Last night, as Vivian and I enjoyed an “expensive” $2.50 (CDN) ice cream in Dubrovnik, I used the quick posting functions on Facebook (and free WiFi at the ice cream place) to post a selfy with an observation about ice cream prices. A few hours later, someone I know well, a genuinely super-intelligent person who had been to Croatia many years ago, observed in a comment: “Nobody goes to Croatia for the ice cream.”
He’s right, of course. But the ice cream here is cheap and good, and it is simple to understand — and tourists love the stuff. (And in an ice cream parlor in the old city, it seemed the local staff were having a good time, as well, selling the confection at prices that certainly weren’t tourist-trap level, in, well, a genuine tourist trap environment.)
Besides, is it really possible to write properly about some of the more important issues here, including environment, nationalism, war, peace, and history intelligently when you are tapping with one finger on an Android phone?
Of course not. Yet these bigger questions are certainly worth answering, because there are mysteries, paradoxes and possible solutions to bigger problems here.
Just two decades ago, this place was a mess, after a really nasty independence war (locals call it the Homeland War) as the former Yugoslavian nation broke down in brutal conflict including really evil mass murders and “ethnic cleansing” — with international war crimes trials continuing today. Foreign troops intervened, including Canadians, but they couldn’t stop all the horrors.
You certainly will find signs of the not-to-distant war here but it seems long-gone, at least to those in the tourist areas. In the last few years, relationships between Serbia (Belgrade) and Croatia (Zagreb-Dubrovnik) have improved enough that the nations have established normal diplomatic representation and you can travel freely between the various parts of the former Yugoslav republic (and former monarchy). There are still hot spots — Kosovo is one — and there are minefields all over the place (but not in the purely tourist areas) — but peace appears to have truly returned to this part of the world.
Compare this story to the mid-east, where Israel and its neighbours have been whacking each other since Israeli independence in 1948 (and before, if you go deeper into 19th and 20th century history, I’ll stay out of the biblical stuff here). Why could Serbia and Croatia resolve their conflicts and restore peace within a decade, but the Israelis and Arabs are still bashing each other now? (If you want to put religion in the mix, yes, that seems to complicate things — as Muslims and Christians take on the Kosovo border areas.)
I don’t have all the answers, but appreciate that there are key elements of nationality, borders, international law, culture, language and history/values underlying the stories here. You certainly won’t understand Croatian/Yugoslav history properly by visiting some tourist sites or reading a few Wikipedia entries — it is complex enough. Yet there are clear differentiations between the nations and, in the current era, an opportunity for them to express themselves as independent entities. This has created a relatively free and healthy environment, it seems, where (I perceive) minority rights are respected but Croatia, is, well, truly Croatian (and the same can be said for Serbia, Montenegro, and the other Balkan nations including, even Kosovo.)
On another, local, level, I’m intrigued with how the modern tourism industry has developed. The first hotel here, the now Hilton Imperial, is located a stone’s throw from the old city. We’re moving from our residential apartment rented through booking.com to this hotel today for one night before heading on the Adriatic cruise. Compared to where we are staying now — and certainly to local salaries — the Hilton here is really expensive — but we’re going for one night, and I want to experience some of the tourism’s historical aspects (ironically in a US brand chain hotel).
We could get into other complex and intriguing stuff, including how Nicolai Tesla grew up in Croatia, the dynamics which allowed Ragusa (Dubrovnik-Dalmatia) to survive as an independent nation on the crossroads between Byzantium, Rome and Greece, the place of naval might and technology, earthquakes and their impact on the economy, and more . . . but it is much easier to order a cheap ice cream and enjoy the sweet flavours.
Fortunately, absolutely none of this commentary has any relationship to construction marketing. We’re on vacation, after all.