Croatia Plays Catch-Up to Slovenia

By Ladika, Susan | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

Croatia Plays Catch-Up to Slovenia


Ladika, Susan, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Byline: Susan Ladika

ZAGREB, Croatia - Twice a month, Vlado and Nada Pavlinic put their two children in the car and drive to Jesenice, a small town just over the border in Slovenia, where they stock up on staples like cooking oil, flour and coffee.

"The food we buy is up to 50 percent cheaper than here in Zagreb," Mr. Pavlinic said. By saving on groceries, "we can put some money aside to finish the house we're renovating," Mrs. Pavlinic added.

It's a pattern repeated around the Croatian capital, where a 10- or 15-mile trip across the border to Slovenia can save cash-strapped households real money. But there's a certain irony there.

Slovenia - by far the most economically advanced of the countries that split from former Yugoslavia - is one of the front-runners to join the European Union, and the average Slovenian citizen earns more than twice as much as his Croatian counterpart.

TALE OF TWO REPUBLICS

It wasn't always that way. A decade ago, when the two declared independence from the federation politically dominated by Serbia, they were far more evenly matched. Croatia had a thriving tourism industry, drawing visitors from across Europe, while Slovenia was producing brand-name goods like Gorenje appliances and Elan skis for international markets.

However, chafing under the centralized federal government and tired of sending tax money to Belgrade and getting few services in return, Croatia and Slovenia began looking for a way out.

Slovenia "didn't want to be treated any longer as a neglected minority," said Franc Bucar, who fought with Josip Broz Tito's Communist partisans against Nazi occupiers during World War II. Marshal Tito went on to become Yugoslavia's president until his death on May 4, 1980, and Mr. Bucar became a dissident who played a key role in Slovenia's independence negotiations after Tito's death.

Discussions between Slovenian and Yugoslav leaders to hold the country together proved fruitless and in 1990 Slovenia held its first independent elections, casting the Communists from power. Mr. Bucar was chosen parliament leader. Later that year, Slovenians voted overwhelmingly in a referendum for independence from Yugoslavia.

A VOTE, THEN GUNS

Croatia followed suit, and on June 25, 1991, both declared their independence from Yugoslavia. Within days, the Yugoslav army mobilized in Slovenia, leading to a 10-day war that killed 64 persons.

Days later, the army mobilized in Croatia, leading to more than a year of death and destruction. Sporadic fighting followed, until the Croatian army reconquered territory seized by the country's displaced minority Serbs in 1995. That war killed about 15,000, left hundreds of thousands of refugees and caused about $20 billion in damage.

While the long-running war hampered Croatia's development, much blame also belongs to the nationalist policies of former President Franjo Tudjman, who died 11/2 years ago.

Mr. Tudjman was succeeded by Stipe Mesic, 66, a moderate who won the runoff election of Feb. 7, 2000. Mr. Mesic graduated from the University of Zagreb's faculty of law in the 1960s and went into local politics. He was imprisoned for a year in the early 1970s for advocating equality with Serbia during the so-called "Croatian Spring." After becoming president, the former parliament speaker canceled his party affiliation to show he would be "a president of all the people."

"Tudjman's support was to some extent based on the unfortunate conflict in the region," said Per Vinther, head of the European Union delegation to Croatia. Under Mr. Tudjman's authoritarian rule, corruption and nepotism pervaded almost all areas of life and those who benefited sought "to keep Croatia isolated in order to pursue their criminal objectives," Mr. Vinther said.

SEPARATE PATHS TAKEN

During the Tudjman era, there was "a lot of rhetoric on how European [Croatians] felt. …

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