By: Jasmina Kovacevic-Cavlovic
The Oldest Croatian Diaspora
From Past To Present
Moravia can be interpreted geographically, historically and culturally, and it can also be referred as a refuge for Croats who arrived here many centuries ago. At this crossroads of northern and southern Europe, this small part of the Croatian people many centuries ago shaped its life and developed simple national characteristics. Language, culture and faith as the three fundamental guides of the Croatian national corpus, influenced on the survival and existence of the Croats in this region. Especially when the Czech government decided to apologize to the Croats for the Calvary that they endured, a historical retrospect is in order.
The three Croatian villages in Moravia
The ancestors of the Moravian Croats arrived during the sixteenth century from central Croatia, fleeing before the Turkish invasion. The period of their settling overlaps with arrival of the Croats to Austria, Hungary and Slovakia, who together are called the Burgenland Croats (Cr. Gradiscanski Hrvati). The migration of the Croats to Moravia aroused the attention of ethnographers, linguists, and historians. The first mention of Croats at the end of the eighteenth century, they attempted to explain the reasons for the migration of the Croats from their ancestral homeland. The belief that the colonization of the Croats started from the Croatian regions south of the Kupa and Petrova Gora, the regions better known as Banska Krajina [or today Banovina], was summarized by the Czech academician Adolf Turek. The first Croatian historian who carefully researched the causes and the periods of the migration of the Burgenland Croatians was Dr. Mirko Valentic. According to his beliefs, the causes of the migrations were along with the Turkish aggression and "better agrarian pastures" in Hungary as well as the initiatives that came from Croatian and Hungarian nobles who "at the same time had their holdings in Croatia and Hungary" (M. Valentic, Gradiscanski Hrvati od XVI st do danas, Zagreb 1970). In researching the suffering of our "oldest, northernmost, and farthest Croatian diaspora", Dr. Dragutin Pavlicevic in his book Moravski Hrvati (Zagreb 1994), states the fundamental characteristics and reasons that influenced their survival in a Czech-German surrounding. Strangely, the Moravian Croats support the fact that they had two migrations. As stated before, the cause of the first migration was the Turkish attacks in Croatia, and the other after 1950, the dispersion by the Czech government. Because of the strong resistance towards "Czech-ization" and under an agreement of cooperation with the Germans (in the interwar period, and during WWII), the Czech Communists forcefully dispered the Croats to more than 100 villages in Northern Moravia, and into the homes of the expelled Germans. This act caused irreversible damage to the once united Croatian ethnicum. Before that, Hrvatski Frielstof, which the Czechs renamed Jevisovka, Dobro Polje (Cz. Dobro Pole) and Nova Prerava were successful in preserving their language, culture, and basic costume, which was supported by the research of Adolf Turek and Josef Breu (a longtime researcher of the Moravian Croats). In 1930 there were 1,682 Croats, 552 Czechs and 532 Germans in these villages. The unbroken consciousness of the Moravian Croats of their national origins as well as their deep-rooted religious beliefs particularly illuminated the researchers. Seeing that these three Croatian villages from the Bohemian protectorate would fall directly under the German Reich, or annexed to Austria, the above mentioned facts have even more meaning. Because of that historical event, Croats were compelled to fight all over Europe. With the return of the new Czechoslovak authority in 1945, individuals were unfairly expelled, and the entire Croatian population suffered a brutal repression. The scale of the repression is impossible to catch sight of. To corroborate, there are just two Croatian families in Jevisovka today, while the others, some 2,225 families were dispersed and their properties confiscated. Before the expulsion, the Croats attempted to get aid from their mother homeland, however, their hopes were for nothing. Communist Yugoslavia did not have the ears for this Croatian island, even though the Croats attempted to call Frielstof - Jevisovka "Titovo."
In spite of the "Scylla and Charybdis(1)" that they as a people passed through, the Croats lived without a homeland in parts of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany and Austria. Once a continuous string of villages, especially the so-called "Croatian Corridor" (2), assimilation and repression was brought onto the populace, brought about this historical fact which directly affected the ties of the Moravian Croats with the other Croatians in the Diaspora, especially the Burgenland Croatians. In fact, this corridor was known as link a between the Western Slavs and the Southern Slavs, more precisely, Slovene-Croat-Serb state or later, the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, and Czechoslovakia itself. Regarding the fact that this route tied both literally and transported ideas, Croat-Prague student groups conceived the idea of a "Slavic corridor" that went between Bratislava and Varazdin. Later, idea of a "Croatian corridor" was given life and personally tended to by Stjepan Radic. This idea as well as others that were national orientation, and started by the Croats ended ingloriously. However it did allow the creation of the Burgenland, the cradle of the Burgenland Croatians in neighboring Austria.
However, after the democratic changes in Czechoslovakia in 1989, the Croats began returning to their birthplaces, organizing associations, and began to gather for celebrations of the Croatian culture - kiritofima. Along with Holy Mass, cultural programs would be held, and rennovated objects would be opened, along with the possibility of returning to their old homes.
The best testimony to this unbreakable national orientation is an inscription on a restored monument from 1928:
The pastoral care of the Church for the Croatian Catholics in the European states, which had their own religious regulations, was different than in Western Europe and in trans-Atlantic countries. The Croatian ethnic parishes in Romania, Hungary, Austria and Italy were included in the customary pastoral like the other parishes in the individual dioceses. The Church had a particular role some 20-25 years ago when the ties between Croatia and the Croats were shaded by ideological differences. The stance of the then Communist government was to show an illusory concern for the Croats in neighboring countries, but in fact were skillfully disguised bad ideological and political intentions. In these difficult years, the Church, especially the Croatian émigré pastoral, intended to help all Croats in these countries in a church and religious view, and in a national view, particularly in the areas of preserving the language and culture. These facts are important when considering the aspects of the religious situation of our people in Moravia. Considering that there were no direct ties with the Church to our people in the Czech Republic, even this possibility of supporting the preservation of their national identity was discarded. Even more, Even more, Czech priests performed religious rites. Holy Mass was held in Latin mixed with Croatian prayers in the best situations and the catechism was in Czech or in German. Pastor Vjekoslav Malec in Dobro Pole (Cr. Dobro Polje) faithfully worked to keep Croatian from being squeezed out of religious rites. Because of his unselfish care of the Croatians there, this pastor, by nationality a Czech, was called "the little apostle of the Moravian Croats." Thanks to steadfast his work in teaching Croatian to the Croatian children, pastor Malec also wrote a book about 2,000 pages long, which was never published, he also published Croatian prayers, and will remain forever remembered in the recollections and history of the Moravian Croats.
A saying of the Moravian Croats was "We are a people of three languages." Of all the national minorities, only the Croats were trilingual. They spoke German, and Czech and nurtured Croatian at home. Considering that they often used Czech and German in schools, churches, public administration, the grammar and vocabulary of the Moravian Croats did not remain untouched. The Croatian Cakavian and Ikavian language is with interwoven with loan words of both Czech and German origins. Croatian is not studied in schools, so the majority younger generation does not know it. The older generation preserved the language, culture, and customs by gathering in organizations and reading magazines in Croatian.
Because of the near complete view of the actual state of the Croatian minority in the Czech Republic, we add to the above facts an overview of important national legislation, or accepted responsibilities of the Czech Republic. Seen through the eyes of international protection for minorities in Europe, the politics towards minorities is realized in with the creation of new European states like the Czech Republic. Nations that did not have their own states, or ethnic communities that lived separated from the majority of their co-nationals, like the Moravian Croats, became a problem for individual multinational states, and for international relations. With various other methods for a solution, the international community has attempted to solve, or highlight this problem with the international protection of minorities. With the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, the International Community has placed specific requests in front of this newly democratic state. Following that, the Czech Republic has ratified all international documents watching human rights. Among these, they have signed the European Charter for Regional and Minority languages and has ratified General Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. Also, important national legislature has granted members of the national minorities, or ethnic groups the rights on the fostering of their differences: their national consciousness or identity. However, the Czech Republic does not have a specific law for minorities, but the care of minorities is upheld in the acts of the protection of human rights, especially in the regulations of the constitution. In accordance with Article 10 of the Constitution, the above-mentioned international agreements which the Czech Republic ratified has authority above the law. About the bilateral agreements for the protection of minorities, it should be mentioned that the Czech Republic has not up until now signed such an agreement, compared to the Republic of Croatia which signed bilateral agreements for the protection of minorities with Hungary and Italy, in fact individual regulations which relate to the protection of minorities are incorporated into cultural and academic cooperation. There are no representatives, who represent minorities in the parliament, and in 1994 a council for national minorities for the Czech Government was founded. This council acts as an advisory body, and is comprised of representatives of the minorities. The council also has a coordinating role for the execution of governmental political views towards national minorities, and cooperate in its implementation on the local level. A portion of finances for minority programs is developed via the responsible ministries, particularly the Minister of Culture and Minister of Education. The financing of minority programs is secured by specific resources from the state budget and on the local level.
Several minority groups live in the Czech Republic, and is believed to comprise some 5.2% of the total population. The most numerous according to the last census were the Slovaks who numbered 314,000 (3.1%), Poles who numbered 59,000 (0.6%), and Romies who numbered 33,000 (0.3%). This is evident for the Romies. According to our estimates, there are around 850 Croats living today in the Czech Republic. The exact number is hard to determine because they are listed in official statistics under "other." After the dissolution of Communist Czechoslovakia, the Croats were recognized as a national minority. They organized themselves in a cultural association, the Croatian Cultural Alliance. Specific monetary funds are set aside from the state budget for the activities of the Croatian Cultural Alliance. The Croats with the aid of their motherlan financed the celebration of the 8th Croatian Cultural Day on September 13, 1998, in Jevisovka. In fact, the advisory board for nationalities in the Czech Republic has agreed to a continual financial support in the organization of this important festival, and the possibility of using monetary resources for other projects of interest for members of our national minority.
Along with the actual problems that the meaningful present for the members of the Croatian minority in European surroundings, it is important to highlight the problem of the return of confiscated property and returning to the places from which they were expelled. Because of the problem with restitution of property, just those whose property was taken before February 25, 1948, the Croats are still filing legal litigations, which ask for financial resources and the appropriate legal aid. In this regard, aid from the Republic of Croatia is expected, which would result in the in the conclusion of the legal litigations for the Czech Republic. As a prologue to these difficulties, Petr Uhl, in the capacity as an authority for human rights for the Czech Republic, issued an apology to the members of the Croatian minority during the ninth annual Croatian Cultural Day in Jevisovka, as a statement of moral rehabilitation. According to him, it was an act of "politically motivated force, which based itself on collective guilt, which is the opposite of fundamental human and civil rights." The members of the Croatian minority were listed and accused of collaboration with the Nazi regime, even though it states "not even the roughest sketch can support the distribution and numbers of cooperators" or determine "in which way was this cooperation was spontaneous, how pragmatic or coerced." (Jitko Gotzov, Pravo, 6 October 1999).
We believe that, before all, the political act of the Czech government, which is a possible turning-point and steering wheel which can mean an improved status of Croats as a national minority in the Czech Republic. This will also greatly impact the possibility of resettling in their old homes, recompensation for confiscated property and financing activities aimed at renewing the national and cultural identity of the Moravian Croats.
Finally it is important to state that since the creation of an independent Republic of Croatia, full attention has been paid to protect the rights of our co-nationals who live outside of our homeland. Because of expert and legal support given to Croats who live in the Czech Republic, strengthened cooperation has been established with them via the embassy of the Republic of Croatia in Prague. With regards to this cooperation, the expert help of the state school for foreign languages in Prague has begun teaching Croatian as a foreign language as part of its curriculum. This also resulted in a donation books and textbooks from Croatia to the state school for languages and the Chair for Croatistica at the University of Prague. As part of the program to improve the educational needs of the Croatian minority, a Croatian lectorate was opened in the Czech Republic.
And finally the witness to the strengthened ties between Croatia and the Moravian Croats is their involvement in the "Croatian Amateur Theater Days" as part of the organization the "Forum For Croatian Minorities" in the republic of Croatia.
Source: Hrvatsko Slovo "Moravski Hrvati" Godina V./Broj 236 Zagreb, Petak, 29. Listopada 1999.
Translated and edited by Marko Puljic
Original article in Croatian can be found at Hrvatsko Slovo's website .
1. In Greek mythology Charybdis is the mythical monster that dwelled in a whirlpool on the Sicilian Coast opposite of a cave that Scylla, six-headed monster dwelled. Used poetically to describe two dangers, where one cannot be avoided without incurring great harm from the other.
2. This corridor was envisioned to connect both Czechoslovakia with the new Yugoslav state and would have encompassed the region straddling today's Austrian-Hungarian border. It was proposed at Versailles, but never seriously considered. Instead, most of the proposed corridor was given to Austria where it became the province of Burgenland. Today Croats make up the second largest ethnic group in the Burgenland, after the Germans. Croats can also be found on the Hungarian side of this border as well. A Hungarian view on the Slavic corridor can be found here.