Croatia: Unrelenting Woes For The House of Antun Gustav Matos – cultural centre in Tovarnik

Antun Gustav Matos of Croatia

Suffice to say: every nation cherishes and celebrates its own remarkable people and when it comes to cultural icons then special care is taken in ensuring they stand out for the world to see and marvel at. This is because national cultural icons are among the essential elements that define sense of national identity and so, pursuing and showcasing of national cultural icons has been a practice of world’s societies for centuries.  It is, regretfully, very disquieting and utterly dispiriting to watch the resistance in Croatia that has been developing with regard to the finalisation and establishment of a memorial place/house for Croatia’s outstanding writer of the past Antun Gustav Matos. The idea was and is that Matos’s birth house be turned into a memorial place, but the stumbling blocks the Committee for that is encountering are heartbreaking and profoundly unfair towards doing the right thing for Croatian national identity generally. Often it seems that activities going against this project are undertaken purposefully and in order to rob Croatian national identity of its cultural icons.

Conceptualising the future Antun Gustav Matos Memorial Centre
in Tovarnik Croatia

I found the following reference to the project idea on the website:

’People can achieve everything, apart from a name, if they lose it.’ This is how Antun Gustav Matoš, one of Croatia’s most significant personalities, wrote about identity in his own way briefly underlining essence, not only when the skill of beautiful writing is concerned.

It is this concern about ‘the not losing’ of names in preserving the legacy of this great writer that was our motto in the planning of a house dedicated to the life and work of a man who during his life became part of the national identity.

We haven’t imagined Matos’s house just as a reminder, but as a starting point of a coexistence with his ideas. A memorial library, scientific meetings and workshops are intended for professionals and the local residents, whilst an interactive themed walk through Tovarnik and the Syrmia estate in a permanent exhibition are a unique combination of a living encounter of culture and tourism.

The House of A. G. Matos – the cultural centre in Tovarnik represents a great wealth of Croatian literature and culture thanks to the legacy of one of Croatia’s greatest writers, Antun Gustav Matos. It is conceived as a complex cultural institution which represents a key point in the reviving of Matos’s legacy on a national level, as well as a cultural-tourist attraction that with a strong literary identity initiates the development of a cultural-tourist micro-destination for Tovarnik and this part of Croatia.

The exhibited display will lead visitors on a journey through the writer’s literary work and life, through several themed parts: Matos’s homeland, Matos’s travelling and Matos today.

Besides the exhibition, the House of A. G. Matos offers rich and varied cultural content, including the writer’s memorial-collection, a library with a reading room and a memorial library where first editions of Matos’s book and literary works of Syrmia will be exhibited. There is also a place intended for scientific meetings, seminars, workshops and a literary club where visitors will be able to rest, a documentation centre, souvenir shop, and outside there will the ‘Matoš Days’ and ‘Fair of the Written Word of Syrmia’ events, a Matos’s Tovarnik themed route and the traditional Syrmian estate.”

This planned project is led by Antun Gustav Matos Society in the town of Tovarnik, Croatia, headed by Mr Zeljko Anic. where Matos was born in 1873.

Aerial view of Antun Gustav House in Tovarnik Croatia

However the project has had enormous difficulties in getting off the ground and Matica Hrvatska/Matrix Croatica ( the oldest non-profit and non-government organisation in Croatia with one of its goals being promoting Croatian identity) has been reported in the media for being the main culprit in placing stumbling blocks on the path to finalising the Matos House memorial place in Tovarnik.  That is, it has been reported in the media for a couple of years now that Matrix Croatica intends selling Matos’s birth house to cover reported debts that the Antun Gustav Matos Society Tovarnik owes the Matrix! In January of this year the Vukovar district court put the public auction on hold.  Of course, the Tovarnik Society is fighting that eventuality because it could mean that this historically and culturally important landmark will be lost forever when it comes to its national cultural identity value.

Legal proceedings have been thrown about regarding this and one may indeed frown in horror when one realises that the government has not yet seen fit to inject funds into this project and perhaps become leading partner in it. One can only conclude that this project for Croatian national identity via a cultural icon has been placed on a back-burner by the political elites that lean towards nostalgia for Yugoslavia and shun Croatian national identity icons at any cost. Furthermore, Matrix Croatica has for some time evidently been infiltrated by political forces belonging to that sector that never wanted an independent Croatia. Matrix Croatica is reportedly working close with government authorities on this matter, while the Antun Gustav Matos Society in Tovarnik fights the battle for the preservation of Matos’s house and turning it into a national cultural icon.

While this unsavoury battle goes on, here is an open letter By Mr Jurica Jurisic to the Board of Matrix Croatica published during this week in Croatian media:

“As a long-time member of Matica Hrvatska with heartache, I have for many years been vehemently contesting the construction project of Matos’s birthplace in Tovarnik, carried out by some, to put it mildly, suspected members of the Parent Administration, whose dishonest actions are increasingly learned from the media. Since spring, after visiting a few friends with Matos’s birthplace, I intend to ask you to finally dive in and take on our Antun Gustav Matos to present it in a well-designed memorial to everyone in the world and Homeland who love and appreciate Croatian literary and cultural heritage.

Therefore, referring to the great Matica’s tradition, which we are proud to be proud of, I am free to propose to you the following: due to the enormous cultural, political and material damage, immediately and unconditionally suspend the shameful sale process of Matos’s birthplace, which is undoubtedly the saddest episode in history Matrix Croatica; to determine the liability of those members of the Management Board who are responsible for the loss of that priceless property owned by the Matrix Croatica.

I hope that you will consider and accept these proposals in the context of the two Serbian documents published last spring – the decision of Matica Srpska to establish the Krajina Committee for the Military Border, Slavonia, Dalmatia and Croatia and the Charter on the Serbian Cultural Area. I am convinced that you share my opinion on the unacceptability of the cowardly withdrawal of Matica Hrvatska from Srijem in the face of increasingly aggressive Serbian imperialism, which achieves its goals primarily by using cultural and religious institutions in all Croatian countries. ”

Antun Gustav Matos Memorial Park Bench
at Strossmayer Promenade overlooking the city of Zagreb

The construction of Matos’s birthplace in Tovarnik is led by members of the Antun Gustav Matos Society, veterans of the Croatian Homeland War, including Ivan Anđelić Doctor, the legendary hero of the battles for Vukovar and Rama. Perhaps this circumstance bothers the managers of Matrix Croatica, against whom legal proceedings for financial misconduct have reportedly commenced, that it has been hindering the project by all available means for several years? Couple this with political inroads of those who do not want a strong Croatian national identity to be displayed to the world to marvel at, it becomes clearer and clearer that Croatian being and identity will continue to have a vicious battle on their hands for some time yet! What a pity! Ina Vukic

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