Dispatch from Dalmatia

This blog has had a bit of a fallow stretch.  I’ve been busy with preparations for moving and generally trying to enjoy my last bit of summer in Madison, then adjusting to life here in Philly. But a stretch of my blog drought is also down to the two weeks of family vacation I had in June. My focus was on relaxing and enjoying myself, but it is hard not to think about history when you’re walking around a city like Split, Croatia, where the past and present collide around every corner.

Just outside the walls of the former Diocletian Palace in Split stands a statue of Gregory of Nin. Down the steps, at the city gate, men dressed as Roman soldiers pose with tourists, for a fee. Behind Gregory stand stalls selling handmade jewelry and flea market-esque kitsch. One stand is entirely purple, selling the lavender that is one of the regions chief products. There are a few stands selling Soviet-era pressings of Beatles records. Worn out tourists sleep on benches in the small park nearby. I slipped down past the statue to find the interpretive panel, helpfully written in both Croatian and English.




So who was Gregory?

Gregory of Nin was the Bishop of Nin when, in 925 and 928, he campaigned to be named the Primate of the Dalmatian bishops. He did not get the position. He was offered some other position and largely forgotten. He did, however, succeed in introducing use of local Croatian language(s) in mass, rather than Latin.

And why does Gregory stand 8 meters tall outside of a touristy historic site?

The work of Ivan Mestrovic, the monument was erected as part of the Kingdom of Croatia’s millenary in 1925. At the time of the millenary, a thousand years after Greg didn’t get the job, Croatia was part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (in 1929 it was renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia). While Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia were supposedly equal partners in the Kingdom, there were cracks around the foundation, and the Croatian Republican Peasant Party began to gain seats in the parliament. I’m connecting the dots here, given that there’s a lot of context and I’m working largely from this explanatory panel and various Wikipedia pages on this period of Croatian history, but it seems like Gregory became associated with the preservation of the Glagolithic script and Croatian national identity within this fragile conglomerated kingdom.

How did this nationalist statue go over with the occupying Axis forces during WWII?

Not well apparently, and it was dismantled (perhaps for its own protection?) in 1941, only reassembled in 1954.

How is Glagolithic script related to the contemporary Croatian language?

Linguistically, not very much at all, I think. The Croats were the last to use the script regularly, up until the end of the 19th Century, but today it is only used in religious texts. Modern-day Croatian is a form of Serbo-Croatian, though sometimes considered a standalone language, usually for political reasons. In fact, in 1967, Croatian scholars issued a “Declaration on the Status and Name of the Croatian Literary Language” calling for Croatian to be used alongside the state-sponsored Serbo-Croatian (at this point the state was the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia). This appeal resulted in policy change in the Yugoslav constitution of 1974.

Herein lies the interesting connection for me between our 8-meter-tall friend Gregory and the language that pings off the walls of the old towns along the Adriatic before the tourists like me rouse themselves for a day of “exploration.” The land that now salutes a white and red-checked coat of arms (and soccer jerseys) has had an immense amount of political evolution and  upheaval in the last 1100 years, but taking ownership of the language one uses has been a constant concern.

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