Cruising on the Adriatic Queen, the ship rocked more than I would like this morning. Nonetheless, it got us where we wanted to go: Mali Lošinj.
In Mali Lošinj, we started on a walking tour with a non-English speaking guide who was a rookie, so some of us broke off to walk around on our own. Walking around the small streets, we found an antique jewelry shop with beautiful glass, pearl, and coral jewelry. While peering around the shop, I noticed something that I’ve seen many times on this trip: negrobilia, which are collectibles that show the objectification of black people in a stereotypical way. I’ve seen negrobilia in everywhere from hotels in Venice to churches to random souvenir stands. It’s interesting to me that I see almost the same amount of negrobilia here that I do in the United States.
But, there are very few people of color in Croatia. In the past three days, I’ve seen one black man. I’ve seen racist, stereotypical jugs, salt shakers, cups, paintings, and jewelry in restaurants, museums, and antique stores in the United States. No matter the country, it makes me just as disgusted. Even after I wrote this, I was walking around our new port, and I saw a pair of shoes with black, African, stereotypical women on them.
We read two pieces for today’s discussion, “Thank you for Not Sharing,” which is ten reasons why to be a Croatian writer. The piece is extremely sarcastic and sardonic and was written by a Croatian dissident, who was exiled after she started to warn Croatians about the dangers of nationalism. She was called a “witch.” In a way, her writing and warnings are dealing with the same things that I see throughout all these countries in Europe: intense nationalism for everyone’s individual country. We also read “Chasing a Croatian Girl,” which was written by an American who followed his Croatian wife to Croatia.
The Swimming Incident
The captain decided to stop and allow us to swim off the boat. I jumped in first, and the Adriatic felt amazing. Checking out the current, I could feel it was strong and stayed close to the rope they threw out. A few people didn’t realize the strength of the current, and were swept out into the ocean. After seeing the situation wasn’t going to resolve itself, I told a crew member, who said she would go jump in the water. First, our tour director jumped in the water. Then, the maid jumped in the water. Then, the chef, who as he jumped, another sailor told me, “He’s Serbian. He likes the water. The rest of us are from Dalmatia, and we grew up swimming. We only swim once a year. Trust me, he likes it.” Then, he was in the drink. They were quite a way out, without any way to pull themselves back in, as none of the crew held on to a rope. It was like one going off a dock and another and another. Then, like a miracle, a man in a speedboat came along and dragged the whole group back to the boat. I had the same experience in Greece with my father, who didn’t realize the current and was brought closer and closer and closer to the rocks below Poseidon’s temple. They had to bring out a speedboat, which didn’t work at first. Regardless, this situation was total déjà vu.
We stepped on to the tiny island of Olib after our swimming adventure. The island looked empty from the boat, and even emptier from the shore. It only had 120 residents during last winter, but they think it was more like 80 residents. Walking down the main street, a Croatian man who had lived in New York talked to us and joked around. We went inside a building only to find a group of Croatian men, who spoke perfect English, playing the Italian card game of briscola, which I now know from research. I sat down next to one of the men, who started to joke with me, “You’re going to peak.”
“What?” I said.
“You’re going to peak,” he said, very matter-of-factly.
“What?” I repeated, his heavy Croatian accent was stopping me from understanding.
“Do you speak English?” He asked, cracking a smile.
“Yes, yes. Of course,” I laughed.
Finally, he mimed me looking at his cards. Here’s my face when I realized what he was saying:
After the card game, we went to the opposite of a casino: a church. Walking in, we were greeted by a nun, who was waiting for our group. A group of around 10 old women started to gather in the pews of the church, which could fit a few hundred people. The town has totally been drained, before World War II, there were 2,000 people. There was a fish factory, an olive oil factory, and some other factories. During communism, the town was drained.
I exited the church, but when I was outside, my mom was given a card with the picture of Aloysius Stepinac on it. In a book I’ve been reading about the Balkan States, I learned about Aloysius Stepinac. He was the Archbishop of Zagreb in Croatia during World War II. Educated in the Vatican, he was staunch on his Catholicism. During the Ustaše regime, which was the Italian fascist and Nazi-backed puppet regime, Stepinac initially allowed race laws against Jews to be enacted, mass baptisms of Serbian Orthodox people before they were murdered, and did not stop concentration camps, but asked for them to be enacted “humanely.” The Serbians and Croatians argue about how many people were killed by the Ustaše regime: 70,000 or 700,000, and what percentage of that number was Jewish, Serbian, and Roma. Everyone argues and hates each other for it. Upon seeing a small card of Archbishop Stepinac in the church, my mom said to our guide, “He’s the bad guy, right?” Our guide said, “No, be very careful about saying anything like that around here. He saved a lot of Jews.” It’s true that by the end of the war he was trying to save Jews, but he was complicit in supporting race laws and not stopping concentration camps. By the end of the war, the Ustaše regime tried to get the archbishop removed from his position, but the Vatican didn’t recognize the fascists and did not comply. Stepinac was declared a martyr by Pope John Paul II. In my eyes, he isn’t a Saint, he’s merely a bystander who also murdered. Yet, all of the old women in this church revered him as a Catholic hero.