Thursday, June 28, 2007

Just across the river

As mentioned in the sidebar, Ilona was from the little town of Legrad. She met and married her husband, Ferencz, who was from the little town of Donja Dubrava, just across the river. (I'd love to know how they first met. A village festival, shopping at the market, meetings at the Catholic church, passing on the road?)

Here are the coats of arms of Donja Dubrava and Legrad, respectively. Take a look at this clickable satellite map of the area.

According to one person commenting on the Međimurje region:

"The beauty of the nature, the zealous, unobtrusive, honest and hospitable people have contributed to [the fact] that Međimurje has been called Hortus Croatiae, the flower garden of Croatia."

Take a look at this good general overview of the Međimurje area. The area has quite an interesting history. You can see from the map that the little towns are not only across the river but are now in different counties of Croatia. (Donja Dubrava is now in Međimurje county; Legrad is now in Koprivnica-Križevci county.) Also notice the Croatian/Hungarian border just east of Legrad. (Magyarország = Hungary; Hrvatska = Croatia)

The area is truly a "borderland". It has been the border many times, but has also had its turn as a more central region, depending on the country or empire in charge at the time. One story says (and you can see some remnants of possible truth to it on the Google satellite map) that the little town of Legrad was once physically moved from Hungary to Croatia. Not actually by being lifted up and carried, but because the flow of the river itself (which defined the border) shifted and put Legrad on the other side. It looks like the rivers of Međimurje have always been actively moving around.

So, the question remains, was our family Croatian or were they Hungarian? Ilona's children (all but one born in the U.S.) have always defined themselves as "Hungarian". They spoke Hungarian amongst themselves, went to the Hungarian Catholic Church, etc., etc. But I do remember talk of their parents speaking another language (I assumed Croatian, now I'm thinking Kajkavian).

Ilona's daughter Wilma wrote in a 2004 letter to me (regarding "the Hungarian & Croatian influence"):

"We only vaguely heard them speaking in another language [besides Hungarian]. They went to Hungarian churches, picnics, music, cooking, etc. It was only when [one of Ilona's grandsons] went to Croatia and Hungary [in the 1990's] that we became aware of our Croatian heritage."

I guess a border town is always going to have a little bit of the flavor of all neighboring nations, that is certain. But is appears that the area where our family lived was undoubtedly Croatian.

Take a look back a century and a half ago. The 1860's saw the gradual removal of direct Austrian rule in Hungary, which ruled Croatia-Slavonia.

This is the flag of the Triune Kingdom of Dalmatia, Croatia and Slavonia, 1867 – 1918. The promise to incorporate these areas into a true triune kingdom under Hungarian rule never fully came to pass - Dalmatia was never included. Notice the Hungarian St. Stephen's crown atop the crest.

As recently as 1868, the Nagodba was instituted in Croatia (if you know anything about recent Croatian history you know about the Nagodba). November 18, 1868, to be exact. This bit of Hungarian political aggression enforced Hungarian rule over the Međimurje province (including Legrad) in spite of the area's strong Croatian character. The Magyar language was forced upon the Croatian-speaking people of Međimurje. (See Stephen Gazi's book A History of Croatia for a good explanation of the background and history of this period and much more.)

This prayer book entitled Jezus Ljubav Moja (Christ, My Love) was published by Međimurje priests in 1912 as an act of protest against the attempts at Hungarization of the area. The book, located at the Muzej Međimurja Čakovec, contains songs and catechism and was written in the Međimurje Kajkavian dialect.

1868 is truly recent when you put the whole timeline of Croatia in front of you. Way back in the 7th century, Croats settled the area that is now considered Croatia. Croatia actually became its own kingdom in the 10th century, and was at its strongest in the 11th century until it was conquered by Hungary in 1091.

So, the area was ruled by Hungary for many centuries, yet the people retained their language and their customs. See the Muzej Međimurja Čakovec (Čakovec Museum of Međimurje) website for artifacts and more information about the culture of the area.

I guess the question remains, but I think we would do best to claim both of these rich neighboring cultures as part of our heritage.

Magdalena & Stjepan Bence would probably have agreed. They chose to have their portrait taken over in the Hungarian town of Nagykanizsa, and my guess is that they felt right at home there.

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