Croatian Viewpoint
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Croatian Tapestry

Croatia 's Image
Transcending Multiculturalism

Croatia's Image

Recently western leaders have signalled a return to assimilation policies. President Bush referred to the 'melting pot' in his State of the Union speech, and in Australia, Prime Minister Howard recently referred to the end of multiculturalism. Similar sentiments are evident amongst European leaders.
In spite of the political policies of either multiculturalism or assimilation however we all know of some ethnic cultural symbols that have become part of our western cultural landscape. Croatia too has a lot to offer the world but recognition of this fact is still in its infancy.
In the past Croatian cultural expression was often censored so its visibility was usually through traditional folkloric groups. Unfortunately this type of cultural maintenance in communities overseas has been dependent on continued migration, but this is not sustainable in a nation with a small population such as Croatia.
In the 21st century Croatian people have an historical opportunity to develop enduring and recognisable cultural icons for the enjoyment of everyone. But to place Croatian culture on the pedestal it deserves there is a need to focus on Croatia's uniqueness, on symbols which the world can positively associate with Croatia. Analysis of enduring successful models of cultural expression can offer some insight as to how this happens. For example, usually this type of creativity evolved from individual dreams and inspiration rather than from government initiatives.
There are many success stories of ethnic icons in the world which have transcended multiculturalism, and an analysis reveals different methods of attaining results. Through giving traditional culture a modern appeal these examples maintain pride and foster self-esteem amongst members of the ethnic group. Put in another way, oral traditions and customs have been transformed into material form. Let's face it, if the public likes what they experience in other cultures, the second and third generation descendants of that particular culture will also identify with it.
Sometimes ethnic culture achieves visibility through the arts or through geographical clustering in various cities overseas. Witness, for example, how the Australian Aboriginal actively transformed his ancient cultural ties to the land into marketable works of art, professional dance companies, pop music and the written word. Likewise, Canadian Eskimos market their ancient rock carvings. Witness the recent Irish River Dance success story. And one example of Greek culture is a popular series of art prints called 'Mediterranean Colours', which feature the timeless beauty and simplicity of the Greek Isles. Melbourne has its Lygon Street Italian festival, and there is a Chinatown in all major capital cities in the world. These creative expressions of culture not only enrich mainstream culture in North America or Australia, but they give otherwise assimilated second or third generation descendants a source of identity and pride.
In terms of international recognition Croatia has achieved success in sports and while Croatia does have many universally known symbols in its culture, such as the Kravat or the Dalmatian dog, the world has not associated these with Croatia yet. This is an understatement! The opposite is true. In 2006 we have seen the 'tie' used in a television commercial for Thailand.
And in 2007, unless one knows in advance to include Croatia as part of the 'search', when researching the Dalmatian dog on the internet, there is a failure to connect the breed with Croatia. According to the website about Croatian history and culture by Darko Zubrinic, the Dalmatian dog is a well known breed from Dalmatia on the coastal part of Croatia. The organized breeding of the Dalmatian dog was known in Slavonia in the 14th century. It had also been known as the Dubrovnik Hunter, and was recognized as a Croatian autochthonous breed in 1994. This information is not available in the mainstream media however.
A lot of misinformation exists in books and on the internet about the Dalmatian dog. Unfortunately, the often repeated phrase one comes across is that the heritage of the Dalmatian dog is greatly disputed, that his beginnings are so deeply buried in the past that researchers cannot agree to his origin. Most websites and books about the Dalmatian dog associate it with a 'Dalmatian province' of Yugoslavia, which was once part of Austria or Venice. A lot of information refers to spotted dogs in ancient Egypt or to the development of the breed in Great Britain and North America. Rarely one can find reference to the fact that the Dalmatian dog has been a sentinel on the borders of Dalmatia and Croatia. One theory mirrored on a few websites alleges that the Dalmatian dog has frequently been found in bands of Romany Gypsies so that he has been well known but not located definitely in any one place. Other authoritative sources put the origin of the dog to 'Dalmatia' but still say that that is a province of Austria on the Eastern shore of the coast of Venice.
One website about carriage dogs in the UK allege that the name Dalmatian had no connection with Dalmatia until 1930, when Vane Ivanovic, Consul General of Monaco to Great Britain and a member of the British Dalmatian Club, took a pair of Dalmatians to Dalmatia as a present for his step-father, Bozo Banac, who had expressed a wish to introduce them there. The source then alleges that more likely, the word originates from 'Damachien', (Dama being Latin for Fallow Deer and Chien French for hound or dog).
In conclusion, in an atmosphere of increasing assimilation policies, vague slogans about Croatia like "Heaven On Earth", or "Small Country for a Great Holiday" do not invoke images of Croatia's beautiful coastal areas and unique cultural wealth. In this theme, in its introduction to Croatia, Lonely Planet remarks "All the country lacks is the kind of clearly defined image that has turned more modest European destinations into international hot spots".
Obviously there is no magic formula for cultural survival which can take the place of individual creativity and motivation. The obvious question to be posed next is not only what else is uniquely Croatian, but what is there about Croatia that the public could relate to with positive emotion? There is more that could be done. The latest tourist slogan in Croatia, "The Mediterranean as it once was" is a great improvement. Something unique must be added to Croatia's beautiful scenery to make it stand out from the rest. For example, an image of Italian pizza invokes our taste buds; and the image of Indian Yoga invokes a search for emotional calm.
Any small culture has its own unique historical and cultural/linguistic base, and its own flag, but what I am trying to identify is a more tangible expression of culture which the whole world can enjoy and relate to on a individual level. In the case of the Dalmatian dog, what is needed is a major Dalmatian dog website which out-performs all the other Dalmatian dog websites, a website that explains the mythology and the reality of the origin of the breed and its development in a Croatian context.
Jean Lunt Marinovic
February 2007

Transcending Multiculturalism

In the Croatian media many have described the rapid assimilation process of Croatian culture abroad. In contrast, the policy makers in Australia worry that some migrants don't assimilate quickly enough. The Director of the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University, Bob Birrell believes that Australian integration with Asia, the globalisation process, the family reunion category of immigration, multiculturalism and the reproduction of ethnic communities across generations, are all a threat to the survival of Australian culture. Bob Birrell believes that Australia needs "more integrative cement". (The Age, 6 August 1997, Melbourne). It can be seen that some ethnic cultures have found a permanent place in society beyond the boundaries set by multiculturalism and the Croatian community needs to learn why this is so to avoid its own assimilation.
The legitimate aim of the Australian government is to build a cohesive society for purposes of national security, and therefore it uses its powers to speed up the assimilation process through various policies. The Croatian community has experienced trauma due to the recent war in Croatia, it has not coped well within this current Australian-assimilative framework. Furthermore, the maximum potential of Croatian identity abroad has not been realised because the Croatian community was forced (before Croatian independence) to rely too much on traditional vehicles of culture.
Therefore, what we need to do now abroad is explore successful models of cultural expression that have transcended multiculturalism in order to extend Croatian pride and personal self-esteem into the 21st century. These models give their particular ethnic culture a modern appeal. Put in another way, what we need to do abroad is to transform an oral tradition into material form. One word only sums up this approach: marketing. Let's face it, if Australians like what they see in other cultures (for example, Italian pizza), the second and third generation descendants of that particular culture will also identify with it. This is basic human psychology.
Croats, and even Australians are not the only people in the industrialised world who fear assimilation. In the USA, the 1990 census for the first time in history reported that "blacks are now outnumbered by the total of other minorities". Thus, " . ordinary blacks . tell pollsters that immigration (of other cultures) is a problem". Moreover, since Anglo-Saxons in America are "reproducing below replacement levels" there is a shift in the ethnic balance. Thus, Peter Brimelow anticipates an unavoidable "tragedy". By the year 2050, "American whites will be on the point of becoming a minority".
The Croatian fears of assimilation abroad have been widely expressed. Tuga Tarle of the Croatian Embassy in Australia talks about an "identity crisis" in Australia. (Hrvatski Vjesnik, 15 August 1996). Mario Skunca, in the Croatian Herald writes about empty clubs and empty Croatian language schools. In another Croatian journal, Zeljko Sabol estimates that in the many nations where Croatian migrants are found, only ten per cent are regularly involved in Croatian communities. (Matica, No. 5, 1996). Boris Skvorc in the pages of the Croatian Herald poses the question as to whether Croatian communities abroad will fade away like a dried-out branch. Concern over these external assimilative pressures on Australian/Croatian soccer is also frequently expressed in the Croatian media. And if you don't believe the "bias" of Croatian writers, there are other sources to confirm the Croatian fears of assimilation abroad. The Australian newspaper published an article entitled, "Migrant children ditch mother tongue", which acknowledge the rapid rate of assimilation of migrant culture.
The solutions offered for offsetting rapid assimilation of the Croatian culture, in the above-mentioned articles, involve more of the same, more buildings, more Croatian churches, more soccer training grounds, more focus on Croatian language, more participation at folkloric multicultural festivals or at community functions. All of these traditional Croatian cultural mores abroad have however, up to now, been dependent upon the unfortunate mass emigration of Croatian people. This dependency on a continual supply of new migrants from Croatia will necessarily shift towards reliance on an ageing Croatia in the 21st century. Therefore the solution to assimilation which involves more of a traditional approach as in the past is not viable.
One answer to combating assimilation lies not within traditional Croatian community mores, but beyond it. In the above-mentioned articles, Croatian writers mention the successful models of other ethnic cultures abroad, such as the Greeks, but they fail to discuss how other models work. Obviously, there is no magic formula for cultural maintenance in a foreign country, or government grant, or policy, which can take the place of individual creativity and motivation, supplemented by a viable community structure.
Witness, for example, how the Australian Aboriginal actively transforms his ancient culture into marketable works of art, dance companies, television programmes and the written word. Witness the recent Irish, River Dance phenomenon. Canadian Eskimos market their ancient rock carvings. What about Melbourne's Lygon Street Italian festa, or Chinatown in all major capital cities in the world. Remember none of the above are self-sufficient without a permanent cultural home-base, but abroad they have successfully transformed for the whole world "old wine into new bottles". All of these phenomena did not merely evolve, but were actively cultivated. These creative forms of culture not only enrich mainstream culture in Australia or North America, but they give otherwise assimilated second or third generation ethnic groups a source of identity and pride.
The obvious question to be posed next is, what is uniquely Croatian? One unique phenomenon that comes to mind is Medjugorje, but it is debateable as to whether Medjugorje is seen as Croatian by the general public. Tuga Tarle, in the above mentioned article, comments on the important contribution of the Croatian language being taught at Macquarie University in Sydney, and I would add to this, the important efforts being made by the fledgling Croatian theatre group in Melbourne. Obviously, the Croatian language/literature is important, but will it ever becomes a permanent part of the mainstream, like the use of French or Latin words in legal or medical terminology, or the well-worn phrase, "It's Greek to me!", or the mandatory instruction of Italian in Roman Cathoilic schools. Does Croatian culture have an international equivalent to Indian Yoga? Any minority culture abroad needs a cultural/linguistic base, but what I am trying to identify is something more tangible, an expression of culture which has the potential to transcend both community and government limitations which the whole world can enjoy!
Croatia has a couple of symbols of its own, such as the Kravat or the Dalmatian dog, but the world has not associated these with Croatia yet. One example of the marketing of Greek culture is a new series of framed prints for sale in home décor outlets in Melbourne called 'Mediterranean Colours', which feature the well-known scenes of the Greek Isles. The tourism slogans about Croatia like "Heaven On Earth", or "Small Country for a Great Holiday", don't do enough to conjure up "mental" images of Croatia's unique coastal areas and cultural wealth.
In conclusion, it is time to attract the public to aspects of Croatian culture in a tangible way rather than depending upon traditional pillars of multiculturalism or political lobbying. Abroad, Croats must transcend assimilation policies in order to deposit an enduring and recognizable contribution to benefit everyone, and to promote a tourist destination for all. To place Croatian culture on the pedestal it deserves we need to focus on Croatia's uniqueness, on symbols which the world immediately associates with Croatia, and use symbols which invoke positive feelings. Over the centuries, assimilation of minority cultures abroad is inevitable but there should be a legacy left behind for future generations, other than engraved tombstones, which people can identify as Croatian, with respect.
Jean Lunt Marinovic
September 1997
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