Not long ago, there was a substantial Croatian-speaking area to the south and southeast of Pécs. The vast majority of its inhabitants spoke Bosnian and considered themselves as Bosnians roughly a century ago. Their predecessors moved here from Bosnia; therefore, they were Bosnians, though later only those of Muslim beliefs were regarded as Bosnians. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Croatians living in the middle of the county began to call themselves „Sokac”, which sounded better than being „Bosnian”, as the honor of the word „Bosnian” had been tarnished by a publication entitled  „Bosnians of Pécs” at the end of the 19th century. Some geographers and ethnographers called all of these people Sokac. Horváth Béla, the influential parish priest of Németi, propagated the term Sokac. While Unyi Bernardin, the Franciscan monk from Mohács, opted for the name of „Sokac-Bosnians”.

Sarosácz György, ethnographer and director of the Museum of Mohács, in his study in 1973, considered the Croatian villagers as „Sokac” only from Belvárd, Birján, Kátoly, Lothárd, Magyarsarlós, Nagykozár, Olasz, all lying to the southeast of Pécs. However, he labeled the Croats from villages to the south of Pécs, from Áta, Kökény, Németi, Pécsudvard, Pogány, Szalánta, Szemely and Szőkéd as Bosnians. Through this, he reestablished the credit of the term „Bosnian”. While lots  of Hungarians and Germans lived in Sokac villages, the Bosnians were more unanimously Croats, and their women could be noticed by their hornlike kongya, worn on their heads up until the 1940s. Women wore a flat cap all around this area. Szőkéd, lying a bit off the other villages, also belonged to this latter group. With 142 villagers in 1900, its Croatians comprised 36% of their settlement, though they soon intermingled with Hungarians, so our relatives visiting us in Pécsudvard in 1930 no longer spoke Croatian. In this village, 24 people declared themselves as Sokac in 1940. A total of 5807 Croats lived in all of the settlements mentioned above, according to the census of 1910. Their numbers declined between the two world wars. This decline was due to the only child system, which was more characteristic of farmers, as Unyi Bernardin notes. The term Bosnian was used only by Albanians after the Yugoslavian state broke into pieces, referring to all Serbo-Croatian Muslims, though they had long called themselves as Turkish, and only by Tito’s forced suggestion were considered as Muslim.

The area occupied by the Croats in mid-Baranya comprises of wide rows of low hills and smaller valleys sloping to the south of Mecsek. People of Ormánság called it as „Hegyföld” (Highland). The „pass” at Pécsudvard divides it into two geomorphological parts. To the east of the pass, the hills roll evenly towards the trench of Villány hill, and the southern Baranya plain. The western territory is separated from the Mecsek hills by the sunken Pécs basin. Its charm is given by the mountains of Mecsek, Tenkes and Szársomlyó at Nagyharsány. The two streets of Pécsudvard lie on the two sides of the pass. Szemely and the other Sokac villages (according to Sarosácz György) lie to the east of Highland, while the other Croatian settlements are situated to the west.

map Page 1Most of the villages of this territory had already been here under the same name in the Árpád era. However, my village was called „Szeles” in the 12th century but was renamed as „Udvard” at the end of the 13th. These villages were inhabited by Hungarians, though some, Németi and Olasz, had settlers from the west, who later Hungarianized (Németi translates into German, while Olasz means Italy). According to Kogutowitz, Baranya used to be the most prosperous region during the Middle Ages, but it became entirely depopulated under the Turks. This flourishing period is shown by the wealth of the diocese of Pécs around the years of the university’s foundation (1367). According to Taba István, the total population of Baranya decreased by the end of the 1600s to 1/10th of its original 200,000 in the previous two centuries.

Serbian settlers, who were called „Rac” in that time, came to Baranya from Rascia-Raska even during the Turkish rule. The Turks also made them settle down (1050 „marauders” in 1577, according to Várady). The ones, who were settled later, moved en masse, were immensely mobile and less inclined to work as serfs. They were replaced by Croatians, e.g., in Áta or Ráczmárok (Márok) or later by the more diligent and frugal Swabish Germans (who the cheerful Bavarians characterized as „people who live to work”). The memory of the Serbs was preserved for some time in Baranya by the names of several villages. The Croatians remained longer on the northern edge of Baranya than the Serbs. In Nagyhajmás out of the 118 Serbs in 1836, there were 15 in 1940, while in the neighboring Ráczkozár (Egyházaskozár) out of the 137 Serbs in 1851 none were left by 1910.

Catholics, i.e. Croatian Bosnians, arrived as serfs en masse from Bosnia after the expulsion of the Turks in 1686, at the urge of Bishop Radonay Matthias, first to ecclesiastical estates, later to secular ones, led partly by Bosnian Franciscans. They settled down also in Pécs. In the vineyards of the city, called Gyükés, they built the chapel of St. Bartholomew for Bosnian viticulturalists. In 1848, Bosnian craftsmen undertook to guard the Buda district of the city, ousting the Serbians.

The Croats, who settled in the villages listed above, did not come from the same region of Bosnia, so their dialect is not the same. Almost all of them speak the ijekavac version of the unified Serbo-Croatian language, which is characteristic of much of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Slavonia, the southern Adriatic, Crna Gora and the western part of Serbia. This version also corresponds to the official Croatian language. According to this, lijepo vrijeme (nice weather), bijel snijeg (white snow) pronunciation goes. The Sokac and Bunyevac speak the ikavac (lipo vrime) version. The majority of Serbs speak the ekavac (lepo vreme) version, like the Croats around Zagreb and Varazdin.

The 1900 census in Baranya distinguished only the ikavac Croats as Sokac, while the one in 1910 lists the Croats of Olasz, at the eastern edge of our region, also as Sokac. In 1941, all were listed as Sokac, even those who had been indicated as Bosnians by Sarosácz. However, the people of Kökény declared themselves as Hungarians in 1941, because - as my brother-in-law supposes - Matusek László, the teacher, who carried out the census, could not differentiate between mother tongue and nationality, the latter set as a question for the first time. The Sokac spread from east to west. Accordingly, in the western villages, women wore the more comfortable headdresses, headbands (kapica) of the Mohács Sokac instead of the kongya on the tight headband (pocelica). The girls also took over the hairstyle of the Mohács ones, instead of the wide and flat braid (pletenica). The colored cashmere skirt and the colored woolen stockings with the caterpillar-like knots stayed because they were the same. In a photo from Pécsudvard taken at a circular Kolo dance in 1939, the women all wore kongya. In 1941 only one woman was wearing it at the village’s saint’s day festivity, coming from Szalánta, which lies at the western edge of the Bosnian „island”. In the 1970s, I was asked: „Haven’t you forgotten Sokac language?”. „We don’t know who we are”, I heard a few years ago, from a man who was staggering as being a Croat, a Bosnian, or a Sokac.

According to the research of Jeromos Balatinacz, the census of 1702 enumerated Bosnian serfs in Birján and today’s Magyarsarlós and Sokac serfs in Lothárd in 1720. However, my father, born in Lothárd in 1890, stated firmly, that neither there, nor in Birján did the Croatians claim to be Sokac, but rather Bosnian. In Lothárd and Birján there were conflicts between Hungarians and Croats, which was caused by the fact that in the last third of the 19th century a lot of Hungarians moved to both villages from county Tolna (among them my grandparents, from Sióagárd). 52 Hungarians and 568 Croats lived in Lothárd in 1851. By 1900 there were already 361 Hungarians and only 284 Croats. According to Balatinacz, „no German could ever set foot there” because the Hungarians were hardworking as well as keen on acquiring land. The Hungarians bought all the land for sale from the Croatians, who frequented the pubs much too often. The Croatians, who had been in the majority for a while, did not allow the Hungarians into the pub, so the latter could only have a drink at the manure heap outside. The ice broke when the strongest Hungarian lifted the strongest Bosnian, Tyutyo, over the pub table with one hand – as the story was proudly told by my grandmother, talking about my grandfather. After this event, the Bosnians tried several tricks to beat him up or to scare him as a ghost, but in the end, the ghost had to beg him to let him go by saying: „Don’t hurt me János, I’m M…ics Gyurka!”.

During the Serbian occupation, between 1918-21, the differences escalated, so several people „signed up to the Serbs”. Therefore, 82 Croats were deported to Yugoslavia from Lothárd, as well as from Birján, in 1929. They could take their belongings and livestock. They were taken to an estate owned by a duke in South-Baranya. Many of these families resettled when, in 1941-44, South-Baranya again belonged to Hungary. Four families from Magyarsarlós moved with the departing Serbian occupiers in 1921. It is quite weird that three families of the Hungarian name Szabó (Tailor), and one named Varga (Cobbler), were the greatest Croatian nationalists at the time, according to Balatinátz. Of the thousands here, no one acknowledged the legitimacy of the Serbian occupation by signing it. The only happy memory of it is that it was possible to make brandy/pálinka freely during the occupation period. As in 1848, people from this region remained loyal sons of the Hungarian homeland, so they were very disappointed that after the withdrawal of the Serbs, they were repeatedly called „wild Rac people”.

Interestingly, Kogutowitz notes in 1936, that the people of Lothárd „had fallen into the arms of national agitators”, because many of them were Social Democrats. Similarly, there were Social Democrats, despised by the government, in Pécsudvard acquiring 35% of the votes at the national assembly elections. The loyalty of the Croatians of central Baranya to the Hungarian homeland continued after 1945 when they ridiculed and chased away the orthodox priest, Szvetozár, when he tried to incite people to join Yugoslavia.

bosnyák4aIn front of Németi churchThe inhabitants of the Croatian villages in the western part of the region, Kátoly and Magyarsarlós, were the serfs of the Catholic Church. In contrast, those of the eastern ones, Udvard and Szőkéd, belonged to the Batthyány estate of Bóly. For a long time, they lived off agriculture. Following their traditions, cabbage was their main crop, planted in stubble. Irrigation was managed from barrels taken to the fields if there was no stream nearby. Fényes Elek, in 1851, described almost all of these villages as cabbage growers; wine producers in Olasz and pig sellers in Kátoly. The Mohács-Pécs railway line, built-in 1857, was initially used to transport coal from Mecsek hills to the port of Mohács. Passenger traffic soon took off, with the transportation of vast quantities of cabbage. Carrots and parsley were also grown in the fields, so the Croatians supplied most of Pécs markets. Their gardens were plum forests, just as back in Bosnia, with much of their fruit finding their way to the markets. Plums were served with a slice of bread for dinner. Huge amounts of plums and vegetables were delivered to the city from Pécsudvard, Szőkéd and Áta, all next to the railway line. From other villages, the women carried their veggies on their heads or sharing a cart, to the market of Pécs. Their hemp processing, with their foot-operated brake, is worth mentioning, the output of which was bigger than of the Hungarian or the German hand tool counterpart, but it required two persons. More and more people from the villages near the railway worked for the railway. There were hardly any industrial workers or miners, only a few craftsmen among them. The craftsmen of the villages were mainly Germans, as according to their traditional legal system, the land was inherited by the first son, while the others had to learn some craftsmanship. This custom was the reason why many of them became teachers or priests while the noble offsprings became knights during the Middle Ages. Many of the poor in the Croatian villages worked for the wealthier farmers, for their harvest share, or the third corn, on which they could raise some hens or piglets. They also had to be available for the farmer for some other jobs. The equivalent of „civilian” was the rank of the wealthier farmers (paor) (Bauer), some of whom were sometimes mocked as „spaija” after the Bosnian-Turkish „spahi” owners. Many of the poor were employed daily in the vineyards of Pécs or at the Bulgarian gardeners. From the southern villages, some joined the vineyards of Siklós as homestead-heads or cellar-keepers. Several served as servants for 4-5 Pengős a year, or even less, for a few pieces of clothing, boots, or daily supplies. They might have received some small change from the kinder farmers on public holidays to buy a pint of wine at the pub. Traditionally the girls rarely served as housekeepers at noble’s homes, unlike the Swabish ones, who did this to become more polished.

There was no large-scale land distribution in 1945, as there were few available pieces of land. The situation of the poor eased, however. Those who previously had not even dreamed of owning a cow, now could keep one. After the establishment of forced agricultural cooperatives, it turned out that it was hard to run them, especially as farming was not highly profitable. The authorities tried to solve this problem by merging the farming cooperatives (called TSZ) of several villages. Life got more comfortable in some respect, as taxes were not collected, unlike in the past. In the 1970s, some of the merged TSZs worked quite sufficiently, performing industrial functions as well, and the one at Szalánta was even awarded a title of excellence. Belvárdgyula TSZ, uniting six villages, and Újpetre TSZ, merging Croatian villages, also worked well. However, in the 1980s, difficulties began to arise. The members did not consider this merged company as if it was their own, especially when the headquarters were sometimes three villages away. Only a few people worked at the TSZ even from relatively large villages. People’s income from farming in their backyards was ample, though. They received enough money for raising bulls or pigs, milking, growing cabbage or vegetables, so they could invest those earnings into rebuilding their homes, building new ones or buying a car. Today few farmers work the land that was reclaimed. A family could easily live off farming 15-20 hectares, but only a few had that much. Some do have adequate machinery; others have their land cultivated by the successor of the TSZ, usually a Ltd, while many lease their land to them. Most farmers do not keep cows, only pigs and poultry, so they do not have much organic manure. They do not grow soil enhancing alfalfa or cloves, only wheat, corn and sunflower. Some farmers of Áta still produce a lot of cabbage, but most of them work in the city. Unemployment is quite high.

The Croatians of our villages did not pronounce their names according to the well-known pattern of -ics or -vics (ich/vich) but -ity, -vity, e.g., Krupity. They did not even call each other by this name, but mostly by the first name or nickname of one of their predecessors, formed with the -iv or -ov affix, e.g., Gyurin, Markov. The use of their mother tongue, similarly to folk costumes, began to disappear rapidly in the 1960s. As wearing kongya had gone previously, the women and girls abandoned the Mohács style headdress and hairstyle, the colorful cashmere skirt, the caterpillar-like woolen stockings. The men did the same, leaving the black corduroy suit, which became commonplace between the two world wars, also giving up on the shirts decorated with glitter for holiday occasions. From their festive summer attire, the baggy linen pants and the embroidered linen shirt disappeared as early as the 1920s. Some poorer girls had given up on the folk costumes even earlier, partly because those were more expensive than the civilian cotton dresses, and partly because their mothers, leaving for work early, did not have the time to braid the accompanying wide, flat pletenica. The village’s saint’s day festivity is still held annually, but its main attraction, the kolo circular dance – for which earlier bagpipers, later the band of Stipa from Mohács used to play the music on his violin, two tambourines and a double-bass – has already disappeared.

The main reason for the loss of folk costumes and the declining use of the mother tongue was the disappearance of the old peasant world, the setting up of the agricultural cooperatives (TSZ), and the brutal expulsion of the wealthy farmers (kulaks) in the early 1950s, many of whom fled to urban jobs.  While Croatian speech was commonplace in the streets in the 1950s, in the following decades, Hungarian became more prevalent. The „Bosnian room”, opened in Áta in 1972, preserved the memory of the past, but it was moved, just like the collection of Pécsudvard, to Mohács Museum. The Country House Museum in Kátoly was opened in 1985.

The preservation of the mother tongue could have been helped by the school, where religious studies had previously been taught in Croatian. There was a small Croatian reading book, citanka, but it was not adequate to learn the literary language. Many of the villages mentioned above belonged to the parish of Egerág, where Croatian, Hungarian and German sermons were held on alternating Sundays. The people of the villages belonging to the church of Németi were uniformly Croatians, while those belonging to the parish of Olasz were of mixed populations. Today, their priests do not speak Croatian at all. Several people bought the Croatian Danica calendar, published in Hungary. Several members of the Rosary Troupe are subscribers to the issues of the Zagreb church journal. In the 1930s, the poetic narrative about hero Marko Kraljevity, Prince Marko, who himself fought against the Turks, was read at gatherings on winter nights.  From the 1950s onwards, the newspaper titled Narodne Novine, as well as the Serbo-Croatian program of the local Radio of Pécs, helped in the preservation of the mother tongue.

skolaThe Pécsudvard school in 1936The Croatians wished to have education available in their mother tongue after 1945. The afore-mentioned orthodox priest, Svetozar, even demanded the compulsory nature of which. A delegation from my home village was sent to the Ministry of Culture protesting against his idea, claiming that the children would not be able to prevail in the Hungarian environment if it was introduced. Native language teachers were quickly trained, from poorer backgrounds, of course, but it was not successful. „You are not going to be taught by that poor man!” said one farmer to his son, taking him to a city elementary school. Mother tongue instruction was carried on in village schools with Croatian majorities. First, the upper-elementary, then the lower primary classes were merged from several villages in the 1970s. My elder sister served in Áta, my younger one in Pécsudvard, as the last teachers like that. Teaching the Croatian language took up very slowly in these merged district schools, as there seemed to be no need for it. In my village, the principal, who himself was of Croatian descent, did not want to introduce the teaching of his mother tongue, despite repeated requests. The introduction has happened only recently.

In the Serbo-Croatian Primary School in Pécs, established in 1952, some subjects were taught in the mother tongue, others in Hungarian. Most Croatian children attended schools in their district, not this specialized one. Today, a kindergarten, a primary and a secondary school operate in a new building in Pécs, with 237 students from all over southern Transdanubia and Bacska, one-third of them living in a dormitory, as of June 2000. There is a district school in Olasz, once with a Croatian majority, and in Szalánta. At these schools, Croatian is an optional subject, but many parents opt for English or German for their children instead.

It was the village teacher, who arranged the cultural life of the village, even if it was in Hungarian. When the lower primary classes ceased to exist, life became rather colorless without the school ceremonies and plays.

Singing and dancing ensembles, which are essential in maintaining one’s mother tongue, were set up as early as the 1950s. The dancers of Birján were awarded first prize for their bottle dance in the 1950s, and in 1960, they came second at the South-Slavic Dance Competition, with their joint show with the last bagpiper, Klarics Márján. In Pécsudvard, the ensemble, established by teacher Miklósy Gyula in 1959, was renowned for their Wedding show, performed at several villages and in Pécs.  In the 1970s, the Áta Trio, led by Matusek László, reaped success with their Bosnian songs. They also made it to the finals at the „Fly Peacock” (Fölszállott a páva) folk music competition. The folklore and folk costumes of the Bosnians of central Baranya were collected and adapted by Matusek László. He recorded folk songs. Until his death, at the age of 80, in 1985, he led the choir of those Croatian women, who moved to Pécs. This choir was awarded a golden diploma by the national jury in 1985. In a „Knowledge about the nation” contest, he once took 3rd prize. Nine priests buried him.

atai trioThe trio from AtaThe Croatian School in Pécs has a choir, a band, and a dance group. The ensembles „Baranya” and „Tanac” perform both in villages and abroad and they have fresh members as successors. The events of the August Senoa Club also help to preserve the language. The recently formed Croatian theatre gives performances both in villages and towns. We can find a folk band in some villages playing at dances. Therefore, there is a chance of survival. When about 15 years ago we counted the inhabitants in the village where I was born, it turned out that the vast majority of the houses were occupied by the descendants of the old family, though with fewer family members today. Those who moved to the city in the 1960s and 1970s sought rather an integration than separation. Today’s approach is more tolerant toward being different, from both sides, but in reality, micro-regional globalization is stronger than before. Many people speak Hungarian even at home. In some places, though, people try hard to preserve their mother tongue. In Szemely, the Sarosácz family strives to help in this. The number of Croatians in the villages of central Baranya has decreased from 5807 in 1910 to 2711 in 1980, and 1553 in 1990. In Birján there were 12 of them in 1990, with 19 in Lothárd. Higher numbers, 395 (38%), remained in Szalánta, which was enlarged as it was merged with Németi. In the eastern villages, in the isolated Kátoly, 197 (51.5%) Croats live. The number of Croats moving to Pécs did not decrease due to the increasing numbers of those moved in. There, in 1980, 629 declared themselves as Croats, and 637 in 1990. At the same time, the number of Germans increased from 996 to 1704 in 1990.

The next census is likely to show a further decrease in the villages. The reasons for this, besides the relocation to cities, are families with only children, and the increasing number of mixed marriages. There are fewer and fewer people who understand the Croatian radio and TV broadcasts, as well as books and newspapers, so fewer and fewer are interested in them. Many are indifferent to their nationality. At the next census in Pécs, more people will probably declare themselves as Croats, without thinking of themselves as Bosnian or Sokac. Small numbers of Croats in Baranya may exist in some villages or Mohács, perhaps as administrators, but in Pécs and the majority of the villages national identity will possibly remain only in the dancing-singing form. This fact will be of interest hopefully not only to those who cannot live without this lifestyle but also to the youth. A number of the youth already regret not having learned their mother tongue at school but are self-consciously attached to it and its culture. They are helped by cultural groups, institutions, the new Croatian school, and the opportunities offered by the independent country of Croatia. A Croatian Youth Association was established in June 2000.