Mark Thomas - The editor and big chief of The Dubrovnik Times. Born in the UK he has been living and working in Dubrovnik since 1998, yes he is one of the rare “old hands.” A unique insight into both British and Croatian life and culture, Mark is often known as just “Englez” or Englishman. He is a traveller, a current affairs freak and a huge AFC Wimbledon fan.
Just two weeks after Standard & Poor's released a rating of “BB” for long-term foreign currency and “BBB-“ for local currency Fitch Ratings have announced their figures and values the Croatian economy exactly the same.
Fitch said the ratings showed Croatia's high public and external debt burdens, large fiscal deficits and a weak growth performance against fairly favourable structural features. Again one of the main problems for the Croatian economy was the extremely high government debt. The Croatian government gross debt rose to 89 percent of GDP in 2015, which is above the rating of “BB” which is set at 43.6 percent.
When addressing the fact that Croatia now has a new government, a coalition between the centre-right Croatian Democratic Union and Bridge, Fitch stated that, “The new administration aims to bring down public debt and implement reforms that would address many of the structural impediments to growth identified by the European Commission.”
They added a note of caution “However, there are doubts about the ability of the government to achieve these objectives and about the unity of the coalition as a whole. In addition, the new technocratic Prime Minister, Tihomir Oreskovic, has no experience in Croatian politics."
A few months ago The Dubrovnik Times received a letter that intrigued us, it was a great story. A family mystery in which ancestors were searching for any information regarding their relative from Croatia who, as they say, “was born in Yugoslavia in 1860 and had run away to sea as a boy and had settled in Rangoon.” After appealing for help in The Dubrovnik Times they did indeed find some more information, “When my letter was published in The Dubrovnik Times, I got one reply, from a lady in Dubrovnik, Ozana Starcic, whose grandmother had been a Vrsalovic. This was my starting point,” commented Margaret Murray. The family have followed up their first contact with another, much more detailed letter, about this amazing story. Read the story, their letter, and if you can help in any way let us know, or contact the family directly. Here is their letter in full.
The story so far
A few months ago, I appealed for help in finding information about an ancestor of ours, Anthony Vrsalovic. We knew little about this man’s early life, except that he had told his children that he “had been born in Yugoslavia in 1860, had run away to sea as a boy and had settled in Rangoon.” It wasn’t much to go on! Yet, as his story has unfolded, it has turned out to be an extraordinary tale.
Family rumours also told how, one day, word reached Anthony in Rangoon that it would be dangerous for him to return home because his father had been imprisoned, accused of being involved in a political assassination attempt. So, Anthony stayed put, in modern-day Yangon. He was a stevedore, and a hard worker, eventually owning several ships of his own, becoming a successful businessman and a freemason to boot. His children and grandchildren remembered him as a kind, intelligent and generous man.
I always knew that family stories such as this were usually grounded in truth but had probably been modified over time with the constant telling and retelling of the same tale. But the search for Anthony seemed like looking for a needle in a haystack.
From his surname, Vrsalovic, we deduced that Anthony was likely to be a Croat and a Roman Catholic. We discovered that there is a concentration of that surname on the island of Brac and its surrounding areas. Luckily, the name is quite rare today, with only about 80 families in the whole of Croatia. I received only one response to the original appeal in The Dubrovnik Times. It was from a lady in Dubrovnik, Ozana Starcic, whose grandmother had been a Vrsalovic living in Postera. “Look no further than Brac“, Ozana advised me during one of several chats on the phone. I felt heartened. Perhaps I was not attempting a mission impossible after all. But there were many hurdles to overcome. I was not able to research the public records for myself, since I could not understand the language – and scanning page after page of handwritten documents is difficult, even when a language is familiar enough to allow quick scanning. I had to find help.
I managed to secure the services of a local genealogist, Lidija Sambunjac, to help me. Lidija did a fantastic job and eventually found treasure.
It took weeks to look at the records of every Parish on Brac. But in the records of Povlje, the very last parish to be searched, Anthony’s baptism was found - in December 1859. Hallelujah! In one fell swoop, we discovered that he had been born Antonio Eufebio Vrsalovic. The names of his parents were Matteo Vrsalovic and Marta Jurisiche, both resident in Povlje, and he had siblings too: Maria, Giovanna, Cattarina, Filomena and Giovanni. It was a fantastic result which whet my appetite to know more. I could not help wondering whether the rest of the story would fall into place.
Povlje church on Brac
Just last month, there was a further breakthrough. Buried deep in the vaults of the British Library in London, records were found which showed that Anthony had applied to become a British citizen in Rangoon in 1914. Bureaucracies do have their uses, after all! (Burma was at that time administered by Britain, as part of the British Raj). Anthony‘s application had been rejected, because during the First World War, he was classed as an enemy alien. But he did not give up easily and reapplied in 1920. This time, his application was accepted. But now came the best bit. In support of his application, Anthony had written a deposition explaining his circumstances, the sense of loyalty he felt towards Britain and how fervently he wished to become a naturalised British subject.
In his own words, Anthony told his tragic tale.
He had been born into a Serb family (that was a real surprise!) and his father and grandfather had been accused of agitating for Serb unity. As a result, his grandfather had been executed and his father thrown into prison. The result of this experience was that his father’s life had been cut short. One can only speculate at the conditions prisoners endured in those days. And just imagine the stir this scandal must have caused in a small, close-knit community such as Povlje!
So, at the age of seven, Anthony had been quickly removed from the country of his birth by a family friend (for his own safety, presumably) and had been taken to Cardiff in Wales. He would have had to make huge adjustments, learn to speak Welsh and English, settle into an alien society and make new friends. I have no doubt that Anthony attended school there, because he was an educated, literate man. He must also have been resilient and adaptable and also very lonely, one would assume.
There was a further surprise in Anthony’s deposition, too, for he declared himself to be a Methodist, a Catholic no longer, it seemed. This was no doubt another result of his childhood upbringing in a deeply religious, non-conformist society. Wales, in the nineteenth century was in the grip of a religious revival, a rebellion against the established church.
When he reached the age of twelve, Anthony found himself work on a ship and went to sea. He eventually reached Rangoon at the age of 16 and was never to see his homeland again. Over time, Anthony became a skilled ship’s captain and bought several ships to carry cargo up and down the Irawaddy River and across the Bay of Bengal, to India. He married well, too. His bride was the beautiful Lillian Savarese, the daughter of a union between an Italian photographer and a Thai courtesan. The pair had met and fallen in love at the royal court in Siam. There was one big problem, however. She had already been promised to the Thai king! The pair were dicing with death. In desperation, the young couple were forced to flee, to escape the king’s wrath. They ran away, over the border and into Burma where they were married and lived happily ever after, with their son, Christopher, and lovely daughter, Lillian. She and Anthony met and married in Rangoon.
If their story is beginning to sound like a fairy tale, hold your horses, for there was to be no happy ending.
They had a long and happy marriage, raised six children in Rangoon, had a thriving business, servants, a home in the country in Kambe and one in the city. Life was good for many years, but Lillian died in 1932. Anthony eventually remarried, a widow named Kathleen (Lena), but life for the whole family was about to change forever.
In 1942, the Japanese invaded Burma, pushing north and creating havoc as their armies overran first Singapore and then the towns and villages in their path as they moved into Burma. Japanese planes suddenly appeared in the skies over Rangoon and bombed indiscriminately. The people were mown down. There was only one thought in everyone’s mind, to escape towards the north as the armies came in from the south. Many families became separated.
Anthony was eighty years old by this time, but he was still working. Lena set off to look for her own children. Anthony stayed behind with his daughter and son-in-law who tried to persuade him to leave Rangoon with them, but it was a tough job to talk an old, stubborn man into leaving his home and business behind. He had built up that business by the sweat of his brow, with help from no-one. By the time Anthony conceded defeat and agreed to go, it was late in the day and the enemy was close. Anthony gave his ships to his valued employees and the family packed just a few belongings to take with them. They moved north, away from Rangoon, planning to make for India.
The last flights to India had already left and the family – Anthony’s daughter, Philomena, her husband, Oscar, and their five younger children, ranging in age from seven to fifteen years- had not managed to get onto any of those planes. The outlook was indeed bleak. The only alternative was to trek along the Hukawng Valley, a notoriously difficult journey where the terrain consisted of steep-sided valleys, covered by dense jungle and with narrow trails, knee-deep in mud during what was, by then, the monsoon season.
Many accounts of the long trek out of Burma have been written and they make heart-rending reading. Diseases such as cholera, dysentery, and typhoid were rife and there was no food. The family purchased a donkey for Anthony to ride on. Even then, the going was rough. They were not alone, for hundreds of others were making the same journey. Indeed, it is only thanks to their efforts to record events and make their brief reports to the authorities at the end of the trail as they arrived in Calcutta that we know the full scale of the horrors which unfolded.
Anthony was the first one in the family to succumb to the harrowing conditions. The donkey slipped and fell over a precipice. Anthony was killed instantly. Oscar, who had been leading the donkey, fell too, and damaged his back so severely that he died of his injuries soon afterwards. Philomena and the children paused in their journey in order to nurse Oscar and used up valuable food supplies and time in doing so. They were weak by now and overcome by one disaster after another as first one, then another of the family members became sick and died, each one being looked after by the pitiful survivors until there was nobody left.
Anthony’s two elder grandchildren, aged nineteen and twenty three, had joined the armed forces and were waiting anxiously in Calcutta for news of their family. They checked the refugee centres daily, for weeks. Slowly, news of the family’s fate began to trickle through. They had to accept the fact that their whole family had perished. It was March, 1942, and the trauma of that time was to haunt them for the rest of their lives. Anthony and his loved ones became just statistics of a bloody war. But, in our family at least, they will not be forgotten.
So, what is the next step in this story?
It is hoped that further research in the Zagreb Archives will reveal more about the political scandal which enveloped the family in the mid 1860‘s. What had Matteo and his father (Anthony’s father and grandfather) been accused of and what really happened at their trial which resulted in Matteo being imprisoned and his father being executed?
And how can you help?
Please, if you know anyone named Vrsalovic, tell them about this story. It would be wonderful to trace descendants of Marta and Matteo Versalovic/Vrsalovic who lived in Povlje. Think about it, Filomena Vrsalovic died in Split as recently as 1962. Her sisters and brother may also have died within living memory -and their descendants must still be amongst us, perhaps in Povlje or Split! So, if you are a Vrsalovic – especially if you are of Serb origin (a rarity), maybe you have heard one of these names in your family: Maria, Giovanna, Cattarina, or Giovanni? If you can give any clues, however small, please get in touch. Each tiny piece of the jig-saw is significant!
The picturesque Adriatic gem of Korcula has created a new promo video for this season featuring panoramas and details from this ancient destination. The new video, which was released this week, shows the historic city core of the old town of Korcula from all angles.
Korcula has recently received some great international press including reports in British and American publications.
Check out the latest video from the Korcula Tourist Board
Croatia is a sports mad country, you name it and they will play it. From athletics to yachting, team sports and individual sports, at some level you will find a club representing their every sporting genre. Whereas the team sports tend to be dominated by football, handball, basketball and especially in Dubrovnik, water polo, there is a new kid on the block – American Football. And Dubrovnik has its own club, the Dubrovnik Sharks, who compete in the Croatian Flag Football League. The Dubrovnik Times caught up with the president of the Sharks, Marko Miletic, to discover how this All American sport has landed on our shores. Whilst faced with an uphill struggle to get the club up and running, “we still come across lots of sceptics” says Miletic, the Sharks have made great strides to bring this sport to Dubrovnik.
Although Dubrovnik is a sporting city it has never had a history of American Football, how difficult was it to set up the first club in this region?
The right description would be “very difficult“. It still is. In order to from a club you have to prepare a lot of papers and go to every various government sections to make it official, that process took about 15 days. The next step was to gathers players, also quite difficult. The main problem in Dubrovnik, in this question and in general, is the lack of playing fields, gyms etc. To find a couple of hours free in order to invite people to join us we had to wait about two weeks before we received a ground at the sports centre. Not to mention that American football in Dubrovnik is not very well known so people were very sceptical about the whole idea. When all of those first steps were completed we had about twenty players waiting to start practicing, but we had no field to practise on. Luckily, with some major help from our PR agent Andela Matic, we managed to make a deal with Dubrovnik's ACI marina director Mato Frankovic, to use the marina's field one year for free. With one big stroke of luck and we were ready to go. After that it was a bit easier, all we had to do from there was to practice, and keep on the lookout for more new members. Don't be fooled. The club has been working for almost two years now and it still isn't easy. Yes, it is easier than the original set up was, but we still have a lot of work to do, but we never stop, and that gives us the results we want.
Where does your love of this “All American” sport come from?
Well the answer to that is quite easy. Every sport as we all know requires a lot of physical strength, preparation, working out etc. But American football is the only sport where there is so much to learn outside of the field. Routes, offensive and defensive formations, rules and so many more little details that can make you the best player on the field, if you grind on the books well enough. The sport itself is filled with unbelievable measures of adrenaline, competition, sportsmanship and above all, friendship. Despite the popular belief, it's not just a bunch of guys running around and searching for ways to beat each other up as much as they can. It's about players, gathering so much strength, energy and stamina, and yet focusing it on sportsmanlike competition rather than on destruction, and trust me, if they wanted to, they could harm you in so many ways, but they won't. Every football player I've meet so far, and heard of, has been a good and a decent human, full of courage and ambition, aware of the fact that he has to work hard in order to make himself and his team, his family after all, great. That is where my love comes from.
What are your memories of the first time that you saw the sport being played?
I've always known that the Super Bowl is one of the most watched sports event in the world, and that made me wonder. American football and not the soccer World Cup or the Champions League? No way. I had no idea what the sport was about, except that you have to get to the end zone to score a touchdown. I Googled up some rules and found a match on TV to watch. I think I was 19 at the time and I think my first reaction, to be exact was: “What? The? Hell?” A team of guys running around, throwing, jumping, running in all directions without stopping?? Woah. I think that the first game I ever saw was a regular season matchup between New Orleans and Dallas. In that whole mix up I noticed that the Saints (New Orleans team) quarterback, Drew Brees, was throwing amazing passes and he made want to watch them more often. I watched a couple more games, I started noticing patterns in the Saints plays and with some more research online, I started to understand what was actually going on and when I did, it made me start loving the sport that is football.
How popular is gridiron in Croatia, would you say that the interest is increasing?
The popularity of gridiron in Croatia has definitely risen over the past few years, but it still doesn't have that kind of popularity that would make it a boom and the main news. There are people everywhere interested in playing football, but sometimes the lack of the right leadership and of course the funding and help from their local government in order to successfully form a club and work. Several clubs have started and failed because of the earlier said reasons. It requires a lot of personal sacrifice to be a leader of a football club, and you can't do it alone. You need people to come and train with you, help you with everything but we still come across lots of sceptics. You have to make them come and try it, and you can be sure that after that they will stay and play. Needles to say you need money, which is hard to get these days and the popularity of American football, or should I say lack of popularity, with sporting authorities is a big problem. Croatian teams are making a very good effort to bring more people in and they are succeeding. Every day more and more people get to hear about the sport and more and more want to join, we just have to dig them out.
Unlike football, which just requires a ball, American football requires more equipment to play. Is it a problem to fund the club and how successful have you been in attracting sponsors?
Since the club's main occupation is currently flag football, the equipment itself is not so hard to get. All you require is a pair of “flags,” which are held with a vacuum cap on the side of a leather belt, and a jersey made out of special material that cannot rip. A pair of cleats and a pair of specially made receiver gloves, and you are ready to go. Still all together a set of gear for flag football sums up to about €150, which is much cheaper than for “tackle” football, but can’t put a price on playing football? A full set of new gear for tackle football (helmet, pads, jersey, girdle, pants, various body protection) will cost you roughly around €500, if you want decent gear, and not have a headache five days after a simple collision. To get all this, you obviously need a lot of money, which we don't have, yet. The club's sole funding is monthly membership payments from each player and that is 100 Kuna per member. With that money we manage to travel around Croatia to play in the Croatian flag football league. Finding sponsors is very hard today, since everybody who would like to help is usually struggling with today's financial crisis. We manage to find people who help, however they can, they are usually good family friends, cousins and other relatives, godfathers or members parents. To get some help from Dubrovnik's government, I guess we will need some time to prove ourselves and show them that we are a good image for the city and that we work hard to accomplish our goals. Some of other clubs in the country and in the Balkan region have managed to connect themselves with American and English clubs and colleges who help them in sending used gear and coaches to help their development, so maybe something can happen for us along those lines. Needless to say, we try every day to show people what we do, mostly through social media and local news but also through making events, charity tournaments and other activities. We try to do our best to show everyone who needs to know what we do, and we hope that will reach someone who can help us either in a financial or a football way.
How many members do you have and are you on the lookout for new players?
We currently have 23 members, including an offensive coordinator and the coaching staff, who also play matches. On our last new player tryouts, eight people joined our A squad, and a couple more are interested. We always welcome new members, we would especially like to have some girls join so we can form a women's flag team. We are about to visit the city's high schools with presentations of our work, in order to find more members. In short, everyone is welcome to join, from 15 years up to any age if you think they can play. We need numbers to form a tackle team and to grow over the years to become the best club in Croatia and beyond.
The festivities of the patron saint of Dubrovnik, Saint Blaise, will take place on the 3rd of Dubrovnik. However the traditions connected with the festivities are already underway. Last night in the newly renovated St. Blaise Church in the heart of the Old City the blessing of the throat was held. For not only is Saint Blaise the protector of Dubrovnik but he is also the patron saint of throat illness.
For over a thousand years Dubrovnik has celebrated its patron saint with a grand procession on the 3rd of February. The day of St. Blaise represents the day in 971 when St. Blaise alerted the citizens of the city from a surprise attack by a Venetian fleet of warships. Statutes and images of the patron saint can be seen in many locations around the historic Old City and on the 3rd of February the whole city celebrates.
Candles crossed together to form a cross are placed around the necks of citizens whilst a blessing and a prayer is read. - Through the intercession of Saint Blaise, may God deliver you from illness of the throat and every other illness -. This very blessing was held in the newly refurbished St. Blaise Church last night.
Photos - Niksa Duper
Zagreb will have a new connection to Prague with the introduction, or reintroduction, of flights from the Czech national airline, Czech Airlines. From the 27th of April this year Czech Airlines will operate flights to Zagreb four times a week, a connection that was postponed four years ago.
Czech Airlines launched the new flights at a press conference in Zagreb on Wednesday this week and stated that they will operate four times a week from Prague. The airline will operate flights from Zagreb to Prague on Mondays and Thursdays and from Prague to Zagreb on Wednesdays and Sundays. This opens the opportunity for tourists from the Czech Republic to visit Zagreb for a long weekend and is sure to increase the number of visitors to the Croatian capital.
Fancy a long weekend on the banks of the Bosporus, this year it will be easier than ever after news that Turkish Airlines are to introduce a direct connection between Dubrovnik and Istanbul. Dubrovnik Airport has announced that Turkish Airlines, Turkey's national airline, are to start flights between Istanbul and Dubrovnik for this summer season. From the 27th of June to the 29th of October Turkish Airlines will link the two cities with four flights a week, on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Reports on the specialised business website seebiz.eu confirm that Turkish Airlines will introduce their second regular service to Croatia after flights from Zagreb to Istanbul. This will be the first time that Turkish Airlines has operated to a coastal destination in Croatia and is sure to attract many Turkish tourists to Dubrovnik this summer season. As yet the price of the tickets is unknown as ticket sales have yet to go online.
In 2014 a total of 26,220 Turkish tourists visited Croatia, of which 17,398 stayed on the Croatian coastline. And as Dubrovnik already has three Turkish owned and operated hotels, Rixos Libertas Dubrovnik, The Pucic Palace and Villa Dubrovnik, the city should benefit from the introduction of these new flights. Discussions into the introduction of these flights began a few years ago, however due to the problem of Turkish nationals requiring a visa to enter the country the negotiations were placed on hold.
With the Day of Saint Blaise just around the corner our friends at LMT Studio have created a rather special video in honour of the patron saint of Dubrovnik.
This year is the 1700th anniversary of the martyrdom of Dubrovnik's patron saint and in his honour the City Council of Dubrovnik and the Dubrovnik Diocese have declared 2016 the Year of Saint Blaise.
Check out this video and experience a taste of the atmosphere for Dubrovnik most important day, the 3rd of February, the Day of St. Blaise.