Yugoslavs Denied Dalmatian Sun

Yugoslavs are conspicuously absent from the crowds of tourists descending on the Dalmatina coast

Yugoslavs Denied Dalmatian Sun

Yugoslavs are conspicuously absent from the crowds of tourists descending on the Dalmatina coast

Tuesday, 11 July, 2000

Long queues of cars, waiting to cross the frontier into Croatia en route to the Adriatic coast, are a heartening sight for a country currently facing economic problems and a foreign debt of almost $10 billion.

In 1990, Croatia was Europe's 13th most popular holiday in destination - no mean achievement, considering its size - but by 1997, it had tumbled to 20th place. War in Croatia and Bosnia, plus a distaste for the regime of late president Franjo Tudjman were largely to blame. Last year's NATO bombardment of Serbia dealt another body blow to the tourist industry.

Almost half of the tourists who now holiday in Croatia are from two of the other states, which emerged following collapse of former Yugoslavia - Slovenia and Bosnia. However, another group who once came in large numbers are still conspicuous by their absence. Serbs have yet to return to the Croatian Adriatic.

Recently, a popular TV show called "Latinica" (Latin Alphabet) which takes pride in addressing previously taboo subjects, produced a show about the issue.

On a practical level, a strict visa regime has made travel between Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, FRY, difficult. And the economic collapse in Serbia has pushed the cost of a trip to Dalmatia beyond the means of most people. However, the show laid even greater emphasis on the psychological barriers, which affect not only would-be tourists, but also their would-be hosts.

Only one of a handful of guesthouses and hotel proprietors interviewed said he would welcome people from Yugoslavia. Others said they required an apology for the suffering caused during the war in 1991, when many coastal towns were bombarded by the Yugoslav army.

Who exactly should make such an apology was unclear. Do they want an official apology from the Yugoslav government, or are individuals who may have had no involvement with the war expected to ask for forgiveness in order to visit the Croatian coastline?

Ten years of indoctrination seems to have worked - most people expressed a view that Serbs are collectively responsible for the war and must be collectively punished - even if that means the Adriatic loses out on business.

The question of Serbian tourism on the coast raises other as yet unresolved issues between the two countries. One concerns summerhouses and other property in several Adriatic resorts, which previously belonged to individual Serbs and Serbian companies.

Very few Serbs managed to sell their summerhouses by the time the war started. Hundreds were abandoned. The majority were ransacked, if not destroyed. The Latinica report featured a devastated and crumbling resort where a Serb company once sent its employees for holidays.

Corporate property could probably be included in a wide-ranging package of measures to deal with the separation of the two states, but it is unclear how individual owners of summerhouses would be compensated.

A number of Serb celebrities were interviewed for the show, including actress Neda Arneric, former-basketball star Dragan Kapidzic and singers Neda Ukraden and Lepa Brena. All of them spoke longingly of summers spent on the Adriatic and Arneric revealed she had holidayed on the islands last year, had not suffered any problems, and that when people recognized her they were friendly.

But while visitors from Serbia are limited to the famous, the people of Republika Srpska are flocking to the Adriatic in large numbers. They do not need visas and can reach any spot in Croatia by car.

Similarly, companies in Dubrovnik now offer day trips to Montenegro, which are reportedly very popular among tourists in southern Dalmatia. Such cross-border trips are possible because Montenegro has unilaterally abolished visas and some Croatian intellectuals, such as the economist Branko Horvat, want Croatia to do the same. A country, which depends on tourism, should be open to all, he says, including citizens of the FRY.

For now, however, his is a lone voice and while Serbs from Bosnia are welcome to visit, those from Serbia face a chillier reception.

Dragutin Hedl is a regular IWPR contributor

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