If Croatia was a boat, it would have a mast and sails, keel and ribs, all in all, it would be a beautiful little boat. However, in the place where the planks should embrace the hull of the boat, as a poet says: “kroz buže vitar piri” (“through the holes the wind blows”). This floating metaphor with holes in the panelling has no link to politics, it is also not an allegory, because it refers to – maritime heritage.

It is in fact to this maritime heritage that a meeting that will be held from 10th-11th June on Murter, more accurately in Betina under the title of ‘Maritime heritage in local communities, models of sustainability’ is dedicated. Betina has not been chosen by chance: due to its many centuries’ of shipbuilding heritage it deserves to be the host of this meeting, and not just become of its historical merits but also because of the current generations of Murter inhabitants who, over more than twenty years, have become one of the starting points of the cultivation of the special national identity that sarails. The people of Murter produced the “Latinsko idro” (lateen sail), a movement which similar restorations and regattas, one after another, have followed along the coast.

Local communities and maritime heritage of Croatia

The people of Betina recently opened a museum dedicated to traditional shipbuilding. They are not the only example of heritage preservation in local communities. In the north back in 2004 with the help of Muses the Batana Eco-museum project with the House of Batana was established, which with its designs was pioneering, not only on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea but in Europe too. In the south, the story of the falkuša, of a unique shipbuilding and sailing phenomenon which was saved from oblivion by Prof. Joško Božanić and the Ars Halieutica association, the voice of Croatian life along the sea transmitted to the Expo exhibition in Lisbon, back in 1998.

Only these three examples (there exist many more) show how local communities were, if we make use of the metaphor from the beginning of this text, the keel and ribs of the restoration of maritime heritage. Their brave navigation to other shores spread the reputation of maritime Croatia throughout the world, from the hosting of a small Croatian traditional fleet at the Brest International Maritime Festival to the current nomination of the Batana Eco-museum for the UNESCO list of best practices in the field of the preservation of intangible heritage.

Meeting under the auspices of the European Parliament

This would say that our little boat in a global context also has a well rigged and tacked sail, and undoubtedly it is commendable that the initiative and organisation of the Betina meeting comes from such an atmosphere – behind it stands the Office of the Croatian MEP Tonino Picula, who in Brussels performs the duty of vice chair of the Intergroup for Seas, Rivers, Islands and Coastal Areas in the European Parliament.

Piculas’s team in Betina leads a number of important personalities when the nurturing of European maritime heritage is concerned. According to announcements, at the meeting will be Thedo Fruithof, the general secretary of the European Maritime Heritage, Elisabete Curtinhal, head of the Department of Cultural and Heritage of the Municipality of Seixal in Portugal with its famous same named eco-museum, Martyn Heighton, director of the National Historic Ships UK, Kirsten Monrad Hansen, from the Danish Han Herred Havbåde association…

By all accounts, there is no doubt that the national and foreign participants of the meeting will provide many good examples, however what is more important is to open serious discussions about what could be figuratively called as “the holes in the planks,” due to which the range and time limit of many voyages are restricted.

In the announcement of the meeting they mention for example “the significant difficulties in ensuring the long-term sustainability and development of a stimulating climate for further progress.” In part it concerns the seasonality and non-differentiation of the local micro-economies who also greatly influence the approach to maritime heritage. On the other hand, and it seems that this hole in the panelling is the largest, it concerns the lack of serious national consideration about what the sea means to Croatia and what the place of maritime heritage in this framework is. The definition of a national policy in this view is not only within the competences of the Ministry of Culture, many things about it would also have to come from the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, Transport and Infrastructure, the Ministry of Tourism…

With their involvement each local application to the European Union, which via various funds and the Erasmus programme finances projects connected to maritime heritage, will not only be networked on the Croatian level but also for the more serious navigation more promising.