Catholic Slavism: The Easternmost Point of the European West.. in the South


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Text: Žikica Milošević

Pan-Slavism has drowned itself in its own problem, namely there isn’t a group of European nations that is so sharply divided like the Slavs. The Romans are all Catholics apart from the Romanians, Moldavians and a small group of Vlachs and Tsintsars. The Germans are usually Protestant apart from the Flemish, Austrians and Bavarians. Yet, there is a much clearer distinction between the Slavs. Croatians and their spirit were formed in the framework of the Western, Catholic paradigm.

The subtitle of this article sounds exactly as we intended it to sound because there is no a more precise explanation. The West can be defined in two ways, and this is the prevailing perception – firstly, there is the demarcation of Western (Protestant and Catholic) Christianity and Orthodoxy, and secondly, and we are going to refer here to De Gaulle’s quote, the West stretches from Ireland to Vladivostok, while its southerm borders start with Kazakhstan and end with the border with Iran. By definition, both Lebanon and Israel are the West, as are New Zealand and Australia …. Unfortunately, we are more inclined towards the first definition, which has a totally false premise because it takes into consideration which missionaries were the first to reach the pagans and convert them to Christianity – the Roman ones or the ones from Constantinople? If we go by the first, then Croatia is indeed the most eastern point of the West in the European Southeast (in Central Europe that is Poland, and in Northern Europe these are Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland).



However, this claim is all too easy to make. The Croatian spirit is deeply Balkan, with traditional strongholds of national pride in the Dalmatian hinterland, or in Lika, or in Herzegovina, with “ojkanje” (the traditional polyphonic folk singing), alka in Sinj, the Haiduks, the Uskoks and other typical Balkan features that do not blend well with the baroque face of Zagreb, Marin Držić’s Dubrovnik, or Marko Marulić’s Split. Therefore, it is not surprising that Croatianhood was created, in spite of the regional differences that are so drastic which even bigger countries, such as France, don’t have. Croatia is a a melting pot of the Pannonian ease of Slavonians which they share with the Hungarians and the Serbs in Vojvodina, the Dalmatian / Mediterranean ‘fjaka’ (stillness, the state of doing nothing) they share with the Italians, and the Austrian hand-kissing readily adopted by Zagreb’s crème de la crème. It is this dichotomy that is the foundation of the contemporary Croatianhood. When the time came for the Croatians to pick their national language, they chose the Šrokavski dialect spoken only in Slavonia and very few other areas in Croatia. They did not pick Čakavski or Kajkavski dialect in which many autochthonous books in Croatian literature were written. This was the link to the Balkans, its heroism and the national language of the epic songs. On the other hand, when they ran out of ‘finer words’, the Croatians looked to “the most prosperous Western Slavs”, the Czechs, and incorporated many Czech words into their contemporary language. The Serbs, until Vuk Karadžić emerged, did the same with the Russian and old Slavic, creating the Slavic-Serbian language. However, the pernicious Karadžić left only the Turkish words and deleted the Slavic ones, only to later replace them with Latin, Greek and Western ones. Croats became wiser under Gaj, so a great number of words (for which they are envied) remained folk – from the names of the months of the year to everyday terms.


And yet, after all, Croatia has remained where it is, at the border of two types of Christianity, and it is a well known fact that such nations usually have a pronounced penchant for equalizing the national and the religious. Look at the Irish (Catholics and Protestants), and the difference between the Poles and the Lithuanians on one side, and the Belorussian and the Ukrainians on the other. Ivo Gundulić openly admits in his book ‘Osman’ that he is a pan-Slav, and that he was led by Rome in liberation of Croatia from the occupation, but in a Catholic manner. He celebrates the Poles as the “Knights of Jesus” and somehow defines the Croats as “Southern Poles”, or a bastion separating them from everyone else. However, Poland’s intention to unite the Northern Slavs living in its corners (Rzecz Pospolyta), or Croatia’s intention to unite the Southern Slavs, or Serbia and Russia’s attempt at uniting all Eastern Slavs have all failed. But this should not fool anyone as we are the leaves of the same tree. To call ourselves the “bastions”, “knights” and “guards” should be confied to the domain of interesting tradition. Nobody has benefited from these roles, but they did skilfully shape the national spirit – as it is the case with the Croatians, or Slavs who are, at the same time, Pannonian, Mediterranean, Balkan, and Central European and who are all linked by one of the most patriotic bonds on our continent, despite all the differences.

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