The history of the Dalmatian people has brought changes to their name, and to their country.
In the 1880s when the first Dalmatians came to New Zealand, the Austro-Hungarian empire ruled Dalmatia, which is on the Adriatic coast of the Mediterranean. This is why they were often mistakenly called ‘Austrians’ in New Zealand.
After Austria-Hungary was defeated in the First World War, Dalmatia was incorporated into the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. In 1929 this was renamed Yugoslavia.
In the early 1990s, the wars in the Balkans tore Yugoslavia apart. Eventually Dalmatia became part of the new country of Croatia.
Immigrants from this part of Europe have been known not only as Dalmatians but also as Yugoslavs and Croatians.
Many early immigrants to New Zealand hated the Austro-Hungarian empire, and when Dalmatia became part of Yugoslavia they proudly called themselves Yugoslavs. But those who arrived after the Second World War had lived in Yugoslavia and did not share this enthusiasm.
As the war atrocities in Yugoslavia mounted during the 1990s, factions developed in the Auckland community. For some, the sight of the Yugoslav flag became offensive. Others disliked the word ‘Croatian’ because Croatian fascists had supported Hitler in the Second World War.
But if they were not Yugoslavs or Croatians, what were they? The Auckland Yugoslav Society met to debate the issue. The term ‘Dalmatian’ was eventually reinstated, being the most neutral.