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The Meanings of Traditional in the Construction of Istrian Identities

Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb
Publication Date
  • Istarski Identitet
  • Simboli Identiteta
  • Upotreba Baštine
  • Istria
  • Symbols Of Identity
  • Heritage Management
  • Political Science


The aim of this paper is to point out the ways in which certain motifs emerging from the traditional culture of Istria, mostly from its rural parts, have been transformed into symbols of identity. The study of Istrian self-identification has been based on numerous interviews with the inhabitants of Istria, regarding the questions of their national and regional belonging, on an insight into archival materials and the regional newspapers, on analysis of Istrian politicians' public performances, as well as on the research on the so-called "authentic Istrian souvenirs". Attention has been paid to the process in the course of which symbols of identity, created in the centres of power, "sink" into the Istrian everyday life, and thus obtain new, individual meanings. Emphasis has been placed on shifts of meaning which motifs inspired with the Istrian traditional culture have undergone in their second existence, due to social and political fluctuations. These changes of meaning have been examined in two different historical episodes: in the period following the World War II, when Istria was united with "the mother country of Yugoslavia, and in the 1990-ies, when Croatia gained its independence. Results of the study indicate that the signifiers are identical in both cases: changes that affect the form of the symbol are insignificant, whereas thorough shifts occur in the sphere of the signified. In the first case, "the Istrian folk treasure" is used as a proof of belonging to the Slavic world, as an expression of loyalty to the new national formation, while in the second case the same group of symbols serves as a means of reconsidering and criticizing the existing relationships between the centre and the periphery, by means of which the region has been redefined within the national frame. Although in both cases we deal with partial and somewhat distorted images of the Istrian reality, they are of real value for the inhabitants of the peninsula — creating their co-ordinate system, constructing their own Istria.

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