news

Croatia’s biggest leap since independence

Independent, 16 June 2013, by Keith Micallef

The 1st July is seen by many as a historic day in Croatia’s relatively brief existence as an independent state, marking the country’s accession to the EU. Twenty-two years have passed since the country declared its independence from Yugoslavia. Before that, Croatia’s only experience as an independent state was between 1941 and 1945, as a German puppet state under Nazi leadership. After a civil war that ended in 1995, EU membership was only a distant image on the horizon. Yet, after a prolonged negotiation period spanning more than six years, in 2011 Croatia finally received the green light to join the elite club, two years later.



Unlike the 2004 enlargement, these days EU membership is no longer viewed as a fast track to economic boom and job opportunities. The financial crisis that has hit Europe hard since 2009 meant that much of the glamour is gone, nowadays. However the EU is also about political stability and peace.

This is highly relevant for the former Yugoslav republic, which boasts a long coast along the Adriatic Sea stretching over 500 kilometres. On the Northern side, the country shares its border with Slovenia and Hungary. Serbia and Bosnia Herzegovina are the other neighbouring countries on the Eastern border.

Croatia is mostly associated with Dubrovnik and Split and the hundreds of islands scattered along the Adriatic coast, which are usually the most sought after tourist areas in the country. However, a brief visit to the capital reveals a thriving city, with streets full of life and where culture and the arts play an important role.

As for the imminent day that will mark EU accession, there is no sign yet that something historic is around the corner. The reality is that Croatians seem to be very unimpressed, since they are well aware that the good old days of the post-2004 enlargement are now over. This sentiment is largely a reflection of the current economic landscape in the country where the unemployment rate is set to become the third highest after Spain and Greece.

 

It’s all about peace and security

In the eyes of Slavenka Drakulic a 64-year-old prominent Croatian intellectual, who survived Tito’s communist rule and witnessed the rise in nationalism two decades ago, the decision in favour of joining the EU rests mostly on the guarantees that it brings for peace and stability after the turbulent period of the early nineties.

“There was no Vaclav Havel in Yugoslavia, but there still were writers who finished up behind bars”, says the Croatian writer. “At the end of 1980s there was no political alternative and the collapse of communism came as a big surprise. The country was not ready for change”. She recounts how writers did enjoy some degree of freedom under the communist regime when compared to Eastern European countries behind the Berlin Wall, but those who dared ask too much were still punished.

“There were a lot of ‘state writers’. With the creation of the Croatian state in 1991, if not from the mid-1980s when nationalism began rising its head, the seeds of war were being sown even psychologically through literature. Emphasis on ethnicity was perpetuated in order to create division and foment war”. She reveals that Radovan Karadzic, who is currently facing charges at the International War Crimes Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, was a poet.

She says that even though independence was supposed to bring about democracy, the model of “state writers” still prevails in a certain sense, despite privatisation of the media. “The only difference is that this time around it is being driven by nationalistic influences”.

Ms Drakulic sums it all up in a nutshell when she says: “Democracy does not produce dissidents but people of different opinions”.

With EU accession, things started to improve, but there is still some way to go. There are still ties between the government and the press. The greatest weapon used is advertising, and the biggest fear for the independent media of being unofficially boycotted.

She says that corruption is still blatant, “like all former communist states”, referring to various failed privatisations. “You cannot trust politicians, since they have their own agenda” she says. In contrast “corruption in western society is not the model or part of the establishment.”

According to the Croatian writer, right now there is a sense of insecurity as in the rest of Europe, which is giving rise to extreme right-wing movements, especially in Nordic countries, where the left traditionally has much stronger roots. “This is always the case when there is economic downturn. Major parties are not managing to understand the major fears leaving a vacuum and maybe paving the way for extremism” she argues.

One of the issues that Croatians are finding hard to deal with is how to project their identity. Though one might argue that this is to be expected for a country that has existed for little more than two decades, Croatians find it hard to accept – especially when they are referred to as a “Balkan state”. As a matter of fact, EU accession is also viewed as an opportunity to highlight even more Croatia’s credentials as a Western European state, with distinct culture and traditions from its neighbouring countries.

Slavenka Drakulic believes that simply having Croatian as an official EU language is only a symbolic gesture as most of the time the money spent on translating EU legislation does very little to keep a language alive.

 

Artists fear missing out on EU funds

According to Milan Pelc from the Institute of Art History in Zagreb, there is a feeling that the creative industry as well as the arts are low down on the pecking order in the country’s priorities. The feeling is also prevalent among his colleagues, whose fear is that Croatia will miss out on a lot of funds once it joins the EU. Such an argument could highlight an urgent need for some kind of infrastructure for NGOs to tap funds and or else the lack of lobbying influence in government circles.

 

Zlatan Vehabović – A success story

Nevertheless, there are some success stories. Zlatan Vehabović is a young artist with Bosnian parents who had to resettle in Croatia at the height of the war. Though he is only 31 years old, he has already established himself not only in his native country but also abroad, especially in New York, where he enjoys quite a good reputation.

As a matter of fact, he can afford to earn his living from art. “Very few can survive on art in Croatia, but I was one of the lucky ones” he admits. By his normal standards, he is quite happy when he manages to finish ten works of art per year, which are usually quite large in size. This is also testament to the fact that his works are getting a very good price, especially abroad.

On the other hand he admits that there are no famous art galleries in Croatia “as the market here is very small and limited”. So it is not surprising that most of his business is carried out directly from his very modest studio, at Zagreb University.

Reality is that the business he carries out abroad is much more lucrative. “The money I earn abroad is worth even more here, because of the relatively low of cost of living”.

 

Ten years from now...

The clock is now ticking and Croatia’s days outside the EU are numbered. While it is still too early to draw any conclusions, it may well be the case that a decade from now, other former Yugoslav republics will be once again be united – this time under the EU flag. As a matter of fact, Macedonia and Montenegro are already candidate countries. Serbia has applied for membership in 2009 while Bosnia Herzegovina is already being touted as a ‘potential candidate country’.

 

The writer was on a three-day visit to Zagreb learning about Croatian art and culture. The visit was sponsored by the European Commission.

panorama

Zagreb Classic Open Air Festival Kicks Off on June 23rd

Zagreb’s annual Open Air Classic Festival kicks off this week. The festival encompasses a series of classical music concerts and will take place downtown in Tomislav Park, with the beautiful backdrop of the Art Pavilion. The festival runs from June 23rd to June 29th, 2022.


panorama

Rebecca Duran's Take on Modern Day Life in Pazin (Istria)

Croatia is a small, charming country known today as a prime European tourist destination. However, it has a complicated often turbulent history and is seemingly always destined to be at the crossroads of empires, religions and worldviews, with its current identity and culture incorporating elements from its former Communist, Slavic, Austrian-Hungarian, Catholic, Mediterranean, and European traditions.

review

Review of Dubravka Ugrešić's Age of Skin

Dubravka Ugrešić is one of the most internationally recognizable writers from Croatia, but she has a contentious relationship with her home country, having gone into self-exile in the early 90s. Her recently translated collection of essays, The Age of Skin, touches on topics of of exile and displacement, among others. Read a review of Ugrešić’s latest work of non-fiction, expertly translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac, in the link below .

panorama

Vlaho Bukovac Exhibition in Zagreb Will Run Through May

Vlaho Bukovac (1855-1922) is arguably Croatia's most renowned painter. Born in the south in Cavtat, he spent some of his most impressionable teenage years in New York with his uncle and his first career was as a sailor, but he soon gave that up due to injury. He went on to receive an education in the fine arts in Paris and began his artistic career there. He lived at various times in New York, San Francisco, Peru, Paris, Cavtat, Zagreb and Prague. His painting style could be classified as Impressionism which incorporated various techniques such as pointilism.

An exhibition dedicated to the works of Vlaho Bukovac will be running in Klovićevi dvori Gallery in Gornji Grad, Zagreb through May 22nd, 2022.

review

Review of Neva Lukić's Endless Endings

Read a review of Neva Lukić's collection of short stories, Endless Endings, recently translated into English, in World Literature Today.

panorama

A Guide to Zagreb's Street Art

Zagreb has its fair share of graffiti, often startling passersby when it pops up on say a crumbling fortress wall in the historical center of the city. Along with some well-known street murals are the legendary street artists themselves. Check out the article below for a definitive guide to Zagreb's best street art.

panorama

Beloved Croatian Children's Show Professor Balthazar Now Available in English on YouTube

The colorful, eclectic and much beloved Croatian children's cartoon Professor Balthazar was created by Zlatko Grgić and produced from the late 1960s through the 1970s. Now newer generations will be able to enjoy the Professor's magic, whether they speak Croatian or English.

panorama

New Book on Croatian Football Legend Robert Prosinečki

Robert Prosinečki's long and fabled football career includes winning third place in the 1998 World Cup as part of the Croatian national team, stints in Real Madrid and FC Barcelona as well as managerial roles for the Croatian national team, Red Star Belgrade, the Azerbaijani national team and the Bosnian Hercegovinian national team.

news

Sandorf Publishing House Launches American Branch

Croatian publishing house Sandorf launched their American branch called Sandorf Passage earlier this year.

panorama

Jonathan Bousfield on the Seedy Side of the Seaside

From strange tales of mysterious murders to suspected criminals hiding out to scams, duels and gambling, Opatija, a favourite seaside escape for Central Europeans at the turn of the last century, routinely filled Austrian headlines and the public's imagination in the early 20th century.

review

Review of new English translation of Grigor Vitez's AntonTon

Hailed as the father of 20th century Croatian children's literature, Grigor Vitez (1911-1966) is well known and loved in his homeland. With a new English translation of one of his classic tales AntonTon (AntunTun in Croatian), children around the world can now experience the author's delightful depiction of the strong-minded and silly AntonTon. The Grigor Vitez Award is an annual prize given to the best Croatian children's book of the year.

news

The Best of New Eastern European Literature

Have an overabundance of free time, thanks to the pandemic and lockdowns? Yearning to travel but unable to do so safely? Discover the rhythm of life and thought in multiple Eastern European countries through exciting new literature translated into English. From war-torn Ukraine to tales from Gulag inmates to the search for identity by Eastern Europeans driven away from their home countries because of the economic or political situations but still drawn back to their cultural hearths, this list offers many new worlds to explore.

panorama

More Zagreb Street Art

Explore TimeOut's gallery of fascinating and at times thought-provoking art in the great open air gallery of the streets of Zagreb.

panorama

Welcome to Zagreb's Hangover Museum

Partied too hard last night? Drop by Zagreb's Hangover Museum to feel more normal. People share their craziest hangover stories and visitors can even try on beer goggles to experience how the world looks like through drunken eyes.

panorama

Jonathan Bousfield on the Future as Imagined in 1960s Socialist Yugoslavia

How will the futuristic world of 2060 look? How far will technology have advanced, and how will those advancements affect how we live our everyday lives? These are the questions the Zagreb-based magazine Globus asked in a series of articles in 1960, when conceptualizing what advancements society would make 40 years in the future, the then far-off year of 2000. The articles used fantastical predictions about the future to highlight the technological advancements already made by the then socialist Yugoslavia. Take a trip with guide, Jonathan Bousfield, back to the future as envisioned by journalists in 1960s Yugoslavia.

panorama

Untranslatable Croatian Phrases

What’s the best way for an open-minded foreigner to get straight to the heart of another culture and get a feel for what makes people tick? Don’t just sample the local food and drink and see the major sights, perk up your ears and listen. There’s nothing that gives away the local flavor of a culture more than the common phrases people use, especially ones that have no direct translation.

Check out a quirky list of untranslatable Croatian phrases from Croatian cultural guide extraordinaire, Andrea Pisac, in the link below:

panorama

Jonathon Bousfield on the Museum of Broken Relationships

Just got out of a serious relationship and don't know what to do with all those keepsakes and mementos of your former loved one? The very popular and probably most unique museum in Zagreb, the Museum of Broken Relationships, dedicated to preserving keepsakes alongside the diverse stories of relationships gone wrong, will gladly take them. Find out how the museum got started and take an in-depth look at some of its quirkiest pieces in the link below.

panorama

Cool Things To Do in Zagreb

Zagreb is Croatia’s relaxed, charming and pedestrian-friendly capital. Check out Time Out’s definitive Zagreb guide for a diverse set of options of what to explore in the city from unusual museums to legendary flea markets and everything in between.

panorama

Jonathan Bousfield on Diocletian's Legacy in Split

Diocletian’s Palace is the main attraction in Split, the heart and soul of the city. Because of the palace, Split’s city center can be described as a living museum and it draws in the thousands of tourists that visit the city annually. But how much do we really know about the palace’s namesake who built it, the last ruler of a receding empire? Jonathan Bousfield contends that history only gives us a partial answer.

interview

The Poetry of Zagreb

Cities have served as sources of inspiration, frustration, and discovery for millennia. The subject of sonnets, stories, plays, the power centers of entire cultures, hotbeds of innovation, and the cause of wars, cities are mainstays of the present and the future with millions more people flocking to them every year.

Let the poet, Zagreb native Tomica Bajsić, take you on a lyrical tour of the city. Walk the streets conjured by his graceful words and take in the gentle beauty of the Zagreb of his childhood memories and present day observation.

panorama

You Haven't Experienced Zagreb if You Haven't Been to the Dolac Market

Dolac, the main city market, is a Zagreb institution. Selling all the fresh ingredients you need to whip up a fabulous dinner, from fruits and vegetables to fish, meat and homemade cheese and sausages, the sellers come from all over Croatia. Positioned right above the main square, the colorful market is a beacon of a simpler way of life and is just as bustling as it was a century ago.

panorama

Croatian Phrases Translated into English

Do you find phrases and sayings give personality and flair to a language? Have you ever pondered how the culture and history of a place shape the common phrases? Check out some common sayings in Croatian with their literal translations and actual meanings below.

panorama

Discover Croatia's Archaeological Secrets

Discover Croatia’s rich archaeological secrets, from the well known ancient Roman city of Salona near Split or the Neanderthal museum in Krapina to the often overlooked Andautonia Archaeological Park, just outside of Zagreb, which boasts the excavated ruins of a Roman town or the oldest continuously inhabited town in Europe, Vinkovci.

panorama

Croatian Sites on UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List

A little know fact is that Croatia, together with Spain, have the most cultural and historical heritage under the protection of UNESCO, and Croatia has the highest number of UNESCO intangible goods of any European country.

panorama

Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb

The National Theater in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, is one of those things which always finds its way to every visitor’s busy schedule.

panorama

Zagreb's Street Art

So you're visiting Zagreb and are curious about it's underground art scene? Check out this guide to Zagreb's street art and explore all the best graffiti artists' work for yourself on your next walk through the city.

panorama

Zagreb Festivals and Cultural Events

Numerous festivals, shows and exhibitions are held annually in Zagreb. Search our what's on guide to arts & entertainment.

Authors' pages

Književna Republika Relations PRAVOnaPROFESIJU LitLink mk zg