Diaspora and Development on the Adriatic Coast

By 13 February 2018

The loudest voices on Croatia's coastal development often come from the longest distances.

Over the past fifteen or so years we have witnessed numerous projects being announced and heralded as the new most luxurious resorts on the Adriatic coast, if not entire Europe. Unfortunately, very few have come to fruition. Some developed partially, some never developed. The reasons for this are multifold. However, this is not a story about the famous Croatian bureaucracy, or business barriers, or the highest tourism industry taxes in all Europe. No, this is a short story about the people and their perception of these projects. And not just about the local people, mind you. It is true that local people have grown weary of these project announcements, and most of them do not even pay attention when they find a two-page spread in Slobodna Dalmacija or special edition of Jutarnji listing future investments and their glittering 3D renderings. Some locals, especially on the islands and in some of the smaller towns would like to preserve elements of their lifestyle and therefore do not look too fondly on these prospects.

However, my experience has been largely different. People are actually looking forward to those investments, some seeing it as an opportunity for a job, for them or their family members, some as business opportunities and some believe that this is the only way their towns will remain populated, especially considering the high rate of emigration and very few options outside of tourism. All of this is to be expected. People are rightfully cautious, but also hopeful. It is a healthy combination, I would say.

On the other hand, I have been perplexed by the messages, and words that so often come out of the mouth of those who call Croatia the land of their ancestors. Living in the big, developed, high tech cities, enjoying or hating all that comes with life in such a fast-paced, opportunity-rich environment they would like to “preserve” the country, especially the coastline, that they visit once a year in a form of an indigenous reservation. I have come across some of the most ridiculous, and often very disrespectful suggestions by members of the diaspora. Once, a fine gentleman from Sweden, whose father moved there from then Yugoslavia, spent an hour trying to explain to me that all we need to do in Dalmatia is “peka” and “ražanj” as he is not bringing his friends from Stockholm to enjoy any fine dining considering that they have plenty of that where they come from. But the slur of words comes in unison when there is a proposal for a new development on the coast. Suddenly, they all become eco-minded, history-respectful and nature-oriented protectors of the ancestry. Simply amazing.

From Sydney to Perth, from Los Angeles to New York, from Dublin to Munich, social media warriors join in the protection of their fatherland from those barbaric investors and developers, detesting the spoiling of the coastline and drawing some terrible comparisons while saying the word luxury in disbelief and with utter disgust. Well, they just might get what they wish for, to an extent. Disheartening as it may be, at this rate of emigration good parts of Croatia will go back to their pre-civilization looks as Nature doesn’t take long to claim back the uninhabited areas. On the other hand, the coastline, if not developed with locals partaking in the development, with their cautious hopefulness, will sooner or later have the looks of Miami coastline packed with apartments for rent and artificial beaches. You simply can’t stop things from moving, forward or backward.
Thank you for not helping in the future.