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(E) Boka Kotorska - forgotten history
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  03/18/2002 | History | Unrated
(E) Boka Kotorska - forgotten history
Boka Kotorska coastal region-What every Croatian must know ! 
Danny Dabo 
Taken from Dubrovnik, Konavle, Boka kotorska 
Boka kotorska 
The region of Boka kotorska is situated on the south-east of Dubrovnik and Konavle, along the Adriatic coast from Herceg Novi to very near the town of Bar. It was named after the town of Kotor, which is placed in a fascinating fjord. 
Boka kotorska was annexed to Montenegro in 1945. At that time it was populated mostly by Croatian Catholics (Bokelji). Now the ethnic situation in this region is entirely different, especially after 1991. 
The Bokelj's had a very strong fleet, which counted as many as 300 ships in the 18th century. Boka was a rival to Dubrovnik and Venice. It is worth mentioning that one of the Bokeljs - Matej Zmajevic - was the admiral of Baltic navy and the ship-builder of the famous Russian tsar Peter I the Great, and for whom he built a fleet in Voronez. 
Boka kotorska region is under protection of UNESCO, due to its very rich Croatian cultural heritage. The region around the town of Kotor is situated in probably the most beautiful fjord in Europe. In 1979 there was an earthquake that destroyed or seriously damaged numerous cultural monuments. 
Very important historical source for early Croatian history is Libellus Gothorum, a chronicle from 12th century known in Croatia as Ljetopis popa Dukljanina. It was written by Archbishop Grgur of Bar, born in Zadar, and Bar is a coastal town in Boka kotorska. The chronicle represents the oldest historiographic work of Croatian Middle Ages. 
It is interesting that Tripun Kotoran, a Kotor goldsmith, worked on the court of Ivan Grozny in Moscow in 1476. One of the earliest Croatian typographers was Andrija Paltasic (~1450-1500), born in the town of Kotor. He was one of the best Venetian typographers around 1480, who printed more than 40 incunabula, among them the Bible in Italian language. We also mention by the way that a very old missal from 12th century - the Kotor missal, is held in St. Petersburg, Russia. 
Nikola Modruski, born in Boka kotorska, was bishop of Modrus in Lika, Pope's representative at the court of Stjepan Tomasevic in Bosnia, and on the court of the Hungarian king Matijas Corvin in Budim, his huge library is in the Vatican. He wrote a treatise in defense of the Glagolitic Script in Modrus bishopric. It is regarded to be the first polemic treatise in the history of Croatian literature. 
Captain Petar Zelalic (Zhelalich), 18th century, born in Boka kotorska, was a member of Order of Maltese Knights. He became famous after his ship defeated a huge Turkish ship called "The Ottoman Crown." 
In 1782 Krsto Mazarevic from the city of Kotor (in today's Montenegro) performed a flight in two balloons. 
Another outstanding Croat is captain Ivan Visin born in Prcanj in Boka. His travel around the world started in Antwerpen in 1852 (his ship "Splendido" was 30m long, 311 metric tons of cargo) and ended successfully in Trieste in 1859. He was only the sixth after Magellan to do a similar exploit. For his brave undertaking, which was of the historical importance, he had been decorated by a flag of honour Merito navali by the Austrian Emperor (in fact, Visin was the only one who ever obtained such a honour). The trophy is held in Prcanj. Visin also became the honorary citizen of Trieste. 
Antun Lukovic, descendant of an old Croatian family from Boka kotorska, was the chief engineer in the project of building the Suez Canal (1859-1869). 
The Bokelj Marine 809 (Bokeljska mornarica 809) is a confraternity whose aim is to preserve more than a thousand year's Croatian maritime tradition. In 809 the remains of St Tripun were brought by Croatian mariners from Asia Minor to Kotor. The Cathedral of St Tripun in Kotor is the oldest Croatian cathedral, built in 1166. 
It is worth mentioning that New Yugoslavia participated at the international maritime exhibition EXPO'98 in Lisabon, Portugal, with Croatian cultural and maritime heritage of Boka kotorska. This very old and rich heritage was presented as Yugoslav without even mentioning that it belongs to the Croats in Boka kotorska. One can say that the Croats had in fact two pavilions in Lisabon: one belonging to Republic of Croatia (generally considered as one of the most original pavillions on the exhibition), and the other hidden under the name of Yugoslavia. 
Yugoslav press (and even some Croatian!) used to add an innocent number 1 to 809, to obtain 1809, thus reducing the rich history of Croatian mariners in Boka kotorska for no less than 1000 years! 
A delegation of the Bokelj mariners from Boka kotorska participated with their traditional uniforms at the funeral of Stjepan Radic in Zagreb, after his assassination in the Yugoslav Parliament in Belgrade in 1929. 
Boka kotorska is also known as the Bay of Croatian saints. Out of six Croatian saints and blessed, three of them are from Boka kotorska: 
St Leopold Bogdan Mandic, 
blessed Ozana Kotorka, 
blessed Gracija from Mul. 
Also the famous Pope Sixto V has Croatian roots from Boka kotorska on his father's side. 
Out of 38 churches existing in the Kotor region (annexed to Montenegro in 1945) 36 are Catholic and only 2 are Orthodox (one of them was a gift of the Croats in Boka kotorska). On the photo you can see two beautiful churches on islets in the Boka bay, belonging to the Croatian Catholic community in Montenegro, built in the first half of the 17th century (Sveti Juraj and Gospa od Skrpjela). It is interesting that the Church of Gospa od Skrpjela (on the photo) is built on an artificial island! Each year a procession of Croatian Catholics encircles in numerous fishing boats the island of Gospa od Skrpjela and pilgrims throw pebbles around it. An important monument, showing uninterrupted presence of the Croats in Montenegro during many centuries, is the cathedral of St Tripun in the town of Kotor, built as early as 1166. As we have said, it represents the oldest known Croatian cathedral. Its ciborium is decorated with a beutiful wattle pattern which is even older than the church itself, and of the same type as numerous exotic wattle patterns found in many pre-Romanesque churches along the Croatian littoral. The town of Kotor has a surrounding wall which is about 5km long. 
The benedictine order is present in the region of Boka kotorska since the 9th century. Today this region has about a hundred of Catholic churches and chapels. 
One of Croatian churches, given as a gift to Serbian Pravoslav Church in Kotor already in 1657 (during Venetian rule), was the church of St Luka in Kotor. The church itself is much older, and dates from 1195. Above the main entrance to the Church we can now read the following inscription "Serbian Pravoslav Church - 1195." This falsification that appeared in 1990's aims to "prove" that the Serbs built this church already in 1195. In 1995 the Serbs in Montenegro even "celebrated" 800th anniversary of this church which was Catholic until 1657, when it was given as a gift to Serbian Pravoslavs. 
One of the greatest Croatian Baroque painters is Tripo Kokolja (1661-1713), born in the town of Perast in Boka kotorska, whose works of art are held in the Church of Gospa od Skrpjela, and also in the Dominican church in Bol on the island of Brac, in Hvar on the island of Hvar, in Korcula on the island of Korcula (where he died), and in Dubrovnik. 
When a Russian travel-writer P.A. Tolstoy visited Boka in 1698, he noted that the local hills are also inhabited by the Croats. 
In the Boka kotorska churches there are important works of art of many outstanding Croatian artists, like Ivan Mestrovic, Antun Augustincic, Celestin Medovic, and other. 
According to official Montenegrin sources, 40% of real monumental property and 66% of movable monumental property of this republic is in the Boka kotorska region. This means that at least 50% of the entire monumental cultural heritage of Montenegro belongs to the Catholic church in Boka, i.e. to the Croats. And now Montenegro has less than 1% of Catholics. 
A result of the assimilation and systematic persecutions from the Serbs and Montenegrins in the Boka kotorska region was that the population of the Croats began to diminish rapidly since Yugoslavia was created in 1918, and especially after the aggression against Croatia in 1991. Let us illustrate only the "silent" ethnical cleansing in the ex-Yugoslav period (1918-1991). Namely, while in the period from 1910 (when the last Austro-Hungarian recension was held) to 1991 (the last ex-YU recension) the overall population in Boka kotorska doubled, on the other hand the number of Croats dropped in the same area three times. 
The towns of Kotor, Perast, Tivat, Dobrota, Prcanj, Herceg Novi and Budva had a Croatian majority in 1910. A large Catholic majority in 1910 had peninsula Vrmac and southern part of Spich (from Sutomore to the border between Boka kotorska and Montenegro near the town of Bar). For example, 
The number of Croats in Kotor dropped from 69% in 1910 to 7% in 1991; 
in Herceg Novi from 70% to 2%; 
in Tivat from 95% to 23%. 
In 1991 there were only 8% of Croats in Boka kotorska region, and today (after 1991-1995 Serbian and Montenegrin agression on Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina) even less. For example, 350 Croatian families had to leave their native Tivat in the period of 1991-1998. 
In June 1996 msgr. Ivo Gugic, bishop of Kotor, was cruelly killed (strangled by a wire). 
The name of the town of Dobrota in Kotor bay has interesting meaning: Goodness. In fact, the French bonté is even closer to the meaning of Croatian dobrota. And there is a family name - Dobrota, that can be found also among the Croats in Konvle region south of Dubrovnik. 
Vjenceslav Cizek (Gjenovici, Boka kotorska, 1928-2000) has passed away in Dortmund. He was born in a peasant-working class family, educated in Kumbor and Herceg-Novi, and studied philosophy in Sarajevo. For his political beliefs he was sentenced twice to a total of 17 years imprisonment, and due to savage prison tortures he became blind. After his release he lived in Germany. He became internationally known as the "captive of conscience." Vjenceslav Cizek was an exceptional lyricist and satirist of dictatorship. Unfortunately, his literary activity was interrupted by prison. Due to his blindness, he memorised poems while he was in prison using a special mnemonic technique. In his poems he writes about places of his youth - Boka and Konavle. 
In 1998 a new mosaic was exhibited in a Catholic chapel in the town of Budva in Boka kotorska, on the initiative of the Pravoslav Church in the city. This was done without knowledge of the Catholic Church. On the other hand, it is known that the Votive Icon of Our Lady existed on the same place from 1333 to 1949, when local yugoslav communists threw it out into the sea. Fortunately, the old Catholic icon was saved (though damaged), but it was not allowed to be placed where it had been for centuries. 
It is little known that until 1949 Bosnia - Herzegovina had another entrance to the Adriatic sea in the region of Sutorine (between Prevlaka peninsula nad Herceg Novi), which is today in Montenegro. Today quite unjustly the New Yugoslav state claims the right to Croatian Prevlaka. See [Macan] 
As confirmed by all partisan documents related to Boka kotorska and Montenegro during WW2, both regions are mentioned with clear distinction: Boka kotorska (which is defined as a coastal region from Herceg Novi to very near the town of Bar) and Montenegro. Since 1945 the name of Boka kotorska was simply erased. The name of Montenegrins (or Yugoslavs) was imposed to the Croats. Even today many Croats in Boka kotorska are hidden under the name of Yugoslavs (of Catholic faith). 
An outstanding Croatian intellectual born in 1919 in Boka kotorska was Luka Brajnovic, professor of Ethics of the University of Navarra, a former director of the Institute of Artes Liberales, a well known Spanish intellectual. Premio Brajnovic a la communication is a prestigeous Spanish award (500,000 pesets) established in his honor during his lifetime upon the initiative of newspapermen and lecturers from the University of Pamplon. 
For the reader who thinks that these claims are not sufficiently well grounded, I can offer a personal experience from the city of Zagreb, Croatia's capital. In 1971 a recension was held in the whole ex-Yugoslavia. At that time I was a 15 years old secondary school pupil. My math teacher "suggested" to everybody, in front of the whole class, to fill in the form as follows: "If I were on your place, I would fill in Yugoslav in the nationality section, and underline it three times." She was a daughter of a Serbian colonel in Zagreb. It was only many years later that I realized the meaning of this "suggestion." 
Trpimir Macan: Rt Ostra u povijesti i politici, Matica hrvatska, Zagreb 1998, ISBN 953-150-168-8 
Dominik Mandic: Crvena Hrvatska, ZIRAL (Zajednica Izdanja Ranjeni Labud), Chicago-Rim, 1973 (see other Mandic's references related to history of Bosnia and Herzegovina) 
The history of Boka kotorska from Antiquity until 1918, Based on the text "Boka kotorska od najstarijih vremena do 1918" by Ankica and Josip Pecaric. Summarized and translated by Ivica Kresic, University of Chicago. 
Josip Pecaric: Kako su komunisti prodali Boku kotorsku 
Josip Pecaric: Borba za Boku kotorsku (basic reference) 
Agneza Szabo: Hrvati Boke kotorske u doba preporoda i bana Jelacica 
Thank you Darko Zubrinic ! 
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  • Comment #1 (Posted by Augustina Brajkovic)

    Thank you dear Nenad Bach for this article
    I am from Perast, Boka Kotorska by origin and most of my relatives fled to Croatia in 1945. My father used to say sadly that Croats are better servants then masters and it is their fault foe selling Boka to Montenegro.
    There is one point I would like to clear: the second Ortodox church in Kotor was anexted and blessed by Serb patriarch only in 1993! until then it has had 2 althars (Catholic and Ortodox one) as a gift to ortodox population, while the first one was elected in 1916 on the ruins of benedictian monastery.
    Wishing you all the best in your private and professional life,
    sincerely yours,
    Augustina Tina Brajkovic
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