Hannes Grandits. Familie und sozialer Wandel im ländlichen Kroatien: 18.-20. Jahrhundert. Wien: Böhlau Verlag/Wien, 2002. 504 S. EUR 72.00 (paper), ISBN 978-3-205-99486-2.
Reviewed by Jim Brown (Department of History, Elon University)
Published on HABSBURG (November, 2003)
Family and Change in Rural Croatia
Family and Change in Rural Croatia
Although there has been some work done on family history in the Balkans by such writers as Tamas Farago, Rudolf Andorka, Eugene Hammel and Joel Halpern, in comparison with other regions of Europe there has been much less until recently. In recent years Karl Kaser of the Abteilung für Südosteuropäische Geschichte at the University of Graz has gathered funding and students, both of which have helped us to understand better Balkan family history.
The book by Hannes Grandits, an extension of his dissertation done at Graz, is one of the most ambitious, presenting a comparison of two Croatian villages between the eighteenth and late twentieth centuries, during which several revolutionary periods of change occurred. His goal is to present an understanding of the material and cultural basis on which the inhabitants of these two villages, Lekenik and Bobovac, organized their lives. He is interested to understand the forms of family life as the central area of everyday life, and especially to understand how the inhabitants themselves saw and valued their living arrangements in periods of relative calm and of great change.
Grandits' choice of the two villages is especially good for comparative purposes: Lekenik lies in the "civil" zone under Hungarian administration while Bobovac, only 30 kilometers away, lies in the former Military Border. As a result the two faced very different administrative situations. The residents of Lekenik were subjects of Hungarian feudal lords, while those of Bobovac were organized along military lines but enjoyed a privileged position as free peasants in return for obligations of military service against the neighboring Ottomans.
But fundamentally the two villages were similar in material circumstances in that throughout most of the period the economy of both was based on farming. Both also had many families that exhibited a complex structure with a large number of members, often married, a form that was named zadruga in the twentieth century. Grandits thereby is able to explore both the uniqueness as well as the normalcy in both villages as he works generally to understand their respective developments over time.
The changes witnessed by the residents of the two villages were indeed monumental. The book begins in the latter half of the eighteenth century. It then covers the dissolution of first Grundherrschaft and second the Military Border and its subsequent integration into civil Hungarian administration, the establishment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its collapse in 1918, the demographic revolution of the late nineteenth century, the creation of Yugoslavia, the takeover by the fascists during World War II, and finally the establishment of the communist state. The story formally ends with the absorption of both villages into the same administrative district in the 1960s, though Grandits also includes some events of the last forty years as well.
The author uses the historical anthropological approach (largely developed by the works of Michael Mitterauer) that has dominated recent research on Austrian family history. He used a variety of sources including the fieldwork of a team led by Joel Halpern in the 1960s, census lists, land and school records, and court records. For the more recent times covered by the book Grandits carried out oral history interviews and read many autobiographies. Various other village records also provided information.
The book consists of three parts after the opening introductory section. Central to his work is the family, both its structure and the perception of it by its members. In the introduction he writes about dominant family types and rules. By custom all adult men in the household had an equal claim on the collective property of the household. Labor needs were covered by the household's members, meaning that there was no class of servants as was common in regions of western Europe.
Grandits makes an important observation on the size of the zadruga, pointing out that these households went through periodic division based on such factors as demography, fruitfulness of the land and any economic specialties within the household. This means that the complexity of the zadruga could vary from small to large depending on where it was in its life course. In the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries large families became rarer, mainly due to economic factors.
The second section presents a general comparison of the villages in the late eighteenth century. The economy of Lekenik was based on agriculture with few other enterprises. Many of the farms were comparatively large. Households consisted on average of over seven persons, and formed the basic units of work. Using household-level data, Grandits shows that the village differed in comparison with other areas of central and western Europe in that households tended to be larger, but in the village few servants and/or cottagers were present. This resulted in less social differentiation within the village.
Lekenik had the advantage of lying on the main road to Zagreb and the ferry over the Save River. It was thus not so isolated as Bobovac, which lay some distance from the main road system. During this early period the inhabitants of Lekenik faced considerable and growing demands for increases in cash and labor obligations from their feudal landlords.
Residents of Bobovac lived with much greater personal freedom and control over the land, though the military service obligations which they owed as payment for this freedom and control could present a heavy burden. Society in the village, organized along military lines, was more homogeneous, but also rested on the family as the basic unit of work. As in Lekenik, complex family structures dominated, although within fifty years of the founding of Bobovac the number of complex households had decreased, and the size of households was smaller. The reforms of the 1750s dictated that military units of the Border could be called upon for duty throughout the Empire, rather than their previous responsibility simply to defend the regions around their homes.
Strong patrilineality marked households in both villages. Males married and brought their spouses into the family home. Land was held communally by all adult males in the household. Attempts by the state to intervene in the division of households and thus landholdings in Lekenik proved fruitless, leaving the households a good deal of freedom to determine when divisions might take place.
Residents in Bobovac, though they had more freedom than those in Lekenik, still faced restrictions. The military need of a household to provide soldiers resulted in the requirement to secure permission of the regimental commander in order to divide households. Households had to be able to withstand the absence of males on military duty, meaning the best form was thus households with more than one adult male.
Section three examines the decades before and after 1848 up to the interwar period in the twentieth century. Post-1848 brought the end of feudalism, which meant that in Lekenik all feudal obligations dissolved, although there was conflict with the former landlords over the process of dissolution. Previously, the 1830s had brought economic and social changes to the village as a result of both internal and external factors. External factors included the arrival of the railroad, postal and telegraph connections, and the establishment of a new enterprise in the form of a lumber company. The possibility of commuting to Zagreb for work as well as to work in the local lumber industry resulted in immigration into the village.
Internal changes consisted of, among others, an increasing role of marketing for households, a rise in the number of households, an increase in the number of social positions, a growing number of cottagers resulting from rising debt, and, at least from the 1870s, a decrease in non-local interference in land control resulting from finally resolving many of the conflicts rising out of the dissolution of feudal relations.
Bobovac faced a different situation. The conflicts of 1848 and 1849 called many residents to military duty and brought high casualties and other hardships. Military service in a wide range of regions of the Empire meant males spent longer periods away from home. Furthermore, in comparison with the now freed peasants of the civil districts, the military obligations put Bobovacers increasingly in an underprivileged position rather than in the privileged position they had enjoyed previously.
During the 1850s the legal position of the inhabitants improved, although change was not nearly as revolutionary or tumultuous as in Lekenik. Permission to divide households, however, was rarely granted, resulting in household size increasing to ten or more in two thirds of the families by 1860. The dissolution of the part of the Military Border including Bobovac brought further change. The state now viewed the inhabitants more as potential taxpayers rather than as soldiers. Households had an easier time dividing holdings since more families meant more tax revenue. The average size of households declined from 11.8 in 1857 to 7.0 in 1870.
In the interwar years, change increased and was felt in more and more aspects of village life. By this time period, Grandits is increasingly able to make use of autobiographies and oral interviews, both of which provide fascinating windows into the village life. The population enjoyed much greater physical mobility. Social differentiation increased while the importance of the family economy decreased. The market orientation that had begun in the nineteenth century continued to expand. The recognition of the importance of education in the more technologically complex economy resulted in growing school enrollment. The development of Vereine pointed to new forms of social organization. Both villages faced all of these changes, though the impact and process of change was different due to the variations in existing social and economic structural conditions.
The final section explores the coming of socialism and its effects on the villages. Socialism brought agricultural reform--especially in the form of collectivization--and the use of increasingly complex technology. Industrialization brought new opportunities in the secondary and tertiary sectors of the economy. These changes resulted in somewhat different changes in the two villages under study.
In Lekenik, particularly as a result of its rail connections, the proportion of the population engaged in agriculture decreased in comparison with Bobovac, where, as a result of its more isolated situation off the main communication lines, agriculture remained the largest employer of labor and the majority of inhabitants remained in farming. Probably as a result of the limited economic opportunities in Bobovac, the 1950s brought an increasing out-migration. The book ends with the integration of both villages into the same administrative district in the 1960s.
Grandits' achievement in bringing together sources relating to family history to cover such a broad range of time is indeed admirable. Especially in the sections covering more recent times, the oral interviews are fascinating. Problematic though they are (are they typical or only anecdotal?), they capture village life in ways that official and institutional records never do. The impact the industrial revolution had on the two villages, though they lay at no great distance from one another, was not the same. In earlier times, the differences resulting from the dissimilar relations to authority also afford fertile ground for comparison.
The one major criticism I have of the work is the lack of a conclusion. As I neared the end of the book I was looking forward to a conclusion that would tie all the threads of the narrative together, and I was disappointed not to find one. Grandits certainly brings out differences between the two nearby villages throughout the book, but in a work of over 450 pages, a conclusion would have been helpful.
Nonetheless, this is an extraordinary work, adding greatly to our knowledge both of families in Croatia during the course of over two centuries, and of the ways historical change affects two villages lying in close proximity to one another, thereby holding at bay many of the myriad variables that face anyone comparing family life in different locales.
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Jim Brown. Review of Grandits, Hannes, Familie und sozialer Wandel im ländlichen Kroatien: 18.-20. Jahrhundert.
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Copyright © 2003 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at email@example.com.