By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Chet Yarbrough
Flying into Dubrovnik, staying at a luxurious hotel, walking the ramparts of a walled city, one surmises–“this is paradise”. And it is–for a tourist, but history tells a different story.
Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina were, for nearly 40 years, parts of one nation-state. From 1945 to 1980, these countries; along with Serbia, and Macedonia were one nation called Yugoslavia. The leader of this former nation was Josip Broz Tito (see below), a Croatian born socialist (some say communist) who ruled with an iron fist and demanded independence from all warring nations during WWII. Tito led a partisan army to battle German insurgents, resist Russian influence, and deny western co-optation of Yugoslavia, a crossroad-to-Europe along the Adriatic Sea.
Walking through the gates of Dubrovnik’s fortified old town, one realizes Croatia has been a desired prize to many nations wishing for access to the Mediterranean. Formerly known as Ragusa (an ancient city-state), Dubrovnik struggles to be a prosperous city in an independent nation. However, history shows this Balkan paradise was frequently dominated by other nations. First there was the Roman Empire, then Hungary, then Venice, then the Hapsburg Monarchy, the Ottoman Empire, and finally Yugoslavia under the dictatorship of Josip Tito.
Tito creates Yugoslavia out of the tragedy of WWII. As a hero of the resistance, Tito consolidates several Balkan countries under the rule of a Serbian Army. Toward the end of Tito’s life, his second in command is Slobodan Milošević, a Serbian Yugoslavian politician. Milošević becomes leader of the Socialist Party of Serbia in 1990. With the help of the Serbian Army, Milošević attempts to recreate a semblance of the former Yugoslavia. It is to be called Greater Serbia. That attempt manifests in the war of 1991-95.
In the process of the attempt to create a Greater Serbia, Milošević manipulates the history of ethnic differences to foment a war. Milošević is charged by the International Criminal Tribunal with war crimes; including genocide and crimes against humanity. Technically, Milošević is found not guilty of genocide but is convicted for breaching the Genocide Convention by failing to prevent genocide (of Muslims) from occurring in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Milošević, after a five year trial, dies in his prison cell.
The main street of Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina is called “sniper alley” because of snipers who shot anyone on the street; many of which were running to get water and food for their family.
What one senses in a visit to Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina is that economic collapse and/or revolution are a possibility. There seems an economic struggle in three of the four independent countries of Croatia, Montenegro, and Bosnia–Herzegovina. Slovenia appears to be an exception.
There is a drive for self-sufficiency, and independence for each country but Slovenia seems more economically stable. The diverse industrial development of Slovenia and its partnership in the European Union suggest self-sufficient independence is being achieved. Questions remain about the other three.
An older generation in Croatia, Montenegro, and Bosnia–Herzegovina pine for the strong hand of a leader like Tito that assures security and independence; even at the cost of liberty. The young seem to enjoy the liberty that is available; but they appear to live only for today. The war and its aftermath leaves a younger generation (particularly those who lived through the war as children) with a belief that the future is an illusion. What is important for the young is living in the moment. If another war begins, many young people may leave rather than fight.
Living for today is based on the largess of tourism. Some Croatians have a foreboding for the future. A secure future to some seems un-realizable because of government corruption and/or ineptitude. Little industrialization is seen in Dubrovnik. In part, this may be due to technological change but it is troubling to see that most, if not all, Dubrovnik’s prosperity is dependent on tourism.
One resident of Croatia suggests that power resides in the capital of Zagreb. Towns outside of Zagreb depend on the support of government bureaucrats that seem more inclined to benefit themselves than the interests of the nation.
Industrial and commercial investment is limited to the wealthy who walk the halls of parliament in Zagreb. It is believed by some that government leaders get inside information on the next investment in the country and use that information to benefit themselves rather than the nation. (The most powerful leader in the Croatian government is the Prime Minister who just resigned.) It is not too surprising to hear ambivalent feelings expressed about Tito. Some residents feel the treasures of Croatia are being stolen by the wealthy; abetted by corrupt politicians.
The war of 1991-95 played on ethnic differences that exist in the former Yugoslavian countries. It is undoubtedly true that religion and ethnicity separates the Balkan’s indigenous population. There are Roman Catholics, Orthodox Catholics, Muslims, and Jews who maintain their own cultures within the former Yugoslavian countries. But those ethnic differences are tools of the power-hungry; not essential causes of war. As a tourist, ethnic conclaves are evident and, in fact, appreciated because of their differences. From an outsider’s observation today, each ethnicity seems to have a “live and let live” attitude.
There seems little animosity between ethnic groups but there is a common underlying disgust with government among some citizens. Desire for money, power, and/or prestige appear to be the proximate causes for war; not religion or ethnicity. Religion and ethnicity seem to be tools used by aggressors to acquire power, money, and prestige.
Many former Yugoslavian countries are at a crossroad. There is the crossroad of freedom and totalitarianism. There is the crossroad of tourism and modernization. There is the crossroad of capitalism and socialism. There is the crossroad of representative and privileged government leaders. There is the crossroad of the European union and balkanization. Croatia is struggling to become a part of the European Union but seems hamstrung by ineffective government that seems to have lost the confidence of its people.
One presumes, without truly representative government, modernization, and commercial/industrial prosperity, the European Union will see little benefit in adding Croatia, Montenegro, or Bosnia and Herzegovina to the partnership. In contrast, Slovenia became part of the European Union in May of 1992.