As I await my transition from mid-sized Zadar to small-town Vodice tomorrow, I find myself in a reflective mood about my recent circumstances. Perhaps it’s the Croatian peach brandy, or the inexpensive Croatian gouda, or the kulen sausage, or the incense, or simply the fact I am transitioning from one culture to another, while staying in the same country.
I’ve alerted my hostel landlord that I’m leaving tomorrow
and he’s offered to drive me to the bus station (autobus stanica) – for 50 kuns, of course. But that’s half the cabbie fare. He’s such a nice man, and I wish we could have had some conversations, like those I’ve had with Anita and Mario, but he doesn’t understand English and I don’t understand – well, just about any other language. Shame on me. He and his wife seem like very nice people and I wish I could have shared with them verbally. I did take a picture of him outside his doorway, as well as a shot of the hostel.
So what have I learned in my epic-like 11 days in Croatia? What do I know about the people? The country? The culture?
Very little, actually. But this is a new democracy, and its peoples are going through profound changes. Just 20 years ago, cities were being bombed. A friend, now about 30, says he remembers the grenades going off around him. For the older generations, war is till a recent past, and communism still a favored environment.
The young, however, look to a capitalistic future, to being able to advance on their own skills, their own determination. They want equality of opportunity. They look to the U.S. model, but they question, now, if it is broken.
On the street, at least Zadar is a calm exterior. There are signs of entrenpenurship everywhere. Every block seems to have at least half a dozen small shops – bakeries (pekara), butchers (mescina), salons, food markets, cafes/bars. Everyone’s trying to make a buck. And that’s just in the residential areas; the tourist confines are more upscale and probably less local.
My local friends complain that cronyism rules the country, that the same people in charge before democracy was installedd are still in charge, that they have no opportunity in their own country. They dream of the U.S. or Australia, places where they envision they can can work hard and realize their dreams. They are not so unlike their breathen in every country on the planet.
Croatia is caught in a problem situation. It’s chief industry, and its chief industry for the forseeable future, is tourism. The outside investment opportunity is obvious, but the industry tends to bestow more of its benefits top-up, not top-down. Tourism industry workers, in other words, do not make a lot of money; their owners do. Upward mobility, therefore, is limited. Opportunity in other fields is limited, due to the natural government focus on its chief revenue generator. So the youth learn, and they yearn.
Because of the Internet revolution, Croatia will mature much more quickly than past emerging democracies. That bursting of enthusiasm and expectations, however, may convulse the status quo to a dangerous level. Croatia is not a candidate for extension of the Arab Spring but it may be within years of serious grassroots calls for change.
The older generations, however, remember good, guaranteed jobs, fere healthcare, free about anything under communist ruel. The younger people realize how this stymide comptition, independence, ingenuity, drive, ambition. I suspect the two do not understand each other.
America is the model for the younger generations. But it’s a flawed model. They question are excessive (Why do 5% of the world’s population need 25% of its energy?).hy do ?Americans need so much stuff, they ask? What can’t they be satisfied with the basic needs.? Why do they exert their militaty power in such an unrestrained fashion? Whay does the Croatian government ask permission from the U.S. for major decisions? That’s their perception, not necessarily reality. But perceptions matter.
Croatia has military importance in terms of its location (as history will attest), and tourism importance, but may not have much else. It’s primarily an agrarian economy, but does contain some of the world;’s largest freshwater resources. I’m not sure how that trasslates even in a world that needs more freshwater, but without an innovative manufacturing component, I’m not sure where they’re headed. The younger generations at least, it seems, have ambitions, but the system may not yet to accommodate them. The result may be a brain drain and youth drain that could cripple the country long term.
That’s my 11-day reflection, as full of holes as it might be.