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13 Oct 17

Ancient Croat Community Keep Traditions Alive in Romania

 

The Croat President’s recent visit to Carasova in Romania put the spotlight back on a tiny, ancient community whose exact origins are lost in the mists of time.

Marija Djokovic BIRN Carasova

In the little village of Carasova, in western Romania, local librarian Jakob Domanjanc does his best to maintain the traditions of one of Romania’s oldest but smallest ethnic minorities – its 5,000 or so Croats.

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic’s recent visit to Romania helped put the spotlight back on this half-forgotten minority, which has preserved its language and customs for hundreds of years, hundreds of miles from Croatia. 

One of the highlights of her recent visit to Romania at the start of October was a visit to the Croat villages of Romania, where she posed for photographs among locals in traditional Croat attire.

Photo: Marija Djokovic/BIRN

“I sincerely appreciate your efforts to preserve your national identity, encourage patriotism among your young generations, and I invite you to visit Croatia,” she said.

Also known as “Krashovani”, about 5,000 of them live in several villages dotted about 100 kilometres south of the city of Timisoara, close to the Serbian border.

According to Croatia’s Central State Office for Croats Abroad, these Croats have a claim to be “the oldest Croatian minority, and from the point of view of linguistics and ethnography, the best preserved minority [of Croat communities abroad].”

Domanjanc says the exact origins of the Krashovani remain shrouded in mystery.

“We know only some things that were passed down through the generations. My father told me that we came from Croatia, either from the middle of Bosnia or from Dalmatia,” he says.

Photo: Marija Djokovic/BIRN

“The Croats did not come all at once. There were several migrations in different periods. But there are just a few data about in in church books,” he adds.

The librarian recalls that a local priest many years ago suggested that their dialect and customs pointed to distant origins somewhere in Bosnia.

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According to some, Croats first started migrating to these lands, which were then part of Hungary but now form part of Romania, back in the 14th century.

Apparently, they kept coming for different reasons. Some were fleeing Muslim Ottoman rule over much of Croatia. Others were just searching for a better life.

Photo: Marija Djokovic/BIRN

Most of the Croats in Romania have fairly close ties to their ancient “motherland”. Many have been working or studying in Croatia. Following the break-up of Yugoslavia and Croatian independence in the 1990s many also took out dual citizenships – Romanian and Croatian.

Photo: Marija Djokovic/BIRN

However, for some of the Krashovani, the question of their identity is not that clear cut.

Teleaga Petru, who has lived and worked in Vienna, says that he is Krashovan but notes that the issue of their identity has changed over time.

He says that during the era of Romania’s communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, members of the community were often known as “Serb-Croats”.

He says he still feels confused: “I do not know [how to define himself] but I am a Catholic, which I guess means that I am Croat,” Petru says.

Gjorge Magdic, a pensioner from the village of Lupak, says that he could be either a Croat or Bosnian, as his family came from Bosnia in 1849, but the question of nationality is not important to him.

Photo: Marija Djokovic/BIRN

To add to the confusion, some members of the community insist they are Serbs.

Petar Frana, a lawyer from Karasevo, is one of them.

“Some people consider themselves Serbs, some Croats,” he says, maintaining that those whose families came to Transylvania first, around the year 1200, tend to think of themselves as Serbs, regardless of whether they are Orthodox or Catholic Christians.

[Most Serbs are Orthodox Christians, while most Croats are Roman Catholics.]

“Many people believe that because we are Catholics we must be Croats but it’s not that religion defines nationality.

“There are Serbian Catholics and Orthodox Croats. Faith is faith and nationality is nationality,” Frana insists.

Photo: Marija Djokovic/BIRN

Either way, there is not much tension between the self-proclaimed Croats and Serbs in Transylvania, who have been living together for centuries.

Many of the locals, regardless of their nationality, have developed ties to nearby Serbia to do with work.

“There were no tensions here like those that developed in former Yugoslavia … an atmosphere of tolerance and multi-culturalism has created a way of life in which people do not raise such issues,” Domanjanc concluded.