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C - 4 : Origins of the Croatian Culture

In almost every harbour we stop we will meet traditional folk groups dancing in the squares and narrow alleyways. Of course they do it for tourists today who happily listen and watch for a few minutes. The performances are beautiful and making a Euro or two per tourist is good money for an evening job. When warching these groups performing I noticed Serbian and Muslim influence in their way of dressing and started wondering about the origins of the Croatian culture.

Folk group in Dubrovnik My research on the subject did not get me far. There is not really a Croatian culture. Croatia is made from three different, almost independent parts: The northern part which borders on Hungary and is heavily influenced by the strong Hungarian steppe culture, the central part in Bosnia, which was influenced by the large number of Serbs living there and the western-southern part which was invented in the 19th century. Yep - a deliberate creation by the Croatian national awakening. Upon further reflection this makes sense. With the Napoleonic wars, Croatia and Dalmata were separated from their former masters Venice and Hungary.

The six Illyrian departemnts of France in 1812 During their eight years of rule (1806 - 1814) when Illyria formed six Departements of France, the French deliberately sponsored a Croation nationalist agenda. The Croatian language was elevated from dialect to national language, colleges and universities were founded and military academies established. Croatian nationalists were given a lot of freedom in order to win hearts, minds and loyalty for Napoleon. Once out of the bottle, Croatian Nationalism would stay for good. An independent Croatian and Dalmatian culture was also in the interest of the Austrians who got these territories in the Congress of Vienna in 1814/15. The Austrian Emperor wanted to prevent a re-alignment of these two provinces with Italy or Serbia. The Kaiserliche und Königliche Monarchy was thus sympathetic to the Croatian cultural movement. In an Empire where German, Hungarian, Czech, Slovakian, Polish and Italian were spoken, adding one more official language and culture seemed all but natural.

Women in the national costumes from middle Dalmatia To find a national costume that could represent Croatia, the Nationalists went to the countryside and copied what they could find. Headscarf, a top with wide arms, a long skirt, an apron and black leader shoes were typical for the women’s costumes. Men’s dress borrowed heavily from the Albanian and Serb tradition. But these dresses were rarely worn before WWII. After 1945 however, Marshall Josip Tito saw them as a way to integrate his fractious country and promoted their use. Serb and Croation Folk Festivals became permanent features in Communist Yugoslavia. With Croatia gaining independent in 1992, the tradition continued . All Croatians we talked to were proud of their culture - but most do not know how young it is. It is an integrating force in a young country that had to go to war to become independent.

Male Klappa choir in Split - no instruments - just voice The musical tradition in Croatia is part of the same cultural movement. Klappa, a sort of capella singing (without any instruments), was promoted in the 19th century as part of the nationalist cultural movement. But many songs date back to rural tradition from the renaissance. Hearing these capella singers in the streets of Dubrovnik or Split is a beautiful experience. Am pretty sure we will stumble into such groups. Then you judge for yourself.

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