''The wheel of fortune, round and round, never stops to spin; those on top come down, and those from the bottom upwards raise”, wrote Ivan Gundulic, famed Dubrovnik poet and dramatist long four centuries ago.
Indeed, once handsome and quite a comfortable source of income, the cruise ship industry has ironically started to choke those who live out of that same income. The public blame is usually on the city authorities, but we wanted to look at the issue from another end.
Blaž Pezo is an energetic man in his late 30’s. After several years of a career connected with harbour business and related activities, he was appointed General Manager of Dubrovnik Port Authority only several months ago.
A citizen of Dubrovnik myself, and one who knows the ins and outs of the city very at that, I cannot envy him in any way – who would like to be in his shoes in the times when one of the main causes of our daily life of ‘misery’ is publicly perceived as "cruise ships", in Barcelona, in Venice and in Dubrovnik alike? Takes three to tango, even if each of the three danced separately from the other two. But the dance is the same – like trying to make your way through to your food shop in less than half an hour, while normally you need just about 5 minutes. Or like trying to get into the historic city centre in less than two hours, while normally you need 3 minutes, and having your shirt imbued with the sweat of all the 2000 people you inevitably brush against in the process. Hope this explains.
Blaž is seated comfortably in his armchair. I thank him for the chat in advance. He understands my main motive to find out about these things at the source – for, when "they" start disembarking in thousands, it is too late to leave your home!
So, what is the process, Blaž?
"Well, simply put - the agents apply for bookings, and the Port Authority accepts them. Or not," says he, a bit apologetically and without failing to note that all these 800 visits this year (eight HUNDRED, my God!) had been booked long before he took office.
"Bookings are now open from two years in advance. For 2018, we have reserved about 70% of our capacities, leaving some space for adjustments with the capacities of the City"
That is what I wanted to hear!
Blaž confirms my suspicions that it was not the case over many years. The Port Authority would book all by and for themselves, without a systematic coordination with municipal authorities and services.
"Then last May the Tourist Board incited a meeting with all concerned, the municipal authorities, Traffic Police, Border Police, taxi drivers, bus companies, other public services. I was more than glad to host it. The effects of that and of one meeting later were immediate, however not radical – the traffic, so limited and defined by some old streets that can not be altered, went more smoothly, the crowds at the City Gates were less. Many little things can be done, as is a schedule of disembarks over some time and not at once, which dilutes the number of buses running at the same time, etc"
"I really cannot understand that such coordination was not happening over years. The lack of it caused all the "misery" to our local population, to you, to me. As if those people were not affected by unutterable traffic jams and all that came out with them."
In my private opinion, it was all due to the lousy city administration:
"Recently there was a day without any cruise ships. The bus stop at the City Gate registered one hundred tourist buses. Says enough about how a thorough study of all the elements involved is desperately needed"
Some pink clouds of hope in my eyes, I ask about the port authorities – in plural, as in Croatia there are several sorts of liability over a port. Blaž explains elaborately, I endeavour to follow with understanding, but all I can remember was that the Old Harbour of Dubrovnik is under the Port Authority of the County, not of the city or state. And, of course, visual as I am, that the Marina under construction right opposite of his office, in the same harbour, or bay, let’s concede that much, has nothing to do with his entity.
"It is under the authorities of the State, we have nothing to do with it. Although, as you can see (sure, it is at less than 50m across the bay), their piers have reduced our operational quays by some 150m, as larger ships cannot not manoeuvre in this space any more."
There goes my secret hope to find out why the Marina isn’t finished yet.
And, well done, State! A private marina vs. public interest, but who am I to be confused? Hot weather does not go well with hot topics, yet I have another one: the Law on Concessions passed by the Parliament last week has raised a hell of dust all over the country. If anybody, it should concern Blaž, but...
''The Law has been misunderstood," he says
"It is just a framework for the coming Law on Maritime Demesne which will define all details on particular concessions over a beach, a bay and any demesne on the coast. That is the law to be waited for, this one is just a basis for it"
Not pretending to be an expert, but just a person with common sense, I strongly disagree. Blaž is a steadfast guy who firmly stands behind his own words. I would have left it at our small inconclusive dispute, but how could I miss the occasion of asking him about yet another scandalous matter concerning exactly ‘his own’ port: somebody, (it is always "somebody" in such matters), offered this only real port of Dubrovnik to a French concessionaire some years ago. The latter came up with a project worth 100 million Euros, adjusting the Port to a traffic of several million passengers a year. When the matter came public, accusations showered from all angles. Blaž was on the City Council and stood up with a group of local colleagues who qualified it a catastrophe and jeopardy both for the Port and for the City.
"At this moment, it is being processed on several grounds at a Court. All I can say is that we are sure we will win the case. We have engaged excellent lawyers and we will fight to the last drop. The city could not sustain such a magnum project, and whoever started it, did not have any good intentions. We have had an enormous support by our citizens, which gives us additional energy, courage and the feeling of righteousness in the cause. It lacks common sense, first of all – how can you pour 100 l of wine into a barrel of 5? Also, the Port is maybe the last resort and resource where the local community has a say and from which it can recruit a meaningful income for the community while not slaving in physical labour only. We must preserve it for our future generations."
I hint that the ‘somebody’ that allowed for all that mess was certainly ‘a somebody’ high in the hierarchy, but Blaž gives no sign of approval or disapproval, either. I leave Blaž with my best wishes, especially for the file at the court, and with a hopeful mind – seems that I will reach my bakery in less than an hour, and save my hands from going stiff from holding the brakes on my bike all the time.
Navigare necesse est ("to sail is necessary") says an old Latin proverb; to live an unimpeded life is equally important, is the murmur of the common folks.