Last year Croatia joined the world community in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage by holding an ICH conference and festival in Dubrovnik. In the last decade, numerous activities have taken place, but the basic question of how to continue promoting and protecting sensitive intangible assets remains.
A recent project, Irresistible Croatia, can be considered a success story in promoting ICH. It was started by Sunčana Matić, a heritage expert and enthusiast who gathered colleagues from different heritage sectors, including nature protection, tourism, and sports. The project’s aim is to create the largest tourist catalogue in the world, one that summarizes unique destination experiences, including tangible and intangible heritage, human interests and activities, nature protection with ecological aspects, and potential economic growth based on sustainable development. Irresistible Croatia has had impressive media coverage and the catalogue has been promoted in every region of the country accompanied by presentations of national intangible heritage.
However, promotion is only the tip of the iceberg. Another important question we are currently concerned with is how intangible heritage can be related to the present day needs of its respective communities. In Croatia, rural areas are rapidly facing change as many villages lose their population to urban centers, and that fact influences future development, including the protection of intangible assets. Those changes also bring into focus what we recognize as valuable and what efforts we should follow when we have to invest material and human resources to document, protect, and ensure ICH growth in the community.
The main problem is convincing locals to continue employing their skills and knowledge in order to keep traditions alive. When we talk about the value related to heritage, we often have in mind three categories—intrinsic value, institutional value, and instrumental value. Apart from the intrinsic value a heritage element may have, as something that is difficult to measure since it is related to identity, traditions, or inheritance, there are more tangible characteristics in instrumental and institutional values. Society drafts main objectives related to ICH in relevant strategies, but to breathe in life into traditional intangible assets, more attention should be paid to people who possess necessary skills and can show or transmit these skills. Therefore, crucial problems involve motivating the tradition bearers and getting the younger generations interested in acquiring that knowledge and seeing it as their future occupation.
It would be hypocritical to say that society in general is doing its best to create favorable conditions for such a development. When we tackle the problem, it is not only the economic issue that is important. People who invested years training to acquire certain skills expect paying customers for his products as a source of income during their lifetime. The image of traditional culture in society also plays a part in integrating ICH in present-day values and trends cherished by young people who are born as natives into a digital generation. Many vocational schools today have difficulties in enrolling students since the image of vocational schools is rather low and is not promoted sufficiently even though they can better provide a higher rate of employment.
Therefore, in the activities I have been trying to introduce in the rural villages of the Hrvatsko Zagorje region, new technologies and trends play a significant role as does online communication. The EU project Ecultvalue provides different solutions for heritage institutions helping them on the markets. One of the project’s main contributions is the creation of Ecultobservatory as an interactive platform where different stakeholders can exchange information and entrepreneurial solutions matched to their needs.
Case Studies from the Hrvatsko Zagorje Region
The richness of ICH on one hand and suitable setting for micro-location development on the other enabled several interesting projects engaging local intangible heritage, museum institutions, and private entrepreneurs in creative industries and cultural heritage monuments. Thus, new strengths are created and opportunities given. An isolated phenomenon rarely has a potential to motivate young population in small villages. More elaborate projects are needed to ensure arrival of tourists and event organization.
Two different showcases are described below; each of them varies in scale and at stage of competition, but they both count on the support from the EU funds for future development.
Museum of Love Stories
Love is a universal principle and human value shared by all cultures and all social strata. It is also limitless source of stories—from those deeply rooted in history, politics, or culture to those fictional ones created by pots and writers. All this richness inspired the concept for the Museum of Love Stories designed for the Baroque curia in Razvor Village.
A huge inventory of local storytelling, fairy tales, and legends will be combined with personal stories, memories and gossip, and music and songs as well as tangible memorabilia. The museum will be an active laboratory of ideas, a selection model that brings heritage to audiences—not only in the museum but also with numerous “going out” activities. It involves new technologies in communication. Active participation on social networks will keep the theme circling around. An important aspect about the project is that the professionals will be responsible for implementation to control the quality of presentation and topics and to avoid triviality and banal solutions.
A great challenge will be collecting local stories transmitted orally from generation to generation as well as how to present the textual memory. One contemporary trend involves ways of presenting the culture of memory in an acceptable and interesting way. It is always helpful when a narrative can lean on traditional culture and specific artefacts, thus offering a new contextualization. The display will also deal with the terminology related to this kind of intangible heritage—what differences we can spot among oral traditions, tales, legends, or personal stories. This will contribute to furthering the museum’s educational goals by tracking different sources of information—written or digital recording or museum objects.
Hižakovec—The Village of the National Hero Matija Gubec
Hižakovec Village is situated in Medvednica Nature Park and in Croatian history has been well-known as the birth place of Matija Gubec, legendary peasant king who led the revolt against feudal lords in the sixteenth century. In 2001, the village had about thirty households, but many traditional farms and cottages were abandoned, slowly going into ruins. However, in 2005, joint initiatives started to turn the village into a tourist destination based on oral history, traditional culture, and nature peculiarities. The plan also includes collaboration with neighboring villages and the Museum of Peasant Uprisings. The traditional house of Matija Gubec was constructed as a permanent visitor attraction, with a nearby living archive of the Gubec Lime Tree and a traditional vineyard.
The theme of the Peasant Revolt of 1573 is deeply rooted in Croatian history and serves as an inspiration for activities and events. Matija Gubec became a synonym for every battle of just cause. The Battle at Stubica is evoked every February as a living history event that starts in Hižakovec and ends on a nearby battle-field where final combat takes place. Many local stories, poems, and novels include the revolt as a theme while numerous artists depicted the event in their works. The most famous is the Monument to Matija Gubec, a forty-meter wide bronze relief with the statue of the peasant king in the middle. In 2013, commemorating the 440th anniversary of the revolt, a multimedia storytelling was created for the monument thus breathing in new life into the oral history. The images interpreted the event by using the well-known Ballads of Petrica Kerempuh and inserts from films and music and combining them with performing arts, readings of historical records, and involvement of new technologies. The project was named Gubec Theatre and was awarded a silver medal at the national competition.
Today, Hižakovec is known for its vernacular architecture—some wooden cottages have been refurbished in a way that combines tradition and art. Interiors are decorated according to instructions given by old masters—walls are painted with printing rollers or with mud and straw. The accommodation property offers visitors fun with traditional social games that are also becoming subjects of interest for local schools. Traditional gardening has been promoted in an attempt to protect the environment by using traditional knowledge.
Now, some new households have been established in the village with younger people staying there and even some newcomers have moved from larger towns. More and more people are looking forward to refurbishing their traditional cottages instead of pulling them down and replacing them by brick or concrete buildings. It can serve as a good example of how a joint venture of local people and heritage and tourist experts can create sustainable programs based on intangible heritage.