The Zajedničar (“Fraternalist”) was established in 1904 in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. It served as the official organ of the National Croatian Society, which had formed in 1894 as the Croatian Association and became known as Croatian Fraternal Union of America (CFU; Hrvatska bratska zajednica) in 1926, following the merger of four separate organizations: the National Croatian Society, the Croatian League of Illinois, the St. Joseph Society in Kansas City, Kansas, and the New Croatian Society in Whiting, Indiana. The Zajedničar, also known as “Z” to its readers, was issued monthly until 1909 when it became a weekly. Its primary purpose was to facilitate communication between the CFU’s Home Office in Pittsburgh and lodges and members living across the United States, Canada, Croatia, and in other areas in the Croatian diaspora. Around 1935, the Zajedničar moved to nearby Youngstown, Ohio, but by the 1950s, it had returned to Pittsburgh.
Ohio was home to over 70,000 Croats by 1970. Most had originally settled along Lake Erie, obtaining low-paying industrial jobs and building communities in Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown and other cities in northeast Ohio. Like many eastern and southern European immigrants, Croats had left their homeland in search of better financial opportunities and to escape political oppression. Croatia had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918, then became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (known as Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes until 1929), alongside Bosnia & Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. Elections following World War II placed the kingdom under Communist rule as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Throughout this long period of economic difficulties and political unrest, the CFU was loyal to the United States—its members purchased war bonds, aided war relief efforts, and even enlisted in the armed forces—while supporting efforts to establish an independent Croatia. The Zajedničar denounced Yugoslavian President Josep Broz Tito’s regime, and although ambivalent about Yugoslavian freedom and unity in its English-language section, its Croatian-language section openly advocated for Croatia’s independence, a dream that was not realized until 1991.
As the official organ of the CFU, the Zajedničar reported on the many efforts of the fraternal organization to improve the lives of Croatian-Americans, such as sponsoring insurance funds, scholarships, sports clubs, and an even an orphanage. Activities of local CFU lodges or nests (odsjeka) were also regularly featured, allowing readers to find information about local musical concerts, dance performances, parties, and festivals that celebrated and preserved Croatian national folklore. Often, these events would highlight traditional tamburitsa orchestras and kolo dance groups. CFU members were encouraged to contribute content to the newspaper, and it was not uncommon to see photographs and brief descriptions of new members, as well as reports of births, deaths, weddings, and other personal events. Articles in the Zajedničar also covered the national and local administration of the CFU through membership campaigns, elections, fundraising, and conventions.
The Zajedničar’s one-time motto, “All For One and One For All” (Svi Za Jednog-Jedan Za Sve), demonstrates CFU’s emphasis on serving its community, as do the newspaper’s regular reports on CFU-sponsored activities and Croatian-American businesses and families in the Pittsburgh area and beyond. In fact, geographic coverage ranged from western Canada, California, and Washington to Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. By the early 1970s, the newspaper boasted over 65,000 readers, and the CFU’s membership was around 110,000. Today, the CFU continues to serve its 60,000 members, and the Zajedničar, now a biweekly, is the only Croatian newspaper in the United States.