A paper house

A certain book in the flood of publications about the violent breakup of Yugoslavia carries the title: A Paper House. The Ending of Yugoslavia, written by Marc Thompson. One could equally say that paper serves to build a nation. Countries that gained independence often establish airlines, build prestigious infrastructural objects and publish encyclopedias. Croatia is no different in that respect. In a time in which even renowned encyclopedias, such as Britannica and Brockhaus, struggle to survive, the Croatian Lexicographic Institute Miroslav Krleža (LZMK) annually publishes a volume of the Hrvatska enciklopedija (Croatian encyclopedia). The encyclopedia will consist of eleven volumes. The tenth volume was published this summer, so the series should be complete in a year or so. Notwithstanding its name, the Hrvatska enciklopedija is a general encyclopedia, although it pays more attention to Croatian subjects than, say, Britannica does to British.
Croatia has an unfortunate history when it comes to encyclopedias. The first big encyclopedic project, led by Mate Ujević, was interrupted by the Second World War and the subsequent victory of the partisans. In Tito's Yugoslavia the LZMK needed almost twenty years (1955-1971) to publish the Enciklopedija Jugoslavije (Encyclopedia of Yugoslavia). It is still the only complete encyclopedia on Yugoslavia, because its second edition (1980-1990) was halted by the war of the 1990s. Of the twelve planned volumes only six were published.

Obituary of a newspaper

After two and a half years, Metro Croatia issued its last edition on Friday. Due to financial problems, Croatia will lose its one and only free paper. Croatia proved to be too small for the biggest newspaper on earth. One wonders why, because earlier this year market research agency Mediapuls revealed fantastic statistics about newspapers and their readers in this country. Some 63 percent of all Croats read daily a newspaper. And we're not talking about the pensioners that make up a large part of Croatia's population. An astonishing 72 percent of young people, age 15 to 19, read a paper every day which places them in the top of Europe. Croatia reverses the almost global downward trend in readership.
It's almost too good to be true. So I think it's not true, although I can't prove it. For reasons unknown to me Croatian newspapers don't disclose information on their sales, so I must rely on my own observations. First of all, you rarely see someone reading a paper in places where you expect people to kill time with news, like trams and trains - and believe me when I say they move slow enough to get bored with the landscape. Also, I doubt most Croats have the financial means to buy a paper everyday. A paper costs almost 1 euro, which is much more expensive than in other countries. Maybe it's the many photographs in full colour that drive up the price, as I don't believe that the few foreign correspondents earn a fortune.
The general problem is the lack of a newspaper culture, if I may say so. Croatia was for centuries part of the Habsburg empire, which meant among other things that the emperor himself had to grant permission to someone who wanted to start a newspaper. Literacy in nineteenth century Croatia was very low and for literate people some German papers were available. Under communism the literacy rate improved dramatically, so more Croats could read that workers in capitalist countries were starving to death.
Unfortunately, public and scientific libraries here don't seem to care much about newspapers either. In most libraries you'll search in vain for papers and digitalizing archives has't even started, except for one Istrian paper.

Lifetime of a Homo universalis

Faust Vrančić, born in Šibenik is honoured as one of Croatia's greatest inventors and thinkers. He was a learned man, which meant in his days that he was active in many sciences: philosophy, history, lexicography and so on. But which were those days? New research suggests he was born on 1 January 1551 and died on 20 January 1617. His birthplace is now known too, and I have no doubt that Šibenik will turn that house into a tourist trap. I mean tourist attraction, of course.
Vrančić is mostly remembered for his parachute, which he called Homo volens, flying man. In 1617 he seems to have jumped from a tower in Venice to demonstrate his invention.
Considering the fact that Vrančić died on 20 January 1617, I suspect that his parachute did not work or that he caught a fatal cold, as I could not find any information about his death. Among his numerous achievements - suspension bridge, wind turbine - Vrančić's book with the lengthy title Dictionarium quinque nobilissimarum Europeae linguarum; Latinae, Italicae, Germanicae, Dalmaticae et Hungaricae stands out. In plain English: Dictionary of the five noblest European languages, Latin, Italian, German, Croatian and Hungarian. As you may conclude from the title, many countries have colonised Croatia but Britain was not one of them. You can read the work online (have some patience with user-unfriendly system) as it is one of the few books that the National and Scientific Library in Zagreb has digitalised so far.