Future of Croatia

Although its recent past has been quite troubled, Croatians are optimistic about their country's future. But it is up to them to ensure that the future is, indeed, bright. The country shares many of the same problems that hinder stability and development in most other former Eastern European socialistic states. Achieving political and economic stabilization is an essential first step to reaching Western levels of living. A stifling bureaucracy remains a strong legacy of Communism, and it serves as a strong barrier to internal development and foreign investment in Croatia's future. For a country such as Croatia, foreign investments are essential if its economic condition, including the prosperity of its people, is to improve.

For decades, tourism has been the primary contributor to Croatia's economy. Additionally, it was the major source of fresh capital for the government's annual budget. During the war years of the first half of the 1990s, tourism declined to almost nothing.

This factor, together with vast defense expenses, caused a tremendous drop in the country's economy. Since recovery always occurs more slowly than destruction, it will take much more than five years for Croatia to return to pre-1990 economic levels. And a much longer period of time—perhaps decades—will be needed to catch up to the levels of development currently enjoyed in Western Europe and the United States.

Major investments must be made in redeveloping the tourist industry, which has been the foundation of Croatia's economy. The country hopes to develop as an “elite” tourist destination. This, of course, is a logical goal expressed by nearly all countries that rely on tourism as the major source of income. One of the best examples of that policy is Spain, a country that shares some similarity with Croatia. Spain, however, has invested much more capital in the development of its tourist potential than has Croatia—and the results are obvious. Spain's Costa del Sol is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations. Croatia, on the other hand, has but one major two-lane highway that passes through its coastal area, thereby making travel and access by land quite slow and difficult. In Chapter 2, it was mentioned that the bora (a strong wind common to the coastal region) can close the coastal highway for hours and sometimes days.When this happens, traffic either stops, or drivers take inland routes, away from the coast and its tourist facilities. During the peak tourist season of June through August, the traffic on coastal roads in Dalmatia is so heavy that it almost comes to a standstill. After the war, the government's priority was to start building a four-lane expressway that would connect Zagreb and Dalmatia.When this project is realized it will remove most of the heavy trucks from the coastal roads, lower the number of accidents, and make traveling more enjoyable to tourists.

Wine production, as previously mentioned, has enormous potential in Croatia. There are hundreds of varieties of domestic grapes, many of which have been imported and cultivated with great success. In recent years, Croatian wines have been recognized for their high quality, receiving gold medals in international wine competitions. Unfortunately, however, heavy-handed bureaucracy, complicated laws, and high taxes levied on the industry do not allow the improvements that are necessary if Croatian vintners are going to keep up with worldwide competition. Croatia must do more to promote its wines.

Once they become recognized for their quality, vineyards and wineries will become yet another tourist attraction. Wine tourism is becoming increasingly popular in the world today, drawing travelers to France, Italy, California's Napa and Sonoma Valleys, Australia, and other famous areas of production. Interest in wine consumption has increased during recent years; this is particularly true since medical researchers have established that the moderate drinking of red wine by adults can help fight against heart disease. Many countries create and promote so-called wine routes as primary tourist attractions, and Croatia definitely can be one of them.

Many Croatians see their future closely tied to that of the European Union (EU). Achieving this goal is perhaps the government's top priority. Membership in the EU would be a major step in elevating Croatia to the economic and political level comparable to that of today's Western European states. Also, before the war Croatia had extensive economic relations with other republics of the former Yugoslavia. Since 1991, however, many of these connections have been severed. Croatia must work to improve its relations with neighboring countries. Ideally, within the next few years they will return to, if not surpass, the pre-1991 level of cooperation.

Displaced people are another major problem that stems from the war of the early 1990s, including thousands who remain in Croatia (and Croatians elsewhere). Tens of thousands of people fled their homes because of the fighting and became political refugees in neighboring countries. Today, the former republics are cooperating with one another on this serious problem. But it will take years before all people can be returned to their homeland. For many of them, of course, their homes and villages were completely destroyed—so they have no home to which to return.

Yet another significant problem faced by Croatia and neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina is that huge areas are still covered with land mines. Hundreds of thousands of mines, most of them designed to destroy human extremities and render the victim handicapped, were scattered about the land. Before the war, much of the land was used for agriculture. As life has returned to normal, the land mines continue to pose a constant danger to farmers working their fields, children playing in the country, and young and old alike venturing into the rural landscape. Removal of the mines is a slow, dangerous, and expensive process that will take years to complete. Even though the UN sponsors a land mine removal program offering financial and technological support, people continue to die from land mine explosions in the countryside.

Croatia has one major advantage that should be of primary importance in terms of the country's future—that is its people. American scientist Theodore Schultz, a 1979 Nobel laureate in economics, said that each country's most important capital asset is its own people. Most of Croatia's people are very well educated and have attained rather high cultural norms. An accent on education is every family's main goal. The country's educational institutions no doubt produce more scientists and skilled professionals than the country's current economic capacity can absorb. Unfortunately, during the harsh conditions of the last decade many young people emigrated from Croatia in search of a better life. As is true in countries throughout the world, the 21st century will belong to the generations of young, well-educated, dedicated, hardworking citizens who will become their country's most important capital. In this respect, if Croatia can achieve a level of stability and development that will help retain the young people in its population, the country will be truly blessed and its future will be bright.