Croats in London - Interview with Dr Branko Franolic
Dr Franolic is a prominent Croat linguist who has been resident in London since 1974. He is a member of the Societe Linguistique du Paris.
Dr Franolic received an award from oil company INA for the defence of Croatian language abroad. He has donated many books - about 2,000 - to UK libraries in particular the British Library but also to others including the School of Slavonic studies, Oxford, Cambridge. CIL spoke to him about his recent and current projects.
You've been compiling bibliographies on what's in the British Library on Croatia. Tell us something about that and your most recent work.
When Croatia became independent it was terra incognita - unknown country. There was hardly any books on Croatia in the British Library, so I had to fill this gap and this was very necessary for anybody who wants to write on Croatia or south-eastern Europe, they need a good bibliography. People are discouraged because there are no books. Bibliographies are very important. I would call them ante room to any scientific research. You cannot do any serious writing without having a bibliography - books on a country or whatever subject.
I remember when Marcus Tanner (author of Croatia - A Nation Forged in War) started to write a book on Croatia, he had hardly any books on Croatia in London, he had to struggle. That's why the supply of books to libraries is very important. Very often, librarians did not know what was published in Croatia, especially during the war. I had to supply them.
That's how you came to write the bibliographies?
I realised that bibliographies were very necessary because anyone who wants to write on any aspect of Croatian life or culture or history must have the books. That was why I compiled my latest bibliography, A Survey of Croatian Bibliographies 1960- 2003. In the international world bibliography, published in Munich, Croatia was practically suppressed - because all the information came from Belgrade. So one had to fill the gap since 1960 to 2003. It includes different places, regions in Croatia and subjects - from Astronomy to Zoology.
A bibliography is the first step for research in any writing. This was our Achilles Heel. I met some people who were simply discouraged because no books were available. They wanted to write about Croatia but gave up.
You are working on a new project - 'An Outline of Literary Croatian'. Can you tell us what this is about?
The Croatian language is still not thoroughly investigated. There are a lot of pre-conceived ideas about the heritage from the 20th Century. There is a Hungarian saying that says a nation lives through its language. The nation is a language, the language is a nation. A very important aspect of this the Glagolitic written language since the early middle ages - the Baska tablet - which is the cornerstone of Croatian literary development.
After the battle of Krbava in 1493 when the Turks invaded Croatia, an interesting detail is that the Glagolitic priest from Grobnik recorded in his breviary immediately after the battle that the Turks sacked whole Croatian lands and crushed the Croatian language - at that time language meant people. So language is people, people are language. It is very important to stress this, that from the middle ages - Glagolitic is slightly neglected - that Croats were among the first people in Europe to write in their national language.
Croats were alone in the Catholic church in the west who were permitted to keep the vernacular liturgy which set them firmly apart from the latin Catholics and ensured the retention of a unique identity. Whereas Catholic priests in France, Italy and Germany read in in Latin, Croatian Dalmatian priests read it in the vernacular so the liturgy could have the same kind of nationalising effect that the vernacular bible had in protestant countries. It was supplemented by new protestant translation of the new testament in Croat, printed in Glagolitic in Germany in the 1560s. This is an important fact that should be stressed.
What you are writing is taking us up to the present day?
Yes, because nowadays there is an assault on Croatian language again as in former Yugoslavia when Croatian was practically suppressed. So it was a very, very long struggle. From the middle ages via the renaissance, Croat writers on the Dalmatian coast had participated most extensively through regular Italian contacts in the culture of Western Europe, and were far from having experienced the intense isolation and intellectual poverty of Serbia - as said by Professor Adrian Hastings (late British historian).
There are a lot of half - baked linguists, pseudo-slavicists who try to suppress these facts. Very few people looked up Glagolitic missals/books - very important for the whole of (Croatian) literature, used not only in liturgy but also in administration.
It's important to stress the Glagolitic literature, the work of our protestant writers who continued our traditions, there were fighting Venetian imperialism and encroachment on the Dalmatian coast. They were protestants, but they were first and foremost national priests who were afraid of being suppressed by Venice or the Turks.
We'll see this article soon?
Yes, I hope so.
If you are interested in purchasing his bibliographies, Dr Franolic can be contacted at 15 Midmoor Road, Wimbledon, London, SW19 4JD