals live in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, and since they are closely linked with Croatia, in their everyday lives and residence, and many of them have dual citizenship, the actual number of Croats in Croatia is in fact greater than the number of inhabitants in those European countries. And thirdly, a large number of Croats live abroad, in Western Europe, North America, South America, Australia and South Africa. These people also have deep links with their homeland, they often travel to it and most often raise their children in the Croatian spirit. There are probably more Croats living abroad than in Croatia. So it is no wonder that the Croatian Prime Minister came from an immigrant family, from Canada. And there is another story to tell that originates from Canada:
Manda (from Lika) was standing in front of her house in Toronto, when an old Indian walked past and asked where the Indian affairs office was in that part of town. She explained it to him, and he said,
- Madam, where are you from?
- Why do you ask? Manda asked
- Because you talk exactly like my father.
- And where was your father from? Manda asked
- I don't know but he always mentioned Lika, said the Indian.
That is the destiny of many Croats.
What about Croatian towns and cities? It is an unusual story. There are very few countries that can boast of so many beautiful and interesting towns and cities. We all still remember (those of us who are slightly older...) the famous speech by the late poet, Vlado Gotovac, given on Krešimirov trg in Zagreb, at the beginning of the shelling of Osijek and Vukovar: "When you look at Osijek, you see that that city was built in the finest style of Western European architecture, so that, like all other Croatian towns and cities, it is a testimony to the fact that we belong to the European cultural circle. Therefore our enemy wants to crush and destroy that architecture, to wipe out from the areas it conquers the traces of our belonging to Western Europe," (quoted from memory).
The large Croatian cities are arranged radially from the metropolis, which, for geo-political and historical reasons, is located in the north-west corner of the country. Three "rays" extend from Zagreb: one to the south-west towards Rijeka, the capital city of the Kvarner-Gorje region, one to the south towards Split, the capital city of Dalmatia and the second largest city in Croatia, and the third, to the east, to Osijek, the capital of Slavonija and Baranja. The question arises as to which Croatian town or city is the most beautiful. All Croatian towns and cities are beautiful, from Ilok, Županja, Čakovec and Samobor, Umag, Metković and Cavtat, to mention only the smaller, marginal, borderline or almost borderline towns. But since in fact the greatest and special feature of Croatia is our Adriatic Sea ("Mare nostrum croaticum"), it is natural to expect that the most beautiful Croatian town or city is situated on the coast. Somehow, due to its beautiful medieval architecture, the walls which encircle it, and its ideal position between the sea and Srđ, Dubrovnik is usually considered to be Croatia's most beautiful city. But try saying that to people from Split! No way! It is just like in the old song, "Sveti Duje ne će ni da čuje" (St. Domnius will hear nothing of it!). In any case, the greatest contemporary singer from Dubrovnik, Tereza Kesovija, perpetuated the claim that "Nima Splita do Splita" (There is no Split like Split) in her song, and that "Of all the places in the world, there is nowhere more beautiful than Split" (Od svih mista na svitu najlipši je Split), a city that grew up from an ancient Roman empirical summer residence. But we also have Zadar, which was the capital of Dalmatia, with the seat of the Dalmatian parliament, at the time when Dalmatia had its own political identity, before Split took over due to its size, industry, and importance in terms of transport and shipbuilding. And if that city had not suffered terribly in the demented allied bombing during the Second World War, it could be justifiably said that Zadar was the most beautiful Croatian city. Recently, on a Croatian television quiz show, when asked which city he came from, a contestant replied: "From the most beautiful city on the Adriatic". "Which one is that?" "I know that people from Dubrovnik and Split will be mad, but for me, that is Šibenik". And when we look at pictures of Šibenik rising from the sea, surrounded by greenery, with the finest individual monument of Croatian architecture, the Cathedral of St. James (sveti Jakov), built by Juraj Dalmatinac and surrounded by a maze of beautiful old houses with their red roofs, we have to admit that the man is right. Even Rijeka has some aces, as the most urban Croatian city, with its huge port, the River Rječina, the cosmopolitan Korzo, and the lovely great palaces in and around the harbour. Of course Osijek, although it has no sea, has the navigable Drava, the boats on it and the beaches alongside it, the oldest trams in Croatia, the old quarter - Tvrđa, and the finest centre in the sense of Western European urbanism in the style of the Secession. And what about the pearl of Istria - Pula, with the Arena and other Roman monuments, and its wonderful historicist architecture in the city centre? And the smaller towns in the interior of the peninsula? And no words are needed at all for the coastal towns of Rovinj, Poreč and Labin. In the north there is Varaždin, "Croatia's reserve capital", a city of the Baroque, with picturesque central-European churches and neatly arranged streets and squares, just made for "španciranje" (walking the streets - to see and be seen, and take part in the annual "Špancirfest" street festival)
And what about all those jewels – the cities and towns on the Adriatic coast and the islands? From Lovran and the first beautiful tourist destination Opatija, to Crikvenica, Krk and its cathedral, Omišlj, Malinska, Vrbnik and Baška, to Rab, its cathedral and bell tower and Lopar, then Cres, Osor with its cathedral, Veli Lošinj, Senj, Karlobag, Pag and Novalja, Nin and its old Croatian chapel, Preko and Kali on Ugljan, Pakoštane, Biograd, Vodice, Tkon on Pašman, Prvić, Primošten, Zlarin, Sali on Dugi otok, Murter, Tribunj, Rogoznica,Trogir and its cathedral, Kaštel, Omiš, Makarska and its cathedral, Brele and Baška Voda, Zaostrog and Tučepi, the towns on Šolta, then Supeter, Pučišće and Postire on Brač, Hvar and its cathedral, Jelsa and Stari Grad, Vis and Komiža, Korčula and its cathedral, Blato and Vela Luka, the towns on Pelješac – Trpanj and Orebić, the towns on Mljet, Lastovo, the towns on Šipan, Lopud and Lokrum. Is there any end to these lists? Each of these cities and towns is a jewel of Mediterranean architecture in the heavenly setting of the sea and abundant Mediterranean flora.
While listing these coastal gems, many cities and towns of major historical and cultural have been somewhat overlooked, so we should mention them too: Solin with its Roman and old Croatian monuments, Sinj with its Alka and well-known shrine to the Virgin Mary, Imotski with its exquisite city centre, then Drniš, also in Dalmatia's inland area, as well as Knin, with its magnificent fortress built by King Zvonimir, then Pazin, Buzet, Beram, Grožnjan, Motovun and Buje in the interior of Istria, Gospić, the capital of Lika, Delnice, Slunj, Duga Resa, Karlovac and its four rivers, Petrinja, Ivanić-Grad, Krapina, Klanjec, Marija Bistrica, with its famous shrine to the Virgin Mary, Križevci with its Greek-Catholic cathedral, Ludbreg, Koprivnica, Kutina, Sisak and its cathedral and port on the Rivers Sava and Kupa, Nova Gradiška, Bjelovar and its cathedral, Daruvar with its spa, Lipik, Požega and its cathedral and picturesque main square, Pitomača, Virovitica, Našice, Slavonski Brod and the port on the River Sava, Slatina, Vinkovci, Orahovica, Gunja, Đakovo with Strossmayer's famous cathedral, Beli Manastir and the Hero Town on the Danube – Vukovar.
What about our metropolis? The huge wealth of songs dedicated to Zagreb is testimony enough to which city we love the most and which is our most beautiful city.
Then is it possible to talk about the beauties of Croatia without mentioning its national parks and nature parks, from the world-renowned Plitvice Lakes to the Kornati Islands, Briuni and Mljet, from Velebit and Paklenice to the Krka waterfalls, from Risnjak to Medvednica, from Učka to Lonjsko polje, from Telašćica to the Lastovo Islands, from Vransko lake, to Žumerak and the Samobor hills, and the abundant nature of Kopački rit?
About the Croatian language
U tebi sam vijek svoj proživio,
Drevni i lijepi jeziče Hrvata:
Rođen na morskom pragu tvojih vrata,
Polako sam te, uz trud, osvojio.
(Vladimir Nazor, Hrvatski jezik)
(In you I have lived my life,
The ancient and beautiful language of the Croats,
Born on the edge of the sea at your door,
I have conquered you slowly, taking great pains.)
"The fact that we Croats (the most typical bourgeois political complainers on the planet) are always in the right, is precisely because of our "Croatian Party of Rights" which gave bourgeois Croats our awareness of our rights". However, it truly is ridiculous constantly to lose court cases for nine hundred years, but to be in the right! Croats received Christianity from Rome, then they began to use the Glagolitsa script, and that anti-Rome, stubborn Glagolitsa resistance actually represented the first organized people’s uprising within the Roman Church, at the time when no one even dreamed about "nationality" in Europe."
(Miroslav Krleža, Ten Bloody Years)
It was not the Croats who invented the Glagolitsa script. It was invented by the holy brothers, Cyril and Methodius, missionaries to the Slavs. But Croats welcomed Glagolitsa most enthusiastically, as an expression of their national identity, "at the time when no one even dreamed about "nationality" in Europe." Moreover, Croats were the only Slavic nation who refined Glagolitsa to artistic and aesthetic perfection, beginning with the Baška Tablet (c. 1100) the exquisite colourful illuminations in Hrvoje's Missal (from the beginning of the 15th century), and the stunning incunabula from the end of the 15th century, such as the Croatian Glagolitsa Missal and the Kosinj Breviary (see the beautiful illustrations in Frangeš's History of Croatian Literature). Croats accepted Glagolitsa so completely that the Czechs, that is those for whom the script was originally intended, invited Croatian Glagolitsa scholars to Prague in the 14th century, so that they could study Glagolitsa in its Croatian, rounded form.
The golden age of Croatian Glagolitsa literature (roughly from 1075 to 1475) created an enclave with its own folk language within Western Christianity (Ivo Banac, Hrvatsko jezično pitanje (The Question of the Croatian Language)).
Od robstva bi davno u valih
O Harvatskijeh da se žalih
More otmansko ne razbija.
Vladislav Menčetić (1617-1666), poet from Dubrovnik, Trublja Slovinska
(Italy would have sunk deep
into the waves of the sea in slavery long ago
if the Ottoman sea
did not break on the Croatian shore)
In the age of the "remnant of the remnant", that is, the age of the greatest decline in Croatian sovereignty, the Dubrovnik Republic was the only light of unbroken sovereignty still shining. Therefore it is no wonder that Bartol Kašić (1575 – 1650), the writer of the first Croatian grammar, with a Jesuit background from the Island of Pag - where the čakavski dialect is used (Ivo Banac, Hrvatsko jezično pitanje), chose precisely the Dubrovnik local vernacular for the basis of his grammar, having become well acquainted with that form after staying in Dubrovnik. Moreover, as Banac says, "Church scholars recognized štokavski more and more as the most important form of Croatian", although the foundational work of Croatian literature, Marulić's Judita, was written in the ikavski-čakavica dialect. Considering the issue of the failure to publish Kašić translation of the Bible, in that same ijekavsko-štokavski version of the Croatian language, Marko Grčić wrote:
"...(moved) Pope Urban VIII, to prohibit its publication. His argument was, briefly, that the book had been translated into the Dubrovnik dialect and therefore no one outside that Diocese would be able to read it. However, what the experts alleged was not the case: even a superficial glance at Kašić's translation, that is to say, shows that he had, as the academician Radoslav Katičić perceptively remarks, the united future of the language of the Croats in his sights - of which his achievement was only the beginning – and not merely the stylization of the past of any one dialect, or even the syncretism of many of them” (Marko Grčić, Riječi, riječi, riječi (Words, words, words)).
Little by little, Kašić's work was accepted in principle, and it was given a strong boost by Gaj's reforms of the north-western, kajkavski Croatian literary language, and his declaration of Dubrovnik classics as examples of good writing. And the rest: Novine horvatske, Danica horvatska, Mihanović and Horvatska domovina, the rest is - history. History, which ends with the creation of the free Croatian state.
Just as the bard of Croatian literature, Slobodan Novak, said, also quoted from Marko Grčić's book Riječi, riječi, riječi: "Novak is unambiguous: "I sincerely express my respect for the person and work of the founder of the free Croatian state, Franjo Tuđman, and I feel deep gratitude to that great man of Croatia, without any naive illusions of his infallibility or superhuman purity, and without any party affiliation. With the sole regret that fate did not give him time to protect our state from globalization, the kind, it seems, that great men desire, to protect our independence from a fictitious Europe, and the Homeland War from condemnation by The Hague and its shameful justice."
Thank God, fate gave Slobodan Novak and all of us time to experience the acquittal of Generals Gotovina and Markač by the court in The Hague. In the context of Krleža's nine hundred years of losing court cases despite being in the right, after almost a thousand years, Croatia finally won a case in a court out there, in the great wide world. And not just any case! The greatest of all.