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20130806-114458.jpgVenetian arch into Zadar

Ljubljana, Lake Bled Castle, Zadar, Sibinik, Split, Korcula, and more to come…as one travels in Slovenia and Croatia one hears the same story repeated about the castles and city walls. “These were built in the fifteenth century to defend against the ‘Turks’.” The Venetians funded many of these defenses – they controlled many of these Dalmatian towns at that time. From their point of view, it seems, they were fighting their primary enemy. From the Ottoman view, however, this was one of many fronts. They were simultaneously pursuing the Arabs, the Russians, the Poles-Hungarians, and they were looking toward the Persians.

The Croatian walls were a primary seed of the concept of “antemurale Christianitatis” – that Croatia (or another area, like Austria-Hungary later) is the bulwark against the non-Christians. Some scholars consider this the “antemurale myth” – that a certain nation serves the special purpose of defending against the infidel.

This idea, interestingly, can co-exist with another idea I have encountered as still alive in this region: the habit of one people to define the people just to their east as the beginning of the East. Thus the Italians would see the Slavic (though Catholic) Croats as the East, and themselves as antemurale Christianitatis. The Croats would see the Orthodox Serbs as the East, and the Serbs would see the Turks as the East. Professor Milica Bakić-Hayden of the University of Pittsburgh defines this tendency as “nesting orientalisms,” working off of Edward Said’s concept of orientalism. I have heard Croats explain that they are more Western in their attitudes, and the Serbs more eastern – so this idea is alive and well.