Marjan Hill is a national park that overlooks Split, Croatia’s old town and Roman Emperor Diocletian’s Palace. Roughly one third of the way up the eastern slope sits a cafe with a panoramic view of the entire city, its nearby islands, and the coastline heading south towards Dubrovnik. In behind the cafe lies an old Sephardic cemetery, one in which I enjoy wandering around from time to time when it’s not too oppressively hot under the Dalmatian sun.
The Sephardis are long gone from Split, having been allowed by the occupying Italian fascists in 1943 to flee before they handed over this annexed city to the incoming Germans in the wake of Rome’s capitulation to the Allies. The Sephardis of Split managed to escape the horrible fate that awaited the Jews elsewhere on the European continent. Nevertheless, their four centuries of existence in this city was extinguished. All that remains is the cemetery, a small, out of sight synagogue, the Jewish Alley (in which the synagogue is located), the Morpurgo Book Store (Split’s oldest), and the names of some prominent Split Sephardis like Daniel Rodriguez/Rodriga aka Rodrigo the Architect on city streets.
No cultures or peoples are permanent. Some leave no traces of their historical presence, others are assimilated into larger, more powerful ones. Hybridization frequently occurs, as cultures are easily influenced by other ones in their proximity thanks to our ability to communicate with one another. Some will migrate. Others still will flee out of fear or necessity.
We live in an age where protection of the environment and the protection of aboriginal cultures are not only sought, but also increasingly legislated. Many native tribes in the Amazon are left alone in order to protect their way of life, as coming into contact with the outside world could actually snuff out their existence (e.g. common ailments that their bodies have no immunity to). The Sentinelese of North Sentinel Island in the Andaman Archipelago of the Indian Ocean are another noteworthy example. By and large, the world has chosen to respect their right to live according to their own customs and traditions for the sake of their preservation (to be fair, I have to state the obvious fact that the New World saw many native tribes go extent when European colonization took hold and expanded).
It’s one thing for countries to protect tiny, primitive tribes as they do not pose a threat to the state. Unless they sit on real estate that can generate enormous wealth, they will be left untouched, and the principles of preservation will be left intact, along with the good public relations that flow from it. It’s a totally different matter when a culture is deemed a threat to “the people” or the state (or both). It is in these instances where these same principles are most tested.