Tuesday, July 2, 2013

My Log 364: Croatia in the news for once: it becomes the 28th member of the European Community among balloons, fanfare, fireworks and folderol

Walls of Dubrovnik (Croatia)
Walls of Dubrovnik (Croatia) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: The Walls of Dubrovnik with the Minče...
English: The Walls of Dubrovnik with the Minčeta Tower. Dubrovnik is the capitol of the Dubrovnik–Neretva County, in Croatia. Français : Forteresse de Dubrovnik, à Dubrovnik, Capitale du Comitat de Dubrovnik-Neretva en Croatie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

destroyed house in vukovar, croatia
destroyed house in vukovar, croatia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Croatia is like Canada in this: it is very seldom in the world’s news. In the last couple of days, this has changed, as the major TV networks have all devoted segments to the fact that Croatia on Juy 1 became the 28th country to join the European Community.

The question being asked in every programme has been: why would they?  Who, in his right mind would want to join a crisis-ridden, lagging economy, more especially since Croatia’s own economy is already crisis-ridden, and lagging behind many others. In its fifth straight year of recession, trumpeted one network, Croatia is joining Europe.

It is an issue that, locally, has divided families, if I can judge from the family with which I am staying in Dubrovnik. The older members, for whom the last world war, and the more recent Yugoslav war are still very much in mind, favours the move into a union whose original purpose was to cool down the nationalist hostilities that led to both wars.  They are still animated by the idealism that brought France and Germany to put their hostilities behind them, The younger generation, suspicious of the fact that the European Union seems to have been set up deliberately as a citadel of capitalism, whose laws are all intended to keep public investment and activity to a minimum, and to open everything up to the private sector, protected by a formidable array of laws, are more critical, and want no part of it.

Nevertheless, the politicians, unsurprisingly, have bowed to the European hype, and have pushed the thing through, having made already a broad range of adjustments required by Europe before granting entry. Locally, this has meant, apparently, that everything that has been publicly owned is now up for grabs, a formula that was disastrous for Russia when it emerged from Communism, and that, frankly, seems to suggest further trouble ahead.

For capitalism is not living through its greatest moments just now. In fact, has it not been showing such vulnerabiity that people everywhere have begun to emerge from their houses on to the streets, demanding change?

In one country after another, the plea has been, as I heard from Egyptian and Brazilian protesters this week, “there is no equality, education is poor, we need money to improve the schools, hospitals and infrastructure before any more goes on prestige projects.” (A message any Montrealer could have given them forty years ago.)

None of these people mentions socialism, still a dirty word after its failure in the Communist world. But the fact seems to be that something more akin to New Deal America, or Welfare state Britain, France and Germany, or social democratic Scandinavia, is what more and more people are looking to as a hopeful example.

That is why they are opposing so vehemently these massive trade deals --- the United States/Europe deal is the latest that is under negotiation ---  footsteps, as they are now seen, to globalization, whose major economic impact has been to exacerbate the inequalities in society, elevating the rich to an almost obscene level while, admittedly, also raising the very poorest from the most intense poverty (as is claimed for globalization by its adherents).

Anyway, we have had big celebrations here in the last few days. First, on Saturday, we had a big nation-wide TV extravaganza, starting in Vukuvar, a town that was almost destroyed by Serbian bombardment during the Yugoslav wars in 1991-95, and segueing to a more professional, slicker programme from Dubrovnik. This last was transmitted from an immense stage erected within fifty yards of so of the house I am staying in: a local woman, well-known in show-biz here, called Serovina, stepped forward to set the ball rolling with a sizzling song-and-dance routine that made Vukovar’s contribution look like small apples, indeed. One up to Dubrovnik.

The various successors to Yugoslavia --- Slovenia (already a member of the EU), Serbia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Croatia --- are all lined up hoping to join.  Commentators have been unanimous --- although this is not often mentioned --- that it will put behind them for good their history of animosity, hatred, racist exclusion, xenophobia,  ethnic cleaning, genocide and the rest of their recent regrettable behaviour.  They hope.  We hope.  I hope.

Whatever the price, if that is the result,  the price will have been worth paying. But so far there is no clear evidence that this will be the result. Ethnic animosities apparently continue. The war was ended by the so-called Dayton Agreements, which may have stopped hostilities, but left these countries ethnically divided as never before. Bosnia, in particular, was saddled with a Bosnian government that has no authority over an entity within its borders known as the Serbska Republic. The hope was that gradually, these two entities would merge.

But that is not happening. Indeed, there is almost no day to day relationship between the two entities. In cities that used to be integrated --- Sarajevo and Mostar, for example --- the two  ethnicities have withdrawn to their own side of the river that divides them.

Whether it is ethnicity or religion that is at the heart of the problem I will leave it for others to judge.

All that is evident to a casual outside observer like myself is that the perpetrators of the war, the leaders of the onslaughts on each other, are still the popular heroes of their nations.

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