Branka Bezić Filipović, head of the CHF Split, arrived at the invitation of Gustavo Abdelmalek Luetic, the president of the Argentinean-Croatian Chamber of Commerce in Rosario. They were joined by Studia Croatica director Joza Vrljičak for a tour of Croatian communities in the Argentinean city and regions of Cordoba, Buenos Aires, Quitilipi and Chaco.
Our guest arrived by plane in Buenos Aires on May 8th and my wife Adriana Smajić and I met her at the airport and drove her to Rosario, a city about 300 km from Buenos Aires in the province of Santa Fe. We had to get there quickly as the International Food Fair, the largest in Argentina, opened that day. Eight Argentinean provinces and five foreign countries participated this year.
Ms Branka Bezić Filipović arrived from Split at the invitation of Gustavo Abdelmalek Luetic, the president of the Argentinean-Croatian Chamber of Commerce in Rosario. We wanted to take part in the fair and find out how the Chamber of Commerce of Croatia’s Dalmatia region could participate and to invite Argentinean Croatians to a meeting of business people in Split slated for September 2nd to 3rd.
Branka is the head of the Split branch office of the Croatian Heritage Foundation. After the fair she wanted to tour some of the Croatian communities in Argentina and hammer out the details of future programmes. She knows some of the communities already, this being her third study trip to Argentina, and wished to get to know more of them. As Gustavo and I also wished to expand our knowledge of these communities we accompanied Branka on her trip and assisted her in establishing contacts with some of the people she had not yet met.
I was recently elected by the Croatian community as a whole to, along with Vjera Bulat, be a member of Croatian Government’s advisory board for Croatians abroad. This was an opportunity to meet with these people and discuss their needs and aspirations and thus to prepare myself as best as possible for the meeting in Zagreb in late August.
When the fair wrapped up in Rosario on May 11th Branka, Gustavo and I headed out for Cordoba—first to the town of Villa Carlos Paz, a well known tourism destination. The town is situated 30 km from the city of Cordoba on a hilly lakeside. We were lodged there at the Meson de la Montana hotel owned by Antonio Delic, a businessman of Croatian extraction with roots in the Split area. He also played host to Branka in 2005 during her tour of Argentina with the veterans of FC Hajduk.
A meeting was scheduled for the followed day, a Sunday, with the local Croatian community at the Croatian House in Cordoba. The House was founded in 1956 and is located in the Cerro de las Rosas residential quarter. Ms Mirjana Cavic serves as the president of the Croatian House. Under her leadership the board of directors moved to refurbish the premises, now too small for the needs of the membership. A gala opening had been planned for the near future, but was pushed forward for the announced arrival of the guest from Split and her companions.
Over two hundred turned out for the luncheon, which opened with a speech by House president Mirjana Cavic and a welcome for the guests from Split, Buenos Aires and Rosario. This was followed by performances given by the Kola Velebit folklore ensemble, the Little School Kolita children’s ensemble and by the young and talented soprano Greta Ciklic.
Also present at this emotionally charged meeting were honorary Croatian consul Nikola Nakić and famed heart surgeon Dr Oscar Bauk. The day passed in friendly socialising among the hosts and their guests, who were received that afternoon at the home of Mirjana Cavic and Jure Lovrincevic. The day closed with a meeting at the home of Silvana Ferlin and Ivo Sprljan in the town of Villa Carlos Paz, where we were joined by the Delic’s who had been so kind as to put us up in their hotel.
The following day, on our return trip to Buenos Aires, we made another short stop in Rosario. We wished first to say our goodbyes to Branka’s delightful host in the town, Juanita Luetic, and then to meet with Ricardo Diabo, the president of the Association of Business People in Rosario of which the Argentinean-Croatian Chamber of Commerce is a member, for which it has provided office space at its building in the centre of the town scheduled to open soon.
Upon her arrival in Buenos Aires, Branka was welcomed by her dear fellow natives of Split, Vjera Bulat and Arsen Petrošić.
On Wednesday, May 15th, my wife Adriana and I accompanied Branka to San Antonio de Areco, a town 115 kilometres from Buenos Aires. It is an old gaucho settlement situated on the Areco River. The Croatians that live here first arrived about a hundred years ago, most from the islands of Hvar and Brač and the Split area. Immediately upon our arrival we paid a visit to the Origen Areco radio station for an interview led by owner Dr Gabriel Eterovic for the Croatia—Land of Our Grandfathers show. The half-hour interview in Spanish can be heard in its entirety on the Studia Croatia channel on Youtube.com.
After the radio interview, we toured the city in the company of members of the local Croatian community and visited the farm of Ricardo Guiraldes, which has now been converted into a gaucho museum. Guiraldes was a writer and authored the novel Don Segundo Sombra, one of three Argentinean novels dedicated to the life of the gaucho. We visited a small silversmith workshop and museum held traditionally by the Draghi family, which plans to visit Split in a few months time.
The following day Branka and Gustavo visited the Croatian embassy in Buenos Aires and met with Ambassador Željka Belaja and associate Duška Paravić. This was followed by a visit to Croatia Square, located near the embassy.
That evening Gustavo and I joined Branka for a meeting with the Croatian community in the town of Zarate, 95 kilometres from Buenos Aires. Over the past few years the Zarate-Campana community has been very active and has a membership with roots largely from the islands of the central Dalmatian region and the Split hinterland. The meeting was held at the sprawling home of Robert Martich, with the guests welcomed by Ivan Ostoja, the president of the Zarate-Campana Croatian Centre.
On Friday, May 17th, Branka met with the members of the Valovi women’s klapa ensemble and gave an interview for Stella Hubmayer’s Croacias Totales radio show. That evening a reception was held for Branka at the Croatian-Argentinean Culture Club. The club’s president Davorin Poric welcomed the gathered before Branka took the floor to speak of the activities of the Croatian Heritage Foundation and its branch office in Split. A Q&A session followed revealing great interest among the local community for this topic.
Branka later gave another two interviews for radio shows—Croatia Today, anchored by Jozo Ivkovic and Croatian In My Heart, anchored by Jure Papac.
On Saturday Branka, Gustavo and I drove the 1,200 km to the Chaco province. Our destinations were the towns of Quitilipi and Presidencia Saenz Pena, homes to the largest concentration of Croatians in the province and northern Argentina as a whole. It was very late when we arrived in Quitilipi at the home of our kind hosts Mirta Slavich and her husband Oscar Alvarez.
The following day we made the 23-kilometre trip to Presidencia Saenz Pena for our meeting with the local Croatians. Some forty local Croatians, most born in the area, received us at the premises of the woodworking association. Also there were five women who had been born in Croatia and moved to Chaco in the 1930s.
Mrs Estefania Plantic Varela, better known by her sobriquet “Beba,” spoke next. She is the leading figure in numerous activities in the town. She is the founder of the Culture Centre, the anchor of a radio show and a Croatian language teacher. I then took the floor, followed by Gustavo and then Branka.
Our encounter with the local Croatian community continued at a Croatian-owned restaurant, packed to capacity for the occasion. I should note that our reception at Chaco was an emotional one—given the great distance from Buenos Aires, visits to the Croatians of this part of Argentina are not commonplace.
That afternoon we also visited the main town square where a plaque has been erected celebrating 385 surnames of Croatian immigrants, not only to Saenz Pena, but also to nearby settlements such as Tres Isletas, Campo Largo, La Matanza, Bajo Hondo Grande, General Pinedo, Colonia Jose Marmol, Juan J. Castelli, Campo Grande, Bajo Hondo Chico, Villa Angela y San Bernardo, Colonia La Mascota, Concepcion del Bermejo, Pampa del Indio, La Tambora, Margarita Belen, Hermoso Campo, Las Brenas, Colonia La Chiquita and Pampa del Infierno. The name of the last settlement is significant—Pampa del Infierno (The Fields of Hell) is indicative of the great heat characteristic of the area.
Besides the plaque on the main square the town also has a Republic of Croatia Promenade. It is home to a monument to Our Lady of Međugorje and is also adorned with the Croatian coat of arms and inscriptions. The promenade was opened on May 12th, 2001 during a visit by a high-ranking delegation from Buenos Aires.
We continued our meetings with the local Croatian community at the home of “Beba” Plantic and were also joined by her sons, physicians Mario and Cristian.
Upon our return to Quitilipi we visited the square, also home to a similar plaque bearing the names of Croatian immigrants from the town and nearby settlements such as Leguas, Campo Feldman, Pampa del Indio, La Tambora, Bajo Hondo Chico y Grande and La Matanza. Most of these Croatians settled here to work growing and harvesting cotton.
The next day we started the long journey back to Buenos Aires. On the way we stopped off at Resistencia, the capital of Chaco province. The president of the Association of Croatians of Chaco Jorge Monaco Skunca, vice president Juan Antonio Budalic and his daughter Melina received us there. This association emerged as a branch of the Chaco Culture Centre founded by “Beba” Plantic. In 2005 the association built a small Croatian Square on the chief road in the city and is very eager to undertake new activities, which we will all assist to the best of our abilities.
The return journey to Buenos Aires, like the trip to Chaco, was exhausting, but we were satisfied with what we had achieved and the warm welcomes we had received, not only in Chaco, but also in other part of Argentina. In less than two weeks we travelled 6,000 kilometres and, tired but satisfied, concluded that an adventure of this kind should also be undertaken in other parts of the large and magnanimous country of Argentina.
Text by: Joza Vrljičak