Four Centuries of Global Presence
The Classical Gymnasium of Zagreb will celebrate its four hundredth anniversary in 2007; an event significant not only for Croatia, but for European and World culture.
A few weeks ago I listened to a lecture by Dr. Dino Milinovic on promotion of Croatian culture in France. The lecture took place at the premises of the Association of the Classical Gymnasium of Zagreb - Sodalitas Gymnasii Classici Zagrabiensis. Both the lecturer, the place, and the topic are significant. Let us take up the man first.
Dr. Milinovic (Ph.D. in art history, Sorbonne, 1990) is a Croatian scholar and diplomat. He graduated from the Classical Gymnasium in 1974, and from the School of Arts and Sciences of the University of Zagreb (art history and archeology) in 1984. Currently, he is a lecturer at the University of Zagreb's School of Arts and Sciences teaching Iconology and Roman art.
Dr. Milinovic just completed a two year tour of duty as the cultural attaché at the Croatian Embassy in Paris. Previously, he had served as Secretary to the Croatian Commission for cooperation with the UNESCO. Obviously, he is fully qualified to speak about promotion of Croatian culture in France - and elsewhere.
As someone who spent a decade or so promoting Croatia in the U.S., including a stint (1994-97) as the Head of the PR Division of the National Federation of Croatian Americans (NFCA), I am well positioned to understand Dr. Milinovic's efforts, and to congratulate him on his successes - primarily on Croatia's well-received participation in the all-European Anjou Exhibit at Fontevrauld, a mausoleum of the early members of that important European dynasty, and on the upcoming major exhibition of Croatian sculptor, Ivan Kožaric, in Paris. But I am also fully capable of sharing his frustrations. From memory, I will quote just one of Dino's thoughts: "The triumph of Janica Kostelic, accompanied by the success of her brother, Ivica, is a wonderful thing for Croatia, but it is not a result of a systematic Croatian Government policy of promotion (in this case, of sport), but of efforts and dedication of one man - Janica's and Ivica's father". My American experience has been very similar: Croatia does not know how, does not wish, to promote itself. Already in the fall of 1991, Dr. Philip Cohen a great friend of Croatia, told me over the phone: "You Croats are too restrained, too polite when it comes to promoting your cause. You should be screaming." It was the time of the siege of Vukovar. Now, that the shooting war is over, perhaps we need not scream, but we should indeed stand up and boldly present our case. As I have written in a document entitled "Croatian Culture and Promotion of Croatia in the U.S.", produced at the Institute of Social Sciences Ivo Pilar in Zagreb in 1999-2000 (and for reasons unknown never brought out to public light, or disseminated to the Croatian authorities), I expressed similar thoughts (and frustrations). Among other things, I pointed out that a key to a successful promotion of Croatia, in this case via Croatian culture, which I believe to be our strongest weapon in a daily struggle for political and economic goodwill of the Only Remaining Superpower, is the role of Croatian communities all around the world, in particular of the "old diaspora," the offspring of those who had emigrated many decades (centuries) ago. I will say a few more words about this issue in my conclusion. But first, allow me to say a few words about the place.
The Classical Gymnasium of Zagreb was formed by the Jesuits in 1607. The Gymnasium's beautiful, early Baroque building still stands at Katarina Zrinska Square in the Upper Town of Zagreb. Although the Gymnasium is today (again) at Križanoc Street, the author of these lines graduated under the heavy vaults of the old building. The venerable institution, and structure to accommodate it, came into being less than two decades after the Croats, together with Slovene and Styrian troops, routed the Turks at Sisak, putting a stop once for ever to their advancement on the Croatian front. Here, a mere fifty kilometers from the battle line, the founding of the Classical Gymnasium challenged the old maxim that Inter arma silent Musae.
This year the Classical Gymansium is celebrating its 395th birthday. I am not too fond of "minor" celebration dates, but in the case of my old Alma Mater I may be ready to bend my own rules. An institution that has been present for almost four centuries on the global scene deserves to make a few headlines every few years.
This year's celebration includes such major events as the publication of a monumental Povijest Klasicne gimnazije (A History of the Classical Gymnasium), a 600 page plus opus by a distinguished Croatian historian, Dr. Lelja Dobronic, a Godišnjak (Miscellany) which, I am sure, will be as full of interesting and exciting texts as the previous ones, a Svecana Akademija (State Gala, in the Croatian National Theater, on May 28, 2002), and an exhibition of art works featuring such Croatia's top artists as Angeli Kosta Radovani, Zlatko Prica, Albert Kinert, Josip Biffel, Mrija Ujevic, Lovro Artukovic, Dubravka Babic, etc. There will also be concerts, theater performances, and lectures.
But all this pales in the light of what should be in store for 2007, when the Gymnasium will celebrate 400 years of its existence. In order to understand the magnitude of that date, not just for Croatia, we must think at least very briefly of the nature of the institution itself. The Counterreformation period witnessed, of course, founding of Jesuit classical gymnasiums in many European (and even overseas) countries. In each case this meant becoming a link in a chain of institutions promoting an all-European and global view. Latin, Greek, and, in some cases, Hebrew, the classical languages, are by nature multicultural, i.e., do not know national or cultural borders. Harvard is an offspring of a divinity school founded on classical knowledge. Still in the 19th century, the students on the Harvard campus were allowed to address one another only in Latin, Greek, or Hebrew. Since 1607, Zagreb has been a part of that great international brotherhood. And it is truly a brotherhood. Often have I discovered that I had more in common, or could better count on alumni of classical gymnasiums from Botswana or Paraguay, than on people of my own family.
This globalist aspect of the Classical Gymnasium of Zagreb should be recognized in Croatia and beyond. Again, we need not scream about it, but we need, politely but firmly, point out to the "greater," that cross-cultural and globally minded institutions existed in Croatia at times when the people of the area had to fight daily in order to survive. And they have survived, at this difficult spot of the globe, because they have preserved their culture, not in isolation, but linking it up to the best in the European and global community.
For this reason, I suggest that Croatia's investment in the great celebration which must ensue in 2007 be minimal. We should, as of today, start to, politely but firmly, ask for sponsors from the world community - in order to make it realize that Croatia's historical and cultural space has never been "Balkans." I strongly believe that the celebration may be one of our best opportunities to make this point. And we must not miss it!
This brings me back to a few thoughts expressed above.
In order to pass on a message, a piece of communication, we must be understood. This means mastering the language of the people we want to speak to (Dr. Milinovic has pointed out that one of Croatia's problems with France is a very small number of francophone individuals in Croatia). We must also understand the psychology of our targets, their ways of thinking, their myths. Just take the U.S.: "O.K. Corral," the myth of good guys winning in spite of being outnumbered and outgunned. Or "Horatio Alger," rags-to-riches story of a little guy succeeding in spite of all odds. Croatia certainly fulfilled the "good guy" image in 1991-92 - and won! It certainly is a "little guy" trying to succeed in spite of all odds. The role of those among our people around the globe who have been fully integrated into the world of their new countries could be immense in this process.
So could also be that of a supranational community of people linked by classical education. The upcoming four hundredth anniversary of the Classical Gymnasium of Zagreb is a superb opportunity for Croatia to "make a splash" on the global scene. Allow me to repeat: let us make every, both individual and government effort not to miss it!
Vladimir P. Goss