For most of my youth, classmates would utter not-so-clever, and certainly not flattering, adaptations of my last name (Kralik is pronounced “KRAY-lick” I’ll let your imagination run wild, but don’t worry, I have heard them all). As a result, at least in part, I was eternally curious about my surname.
When asked, my father simply asserted that my last name (and therefore my ancestry) was “Yugoslavian” (my father reaffirmed this claim even after Yugoslavia, which only really existed for a handful of decades, dissolved into the disparate factions that had been ruled over by a variety of entities for centuries–my father is an engineer, not a historian).
After a weeklong visit to Yugoslavia in college, I first learned that the country consisted of several smaller “states” which each had its own history, people, religion, and, usually, language. Part of that Spring Break trip (I was studying in Strasbourg, France and had taken the Orient Express to Istanbul) included a stop in Dubrovnik, the “Jewel of the Adriatic” but due to a storm in the Adriatic, which delayed my ship from Greece, I had to cut Dubrovnik out of the itinerary.
At the time, I chose not to be disappointed, instead, I remember thinking “don’t worry, Dubrovnik will always be there.”
Eventually, after several conversations all over the region, I “determined” that I was, in fact, Serbian, one of the many distinct nationalities that were once incorporated under the Yugoslavian flag. Part of what convinced me to opt for Serbian was the fact that the Croatians had sided with the Nazis in WWII.
This just in: the Nazis were not all that great.
Soon after my trip there, war broke out in the region, which had nothing to do with my visit. No, it was largely a result of the Serbian leader, Slobodan Milošević, who was determined to keep Yugoslavia together and may or may not wanted to exterminate the Muslims as a means to that end.
This just in: Slobodan Milošević was probably not that great of a guy.
So, just as the Serbs were bombing the bejesus out of Croatia, I decided to switch nationalities. I guess one could argue that I was a bit of the equivalent of a “fair-weather fan” but, well, I can live with that.
At the time, I followed the war fairly closely, or as close as I could in those pre-Google days, and I was heartbroken when I learned that the Serbs had laid siege to the medieval town of Dubrovnik. The bombing continued over eight months, destroying large swaths of the city.
I eventually discovered that I was neither Croatian nor Serbian. No, it turns out that I am Slovenian (another of the former Yugoslavian states, capital Ljubljana).
Quick. Name a famous Slovenian.
If you are like me, all you came up with was Melania Trump.
Despite the revelation that I was no longer what I had believed I was for so many years (yes, I am ignoring the shared heritage I may have with anyone whose last name rhymes with “rump”), I still had an unquenchable desire to visit my (now former) “homeland” (a couple of generations on my father’s side were born in Cleveland–I have been there with little desire to return, so that is not what I mean).
I wanted to go back to Croatia, a country that I had visited briefly in college, but I had only been in Zagreb, the capital which is a couple hundred kilometers from the coast, for which the country is most known. Specifically, I wanted to see Dubrovnik, that “Jewel of the Adriatic” which despite the contemporary reports of the war, the city was not destroyed; in fact, due to the hardy construction of almost all of the centuries-old buildings, the bulk of the damage was limited to the roofs–many of those, though, were completely destroyed.
For the millions of Game of Thrones fans, this turned out to be incredibly good news since much of the insanely popular HBO series was filmed in the city. While I am far from a GoT junkie, I did watch the series, eventually. But my attraction to Dubrovnik had nothing to do with the Starks or the Lannisters, it was all about my heritage. Or at least the one I had created for myself.
Last summer, I finally made it, and I was not disappointed.
NOw for some red meat for those Game of Thrones junkies…