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Original scientific paper

Perception of Community and Relationship to Cultural Heritage from the Perspective of Two Ethnic Groups: The Example of the Vojnić Municipality

Natalija Oparnica ; Malmö
Ana Opačić orcid id ; Studijski centar socijalnog rada, Pravni fakultet, Sveučilišta u Zagrebu, Zagreb

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This paper focusses on the concepts of sense of community and the valorisation of cultural heritage through the example of one Croatian municipality. This municipality is multi-ethnic, it deals with developmental challenges, and has a famous cultural heritage of significant artistic, historical and symbolic value beyond the local level. The paper aimed at exploring how these concepts differ regarding the socio-demographic characteristics of its habitants, and how they correlate with each other.

The sense of community is an important element in community processes, being a prerequisite of social capital, community attachment and constructed local identity. The phrase “sense of community” is used according to McMillan and Chavis (1986) and their definition which includes four elements: membership (feeling of belonging or sharing personal relatedness), influence (the sense that the group matters to the individual and vice versa), integration and fulfilment of needs (living in a community means benefits with regard to living standards and that habitants value reciprocity) and shared emotional connections (members believe that they share history, experiences, common symbols). Research on the sense of community suggests that it derives both from individual and contextual factors. Members with a higher sense of community are older residents, those who have lived in the community for a longer period of time, retired people, residents with secondary education, residents with children and those who live with a partner, as well as members who are active in local groups, spend more time in outdoor community space, those more willing to have active social relationships with their neighbours and informal social control, and those with a stronger place attachment. A higher sense of community is also found in residents that envision their community as broader than a street/block, those that believe that a community can achieve goals and that community, as a value, is important to them. Contextual predictors of a sense of community are collective efficacy, citizens’ participation, place attachment. A higher sense of community exists in rural communities and communities with a lower population density. Ethnic heterogeneity is usually connected with a lower sense of community. However, some authors find that ethnic heterogeneity is indirectly connected with the sense of community through lower income, which is often the case in multi-ethnic communities. A sense of community has many positive individual and collective effects, e.g. higher level of interpersonal trust, wellbeing, quality of life, mental and physical health, willingness to remain a part of the community, stronger social capital.

Cultural heritage enables community connections with the past and the present while community identity is negotiated between present needs and viewpoints and what is considered important for the past of the community. Cultural heritage archives collective memory and often becomes important when group relations should be redefined. Thus, heritage can be a factor of cohesion, confidence, provide legitimacy for community interests, but it can also become a point of dispute, a source of political and social conflict. Residents’ connection to their heritage plays a crucial role in this dynamic between heritage and identity, specifically how they value and think of heritage on an emotional and behavioural level.

This paper is focussed specifically on the heritage of the Petrova gora area in Vojnić municipality, with the two most prominent heritage sites being the monument dedicated to antifascist struggles and partisans by sculptor Vojin Bakić and the Partizan hospital.
Three research problems are formulated:
a) To explore the sense of community and differences in the sense of community, taking into account socio-demographic characteristics.
b) To explore the valorisation of cultural heritage in Petrova gora and the differences, taking into account socio-demographic characteristics.
c) To assess the correlation between the sense of community and the valorisation of cultural heritage.
Convenience sample of 100 residents of Vojnić municipality participated in this quantitative survey, with an approximately equal share of men and women as well as an equal share of Croats (mostly immigrants) and Serbs (mostly domiciliary). The majority of participants have secondary level education, the average age is 36 and they have lived in the community for 25 years on average. The Sense of community index 2 was used based on McMillan and Chavis’s theory, and an instrument for cultural heritage valorisation was constructed with additional questions regarding the practical usage of heritage. On the sense of community scale, we found 5 factors (the original instrument is validated with a four-factor structure): emotional significance of community attachment, recognised community identity, community influence on individuals and the surroundings, community leadership and problem-solving, contacts with community members. The instrument for the valorisation of cultural heritage has a four-factor structure: personal emotional relation towards heritage, behavioural component of valorisation, having an interest toward heritage and the significance of heritage for the citizens. Due to a lower Cronbach’s alpha reliability, the third and fourth factors are not included in the analysis.
Regarding sense of community, the results showed the following:
- On average, participants show a low sense of community. The higher results were identified for the “community contacts” factor, somewhat lower regarding the emotional significance of community attachment and recognised community identity. The lowest assessments are for community influence on individuals and the surroundings and community leadership and problem-solving.
- There are no differences for any dimension of the sense of community between men and women.
- Younger residents have higher assessments of community leadership and problem solving, while more educated residents have higher assessments of community influence on individuals and surrounding. Other differences in connection to age and education are not found.
- There are no statistically significant differences concerning how long someone has lived in the community.
- Croats, in comparison to Serbs, have higher average assessments of recognised community identity and community influence on individuals and the surroundings, while also having less contact with other community members.
- Immigrant residents (mostly Croats), in comparison to the domiciliary population, on average, have a higher sense of community, have a higher appreciation for community identity, are more positive towards community influence as well as its leadership and problem-solving.
Regarding valorisation of cultural heritage, the results are as follows:
- On average, the residents have a high valorisation of heritage and an even higher emotional relation towards heritage, and a bit lower (but still solid) behavioural component of valorisation. They recognise the possibilities for its usage in art work, tourism, sports and recreation, but not for political purposes (it is seen as somewhat of a taboo).
- Women on average visit heritage sites more often than men.
- There are no statistically significant differences in valorisation regarding age nor length of residence in the community.
- More educated participants see more possibilities for the use of heritage in political activities.
- Serbs, in comparison to Croats, have higher average assessments of heritage valorisation both in the emotional and behavioural component and perceive more possibilities in art and tourism.
- Domiciliary residents, in comparison to immigrants, have higher average assessments of heritage valorisation both in the emotional and behavioural component, and perceive more possibilities for their usage in general.

The results show a statistically significant correlation between heritage valorisation and sense of community as greater emotional significance of community attachment and more contacts with community members correlate with higher total scores in valorisation and particularly the behavioural component. Heritage sites are more often visited by those with more contacts with others in the community. There is no significant correlation between the sense of community and the possibilities for practical usage of heritage.
To conclude, some unexpected results were found indicating that sense of community is not related to what is usually considered its predictor: domiciliary status, the length of residing in a community and belonging to majority ethnic groups at the local level. Contrary to that, immigrant residents, mostly Croats, that have lived in the community for shorter periods than the domiciliary population express an even higher sense of community in some dimensions (except contacts with community members). We can assume that their sense of community is empowered by the fact that Croats are the majority at the national level and ethnic relations are reflected at the local level regardless of the actual ethnic ratio.

On the other side, the domiciliary residents (mostly Serbs) that have lived in the community for a longer period have a higher valorisation of the heritage of Petrova gora, which is one of the most famous symbols of the community. Regardless of ethnicity, both groups have higher heritage valorisation than their sense of community. This indicates that heritage valorisation is still disintegrated from the local identity, but local identity can be reconstructed by using heritage as a component of its empowerment.

Local identity is both a process and an outcome of community dynamics, and heritage could be an integral part of it or strengthen it if people were more educated (particularly those with secondary education and young people) and if they had more direct experiences with the heritage through cultural activities. Heritage valorisation and sense of community could be mutually strengthened, and, if strengthened, could contribute to community development in the future.


sense of community, cultural heritage, heritage valorisation, community identity, community development

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