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Залужница (Serbian)[1]
Country  Croatia
Municipality Vrhovine
Population (2011)
 • Total 220
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
 • Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)

Zalužnica (Serbian Cyrillic: Залужница) is a village in the Gacka valley in Lika-Senj County, Croatia. It is located around the main road between the market town of Otočac and the Plitvice Lakes National Park. It was established and mainly populated in the late 17th century. The existing village church dates to around 1770. A peak population was reached in the late 19th century. It was almost totally de-populated in 1995 during the war that saw the breakup of the former Yugoslavia when the high majority of the population fled to Serbia. A handful of old people remained in the village unable or unwilling to make the long trek. A few new people subsequently established holiday homes over the last 10 years and a few returned from Serbia. More recently Roma peoples have been given access by local authorities to make use of the many empty farm properties. The annual Petrovdan celebrations were re-established in the 2000s attracting people with a connection to the village from Serbia and from abroad (see 'you-tube' for films from various years).


A survey from 1895[2] had the population at 1139 with 178 households. This was made up of the main village plus some smaller settlements, namely Draga Brakusa, Čelina, Gola Brdo and Cvijanovic kuca. This population probably represents the pinnacle in numbers as; in the first decade of the 20th century many people left for the USA with the many millions of others from Europe,[3], the impact of the two World Wars (death and migration), the early 1960s saw many younger people migrating to towns and cities, and the wholesale migration of the village to Serbia in 1995 due to war. According to the 2011 census, there were 220 inhabitants living in 157 housing units.[4] Based on anecdotal evidence from various visits to the village after this date, the number of permanent inhabitants is significantly lower, estimated at less than 50.

A significant portion of the village had the family name of Hinić (Hinich). Other common family names include, Brakus, Borovac, Popović, Uzelac, Vukovojac. As many of the households of the same family name were not related (in living memory) the practice of giving nicknames, called 'špicnamen' (German origin) to differentiate themselves, was widespread. This is particularly true of the Hinić.

Rough plan of Zalužnica farmhouses 1970-80 (incomplete)

The rough plan to the right is an incomplete view of farmhouses in 1970-80, including some of the 'špicnamen'. Major exceptions are farmhouse details for Draga Brakus and Hinić around Um.


Given the relative isolation, mixed origins, neighbouring Croats who spoke a different dialect (and accent) and the influence of the ruling Austro-Hungarian state, the language used by people in Zalužnica and other nearby Serb villages developed its own character. From an academic perspective the people spoke the Štokavian dialect and over-time mixed Ijekavian and Ekavian variants in every day language, which again reflects their origin e.g. in the mainly Serbian ekavian sub-class the word for 'milk' is 'mleko' compared to mljeko in the ijekavian form. Some words in an otherwise mainly shared south slav lexicon were different e.g. the Serbian 'hleb' for 'bread' compared to Croatian 'kruh'. Some Zalužnica villagers used the slang 'krua-leba'. German words (and corrupted forms) also became inter-mingled into everyday use, influenced by the direct Hapsburg rule until the end of WW1 e.g. German 'grau' for 'grey' as opposed to the Slavic 'siv', 'šnider' for 'tailor' instead of 'krojač', 'stoff' used for 'cloth' instead of 'tkanina'. There is also some latin based influence, which could originate from close by Venetian territories on the coast or from true vlachs e.g. 'čeno' for 'dog' instead of slavic 'pas'. The rural upland setting naturally stamped its own influences.

Surrounding area[edit]

The village is located around the main road running from Plitvice Lakes National Park through Vrhovine in the east and which leads to a crossroads at Čovići west of the village. Turning northwest the road leads to Otočac and from there onto the coast to Senj. Turning south at Čovići leads to Gospić. By car, it takes about 45 minutes to drive to Plitvice and 15–20 minutes to Otočac. The first village along the road after Zalužnica and towards Čovići is the village of Sinac (both are Croat villages). Otočac is the major market town in the Gacka Valley. Before 1995, it was populated by a Croat majority and large Serb minority.

At he centrally located school hose and church, a country lane runs northwards towards Doljani and Škare. East towards Plitvice, the first village is Vrhovine (mixed but mainly a Serb village), which is probably the highest above sea level in the immediate area (700m above sea level compared to Zalužnica's 500 m, only 10–15 minutes drive down the road). Vrhovine has a railway station. While there are a few households off the beaten track like Dugi Dol, there are no other settlements because to the immediate south, south-east and north east are mountain peaks. Zalužnica sits on the eastern slope of the Gacka valley; in the eastern part of the village by the main road is a limestone cavern and underground river, which, until the early 1950s, was a main drinking water supply for the village (later a number of common wells were dug around the village that tap into the same underground water supply).


Farming in Zalužnica was a matter of self-subsistence made difficult by the limestone geology and mountainous terrain. The mainstays of the average farm was sheep, cattle, pigs, grains, and potatoes. Plum orchards were a very important resource from which the local spirit called Šlivovic (otherwise rakija) was made. The winters are typically harsh, and the summers are hot. Until the early 1960s, most work on the farm was manual throughout the year using bullocks/ox (or a few families who could afford to keep horses) as the main power source for heavy farm work. By the mid-1970s, farming became almost fully mechanised. Typical farm sizes were around 10 hectares with many small fields scattered around the village resulting from historical family inheritance customs, which further limited the scope for larger farmsteads. For those farms away from the main road electricity was only connected in the late 1950-60's and piped water in the 1970-80's.


From its establishment amidst conflict, the village and its people continued to be moulded by conflict throughout its history. The main exceptions were the economic migration to the USA in the early 1900s and the relative prosperity of the 1960-1980's. The regular occurrence of war destroyed whatever social documents existed. Most readily available documentation provides small snippets of tangential information; Austro-Hungarian Army records (18th to 20th century), 19th and early 20th century ecclesiastical and population surveys and the Ellis Island information (1890 to 1920). Births, deaths and marriages and other social documents have yet to be found and anecdotal opinion is that little or nothing remains. Records since WW2 destroyed by the conflict from 1990 onwards.

The presence of a notable opening at ground level to an underground river and caverns would have likely attracted people through the ages. In addition, the narrow pass at the eastern part of the village provides one of the few access points from the Gacka valley to the extensive lakes system of Plitvice.

Beyond Draga Brakus towards the Vatinovac peak is the Bezdanjača cave where around 200 burials were discovered dating to the middle to late bronze age (1500-750 BC). While there are Roman remains in Lika, there's nothing of note within the area of the village. Vrhovine had been a Roman settlement, called Arapium.

From 1300, Otočac became part of the Frankopan family estate, which possibly extended to include the area that became Zalužnica.

Prior to the Ottoman incursions, there was possibly a Croat settlement in the area that became Zalužnica. Fras[5] claims that in the general vicinity of the village there are traces of church ruins of which nothing is known other than its name of Sv.Mihovil. Note: The reference to Fras is taken from the 1988 Croatian translation and not from the original book.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 the Ottomans were able to push northwards. They progressively moved into Bosnia and the Dalmatian hinterland. Refugees started arriving in Croatian lands, from the southern Balkans (Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, other) and Dalmatian coast and hinterland. The Croat defeat by the Ottomans in 1493 at the Battle of Krbava Field in southern Lika consolidated their gains, leading to settlement in southern Lika and pushing locals and immigrants further north.

Through the 1500s and particularly following the Hungarian defeat of 1526 at the Battle of Mohacs the Ottomans extended their territory. In Lika this reached immediately to the south of Otočac. The new borderland, stretching eastwards into Hungary, became the Hapsburg's Military Frontier, the 'Krajina', which from the early 17th century came under the direct control of Austrian authorities. Catherine Wendy Bracewell's 'The Uskoks of Senj', usefully describes the nature of this borderland of skirmishes and raids. From around the 1520s it saw the emergence of the Uskoks.

Until the early 18th century the Krajina was subject to considerable population turmoil resulting from on going Ottoman incursions and broader military actions, although the border remained more or less in the same position. After the Ottomans failed for a second time to conquer Vienna in 1683 (Great Turkish War), Lika was subject to major population change. From 1685 to 1689 conflict across both Ottoman and Hapsburg Lika resulted in significant de-population[6]. Over the next years people moved back and the Ottoman settlements in southern Lika receded. The Great Serbian migration (Great Migrations of the Serbs) of 1690 mainly resulted in settlement in eastern Krajina (Slavonia) and Hungary, but also saw a new influx of southern refugees into western Krajina including Lika.

It is very likely these latter population movements saw the final and major settlement of peoples of predominantly the Christian Orthodox faith, in the Gacka valley and beyond. The ethnicity of these peoples has been debated extensively, however, a quick review of family names in Lika county suggests a mix of mainly Serbs, Montenegrins, Vlachs, various other minorities and Croats. After a time, whatever the origin, these principally Orthodox communities assimilated and identified themselves as Serbs.

Throughout the Ottoman period, settlement was encouraged and sponsored by the Austro-Hungarian (A-H) authorities to create a bulwark against future Ottoman advances. The immigrant population was granted various rights in return for fighting the Ottomans, including land, free person status as peasant soldiers and freedom of religion. These perceived privileges for the Orthodox population, caused issue for the Croatian nobility and populous, which formed part of the on going antagonisms between Croat and Serb communities for the subsequent centuries. From the 18th century the fighting force was organised in to the Austro-Hungarian Army, which maintained a presence in Otočac until the end of WWI. The regiment recruited from both the Catholic Croat and Orthodox Serb communities across central and northern Lika. The regiment was in the A-H Army on the battlefield with Napoleon and for a short period Lika came under French control, until Napoleon's demise and return to the Hapsburgs.

The name of village seems to have evolved. A history of the Otočac regiment by Franz Bach[7], mentions the village in the mid-18th century as "Sct Peter (Založnica)", for example on page 51. The 1866 book by Vinko Sabljar[8], lists the village as "Založnica (Zalužnica, Sveti-Petar)" on page 483 with additional detail of 75 houses and a population of 990. The name refers to the church in the village, its full title 'Sveti Petar i Pavao' (St Peter & Paul).

Towards the end of the 19th century, a trickle of individuals travelled to the USA seeking work and a better future, as millions of others did from Europe for the same reasons. From the turn of the century, the numbers leaving Zalužnica for the USA ramped up significantly. The Ellis Island immigration records reveal a pattern of specific villagers travelling to a specific town/city in the USA, built on the back of the first few who travelled there. Zalužnica immigrants tended to favour Cleveland, Ohio. The immigrant stories are wide and varied. Some settled permanently in the USA, some returned after a few years with enough money to make a difference to their families, but inevitably became embroiled in WWI. Some returned specifically to join the war. While mostly men made the trip, the records include women and children, both together and separately.

Leading to World War I the Otočac regiment was designated k.u.k Infanterieregiment Graf Jellaèić Nr.79. The 'Nr.79' was sent to the Serbian front at the start of WWI, with many of the A-H Army's Serb soldiers becoming POWs in Serbia. At the start of 1915, it found itself on the Galician front, through the Carpathian Mountains, fighting against Russian forces and suffering heavy losses through 1915. Many were taken as POWs, the Russians holding them in mainly Siberian camps. On Russia exiting the war in 1917 due to revolution, the resulting military and political chaos proved to be a massive obstacle for POWs in returning home. In the aftermath of the war, the allies supported the creation of a new country from the vestiges of the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Serbian State, populated mainly by Slavic peoples, hence the later name Yugo-slavia, 'South-Slavs'.

WW2 saw a level of brutality and death in Lika unseen since the height of the Ottoman conflicts. It was driven by the fascist NDH state's principle policy of removing Serbs from Croatian territory. The NDH was created in 1941 on the back of the German invasion of Yugoslavia and agreement with fascist Italy, which had sponsored its leaders since the late 1920s. Conditions for the Serb communities in Lika through the war are documented elsewhere in Wikipedia et al. The population of the village was decimated. This also includes the significant number of men who left the village in 1944, walking out to Italy. They were resettled by the Allies across Allied countries after the end of the war, together with the many other displaced persons from Eastern Europe.

At the onset of the conflict in 1941, the village associated itself with the Serbian Royalist forces led by Mihailović based in Ravna Gora and called themselves četniks. Their priority was the protection of the village from the NDH's Ustaše forces. Over time, they became embroiled with the broader regional conflict that involved multiple other fighting forces including Italian and German armies, the Ustaša and the communist Yugoslav Partisans under Josip Broz Tito. Some people from the village later joined the partisans and it was not uncommon for families to be split between četniks and partisans. When the Allies switched logistical and armament support to the partisans in late 1943, the četniks were effectively forced to leave.

At the end of WW2 the partisans re-established the Yugoslav state. Some villagers who were in the partisans were given land by the authorities in Bačka in northeast Yugoslavia, which had been gained from Hungary territory in the post-war carve up. Amongst this major migration from across all Yugoslavia, a few villages in Bačka became 'Lika in the East', the migrants maintaining their Lika traditions.

With many men having left during the war and settled in the West, it left a largish proportion of women in Zalužnica without the prospect of marriage. The remaining families of those men abroad made matches and between 50 to 100 women left the village to join their new husbands following 'proxy' marriages. These marriages were officiated by the Yugoslav state and accepted by Western countries as valid marriage certificates for settlement purposes. This in a second major source of the Zalužnica diaspora, following migrations to the USA in the early 1900s.

With Tito breaking from the Soviet Union, the country's economy started to open up in the 1960s. This was further bolstered by the German economic explosion and the Yugoslav state's willingness to allow its citizens to work in Germany (also Austria and Switzerland at different times). This had a dramatic effect on the village (and across northern Yugoslavia) from the late 1960s and into the 1970s and 1980s. The most visible outcomes were; construction of new farmhouses across the village, the mechanisation of agriculture (which until the late-1960s was in the main still powered by oxen and horses), and the movement of young people to towns and cities across the country. Some of those working in Germany permanently settled there while other's moved to other countries, together forming the third major source of the Zalužnica diaspora.

Tito's death inevitably lead to the slow dissolution of the Yugoslav state as virulent nationalism took hold. The final act, saw the mass migration in 1995 of over one quarter of a million people from Croatia, mainly from the historic Krajina, in to Serbia. Farmers in Zalužnica released their animals to the fields and joined the long convoy winding through the on going hostilities in Croatia and Bosnia, taking around over a week to reach the Serbian border.

The Croatian government's obligations under its pursuit of EU membership resulted in efforts to encourage the former population to return home and it oversaw the repair of farmhouses of the elderly who had remained. A handful of mainly old people returned on a permanent basis. Others continue to return during holiday periods and there are a few new arrivals making second homes in the village.

The village farmhouses remain in the most part derelict, particularly away from the main road. The new Zagreb-Split highway that passes close to Otočac has reduced the Plitvice traffic passing through the village as the national park is accessible from the highway.

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Government of Croatia (October 2013). "Peto izvješće Republike Hrvatske o primjeni Europske povelje o regionalnim ili manjinskim jezicima" (PDF) (in Croatian). Council of Europe. p. 34. Retrieved 2 December 2016. 
  2. ^ Političko i sudbeno razdieljenje Kralj. Hrvatske i Slavonije i repertorij prebivališta po stanju od 31. svibnja 1895
  3. ^ See Ellis Island online database[full citation needed]
  4. ^ "Population by Age and Sex, by Settlements, 2011 Census: Zalužnica". Census of Population, Households and Dwellings 2011. Zagreb: Croatian Bureau of Statistics. December 2012. 
  5. ^ Fras, Franz de Paula Julius (1835). Cjelovita Topografija Karlovačke Vojne Kranije. p. 179. 
  6. ^ Kaser, Karl (2003). POPIS LIKE I KRBAVE 1712. GODINE. p. 18. ISBN 953-6627-52-3. 
  7. ^ Bach, Franz (1855). Otocaner Regiments-Geschichte. 
  8. ^ Sabljar, Vinko (1866). Miestopisni Riečnik, Dalmacije, Hervatske I Slavonije. 

Coordinates: 44°51′18″N 15°21′25″E / 44.85500°N 15.35694°E / 44.85500; 15.35694