The Croats 
and the question
of their 
Dinaric dancers

thumbnail Mediterranean 
Svanibor Pettan 


  Beginning in the late 1980s, changing power relations in Europe, linked to integration of some countries, as well as to disintegration of other countries and of a major political-military alliance, largely contributed to identity becoming one of the central issues in social sciences and humanities in the 1990s.(1) One should distinguish between market economy, liberal democracy and the European Union as ideals shared in most parts of Europe in the 1990s on one hand, and the intention of several, in particular those newly recognized as independent, European nations to re-define their identities on the other. Generalizations from a large distance that, for instance, point to correlations between religions and language groups (Protestantism and Germanic languages, Catholicism and Romance languages, Orthodoxy and Slavonic languages; questioned in Goddard et al. 1994:25) cannot satisfy the nations which do not fit into such models. Politicians repeatedly call for the increase of sensitivity in approaching the identity markers of their respective nations, while many insider-scholars, familiar with the concepts of "imagined communities" and "the invention of tradition", critically observe the consequences of their deeds. 

The Mediterranean is not a unified culture area (Davis 1993) and even a single heterogeneous settlement with 1400 inhabitants such as the village of Gabela in Herzegovina (Christensen 1995) exhibits considerable cultural diversity. Yet, an attempt can be made to examine the place and meaning of the Mediterranean cultural and, more strictly musical, identity among the Croats, whose nation-state encompasses Central European, Mediterranean, and Balkanic areas and cultural traits. One can include Croats living in Croatia and those living abroad in (The Federal Republic of) Yugoslavia and Australia, paying particular attention to traditional music, which those who consider themselves Croats compose, perform, and listen to.(2) 

According to the 1991 census figures, Croatia, internationally recognized as a state independent from Yugoslavia in 1992, is home to some 4.8 million people (ethnic Croats participating in total population with 78%), while the estimated 2.5 million Croats live abroad (Baletic 1993:38) in a range from the nearby European countries (e.g. Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) to distant countries on other continents, e.g., Australia, Canada, USA. Contrary to the somehow understandable (but inacceptable, because of the oppressive means used) intentions of the former Yugoslav politics to build an all-Yugoslav identity by suppressing Croatian identity (as well as other national identities within Yugoslavia), and contrary to the equally understandable intentions of present Croatian politics to emphasize or even newly-create the all-Croatian sense of identity--in some instances clearly on the expense of regional identities--one can show how different circumstances under which the Croats have lived and/or now live shape their musical identities and where is the place of the Mediterranean musical identity in this complex. 

In Croatia  Due to its geo-political position at the meeting point of Central Europe in the North-West, the Mediterranean in the South, and the Balkans in the East (see Illustration 1), Croatia shows great cultural variety within its borders. This variety was strengthened by the turbulent course of its history,(3) particularly the military frontier, that for centuries divided Western (Austro-Hungarian) and Eastern, (Ottoman) empires, but also due to the long-lasting contacts with Venice/Italy, whose urban culture was of particular importance in shaping the cultural profile of the Croatian coast and islands. Modern Croats in general see themselves as a part of the Western political and cultural sphere.(4) In order to strengthen this argument in a Barthian sense, they are likely to point to a number of issues that differentiate them from neighbors to the East, such as history under Western domination, adherence to Western (Roman Catholic) Christianity, use of Latin alphabet, and preference for capitalism and free market economy. This claim is documented by Croatia's developments in literature, visual arts, and music, which throughout several centuries correspond to developments in Western Europe.(5) At some points, major cultural influences came from the South(-West), e.g., the Italian renaissance, at the others from the North-West, e.g. the German baroque. 

Literary sources and the oral tradition point to the predominantly negative representation of the East (synonymous with "the Balkans") among Croats.(6) Although in historical perspective their contacts with the West reflected changing political and ideological circumstances and events, modern Croats tend to interpret centuries of political union with the West (Hungary and Austria) in positive light (Jelavich 1990), while the East appears to them as a source of threat and negative cultural traits. They identified the principal carriers of Eastern traits throughout the centuries as Ottoman Turks. (7) Only recently have Croatian authors attempted "a critical view of the theories of a general decadence," trying to replace strongly-rooted "one-sided and biased conclusions" (Moacanin 1991:67), in some cases motivated by the pragmatic reasons of the present-day Croatian-Bosnian relations (Posavac 1994). 

These firmly rooted attitudes towards the North-West and the South on one hand, and towards the East on the other, dominate political and cultural discourse in modern Croatia and are essential for understanding the cultural image of the Mediterranean from the Croatian perspective. The Mediterranean identity of the Croats--which they see in positive terms--relates exclusively to the South (South-West), pointing to cultural connections, first of all, with Italy. 

It is not as glorified as Central European identity, and not as denied as Balkan identity. Consequently, certain cultural/musical features which other countries perceive as "Mediterranean," modern Croats regard as "Balkan". (8) 

Croatian scholarship has more or less consciously neglected the issue of ethnic/national identity, and issues of religiosity and popular piety and power and political pressure (cf. Rihtman-Augustin 1995:98, 99). Croatian ethnologists studied identity only indirectly by studying cultural artifacts, and they did so for most part by accepting the division of Croatia into three ethnographic zones by Gavazzi 1942

Croatia map  Pannonic, Adriatic, and Dinaric zones
(Illustration 1)
These ethnographic zones resemble three distinctive regional peasant cultures which correspond to the larger areas: Pannonic to Central European, Adriatic to Mediterranean, and Dinaric to Balkan. Gavazzi and his followers were interested in "the contents of culture and not in the identity per se" which would require research of the meanings and importance cultural artifacts had for the inhabitants of the ethnographic zones (cf. Capo 1994:10). The opinion that (ethnic) identification "is only arbitrarily related to cultural heritage, it is determined by the forms of social interaction and power relations" (Supek 1988:59) is new to Croatian ethnology. However, Gavazzi's approach--says Rihtman-Augustin--raisesd two points: 
  1. Croatia, historically and culturally, is a country of regions, whose inhabitants respect their specifics and expect that the other people respect them, too. 
  2. Each region accommodates inhabitants of different ethnicities who share cultural features (Vidulic 1996:11).(9) 

Gavazzi's classification was extensively used by scholars involved in the research of Croatia's traditional dances (e.g., Ivan Ivancan) and music (e.g., Jerko Bezic, who further developed Gavazzi's categories into six folk music areas).(10) 

Pannonic zone

Video 1.
1.1 MB AVI

Adriatic zone dancers
Video 2.
1.8 MB AVI


zone dancers
Video 3.
2.1 MB AVI

Cultural artifacts typical for each of the three zones correspond to different ecological and historical conditions within the zones, and at the same time feed the sense of mutual differentiation between their inhabitants. Simplified characteristics of the zones imply neither clearcut borders between them nor immutable features. 

Principal traditional occupations in the fertile Pannonic plains include tillage, fruit growing, cattle raising and pig breeding. The inhabitants of the Adriatic coast and islands engage in fishery, olive growing, viticulture and sheep breeding. The stony Dinaric highlands are traditionally dominated by transhumant sheep- and goat-breeding and fruit growing.

Traditional materials for costumes include linen (and later cotton) in the Pannonic zone, wool (and imported materials) in the Adriatic, and wool in the Dinaric zone. There are important differences in cut and in parts of the costumes.

Traditional houses were often built of wood in the Pannonic zone, of stone in the Adriatic, and of stone and wood in the Dinaric. The materials for covering the roofs include straw in the Pannonic zone, flag-stone and tile in the Adriatic, and shingle in the Dinaric zone.

Traditional music, vocal and instrumental, shows the same variety. Narrow, non-tempered intervals in vertical and horizontal musical structures and a unique voice quality outsiders describe as "harsh" are typical of the Dinaric zone only. Video examples 1-3 exemplify music and dance characteristics of the three respective zones.(11) 

Due to these specifics within the three different ecological niches, the inhabitants of the Pannonic and Adriatic zones sometimes look at the inhabitants of the Dinaric zone as culturally distant, "unrefined" people. (12) They see the patriarchal society traits of the Dinaric people as in many ways an obstacle to faster democratization and modernization of Croatia.(13) Historical documents and field evidence in recent times testify to the sense of considerable cultural difference, regardless of the intended all-encompassing Croatian political identity. Particularly in the central and southern part of the Croatia's coast (Dalmatia), people did not care whether these highlanders were ethnic Croats, Serbs, or something else.(14) 

sound icon Audio 1.
Da si od.
Dalmatian klapa
250 kB .AU

Audio 2.
Dinaric singing
250 kB .AU

Proud of their own form of Mediterranean culture, Dalmatians elevated klapa singing as a principal marker of regional musical identity. Klapa is a group of people of the same sex (in most cases male) and preferably similar age, singing in three or four parts. By comparison, singers in neighboring parts of the Dinaric zone form smaller groups, also of the same sex and age, singing mostly in two parts. 

Klapa songs are longer than the short, two-line songs from the Dinaric zone, and are usually in strophic form. Most klapa songs are in major and use tempered intervals. Their melodic range is wider than the range of Dinaric songs. Dynamics are differentiated (unlike the uniformly loud Dinaric singing) and a relaxed vocal quality prevails (unlike the tense quality of the Dinaric singing). Compare audio examples 1 (Dalmatian) and 2 (Dinaric) .(15) 

Instrumental music shows similarly differences. Mandolins of urban coastal Dalmatia contrast with shepherd aerophones from Dalmatia's Dinaric hinterland. Two bowed lutes, the Dalmatian lirica and the Dinaric gusle, the first used to accompany dance and the second to accompany epic songs, further distinguish the two musical regions (see Sirola 1940). 

These data point to two different soundscapes of two neighboring zones, Adriatic and Dinaric. The Pannonic soundscape, although specific in itself and geographically more distant to Adriatic, merges better with it than with the Dinaric soundscape. Pannonic and Adriatic tunes are favored in school-textbooks and in the media, while Dinaric tunes are generally considered too difficult to be performed and too far from average aesthetics in a modern society to be considered pleasant for listening. The media such as HTV Croatian Television promote contacts between the Pannonic and Adriatic musical traditions, for instance, through concerts of Pannonic singers accompanied by the tamburica orchestra at the annual klapa festivals in Omis,(16) and through the annual klapa concerts in Zagreb (Milin 1995), but neglect the Dinaric musical tradition.(17) Dinaric music is the only music of the three which is created, performed, and listened to exclusively by the people from the Dinaric zone. Magrini raises similar issues of the "official" impact on folklore practice in this issue of EOL. 

While migrating from the Dinaric to either Pannonic or Adriatic zone (and not vice versa) people think of moving from worse to better. Pannonic and Adriatic soundscapes appear to them more refined, more modern, and more Western in comparison to their own heritage.(18) As a result, parallel with the growth of tourism along the coast, one can predict further "Mediterranization" of Croatia. This "Mediterranization" will certainly emphasize Western values, on the expense of the Croatia's Eastern cultural traits, here synonymous with the Dinaric heritage. 

Outside Croatia  Croats living outside Croatia left their homeland at various times and for various reasons. The principal causes of their emigration were Turkish advances (fifteenth to seventeenth centuries), Austrian policies resulting in the establishment of a military frontier in Croatia (eighteenth century), economic reasons (mainly from the nineteenth century on), and discordance with communist Yugoslavia (after World War II). Although most Croatian ethnomusicologists showed sporadic interest in studying music within the widespread Croatian diaspora, no systematic research has been done yet.(19) Among the reasons are a small number of ethnomusicologists, lack of money, and political circumstances. 

Preliminary research on two case studies examines musical identities outside Croatia and how those relate to musical identities in Croatia proper. 

  1. A Croatian community that at the same time (centuries ago), from the same area, and for the same reason, came to inhabit the place of present residence, Kosovo (present-day Serbia). 
  2. Modern Croatian emigrants who, at various times, from various places, and for various reasons, left Croatia and created communities in the place of present residence, Australia. 
Kosovo  Kosovo was an autonomous province within Serbia and Yugoslavia until 1989 when Serbia unilaterally changed its status by fully integrating it into Serbia. According to the 1981 census,(20) the Croats made the seventh largest ethnic group in Kosovo counting for 0.6% of its population. In the course of my research, I found two distinctive, geographically distant communities of Kosovo Croats, one of Janjevo (Lipljan municipality) and the other of Letnica (Vitina municipality). In this article I will concentrate on the community which is believed to have come from Dubrovnik (southern Dalmatia) to the Medieval Serbian state in order to establish Dubrovnik's trade colony in the mining place called Janjevo.(21) 

Due to centuries of Ottoman rule over Kosovo (1455-1912), the dominant culture in Kosovo is "Eastern" or "Balkan," i.e., strongly Turkish-influenced. Although affiliated with a Western (Roman Catholic) church and proud of their Dubrovnik origin, the Croats from Janjevo share a Turkish-influenced culture with neighboring ethnic communities (Albanian, Serbian, Turkish, Gypsy), as can be seen, e.g., in their traditional dress, customs, and music. They also share two native concepts known as ala turka and ala franga, which point to the sense of distinction between the Eastern (rather than Turkish in ethnic terms) and Western culture in Kosovo. This distinction, applicable to various cultural features and aspects of everyday life, encompasses the opposition between "old" (old- fashioned) and "new" (modern), as well. 

For instance, the dimije traditional buggy pants worn by the women, the sofra short-legged table around which people sit on the floor, and the oriental songs with the characteristic interval of augmented second are representative of ala turka, in contrast to the modern Western skirt for women, modern Western-style table with chairs, and to the modern popular music of Western origin, all representative of ala franga. Field research conducted in the 1980s revealed that these two concepts were not always strictly divided. It also emphasized the awareness of the one-way modernization process that led from ala turka to ala franga.(22) 

Audio 3.
Nevestice. Turkish-style cross-ethnic song
100 kB .AU 

Audio 4.
klapa song unique to Janjevo Croats
150 kB .AU

In the 1970s, the Janjevo Croats formed a klapa with the intention to point to their roots. This was another move on the ala turka/ala franga line. Audio example 3 demonstrates the Turkish-style song characteristic of the regional cross-ethnic soundscape. Audio example 4 demonstrates the klapa song, characteristic of this Croatian community in Kosovo. 

It may be an intriguing question why the Croats in Janjevo decided to express their musical uniqueness in Kosovo by forming a Dalmatian type of ensemble, and not, e.g., a tamburica ensemble which elsewhere increasingly serves as an all-Croatian national musical symbol. This question becomes even more appropriate if we know that Janjevo lost its historical contact with Dubrovnik (within the Adriatic zone) long ago and that the most numerous community of Janjevo Croats outside of Janjevo in the 1980s lived in the Croatia's capital Zagreb (within the Pannonic zone). 

The answer may lie in power relations. Members of a small and vulnerable community selected musical symbols suitable to emphasize their historical cultural roots rather than present ethnic affiliation.(24) In addition to their dominant Balkan musical culture, the Janjevo Croats invented the tradition, in Hobsbawmian terms, that points to their Mediterranean origin. 

Australia  Modern Croatian emigrants have not formed such a compact community as the Janjevo one. People with different personal experiences from Croatia, some economic emigrants, others political, formed a wide range of clubs from the pro-Yugoslav to pro-Croatian, with different emphases to national and regional cultures.(25) World War I Croatian emigrants were divided into those in favor of (South) Slav union and the Austro-Hungarian empire; many of those who came between the two World Wars were in favor of Yugoslavia and ideologically close to communist ideology; and many among those who came after World War II were in favor of independent Croatia and against communism (cf. Tkalcevic 1992).(26) It was only the military attack on Croatia in the 1990s followed by its internationally recognized independence that brought them closer together. 

Unlike the Janjevo community which continued the dominant, firmly rooted Turkish-style culture through being exposed to it for several centuries, all Australian Croats can be tentatively described as newcomers. (27) Instead of a firmly rooted culture, they met other newcomers from different parts of the world with their own different cultural traits. As the musician in Athens who thought of his Cretan musical identity, while in the USA of his Greek identity and the Turkish musician who presented himself as a performer of Middle Eastern music in the USA, it was either regional (e.g, Dalmatian), Croatian, or Yugoslav identity that worked as a unifying factor for Croatian emigrants in Australia. They used culture, including traditional music, to help them unite and to present themselves as specific to other people in the context of, e.g., folklore festivals.


Video 4. Croatian feast in Sunshine, Melbourne
1.1 MB AVI
Fieldwork in 1995 indicated that political and cultural rhetoric from Croatia influenced the immigrants in Australia to various degrees. A man from Croatia's Dinaric zone did not want to sing in his own regional tradition at my request, saying, "it would not sound 'Croatian' enough." He preferred songs from the Adriatic zone, from which the majority of his community in Sydney came.(28) Another example, from the Sunshine suburb of Melbourne, indicated just the opposite. In spite of the anti-Balkan campaign in Croatia, emigrants danced to music that the official media in Croatia would avoid as a notorious example of "Balkan" music, in this context synonymous with "Serbian", for its mixture of musical contents, instrumentation and style (Video example 4). The official Croatian media would describe the event as a "Serbian" dance performed by an ensemble dominated by "Serbian" accordion in the style of "Serbian" folk-pop genre known as novokomponovana narodna muzika (lit., "newly composed folk music").(29) 

The Australian material provides different options for inventing tradition in comparison to Kosovo. People may decide to continue being who they think they are in terms of regional musical affiliation,(30) to denial their own regional musical traits, e.g., Dinaric, and to adopt different regional traits, e.g., Adriatic, from the fellow emigrants within the same national framework instead, or to adopt a mixture of musical traits from various parts of Croatia, as is often the case. 

Conclusion  Power relations play an important role in the search for the Mediterranean musical identity of the Croats who live under different circumstances within Croatia and abroad. These power relations are incorporated in an East-West distinction on various levels as a constant among the Croats in Croatia, in Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Kosovo) and Australia. 

The real power that plays with the East-West distinction is of political nature . In most parts of the world, ethnic/national identity seldom matches cultural/musical identity. Several ethnic groups may to some extent share cultural identity, e.g., ala turka, and members of a single ethnic group can through a longer period of time develop different cultural identities, e.g., within Croatia. It is the holders of political power who--in particular when confronted with a serious threat from outside--tend to minimize regional cultural differences and present cultural and political identity matching one another, or even superimpose political identity over cultural specifics. This was particularly evident in the context of the war in Croatia in the 1990s. Political power holders favored musicians who used Western sound and in lyrics portrayed Croatia as a Western country under attack from the East. They tried to keep from the public eye Eastern (Dinaric, Balkan) music, and lyrics calling for radical military solution of the war.(31) For Croats, the vaguely-perceived musical "East" seems to encompass three different soundscapes: 

  1. Traditional rural music of the Dinaric shepherds, generally believed to belong to a pre-Turkish Balkan heritage (Petrovic 1987: 18); (Audio 1, Croatia) 
  2. Traditional urban music to the East of Croatia, heavily Turkish-influenced (Audio 3, F.R. Yugoslavia - Kosovo) 
  3. Commercial folk-pop music, particularly popular in Serbia (Video 4, Australia). 

The three categories contain mutually exclusive musical features that could also, in part, be ascribed to the Mediterranean in a broader sense. However, in an attempt to keep the Mediterranean on the (political) West side, opinion-makers in Croatia often consciously neglect these features. 

A Mediterranean musical identity is just one of the regionally-based options found among the people who consider themselves Croats. It is strongly emphasized among those who inhabit or (at least) originate in the Adriatic zone. Obviously, this identity is considerably less relevant for those who do not. It is endangered by the North-Western cultural concept, which the political power-holders tend to promote as "national" (more in Buble 1994) and at the same time it endangers the Eastern cultural concept(s) which the same power-holders tend to hide for being an alleged obstacle on the way to the creation of entirely Western image for the Croats. 

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