Mijo Mirković
Prominent Istrians

Biography (Hrvatski)

Commemorative Stamp

Letter to Vitorijo Vitolović 

Eulogy

ijo (or Miho) Mirković, whose psedonym was Mate Balota, was born in Rakalj on September 28, 1898.

He was described in his first biography in 1930's as a  "fisherman, sailor and manual worker".

economist
and
writer

born in Rakalj
1898

He attended elementary school in his native village, the very school his father, Ante Mirković-Gaspić, founded just in time for Mijo's first grade. He then attended high school in Pazin and in Zabreh in the Czech Republic. Mijo's education continued in Zagreb, Beograd, Frankfurt, Berlin and Bratislava. He received a doctorate in economics and social sciences in Frankfurt in 1923.

By the age of nine Mirković had already worked as helper-machinist on a ship transporting stone from Rakalj to Ancona. Later he worked in stone mining, on a railroad, in a print shop... After completing his education Mirković-Balota worked as a journalist, bookkeeper, college professor and dean at a university.

In asylum in 1915 in the village of Moravicani (Moravia). From left: Mijo, his mother, sister Katarina (sitting in mother’s lap) and sister Zlata. Ante Mirkovic, the poet's father, “the first in Rakalj who read hundreds of books”.

Mate Balota wrote his first poem, Kuraj (Courage), about the courage of fishermen at sea,  at the age of nine. In high school he wrote and published his works in the publication "Nada - The Hope", which he had founded. Balota wrote a total of 51 books. Among them are books on economy, history (including on the Istrian-born Mathius Flacius) and numerous literary works about life of the little man in Istria - the farmer, fisherman, worker...

Tijesna Zemlja (Narrow Land) is one of the three novels in which Balota wanted to portray the life in an Istrian village from 1870 to 1941 by following the life of a family through three generations. Tijesna Zemlja is narrated in literary Croatian language, but all its characters speak in the dialect of southeastern Istria.

It is interesting and somewhat sad that he later desisted from writing a second and a third book, as he considered that Tijesna Zemlja did not receive a favourable reception from the reading public (in the early '40's).

Among the other literary works, the best known are a collection of poems entitled Dragi Kamen (Precious Stone) and the novels Puna je Pula and Stara Pazinska Gimnazija.  Just as the novels paint a continuous picture of life in Istrian villages, the poems bring to life events and feelings in the lives of those people, their happy and (mostly) sad and tragic moments, their struggle for survival. Older Istrians can find in those poems their youth or the youth of their parents and grandparents as they described it in their stories.

Reading Balota's poems and novels one could not imagine that they were in great part written while he was far away from Istria. Readers, especially those coming from Istrian farming families, can't help getting the feeling that they are suddenly among the people described in those works, in an Istrian village at the beginning of the 20th century. It comes as no surprise that  the Dragi Kamen book of poems, when it was first published was called "the most Istrian of all books". 

Panoramic view of Rakalj, the village of the poet’s birth.

How could Balota describe life in his home place in such details and with such accuracy while being thousand kilometers, a few cultures, and often several decades away? He probably cherished memories of the life tragedies and hardship of the people he lived with during his childhood, and his longing for home did not let him forget things that went on when he was a child. When all of that wasn't sufficient in creating a live and detailed picture, Balota turned for help to his lifetime friend from high school, Viktor (Vitorijo) Vitolović.

(Vitolović studied agronomy and remained in Istria until after WWII. After WWII, Vitolović, just like Mate Balota, worked in many cities outside Istria. He taught in Kastav and Čakovec (near Zagreb), followed by the University of Sarajevo, then he returned to Rijeka from where he was able to pay visits to his friend and great poet at his summer home on the island of Krk. After his death, Vitolović, just like Balota, wanted to be buried in his birthplace, Savinjak near Buzet.)

Balota would write letters to Vitorijo asking advice and information on Istrian agriculture to be used in writing publications on economy, and others to complete specific episodes in his novels dealing with life situations in  Istrian villages.

One example goes to the widespread belief in Istria that cattle would burst and die. In Balota's hand-written letter, he asks his friend for information about the effect on cattle from eating fresh clover to use in his book Tijesna Zemlja. A photocopy of this letter was provided to IstriaNet by Vitolović's daughter, Mrs. Dragica Lukas.

Balota used Vitolović's reply in the following page of Tijesna Zemlja

Martina looks at the cattle, then at Marko. The cattle run around the yard, round and round in a circle.
      -- Run, Martina, to the Hodani's, lest you find something the cattle will die on us.
      Martina runs, with the loose scarf on her shoulders. Marko hears her lamentations.
      Paskva Bendekovica wails from the terrace:
      -- We must bleed them. Let their blood out, Marko.
      Martina runs down the lower road and wails at full voice:
      -- Woe is me, mother dear, why was I ever born. Woe! Woe!
    The women congregate at the Maticevi's.
      -- What is it, Martina? What misfortune?
      -- Our oxen are dying, our oxen are dying, woe is me, poor me!
     From house to house, from yard to yard travel the bad news:
      -- The Gaspicevi's oxen are dying. Both of them!
   A crowd has gathered at the Gaspicevi's. The Miscevi came, Rok and Jurica, and Pavic, and the Hodani. All aged people, all experienced villagers. The young are out at work. Experienced villagers, but what can they do? Martina returns, dejected, desperate, all in tears.
      -- We must let the blood out!--yells Bendekovica.
      -- With a poke, a poke into the belly. Puncture their intestines so that the poisoned excrement comes out -- says Jurina.  -- Perhaps it won't do them any harm.
     The cattle run in circles. Who will catch them. Marko hits his forehead with his fists.
      -- What evil have I done to God, that all these misfortunes fall upon me?
      The cattle get tired, they stop and lie down. Marko runs out of the house with folded sleeves. He had lubricated his right arm up to the shoulder with oil. Pushes his hand into the large intestine of the cow.

-332-

Franco G. Aitala, a member of the IstriaNet.org team, recalled how his father taught the "cure" to the peasants of Draguccio and Vranici with the following procedure:

"The swollen belly of 'bovines' can be deflated by plunging a special knife in the 'triangle of hunger' (il triangolo della fame) ahead of the hind quarters. Pointed knife, triangular in cross section, with pointed tip; remainder of triangular blade protected by triangular exposed shield (like a scabbard). The device allows the shield to remain in the small wound after withdrawal of blade, allowing venting of methane gas. The method works perfectly if done before peritonitis sets in."

Balota's professional works include college text books on craft policies, transportation policies, industrial policies, Development of Economic Thought in 19th Century, biography of Matius Flacius Iliricus, and others. Mate Balota developed interest in Matius Flacius early on, probably at first out of love for his mother, who comes from Labinstina, the area where the great reformer was also born.

Balota had also been a member of the Yugoslav delegation at conferences in London (1945), Paris (1946), and at the Peace Conference in Paris (1946). Also a menber of  JAZU (Yugoslav Academy of Arts and Sciences). He had an intense activity in journalism and literature, but it was his writings about the ordinary people that made him famous and very popular. 

Upon his death on February 17, 1963, his funeral in Rakalj went into memory as the largest spontaneous funeral Istria has ever seen. The mourners and listeners of Radio Pula on that day will remember that the great poet was buried amid the sounds of "rozenice". (See the eulogy below.) 

Balota's house was turned into a memorial museum. It now also houses a small ethnographic collection.  The exterior photograph below was taken in 2005 (click to enlarge]

On June 13 1998, a commemorative stamp was issued on the 100th anniversary of Mate Balota's birth:

EMINENT WRITERS OF CROATIAN LITERATURE

1.60 kn, 35.5x29.82 mm
naklada/issued 350 010 
Autor: Nikola Šiško

285.gif (45519 bytes)

Eulogy

What constitutes the greatness of Mate Balota?

What was it about him that drew to his funeral peasants from Barban, Poreč, Žminj, miners from Labin, workers from the "Uljanik" shipyards and those from the cement factories at Pula and Koromačno, fishermen, from Rabac, Medulin, Banjole and Rovinj, sailors from Rijeka and Pula, people from Buzet, Buje, Novigrad, Umag, even from Koper, schoolboys and students from middle and high schools in Istria and Rijeka?

 What was it on that day that brought fishermen and peasants from Krk to Rakalj? And what brought the Slovenian journalists from Trieste?  Why did grown up, mature people, who never read one single verse of Balota, cry on his tomb? What brought on that somber day eight thousand people to Rakalj?

Never before had Istria seen such a large and spontaneous funeral. People in Mate Balota's cortege felt they were accompanying a near kin to his last voyage, that they were bidding farewell to a part of themselves, burying a part of their own youth, a part of their thoughts and feelings.

Not only did Balota speak in the name of many, he was a multifaceted Istrian himself - peasant, fisherman, sailor, quarryman, miner - a person who gained a higher education, who with steadfast work and intellectual ability was raised to the highest positions in the science of economics, but a person who in his exterior and innermost feelings remained his whole life a manual labourer.  

And just because he had a higher education and a higher intellectual ability than other manual labourers of villages and towns, Balota expressed in poetry, journalism, and in economics "the voice of the [common] people of Istria".

There always were and will be many that speak "in the name of the people", but very few individuals truly are the voice of the people.

Mijo Mirkovic in infantry uniform in Zagreb 1919, where he went to finish high school Mara Mirkovic – Gaspic, poet’s mother

Balota's particular love for Labin and its people comes from the fact that his grandmother Martina was from Skitača, near Labin. From the time he attended high school in Pazin, Balota had already learned of Matija Vlačić from Labin, and knew that manuscripts of Vlačić were stored in Frankfurt, and it was for this reason that he decided to study economics in Frankfurt. Indeed, he found Vlačić's manuscripts and books written in Latin in those archives. Slowly and obstinately, he unravelled Vlačić's manuscripts and finally published a detailed two-volume, 700-page monograph on Vlačić. In this manner, he acquainted his own people of Labin with the image of Matija Vlačić whom, Balota himself said, was the greatest Istrian of all times.

Works (among others):
  • 1931 - Commerce and internal policies 
  • 1932 - Foreign commercial policies
  • 1936 - Industrial policies
  • 1938 - Dragi Kamen (collected poetry)
  • 1938 - Flacius
  • 1946 - Tijesna zemlja (village life)
  • 1950 - The old Pazin gymnazium.
  • 1950 - Economic structure of Yugoslavia 1918-1941
  • 1952 - Peasants under capitalism
  • 1954 - Pola is full / Puna je pula. Pula-Rijeka, 1981. (First published in 1954). Classic historical fiction set in Pula.
  • 1960 - Matija Vlačić Ilirik
  • 1968 - Economic history of Yugoslavia
  • [various] - Putopisi (Guides)

News and other articles:

Sources:

  • Hrvatski Leksikon, Zagreb, 1997
  • Tjesna Zemlja book book - courtesy of Davor Mirković
  • Other images - Mate Balota, Dragi Kamen, Četvrto Neizmjenjeno Izdanje (Pula, 1972)
  • Text and image - University Library of Pola (Sveučilišna.Knjižnica u Puli)
  • Eulogy - courtesy of Ivan Kalcic.

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This page is compliments of Franco G. Aitala, Marisa Ciceran, Ivan Kalcic, Davor Misković, Franko Pavicevac, Dragica VItolović-Lukas, Guido Villa and the staff of the University Library of Pola

Created: Wednesday, March 22, 2000; Last updated Wednesday October 07, 2015
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