hidden europe 16

Uskok outposts: where Croatia meets Slovenia

by Nicky Gardner


Living on the old military frontier at the edge of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Uskoks made a decent living. They are still there. Nowadays their homeland is where Croatia abuts onto Slovenia. Join us as we visit a few Uskok villages.

Acronyms can be hugely misleading. Especially if you are the trail of the remnants of the Uskok community that live in the hills west of Zagreb. Comb the library catalogues and news archives in Zagreb and there are a thousand pointers to USKOK - a fleet footed national agency in Croatia established to tackle organised crime and corruption as the country seeks to advance its case for admission to the European Union.

The Uskok community used to be pretty fleet footed too. Ousted from their Serbian homeland by the advancing Turks, they moved to the Adriatic coast. For years, they ruled the roost in the coastal city of Senj. That was back in the early sixteenth century, when Uskoks exploited to the full their strategic location at the balance of Ottoman, Venetian and Habsburg influence. The Venetian Republic, the Serenissima, was never too inclined to get involved in Balkan spats, but when the Turks pushed into the northwest Balkans and Venice judged that its control of the shipping routes out to the Mediterranean might be threatened, the Serenissima stirred. There wasn't just the question of the Ottoman threat. The Uskoks held the fortress at Senj, a spot wholly inaccessible to Venetian galleys, and from this secure base the Uskoks were apt to make marauding forays on passing ships.

Piracy wouldn't be tolerated, and in the end the renegade Uskoks were forcibly moved away from the coast. The Habsburg authorities saw that an alliance with these notorious pirates might not go amiss, so the Uskoks were given free land in the interior. Some settled in villages on the bank of the River Kolpa - an area now in Slovenia. Other Uskoks made their homesteads in and around the mountains just west of the city of Zagreb.

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