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International Women's Day Croatia: Croatia's Most Influential Women

By 8 March 2021
Croatia's Most Influential Women
Croatia's Most Influential Women

March 8, 2021 – To celebrate International Women's Day in Croatia, we look at Croatia's most influential women.

In what's often claimed to still be a patriarchal society, it can sometimes be difficult to spot female Croatian pioneers. Of course, there are many Croatians who are famous in their own country as pop singers, businesswomen or local politicians. And there are 'social media' influencers who are quite well known and some famous Croatian models too. But, the achievements of Croatia's most influential women extend far beyond their appearances. Indeed, many of Croatia's most influential women have left an impact on the world stage. Here are just some of them.

Croatia's most influential women

Marija Jurić Zagorka (1873 – 1957)


zagroka_hlačeyjfliughioljk.jpgCroatia's most influential women: Marija Jurić Zagorka © knjižnice grada zagreba

One of the most widely-read and popular Croatian writers of all time, Marija Jurić Zagorka was a trailblazer for women's standing in Croatian society and for liberalism. Highly educated and intelligent, she was forced into an abusive marriage to a Hungarian man 17 years her elder by her own mother. Who could imagine a close Croatian family member meddling so woefully in the affairs of another? She broke free of this disastrous relationship and started life afresh in Zagreb, where she became the country's first female journalist in the 1890s. She died aged 84 and left behind a colossal written legacy, so it's perhaps fitting that her statue now rests in the small, peaceful park area aside Tkalčićeva.

Ivana Brlić Mažuranić (1874 – 1938)


Ivana_brlic_mazuranic_II.jpgCroatia's most influential women: Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić © public domain

Both born and married into families within the upper echelons of Croatian society, Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić is regarded as Croatia's greatest writer for children. Though written over a century ago, her books like 'The Brave Adventures of Lapitch' (Čudnovate zgode šegrta Hlapića) and 'Croatian Tales of Long Ago' (Priče iz davnine) still remain popular. In the latter, she invented fantastical fairytales that referenced ancient folklore, earning her comparisons to Hans Christian Andersen. She was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature no less than four times and was the first female to enter what is today the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts.

Simona Šandrić-Gotovac


propffazxfasssadg.jpgCroatia's most influential women: Simona Sandric-Gotovac © Youtube screenshot

A Croatian doctor and head of the Cardiology Department at the Agostino Gemelli Polyclinic in Rome, Simona Šandrić-Gotovac is an expert in non-invasive cardiology diagnostics. She is a full professor at the Department of Cardiology of the Roman Catholic University 'Sacro Cuore', and became famous as a member of the medical team of Pope John Paul II.

Slava Raškaj (1877 – 1906)


Slava_raskaj_photo.pngCroatia's most influential women: Slava Raškaj © Youtube screenshot

Though she lived only until the age of 25, Croatian painter Slava Raškaj certainly left her mark. She is regarded as being the country's greatest water colourist of the late 19th and early 20th Century. Indeed, her work is posthumously recognised as being among the greatest of all Croatian artists. Raškaj was schooled in Vienna and Zagreb, where her mentor was renowned Croatian painter Bela Čikoš Sesija, one of the founders of the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb. Rather than be informed by the male-dominated artistic trends of her era, Slava Raškaj painted using intuition, trusting her own perspective. Having been born deaf, her art was a well-formed mode of communication with the world. In Zagreb, she returned to the city's Maksimir Park and Botanical Gardens several times to paint. From the latter emerged a now famous series of paintings of waterlillies. Works of Slava Raškaj have been exhibited in Paris, Vienna and Moscow and today her greatest works can be seen in her birthplace Ozalj and in the Modern Gallery in Zagreb.

Dora Pejačević (1885 - 1923)


Dora_Pejacevic.jpgCroatia's most influential women: Dora Pejačević © Public domain

Dora Pejačević was only the first female composer in Croatia, she was the first composer of any gender to introduce a modern symphony into the national repertoire. Beginning her musical education in Zagreb, she wrote her first composition at the age of 12. She later continued her studies in Dresden and Munich. She didn't really fit in with the upper echelons of artistic society, many of them being aristocrats. She preferred instead to work alone, at home. The result of her endeavours are a considerable opus of 58 works, many of which have still not been published.

Sibila Jelaska


HAZU_Hrvatska_akademija_znanosti_i_umjetnosti.jpgCroatia's most influential women: Sibila Jelaska © HAZU Hrvatska akademija znanosti i umjetnosti

Sibila Jelaska is a doctor of biological science, full university professor and full member of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts. She is one of Croatia's most prominent scientists. She is dedicated to research in the field of developmental biology of plant organisms and biotechnology. To date, she has published or contributed to over one hundred papers. In 2000 she was awarded the State Lifetime Achievement Award.

Zinka Kunc (1906 - 1989)


Zinka_Milanov_1946.jpgCroatia's most influential women: Zinka Kunc © Public domain

Zinka Kunc is Croatia's most famous female opera singer. She first performed at the Zagreb Opera in 1927 as Leonora in Verdi's 'Troubadour', thereafter performing regularly in Zagreb, Ljubljana, Prague and Dresden. However, it was her appearances in America that would earn her international repute. She first performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York 1937 again in the role of Leonora. She went on to have a major career there.

Savka Dabčević Kučar (1923 – 2009)


springzzzzzzzzzzzz.jpgCroatia's most influential women: Savka Dabčević-Kučar © Leksikografski zavod Miroslav Krleža

Savka Dabčević-Kučar, a graduate of the Faculty of Economics of the University of Zagreb. Born on Korčula, she became a Partizan in World War II, joining the conflict after her brother was beaten by fascists. After graduating, she continued to study at the faculty and became one of the first doctors of economics in Croatia, raising eyebrows by choosing to write her doctorate dissertation about a non-Marxist economic theorist (Englishman John Maynard Keynes). She became a professor at the faculty in the 1950s and despite her great advances in political life, remained a committed teacher at the faculty until 1971. In 1967, she was elected President of the Socialist Republic of Croatia. She was the first woman in Europe to rise to this position, equivalent to being president of the country. In 1969, she moved to an even more important role - that of president of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Croatia. She was the first woman in Europe to be appointed head of government of a political entity and the first female in Croatia to hold an office equivalent to a head of government. In this picture, she addressed supporters on Ban Jelacic Square Zagreb during the movement called the Croatian Spring, which called for greater autonomy for Croatia. At the address, thousands cheered her as “Savka, queen of the Croats”. For her pivotal role in the movement, she was punished by removal from her positions and public life and retired. She returned to politics in 1990 upon the collapse of communism in Europe. During the Croatian war of independence was one of the few politicians who visited the front lines of battle in Slavonia, Petrinja, Pokupski and the Dalmatian hinterland

Mia Čorak Slavenska (1916 – 2002)


AnyConv.com__bettmannnnnn.jpgCroatia's most influential women: Mia Čorak Slavenska © Public domain

Born in Slavonski Brod, Mia Čorak danced from an extremely early age, transferring to Zagreb to study her passion. She made her debut in Baranović's ballet 'Licitarsko srce' in 1924, at what is today the Croatian National Theatre Zagreb. She left Zagreb to continue her studies in Vienna and then Paris. For many years she was the leading ballerina of the famous Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. At the start of World War II, the entire group decamped to America, where Mia would remain. Her own company, Ballet Variante, was formed in 1944 in Hollywood. She achieved her greatest roles with the Slavenska Franklin Ballet Company that she co-founded in 1950 with Frederic Franklin. She became the prima ballerina of the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1954 – 55. In 1960 she opened a ballet studio in New York, then taught at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) from 1969 to 1983 and concurrently at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) from 1970-83.

Mara Bareza (1949 - 2015)


PXL_100531_830_1.jpgCroatia's most influential women: Mara Bareza © Marijan Susenj / PIXSELL

One of the more mysterious figures in this list, the true influence of Mara Bareza is publicly only guessed at. By many accounts, she was not the most sociable of people, but her political and business connections were many. Born in Koprivnica, after graduating high school, her parents sent her to England to learn the language and to cosmetics school. She returned to her town and got a job at Belupo. She was connected to both that business and Podravka (and the people who ran these famous companies). A mark of her political standing is that she hosted then-future Croatian president Franjo Tudman at her home many times. The beginning of the Homeland War found Bareza in political activism and she left the relative safety of her home town to help deliver weapons and aid to towns on the front line of the conflict in eastern Slavonia. Legend has it that she led columns of trucks herself. Although she came from a reasonably wealthy family, she is alleged to have died an extremely wealthy woman. The money and possessions she left were of a far greater sum than you might expect from someone who, officially, only attained the title of manager of a regional office of Belupo for the domestic market.

Lydia Sklevicky (1952 – 1990)


zaki_i_lidija82jhfljhfljhgljh.jpgCroatia's most influential women: Lydia Sklevicky (right) © Public domain

Croatian ethnologist, feminist theorist and sociologist known for representing Croatian science on the world stage. Sklevicky coordinated the first feminist meetings in Zagreb in the late 1970s and was one of the founders of the group 'Žena i društvo'. She later volunteered for the Zagreb-based SOS Hotline for abused women and children. With Žarana Papić, she co-edited the first book of feminist anthropology in Yugoslavia in 1983, entitled 'Antropologija žene' and in the late 1980s she was a columnist for the women's magazine 'Svijet'

Marija Pejčinović Burić


Pejčinović_Burić-_SWE7065glkhijgljgkj.jpgCroatia's most influential women: Marija Pejčinović Burić © Council of Europe

A graduate of the Faculty of Economics of the University of Zagreb, Marija Pejčinović Burić is the current Secretary-General of the Council of Europe. Prior to assuming the role, she served as Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Croatia and Deputy Prime Minister of Croatia. She has held her current role since June 2019.

Henriette Theodora Marković aka Dora Maar (1907 - 1997)


maaaaaaar.jpgCroatia's most influential women: Dora Maar © Public domain

Lover and muse of the great Pablo Picasso, Dora Maar was an artist in her own right. Like Picasso, her work edged on surrealism, although her medium was very different – she was primarily a photographer. Indeed, she was the first photographer to shoot Picasso while he was creating his works. Alongside her unconnected opus, her archive of photographs includes images that have become indispensable in the analysis of Picasso's work.

Marija Ružička Strozzi (1850 – 1937)


Marie_Strozzi_1886hljglhjgljh.pngCroatia's most influential women: Marija Ružička Strozzi © Institute of Czech Literarture

One of the pre-eminent actresses of her generation, this Zagreb resident was described by the most-widely read Parisian weekly newspaper of the time as the greatest tragedy performer in all of the Slavic South. She gave celebrated performances in Brno, Prague, Sofia, Ljubljana, Sarajevo, Mostar, Cetinje, Belgrade, Nis, Kragujevac and was such an integral part of the theatre in her home city of Zagreb, that she is the only performer ever to have had their statue placed within the Croatian National Theatre Zagreb during their own lifetime. She spoke French, Italian, Croatian and German, allowing her talents to be enjoyed on the stage internationally. Marija Ružička Strozzi had the longest-running career of any actress from the region. She spent almost 70 years playing around six hundred roles over several thousand performances. She has a park named after her in Zagreb and is the only person to be depicted in statue twice at the Croatian National Theatre Zagreb.

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović


PXL_161020_30514586_1.jpgCroatia's most influential women: Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović © Robert Anic / PIXSELL

The former President of Croatia (2015 to 2020), Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović is the youngest person to have held the position and the first woman. She was previously minister of European Affairs from 2003 to 2005, the first female Croatian minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration from 2005 to 2008, Croatian ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2011 and assistant secretary-general for public diplomacy at NATO. In 2017, Forbes magazine listed Grabar-Kitarović as the world's 39th most powerful woman and in 2020 she joined the International Olympic Committee as Croatia's representative.

Ruža Pospiš-Baldani


HE8_1136operavarazzzdin.jpgCroatia's most influential women: Ruža Pospiš-Baldani © Leksikografski zavod Miroslav Krleža

A world-renowned Croatian opera singer, Ruža Pospiš-Baldani was born in Varaždinske Toplice and made her professional opera debut in 1961 at the Croatian National Theatre Zagreb as Konchakovna in Alexander Borodin's 'Prince Igor'. She remained active there and at the National Theatre in Belgrade throughout the 1960s. In 1965 she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York as Maddalena in Giuseppe Verdi's 'Rigoletto', returning there in 1970 to take the lead role in 'Carmen'. From 1970-1978 she was committed to the Bavarian State Opera. Between 1973 and 1987 she was a frequent guest artist at the Vienna State Opera. In 1976 she made her debut at the Paris Opera and again took the lead in 'Carmen' for the Opéra de Monte-Carlo. In her prestigious 40-year career, she appeared as a guest artist at the Cologne Opera, the Greek National Opera, the Hamburg State Opera, the Houston Grand Opera, at the Hungarian State Opera House, La Scala, Carnegie Hall, the Liceu, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the National Opera of Sofia, the San Francisco Opera, the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma, the Teatro di San Carlo, and the Teatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro and she sang in front of John Paul VI in the Vatican.

Jadranka Kosor


PXL_060720_29463840_1.jpgCroatia's most influential women: Jadranka Kosor (right) © Marin Tironi / PIXSELL

Jadranka Kosor is the first and, so far, the only woman to have served as Prime Minister of Croatia. After graduating from the Zagreb Faculty of Law, she began her career as a journalist. She entered politics in 1989 and served as Deputy Prime Minister before assuming her boss's position.

Slavenka Drakulić


PXL_290415_1054096Davorin_Visnjic_PIXSELL.jpgSlavenka Drakulić by Davorin Visnjic PIXSELL

Rijeka-born Slavenka Drakulić is a journalist, novelist, and essayist whose writings on feminism, communism, and post-communism have been translated into many languages across the world. She has written several novels, including 'S: a novel about the Balkans', which was made into the movie 'As If I Am Not There', several non-fiction books, including 'How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed' and 'Cafe Europa: Life After Communism' and books which collect her essay writing, including the acclaimed 'A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism: Fables from a Mouse, a Parrot, a Bear, a Cat, a Mole, a Pig, a Dog, & a Raven' In addition to her book, Drakulić's work has appeared in The New Republic, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, Internazionale, The Nation and The Guardian.

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