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News 18 Oct 16

Croatian Town Launches Classes to Keep 'Arbanasi' Alive

The Croatian coastal town of Zadar is starting Albanian classes in a high school, designed in part to keep the tiny Arbanasi community aware of their distant Albanian origins.

Sven Milekic, Arben Qirezi
Zagreb, Pristina
'Vladimir Nazor' gymnasium in Zadar. Photo: 'Vladimir Nazor' gymnasium

A school in Dalmatia, in Croatia, is introducing Albanian language classes, designed in part to keep alive the language and culture of an ancient, tiny community of long-ago Albanian migrants known as the Arbanasi.

School director Rade Simicevic told BIRN that the Vladimir Nazor gymnazium [high school] in the coastal town of Zadar was introducing the optional classes for about 46 pupils in two classes.

The classes take place under the "Model C" formula. This allows minorities to learn the language and culture of their community, with the Croatian Education Ministry approving and providing the curriculum - but the courses will not affect their school grades.

“The school just gives them a place where they can learn it, but their grades are not included in their school certificates. The Ministry of Science, Education and Sports is paying for the teacher leading the course,” Simicevic explained.

The ceremonial launch of the new language course took place in the school on Saturday, in the presence of the ambassadors of Kosovo of Albania, Uliks Emra and Ilir Melo.

Besides being home to Albanians who came to Zadar during the Yugoslav era in the 20th century, the Dalmatian town is also home to much older community of Arbanasi, or Arbёresh.

This community migrated to Zadar in the 18th century from what is now northern Albania and many still live in the Zadar neighbourhood named after them, called Arbanasi.

They speak one of the rarest dialects or languages in Europe, today spoken by only between 300 and 500 people. It combines elements of the northern Albanian "Gheg" dialect, with Croatian Dalmatian dialect and bits of Italian.

Predominantly Catholic, the community no longer see themselves as Albanians but as Arbanas Croats.

Their home town was the northern Albanian city of Shkoder and it is believed that they migrated to Zadar in three waves, in 1726, 1727 and in 1733, led by the then Catholic Archbishop of Bar, Vincenc Zmajevic, who opposed the Islamisation of Albanians in the Ottoman Empire.

Professor Isak Shema, a Kosovo-based specialist on the literature and culture of Arbanasi, has spent a lot of time in Zadar and Zagreb during the last three years and has drafted the curriculum for the Albanian language and culture, which was approved by the Ministry.

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