Sunday, September 28, 2003

[ELECTION 2003] Bridges of Croatia

Just like in Yugoslav times, Dubrovnik is most popular tourist destination of Croatia. Most foreign tourists who come to Dubrovnik tend to do it by plane or boat (and they usually leave it that way). Because of that, they aren't aware of something that bothers at least some Croatians who live in Dubrovnik or travel there by business.

In 1718, following its defeat in war with Austria and Venice, Ottoman Empire ceded large chunks of its Dalmatian possessions to Venetians. That left Ottomans virtually with no Adriatic Coast north of Bay of Kotor. There were only two exceptions – small strips of land around River Sutorina (between today's Prevlaka in Croatia, and Hercegnovi in today's Montenegro) and one northern strip of land near city of Neum. Purpose of those strips were to serve as buffer zone between Venetian and Dubrovnik Republic and thus secure peace in that part of the world (which they successfully did until Napoleonic Wars).

Ottoman-era borders of Bosnia-Herzegovina were later used by Austria-Hungary and Tito's Yugoslavia for administrative purposes. In early 1950s Bosnia-Herzegovina ceded Sutorina to Montenegro in exchange for some mountains in hinterland. Neum, sleepy small town between mouth of River Nertva and Pelješac (Peljesac) Peninsula, remained Bosnian.

After dissolution of Yugoslavia, Neum suddenly became very annoying spot for any Croatian nationalist – a permanent reminder that Tudjman's dream of Greater Croatia became a dream. Any time a Croat has to drive to Dubrovnik, he has to pass through border crossing and remind himself that he is in another country. If, by some strange twist of luck, Croatia becomes part of EU, travel through Neum corridor is going to become even more annoying thanks to increased immigration, customs and other controls.

But Croatians travelling to Dubrovnik wouldn't have to worry, at least if Sanader and his boys win next elections. During yesterday's rally in Split Sanader promised that the new government would start building few kilometres of bridge connecting Pelješac with Croatian mainland, thus allowing Croatian motorists to visit Dubrovnik without having to cross border.

This plan might look appealing at first sight, but HDZ governments used to build bridges in the past and their record is discouraging. First, this would be the most expensive construction effort in history of post-war Croatia and Croatian foreign debt is most likely to be higher than current 20 billion US$ after it. Second, projects of this kind tend to attract criminal activities on all levels, including ministers.

Maslenica Bridge, most spectacular construction project of Tudjman's era, is today known as the symbol of corruption - location of the bridge was chosen in such way to make it longer and thus provide higher price tag for construction company connected to minister Jure Radić (Jure Radic); because of that Maslenica Bridge (unlike the old bridge, destroyed in 1991), is at the mercy of strong winds that tend to close it every now and then, creating traffic collapse in Dalmatia.

I don't know whether Sanader's proposed bridge is vulnerable to strong winds and high seas and there is only one way to know for sure – the way Croatian voters on November 23rd 2003 would be wise to avoid.


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