A Blue Shield National Committee for Croatia

A Blue Shield National Committee for Croatia

View over a Cathedral front at night
Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Dubrovnik, 2020. Photo: Sanda Milošević

It was during the 2021 international conference, Solidarity in Culture: Heritage Protection Under Conditions of Crisis, at the National and University Library in Zagreb that the idea of creating a Blue Shield national committee was born. On the initiative of the Library’s Dragica Krstić, and with support from the Blue Shield International (BSI) Secretariat, and UN Civil Affairs expert and lawyer Svjetlana Jović, ideas turned into action – the Croatian Committee of the Blue Shield (CCBS) became a fully fledged member of the Blue Shield family in January of 2023.

Both the CCBS Board and its individual members are long-time heritage professionals, and bring a wide range of skills to the table. They include archivists, a conservator, a museum curator, and a professor in museum studies, a librarian, a legal expert, and a specialist in immovable heritage construction.

"The intention is to work closely with the existing Croatian heritage institutions and public services, who are very well established and have a lot of experience in cultural property protection (CPP) in conflict and natural disaster. We felt that the international cooperation component of the Blue Shield Movement, as well as the chance to exchange current knowledge and experience through the BS network, was a really logical reason for establishing our national committee".

The Croatian Committee of the Blue Shield plans to cover six areas of heritage protection: proactive cultural property protection and risk preparedness; emergency response, stabilisation, and post-disaster recovery; long-term support activities; legal compliance, policy, and implementation; capacity building; and coordination with BS members and heritage organisations.

The scope is broad, and we must be realistic,” admits Tamara. “So to start with we are prioritising capacity building, training, and outreach to the cultural heritage community to explain BSI’s approach and what it does on a global level. We also want to reach out to other national committees to share experiences. Both the Macedonian and Austrian Blue Shields are interesting because of our shared cultural history and background“.

Croatia's rich tangible and intangible cultural heritage inscribed by UNESCO

Of the ten sites inscribed on UNESCO’s WHC list, the 13th century Old City of Dubrovnik on the Dalmatian Coast is perhaps the best known worldwide. Despite suffering from both conflict and natural disaster, it remains a powerful testament to the immensely rich nature of Croatia’s millennia-old heritage, whose historic monuments, natural landscapes, and sacred sites are scattered countrywide. A further 15 sites which Croatia plans to propose for nomination to the WHC are inscribed on UNESCO’s tentative list of cultural property of outstanding universal value.

But it is not only the country’s built cultural heritage and spectacular natural landscapes that are outstanding, many of the artistic and culinary traditions that are part of daily life in small coastal and inland villages are too, and form an essential element of local people’s celebrations and customs dating back centuries. Not the least of these is the ancient craft of gingerbread making. With the technique having passed from generation to generation since the Middle Ages, first to men and now to both men and women, gingerbread makers are essential participants in local festivities, events, and gatherings according to UNESCO, which counts the craft as ‘one of the most recognisable symbols of Croatian identity’ on its List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

View over a town of white buildings with red roofs to the sea
Dubrovnik, 2019. Photo: K Roper
Photo of a hand holding a heart decoration covered in red icing and decoration saying Zagreb.
Gingerbread Craft from Northern Croatia. Photo: Tamara Štefanac, 2023.

The Mediterranean diet, reflected in fishing villages along the Dalmatian coast, is another element of cultural identity which has local importance for Croatia.

“It may not still be preserved in authentic forms but it reflects how our culture is changing and adapting to new circumstances,” Tamara explains.

Indeed, with the passage of time traditions do adapt and change, but in today’s fast-paced and tourism-oriented society, this also brings risks. “Tourism is both an opportunity and a threat to the traditional way of life” notes Tamara. “Of course change will happen but tourism brings that about really fast.”

Local people, as the guardians of their traditions, are at the forefront of any change, and the CCBS committee members want to ensure that communities are at the centre of efforts to preserve their heritage. 

"Without our communities, nothing would be appropriate or ethically possible".

A local-level CCBS volunteer network would be a valuable asset in this regard, and forms part of the national committee’s outreach planning. “Basic field-level data is rather scarce,” comments Tamara. “We saw this with the two earthquakes that took place near Zagreb in 2020.  The official response was good, with the heritage institutions and public services dealing with CPP, but basic data from the ground was in short supply. Maybe people who are living with such basic data on a daily basis, as village communities are, can provide that field-level connection. If people know they are on the cultural front line, then half the job is done. If they don’t, then we can do something to help them“.

Church interior with plaster and paint on the floor, and many cracks in the walls.
Parish Church of St. Marije Magdalena, Sela, after the earthquake. Photo: Sanda Milošević, 2020
Rubble of a collapsed roof on top of pews with snow on, amongst damaged walls
Damaged church after the earthquake. Photo: Sanda Milošević, 2020

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