Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Quest to Find Balance in Joining E.U

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Quest to Find Balance in Joining E.U

Article excerpt

A resident of the Croatian island of Korcula sees the importance of the European Union but hopes the country can hold on to its identity.

From where he sits on this island off the Dalmatian coast, Toni Lozica has a clear view of the significance of July 1, 2013 -- the day Croatia became the 28th country to join the European Union.

"We cannot stand alone," said the 52-year-old native Korculan who, after 20 years of living and working in Amsterdam, came home to take charge of an elite hotel in the island's old town, and to assume his role as scion of large and prominent local family.

His point of reference is not just the political and economic realities of 21st century Europe, or even Croatia's geographical position on the edge of the Balkans, in a region still scarred by the Continent's most recent wars.

In his view, the European Union -- for all its faults -- has stepped into a historical role once played, for better or for worse, by the Austro-Hungarian Empire and later, the Yugoslav Federation, before they fell apart under the strain of war, nationalist politics and hatred.

"We have to learn from these experiences, and learn not to make the same mistakes," he said. "The Austro-Hungarian empire and Yugoslavia were two entities that existed in this same area, and now we are starting the same thing."

"The European Union is an intellectual idea," he added. At its most basic, it was designed to prevent war -- "a beautiful thing, of course." But its ambition is also to combine and coordinate the political and economic forces of its members states, large and small, without sacrificing national cultural identities.

"Europe should be together and stronger and have long-term strategy to become a federation," he said. "Europe will have to be able to defend itself."

Of course, Croatians are joining the European Union at a low point, when Euro-skepticism is riding high across the Continent. Only 43.5 percent of registered Croatians cast ballots in the January 2012 referendum on joining the European Union, which passed with 66 percent of the vote.

To a large extent, Croatia, with its population of almost five million, was already integrated into the European Union, even before its formal entry. "We are already dependent on economically stronger nations," Mr. Lozica said. "Most of our banks are owned by foreign banks, and most of the economy is owned by foreign investors."

Korcula, with a year-round population of 16,000, has come to live off tourism; since its heyday in Communist times, employment at the local shipyard has shrunk more than 75 percent. Most of the tourists are foreign, many drawn by the well-honed legend that Marco Polo was born on the island.

Like other islands off the Dalmatian coast, Korcula has a history of seeing foreign occupiers come and go. …

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