Speech by the President of the Republic Zoran Milanović at the 308th Sinjska Alka
Alkar Zorica, son of the prominent alkar family Zorica from Hrvace, congratulations! Carry the tricolour proudly, as the duke said, through the streets of Sinj and your town of Hrvace, and till next year good luck to you and to the other alkars – our knights!
Dear champion, knights, people of Sinj,
Every year at this time, we have been repeating more or less the same thing for centuries – centuries, in which we are merely a blink of an eye. Times change, years pass, regimes change. What is characteristic about this area is that the Croatian state, Croatian statehood and the concept of Croathood were born here in the later periods of the first millennium. It happened in the vicinity of Split, not in big cities where neither we nor our ancestors had access. It happened in Bijaći, Plano, Kaštela, Polje, Muć, not on the curves and bends of major rivers where cities such as Budapest, Prague, Warsaw or Kiev sprung up. Not on the great seas, but in areas where most people didn’t want to live and where most people didn’t know how to live. In areas that everyone wanted to control. That makes us unique. That makes us special in both a good and tragic sense.
In the history of the conflict between Europe and the Ottomans, Christianity and Islam – unfortunately, that’s what it came down to – Sinjska Alka and victory over the Ottoman army in 1715 is one among other, larger battles. There have been bigger battles. In 1715 the Ottoman Empire is in decline. But, the battle in Sinj is so symbolic and special and says so much about us and our dealings with the world and our role in that world. This area was empty for years. The Croats, the people of this area, only truly settled in this area, which had been empty for years, in 1715. For 150 years, during the Ottoman Empire, few people lived here. Only from 1687 onwards, rivers of people came and settled here from Rama and the fields of Duvno, from Mostarsko Blato and Livno. They settled here as protégés, soldiers of a Christian power – the Republic of Venice, the glorious Republic of Venice, ruler of the seas. In that story, our task and the task of our ancestors was to guard the sea under their command for the sake of trade, mainly for their benefit. That was the side we were on back then, but it wasn’t our real side. The other side was an already faded empire on its way out that dominated these expanses with force, power, diplomacy and all the tricks of the trade in governing, but also in persuasion. Its time had passed.
The role of Croats as those who are harnessed to serve the interests of others is something that has been with us throughout history. Our cities, our towers and fortresses – here in the vicinity of Sinj, Prozor above Vrlika built by Hrvatinić, the tower of Nelepić above Potravlje, Travnik or the tower of Kotromanić – it was all about controlling the area; an area that the Croatian people and the state have finally begun to seriously manage in the last hundred years, and in its fullness only in the last 20 years after the victory brought by the Croatian Army, by a smaller number of brave people. There were few such people in 1991, a smaller number of good people, those who dared to take up arms and who defended Croatia. Weapons were procured under impossible conditions. They were procured for Croatia by people who put their lives on the line. One of them is here with us today, his name is Anton Kikaš. He is 86 years old and he is here at Sinjska Alka for the first time. Say hello to him! What he and a few others did – in terms of courage, daring and audacity that are typical and so innate to the people of this region – was a rarity.
Finally, the symbolism of Mary and Marianism for those who belong to the Christian culture – and one does not need to be religious or an active believer – is something that awareness should constantly be raised about and should continually be repeated. It was not by chance that Mary appeared at the fortress, and she did not appear to the defenders but to the conquerors. When the Turks saw her – and those Turks were mostly people of our kin, origin and genetic code from Bosnia, people of the Slavic language, but of the Islamic faith – they were terrified and they froze. Mary is the only woman mentioned and cited in the Quran. As far as I know, there is no other. Her symbolism and importance, even in the Quran, is unique and one and only. That is why it is no coincidence that it is precisely Mary who appeared to the conquerors in that story as a warning, but also as an omen of some kind of a bridge, bond, possible unity which is, unfortunately, difficult to attain. That Lady, Our Lady of Sinj, only then becomes a miraculous patron. Earlier on, she was just a special kind of saint. She was an icon, but nothing more. With that in mind and with the awareness of what it means for us, our identity, our history, and knowing how long the road was – from those who served the interests of others out of necessity, to those who again out of necessity defended their interests, the interests of their fatherland, their ancestors, their people – in their honour, to their glory, so that they are never forgotten, so that our gratitude to them is lasting and independent of anyone’s political inclination or orientation – I once again congratulate from the heart the alkars, the champion and the people of this wonderful land. All the best, long live Croatia, long live the Alka!