The Istro-Romanians

The Istro-Romanians (ethnonym: Vlaşi, also proper: Rumâri and Rumêri; called Ćiribiri / Ćići by the local Slavic population and Istrian Vlachs by linguists) are an ethnic group living in northeastern Istria, Croatia with an ethnic population of 1,200, but with 170 acknowledged speakers of the Istro-Romanian language in 1998, including 27 children. While the majority of Istro-Romanians have been scattered around the world, the language is listed as seriously endangered in the UNESCO Red Book of Endangered Languages. The Istro-Romanians are not recognized as a national minority by the Croatian Constitution.

The first historical record of Romanians in the Istrian region is purported to date back to 940 A.D. when scholarly Roman Emperor Constantine VII recorded in De Administrando Imperio that there were Romance-language speakers in this area who called themselves Romans but who did not come from Rome. This newly uncovered reference is consistent with what has been repeatedly stated by native Romanians over the years on what they learned in their schools about the origins of the elusive Istro-Romanians - more specifically, that they were mercenary soldiers who were imported with their families directly from Transylvania to Istria by the Romans legions.

The first certain mention of Romanians in Istria comes from 1329 where a Serbian chronicle mentions that a Vlach population was living in Istria, naming a Vlach called Pasculus, but another document from the second half of the 12th century preserves the name of a leader in Istria called Radul, a name that could also be Romanian. There also have been recent findings to suggest that the Istro-Romanian people (more probably Vlachs in general) were already present in certain regions of nearby Friuli going back to the 1200s.

Insofar as Romanian linguists are concerned, the opinions are divided. Some modern linguists and historians believe that the Istro-Romanians migrated on their own volition directly from Transylvania to their present region of Istria between 600 and 1,000 years ago, while other Romanian linguists are more skeptical and would like to see Istro-Romanians as the native tribe of that region (Istria and Northern Dalmatia) in a possible filiation with the mysterious Black Romanians - the Morovlachi or Morlaci, a very distinct group that settled in great numbers in Dalmatia. [Silviu Dragomir: Originea coloniilor romane din Istria (The Origins of the Romanian colonies of Istria) and Vlahii şi Morlacii, 1924 (The Vlachs and the Morlachs)].

The Istro-Romanians inhabit the Northeastern corner of the Istrian Peninsula in two relatively isolated pockets. North of the Cicarija Mountain is the lone village of Žejani, inhabited today by some 140 people, where Istro-Romanian has been best preserved. Further South, on the western slopes of Monte Maggiore, is a cluster of Istro-Romanian villages and hamlets, surrounding the shores of now drained Lake Cepic. The language is spoken in Šušnjevica (Şuşńieviţe, Susńieviţa, Istro-Romanian: Suseni), Nova Vas (Noselo, Istro-Romanian: Sat Nou), Jasenovik (Istro-Romanian: Sucodru, meaning "Underwoods"), Kostrčani (Slavicization from Istro-Romanian: Costârceân), Letaj (Slavicization from Istro-Romanian: Letai), Brdo (Slavicization from Istro-Romanian: Bârdo). The past fifty years have witnessed a large migration from inlands to the larger coastal towns, as Rijeka (Fiume), Opatija (Abbazia), Pula (Pola), Pazin (Pisino).

Internet infos compilation, including The Istro-Romanians in Croatia, Istro-Romanian Community Worldwide, Wikipedia