Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
In Italy, Croatian is spoken by approximately 3,000 people concentrated in Molise.
Croatian in Molise is spoken in three isolated mountain communities, San Felice del Molise, Acquaviva Collecroce and Montemitro, of Campobasso province in the Molise region of southern Italy. The community is bilingual in Croatian and Italian, or trilingual with the addition of Albanian. It is the smallest minority in Italy, but there is a Croatian Consulate in Montemitro. The main occupation is agriculture.
Molise Croatian is a Tokavian-Ikavian dialect with a number of Čakavian elements, close to the Croatian dialects spoken in Middle Dalmatia. The original fifteenth- or sixteenth-century language has evolved with influences from the Italian dialects of Molise, Abruzzo, Campania and Puglia, rather than influences from other Croatian dialects and from standard Croatian.
The majority of the community attends Roman Catholic Church regularly.
Croatians are believed to have fled to the region in the fifteenth or the sixteenth century to escape the Ottomans. Their dialect has survived in isolation from other Slavic languages for 500 years or more. Some researchers believe they came from Istria, others from Herzegovina. Molise Croatian literature began in the nineteenth century and has continued, although it is not prolific.
In the early 1900s Croatians emigrated to the USA and South America. A second wave of emigration took place in the 1950s to Europe and Australia, as the mountain communities depopulated. From the 1950s there has been an increasing degree of assimilation into Italian culture.
Article 6 of the 1947 Constitution provides for the protection of linguistic minorities. In 1963 the Molise region gained autonomy. The 1999 law on the protection of minorities mentions the Croatians. The Italian and Croatian governments agreed to provide support for the Croatian community, and Croatia opened a Consulate at Montemitro in 2004.
Croatian is offered as an optional subject at some primary schools, including the school of San Felice. Molise Croatian is distinct from standard Croatian, and has no standard written norms, making it difficult to teach. Molise Croatians can attend university and other higher education institutes, including teacher-training institutes, in Zagreb.
Croatians live in nine communities of the region, but the language is spoken in only three. Although there is no obligation on the part of the local administration to publish documents in Croatian, the language is used in local council debates. There are some road signs in Croatian and Italian.
The Fondazione Agostina Piccoli has a documentation and research centre and offers standard Croatian language courses. It has also begun codifying the dialects of Montemitro and Kruč.
Church services are usually held in Italian although about one-third of the clergy speaks Croatian. Bishops from Croatia have visited the community.
Minorities and indigenous peoples in