May 20, 2004

EuroPolis: Croatia is the new black 

posted by Paul Smith @ 2:23 PM
Croatia is unique in that it appears to be the Balkan country with the most "going for it" in purely Western benchmarks. The government is a parliamentary democracy as of 1999. It has been an active participant in the War Crimes Tribunal, helping to extradite Serbs accused of war crimes. It is eager to join the European Union, and has taken preliminary steps towards this end, including signing a stablization pact with the EU. But really what sets it apart is that Westerners just really want to tour an exciting new place, and they don't have to worry about antipersonnel mines and ethnic unrest. It has a thriving tourist industry, accounting for nearly 1/4 of GDP. Zagreb, while not yet a world-class mid-sized metropolis like Geneva or Prague, is very cosmopolitan, has excellent architecture and energetic feel. The interior countryside is lush and rolling and features fine wine-making. ("Croatia is the new Tuscany.") One town I passed through seemed built entirely on about a dozen or so waterfalls, a remarkable sight. Dubrovnik, where I sit now, is a stunning jewel of a coastal resort town, jutting out into the clear blue waters of the Adriatic. There's no reason to believe the Dalmatian coast (yes, there are Dalmatian dogs here) won't become another Riveria or Cinque Terra. Croatians are good-natured and friendly. So what's not to like? Well, it's not exactly a well-kept secret, as evidenced by the throngs of cruise ship evacuees I pushed through on my walk along the city walls. So it may already be "too late" for those seeking an unspoilt, virgin new land. But who cares about all that? That's an impossibility any longer. It's still a beautiful and beguiling country. With all due respect to Walker Percy, I didn't come here to try to transcend the immanence of my Western self (though I have with varying degrees of unconcious and intent made an effort to blend in as a native, with my Slavic good-looks and Euro-trash/hipster dress :) -- I just wanted a vacation.

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