Thursday, 4 November 2021

Milanović Reiterates Idea to Mediate in Bosnia with Vučić and Erdogan

ZAGREB, 4 Nov 2021 - Croatian President Zoran Milanović on Thursday reiterated the idea for representatives of the three constituent peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina to sit down together with him and the presidents of Serbia and Turkey "because in such a setting a satisfactory solution can be found" to the crisis in that country.

"I would like to see Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan as some sort of guarantors. There will be misunderstandings, but let's see what can be done for Bosnia and Herzegovina to remain whole," Milanović told the press in Zagreb.

He believes that "only in such a setting can a satisfactory solution be found." 

"Each side, and that means the three ethnic sides, would have someone they trust as well as someone they do not fully trust. I'm not sure how much the Bosniaks trust Vučić, but the Serbs do. That is enough for me," Milanović said.

The president recently called Prime Minister Andrej Plenković to coordinate the policy towards BiH, to which Plenković retorted that Milanović was "a staunch advocate of Željko Komišić whom he supported against the HDZ member," and that now he seems to be "mates with Dodik."

Milanović responded by saying that the prime minister needs to explain why he is making statements in Brussels that "are detrimental to the Croats."

"I am saying we need to maintain a common front, not in discipline but in views. Each one of our disputes in Croatia causes bitterness and nausea in Mostar, Široki Brijeg, and Vitez," said Milanović.

During the EU-Western Balkans summit in October, Plenković said the EU was following Dodik's statements about the functioning of Bosnia and Herzegovina "with caution and disapproval".

For more on politics, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Friday, 22 October 2021

PM: Decision Making on Croatia's Schengen Bid Going According to Plan

ZAGREB, 22 Oct (Hina) - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in Brussels on Friday he expected the decision making process on Croatia's accession to the Schengen area to proceed according to plan.

"I have discussed this matter at all levels, with all governments. I think the momentum is slowly gathering for a decision at the level of the Council of the EU," Plenković told reporters on arrival for the continuation of the two-day EU summit.

Plenković said that ongoing talks during the Slovenian EU presidency and the next French presidency would be "crucial for achieving Croatia's strategic goal - to become a member of the Schengen area."

Among the topics to be discussed at the summit will be protection of the EU's external borders against illegal migration.

Plenković said that also discussed would be several action plans with non-EU countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, to help them improve migration management.

He said that during discussion on foreign policy matters on Thursday evening he had drawn attention to the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, notably to the existing tension and statements by the Serb member of the state presidency, Milorad Dodik, which destabilise the country.

"Croatia supports a single Bosnia and Herzegovina, its independence, sovereignty and good functioning. I also made it clear that the EU should help, together with our partners, first of all the United States, to achieve a timely agreement on electoral legislation so that at next year's elections the Croats, as one of the three constituent peoples, can be legitimately and equally represented in the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina," Plenković said.

He said he was pleased with the quality of the discussion on this matter, adding that several leaders had taken part in it.

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Thursday, 17 June 2021

Plenković Requests Turkish President's Support for Bosnia Election Legislation Reform

ZAGREB, 17 June 2021 - Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday, requesting Turkey's support for efforts to ensure respect for equality of all three constituent peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina and for an election legislation reform in the country.

Plenković flew to the Turkish city of Antalya to attend a summit of the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP), being held under Turkish chairmanship. Turkey assumed the SEECP chairmanship on 1 July 2020. Plenković met Erdogan on the sidelines of the meeting.

"One of the topics was Bosnia and Herzegovina. I underscored that it is very important for Croatia that all three constituent peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina are equal, notably the Croats who are the least numerous," the Croatian premier said after meeting with the Turkish head of state.

Bosnia and Herzegovina's Croats and the government in Zagreb claim that the Croats are currently not represented on the country's collective presidency and in other institutions because the current member of Bosnia and Herzegovina's tripartite presidency, Željko Komšić, who sits as the Croat representative, is only the nominal representative because he was elected thanks to votes from the Bosniak electorate.

"For us, it is also important that consensus is reached on the election legislation reform during the process of negotiations between political parties and institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in this regard, I asked for Turkey's support," said Plenković.

"Of course, in the political sense, Turkey has closer relations with the Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina and finally with the political leadership of the SDA party. Therefore it is essential that we, Turkey and Croatia, in dialogue with friendly institutions and political parties that are close to us, seek solutions that will ensure that all the peoples and citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina feel satisfied," Plenković said.

Croatia-Turkey relations very good and friendly

Plenković described the Croatian-Turkish bilateral relations as very good and friendly.

There are many Turkish companies doing business in Croatia, and Ankara would like to intensify the business cooperation, according to Plenković.

"Croatia is open and we think that will be very much to our benefit,"  he added.

 Plenković informed Erdogan that Zagreb appreciated Turkey's care for a huge number of refugees and efforts to prevent the reactivation of the western Balkan migrant route.

The Croatian PM believes that the agreement between the EU and Ankara on care for migrants will be honored

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Friday, 26 February 2021

Bosnia and Croatia Sign Military Cooperation Plan for 2021

ZAGREB, 26 February, 2021 - Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia on Thursday signed a military cooperation plan for 2021, the Bosnian Defence Ministry said.

The document was signed by Bosnian Assistance Defence Minister Zoran Šajinović and Croatia's Military Attaché to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brigadier Davor Kiralj.

The plan provides for 27 joint activities in Croatia and 14 in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The activities include military education and training, exercises and high-level meetings.

Šajinović and Kiralj expressed their satisfaction with the cooperation between the armed forces and defence ministries of the two countries with a view to further promoting good neighbourly relations between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.

They expressed confidence that the cooperation would continue to be expanded in a spirit of Euroatlantic integration for the benefit of both countries.

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Building Bridges Between Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia

February 18, 2021 – Appropriate government bodies of the three neighbours have come together and agreed to work together to improve bridges between Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia

We say building bridges between Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. It's actually more a case of renovating and maintaining bridges between Croatia and the two neighbours to the east.

Despite what journalist Zdenko Jurilj describes as “constant political skirmishes” between the neighbours, in Vecernji List's coverage of this news, the Bosnia and Herzegovina Council of Ministers and the governments of Croatia and Serbia have reached an agreement to work together in the rebuilding, maintenance and review of bridges which connect them. According to the signed agreement, each party will share 50% of the costs without, as it says, "claiming compensation from the other party, unless otherwise agreed between them."

In other words, the cost of renovating bridges between Croatia and Bosnia will be half paid by Bosnia, half paid by Croatia, the cost of renovating bridges between Bosnia and Serbia will be half paid by Serbia, half paid by Bosnia.

According to the agreement between the three governments, equipment needed for the reconstruction and maintenance of the bridges will be exempt from customs duties. Bridge managers shall make a detailed inspection of each of the bridges at least once every five years and independent experts appointed by the bridges' trustees will inspect them each year.

There are 10 bridges between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina which will be jointly maintained. Most of them stretch between the countries across the Sava river, although a few cross over the Una, Maljevac and Korana rivers. A further 11 bridges between Serbia and Bosnia are within the agreement, making a total of 21 bridges to exist within the deal.

Although there are bridges between Croatia and Serbia (including at Ilok and Erdut in Slavonia), within the article published by Vecernji List there is no mention of an agreement to improve bridges between Croatia and Serbia. Following the optimistic and uplifting promise of the headline at the start of this news item, this fact is a rather more unfortunate metaphor on which to end it.

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Sunday, 31 January 2021

Croatian Embassy Sarajevo Attacked Again Last Night

January 31, 2021 – The Croatian Embassy in Sarajevo was last night again the target of an aggressive act. The flag of the European Union, which hung above the entrance, was ripped from its mounting and left lying on the ground in the darkened street

The Croatian Embassy Sarajevo was attacked last night. Zagreb-based media Vecernji List learned the news from their sister title in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A wall mounting that jointly held poles carrying both the Croatian flag and the flag of the European Union were the focus of the attack. Someone tried to rip the metal mounting from the wall on the outside of the Croatian Embassy Sarajevo. This is not the first time the Croatian Embassy in the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina has been targeted.

Croatian_embassy_Sarajevo.jpegThe Croatian Embassy in Sarajevo © Miłosz Pieńkowski

It could have been mindless vandalism, drunken idiocy, politically motivated – or even all three. The Croatian Embassy lies in the very heart of Sarajevo. It is situated just north of the river Miljacka and in the same quarter of the city as the building for the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, other government and municipal buildings, the Sarajevo National Theatre and is just across the park from the embassies of France and Austria. There are several cafes, bars, fast food restaurants and pubs close by. It is a popularly frequented part of the city at night. Unlike Croatia, businesses selling food, alcohol and other drinks are currently open. Sarajevo city centre is alive at night.

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The damage caused to the Croatian Embassy was minimal. The wall mounting was damaged but held firm, as did the pole carrying the Croatian flag. The pole carrying the flag of the European Union fared less well – it snapped under the force of the aggression and was completely prized from the mounting. Last night the pole and the flag of the European Union were left lying on the darkened pavement outside the Croatian Embassy, immediately in front of the doorway above which it previously hung.

An investigation is underway and police are searching for the culprits.

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Monday, 30 November 2020

PHOTOS: The Seven Fantastic Fortresses of FORTITUDE

November 30, 2020 - Fortress of Culture Šibenik has this year begun leading a cross-border heritage project involving seven of the most incredible historic forts on the Balkan peninsula. FORTITUDE joins together three Šibenik strongholds with fortresses in Karlovac (Croatia), Bar and Herceg Novi (Montenegro) and Banja Luka (Bosnia and Herzegovina). Here, we take a look at the adventurous project and each of its seven fortresses

Last week in Šibenik, a meeting was held to discuss how seven historic forts should be linked thematically in the EU-sponsored FORTITUDE project. Over 1.6 Million Euros is being put into the project, of which 85 percent is co-financed by the EU's Interreg IPA CBC Croatia - Bosnia and Herzegovina - Montenegro.

FORTITUDE is being led by Fortress of Culture Šibenik, under which the city's St. Michael's Fortress, Barone Fortress and St. John's Fortress will be run. They join with Old Town of Dubovac in Karlovac (Croatia), Forte Mare, Herceg Novi and the Old City of Bar (Montenegro) and Kastel Fortress, Banja Luka (Bosnia and Herzegovina) in the FORTITUDE project, which aims to strengthen and diversify the cross-border culture and tourist offer, as well as develop high quality and sustainable management of these cultural assets.

Though running from 1st March 2020 - 28th February 2022, FORTITUDE will leave permanent links between these incredible, historic places, not least the annual Fortress Night and the sharing of cultural programmes such as exhibitions, festivals or even entertainers.

As Total Croatia News has just shone the spotlight on The 21 Most Incredible Croatia Castles To See Year-Round, we thought it only fair to pay attention to the seven fantastic forts of FORTITUDE

St. Michael's Fortress, Šibenik (Croatia)
Kaštel_s_TanajeDobarSkroz.jpg© Dobar Skroz

The oldest of the three fortresses in Šibenik's contribution to the FORTIFICATION project, St. Michael's is also the most famous, not least for its historical importance, its prominence in the city skyline and its beloved standing as a cultural event space of international repute. Medieval Croatian kings Petar Krešimir IV (in 1066), Zvonimir (in 1078), and Stjepan II (in 1080) all made official and lasting visits here. They probably enjoyed seeing the incredible building upon approach to the city, and the incredible views offered from its walls, in much the same way we do today. Several islands of the Šibenik archipelago and the medieval town form the vista from the top.

tvrdava-sv-mihovila-sibenik-2fortressofculture.jpg© Fortress of Culture Šibenik

Most of St. Michael's preserved ramparts and fortress bastions date from the late Middle Ages and Early Modern Age, but this original settlement can be dated back to the Iron Age. Named after St Michael's church which once lay within its walls, some estimate the church to date as far back as the 8th century (its first official mention is the 12th/13th century). Sadly, the church, along with a large part of St. Michael's Fort, was destroyed in 1663 when lightning hit the store of gunpowder necessarily kept there for its defence. St. Michael's Fortress has been rebuilt many times since it was first founded and a great multimedia museum inside will guide you through its history. Afterward, take advantage of the sun-sheltered bar.

Tvrđava-sv.-Mihovila-Šibenik-(6)_JU_Tvrdava_kultre_Sibenik_2.jpgSt. Michael's Fortress is a host venue to internationally renowned music stars and festivals © Fortress of Culture Šibenik

Barone Fortress, Šibenik (Croatia)
LadyIvyBarone_izgradnja-43.jpegBarone Fortress © Lady Ivy

Named after the defender under whose control it lay upon its 1646 build, Baron Christoph von Degenfeld, modern attempts to more Croatian-ise this fortification as Šubićevac - using the name of a local medieval family - are largely observed only domestically. The fortress was given a more modern rebuild in 1659 – at the time it was so badly needed, its walls had probably been hurriedly built in the same way as those of a shepherd's grazing plot. The northern facade of the fortress was the part used to repel the invaders and is marked by two bastions that extend outwards, allowing returning fire to be issued in multiple directions. These bastions were reinforced with mounds and contained all of the artillery for the fight. The fortress was renovated and reopened in 2016 and today uses multimedia tools to guide visitors through its history and that of the town of Šibenik. There are great views of Šibenik and St. Michael's Fortress from the walls.

View_of_St._Michael_Fortress_from_Barone.jpegView of St. Michael's Fortress from Barone Fortress © Zvone00

St. John's Fortress, Šibenik (Croatia)
AnyConv.com__Tanaja_s_Baronea.jpegSt. John's Fortress © DobarSkroz

The medieval church of St. John the Baptist that stood on a hill, north of Šibenik's historical centre, dates to at least 1444. It is around this church that St. John's Fortress rose up. Naturally, it's also where the name comes from. In early 1646, when it was speedily built, its contemporary construction helped save the entire town. The population vastly outnumbered and the fortress not even complete, between late 1646 and the end of 1647, St. John's Fortress served as the main - and successful – defence against the largest invading army to have been seen in Dalmatia since Roman times. After the Yugoslavian army stopped using it, St. John's Fortress became somewhat neglected – locals enjoying to visit on a wild walk with incredibly rewarding views. It has lagged behind the city's other such assets in its state of repair, but incredible effort to address such neglect has been undertaken in recent years and the revitalised St. John's Fortress is set to open in 2021.

AnyConv.com__Tanaja_sa_sv._Ane.jpegView of St. John's Fortress from St. Michael's © DobarSkroz

Old Town of Dubovac, Karlovac (Croatia)
karlovac-dubovac-optimizirano-za-web-ivo-biocina.jpg© Ivo Biocina / Visit Karlovac

The Old Town of Dubovac is one of the best-preserved and most beautiful monuments of medieval architecture in Croatia. Although the architectural style is a dead giveaway to such dating, you struggle to believe such a pristine building it really so old – not least because, as a defensive fortress, it has been attacked many times. This fortress is the ancestor of the entire city of Karlovac. Nobody is quite sure when construction of the original fortification was begun, but it was certainly standing by the 13th century. Its Renaissance appearance of today comes from a 15th-century reconstruction. The fortress stands 185 metres above sea level on the western side of Karlovac and overlooks the Kupa – one of the city's four rivers.

VisitKarlovacDub.jpg© Visit Karlovac

The fortress has a permanent museum in its main tower, which details the history and fascinating, notable ownerships. One of its best features is a map of the ancient terrain detailing all of the other castles and fortresses that once existing in the region along the same defensive line of which the Old Town of Dubovac was a part. The tower holds incredible views. The ground floor of the fortress has a brilliant restaurant 0 arguably the best standard of food that has ever been served within its walls (and that's saying something, considering the dignitaries who used to live here). The courtyard plays host to art & crafts, gastro and other social events – best of all, perhaps, the music concerts and cinema screenings which take place with the looming, citadel walls gifting an incredibly atmospheric backdrop.

1280px-Stari_grad_Dubovac_-_Karlovac_2Miro.jpg© Miroslav.vajdic

Forte Mare, Herceg Novi (Montenegro)
BigMareH.jpeg© TZ Herceg Novi

Forte Mare, meaning literally Sea Fortress, is appropriately named as it sits impressively on top of a rock which rises directly above the Adriatic. It was once the epicentre of life in the town today known as Herceg Novi, the modern town lying just to its north. Construction of the fortress began in 1382 under the first King of Bosnia, Stefan Tvrtko I Kotromanić, and was originally named Sveti Stefan (Saint Stephen). It acquired the name Herceg Novi some time between 1435–1483 and continued to grow as a town and structure until the 17th century and was restored in 1833.

HercegMare5a78f3015bd19286b33c65657114fc4_2_XL.jpg© TZ Herceg Novi

Rather than ever being forgotten, the fortress is an integral part of the town's tourist offer and cultural life. Visitors love to see the narrow passageways that lie within the fortress, particularly the one which stretches from the upper fortress all the way down to the sea. The views are also fantastic – lying right at the start of the incredible Bay of Kotor, you can see the southernmost part of Croatia from the top. In warmer months, the site hosts fantastic events like open-air cinema.

FortMare95a78f3015bd19286b33c65657114fc4_XL.jpgIn this photo, you can see the screen of the outdoor cinema on the top of Forte Mare © TZ Herceg Novi

Stari Grad Bar (Montenegro)
AnyConv.com__Stari_Bar.jpgThe construction of FORTITUDE stronghold of Stari Grad Bar was probably started in response to attacks by the Pannonian Avars © Bojana Smiljanić

The Old City of Bar and its fortress actually lie several kilometres inland from the modern coastal city called Bar and sits on the Londša hill, at the foot of Mount Rumija. The modern city was constructed on the site of the port which served Stari Grad Bar, the relocation necessitated by the 1979 Montenegro earthquake which destroyed Stari Grad Bar's aqueduct. Parts of the wonderfully-arched aqueduct can still be seen today, as can the old city walls which form the fortress of Stari Grad Bar.

1280px-Aquaduct_in_Stari_Bar.jpgThe aqueduct in Stari Grad Bar © Dudva

The original fortifications are guessed to come from the times that Roaman-Illyrian people sought an urban refuge from the attacks of the Pannonian Avars between 568 to 626. Such people inhabited Bar until at least the 14th century, being joined by Slavic people until the city was a mixture of Catholic and Orthodox peoples at the point the Ottomans arrived. The city had been known for its builders and stonemasons, as well as the agriculture of its surroundings, and the unique architecture of Stari Grad Bar today attests to that. Even some of the singular, modern dwellings that lie in the now repopulated town seem to fit in with the stonework of much earlier centuries perhaps, in some cases, as forgotten parts of the old city were borrowed and put to contemporary use. Medieval streets and palaces still stand in the town. It is a fascinating place to visit.

1620px-Ruins_Stari_Bar2_Montenegrochenyingphoto.jpgSome of the fortifications of the fascinating Stari Grad Bar, the southernmost inclusion in the FORTITUDE project © chenyingphoto

Kastel Fortress, Banja Luka (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
TomasDamjanovicBanjalukaNKD136_Kastel_tvrava_Banjaluka.jpegKastel Fortress in Banja Luka, the only fortification from Bosnia and Herzegovina in the FORTITUDE project © Tomas Damjanovic

Sat on a small hill on the banks of the Vrbas river, at the exact point where the more minor Crkvena river flows into it, Kastel Fortress is one of the oldest inhabited parts of Banja Luka and one of the city's key tourist attractions. The fortress itself is medieval, built by the Ottomans, but is situated on the site of Roman fortifications. Archaeological excavations have proven people lived on this exact tract of land from at least the 13th millennium BC. From the year 1553, Banja Luka served as the seat of the Ottoman ruler of the region. Shortly thereafter (1580), it became the capital of the newly-formed Bosnia Eyalet, the most westerly administrative district of the Ottoman Empire.

Bosanski_pasaluk_1600-_godine.pngThe Bosnia Eyalet, of which Banja Luka and the FORTITUDE Kastel was the capital. The Ottoman territory stretched throughout much of modern-day Croatia © Armin Šupuk

It held this status through the entirety of the Eyalet's strongest period until 1683. During this period, the Eyalet included much of modern-day Croatia including, at its peak, most of Dalmatia, right the way up to Lika. After then following a similar path to today's border with Bosnia, it again encroached into today's Croatia, just east of Sisak, engulfing all of Slavonia.

__7SaaKnei.jpegFORTITUDE inclusion Kastel lies on the Vrbas river © Saša Knežić

The Ottomans used this site as an arsenal, its development as a fortress taking place between 1595-1603. It was reconstructed to become the fortress we see today between 1712 –1714 and it is said that around 1785 the fortress held some 50 cannons. It was used as a military site up to after World War II. The Kastel covers an area of 26,610 m2 inside the fortress walls and about 21,390 m2 outside the ramparts and it is dedicated as a National Monument of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

SaaKnei__2.jpeg Kastel Fortress in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina © Saša Knežić

Monday, 28 September 2020

Time To Reflect, As Loyalty Not Luxury Saves 2020 Croatia Tourist Season

September 28, 2020 – The tail end of 2020's unparalleled summer offers opportunity for pause, contemplation and appreciation, as it's loyal and not luxury guests that have saved this year's Croatia tourist season.

In this day and age, things always have to get better. There's no room to sit still. Life without improvement is deemed a failure. Nowhere is this more true than the Croatia tourist season.

The numbers of overnight stays in the Croatia tourist season sometimes seem to be the only measure by which its success is judged. Year after year, the numbers must rise. Any decrease is unthinkable. At the same time, hungry eyes still want more. Some want to reposition themselves. A new class of guest is wanted, from faraway nations. They must be of a better quality. They must stay longer, in more expensive dwellings. They must spend more.

Incredible initiatives are undertaken to turn this want into a reality. But, at the end of the 2020 Croatia tourist season, perhaps it's time to pause and reflect. For this year, it is undoubtedly loyalty and not luxury that's saved the Croatia tourist season.

In the year the coronavirus pandemic hit, arrivals by charter plane and cruise ship were seriously curtailed. So much for the flying visits of premium guests from far-flung lands. Instead, the tourists who came were from much closer to Croatia.

The English language that most on the coast are so familiar with was this year useless. On the beaches of Istria and northern Dalmatia, it was Slovenian, Polish, Czech, German, Slovakian and Italian that was heard. The packed bars of Makarska echoed with the familiar call of 'Đe si, bolan?' (where are you, bro? - in Bosnian dialect). Many of those who came drove to Croatia. And many do so every year.

1024px--Sharing-_Friday_night_pizza_(17405004226).jpg© Jeremy Segrott

Sighs and light-hearted jokes about some of these guests persist in some places. “That family come every year, but they only ever order one pizza to share between the four of them.” The choice of footwear of some German-speaking and Czech visitors frequently draws chuckles, in particular, the classic sock and sandal combo. But, just where would the 2020 Croatia tourist season have been without the 60,000 Czech and Slovak visitors who this year arrived by train?

Just two days ago, Jutarnji reported on phenomenal numbers of Polish visitors this year. Would anyone else really have taken the place of the returning family of four sharing a pizza? Just what would the season in Makarska have looked like without bolan?

Croatians are famously very appreciative hosts. On the ground, there's no doubt that such loyal guests are warmly welcomed and thanked each year by accommodation renters, restaurateurs and others. They greet returning visitors with smiles of familiarity and reserve for them their favourite place. In September 2020, gratitude to such guests was echoed by The Croatian National Tourist Board as they launched a new campaign 'Thank you', directed at the tourists who this year chose Croatia.

Perhaps it is time to ensure that this gratitude extends into any grand new initiatives for growth in the Croatia tourist season? Such loyal guests should not be taken for granted, nor forgotten.

Initiative within the Croatia tourist sector is vital. The unlocking of continental Croatia's potential is simply a must. That too of the Dalmatian hinterland and inland Istria. The exploitation of world-class Croatian assets such as nature, agriculture and health and wellness services are also perfectly on-point. The desire to attract a better class of bigger-spending visitor to luxury holidays on the Croatian coast should surely be a lower priority. After all, eyes that covet can all too frequently fail to appreciate that for which they should already be thankful.

SANDALS.jpg© Oddman47

Lead image adapted from an original photograph by © Marco Verch

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Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Hero Croatian Hospital Does Free Dentistry for All Special Needs Children

Wednesday, 9 September 2020 – Angels in white from heroic Croatian hospital Dr. fra Mato Nikolić in Nova Bila offer free dentistry for all special needs children

Few young people look forward to visiting the dentist. But, imagine how such a visit must be if the world is already a confusing and difficult place for you. These are the difficulties of dentistry for all special needs children.

“Children with special needs suffer from a range of disorders,” Dr. Nikola Matković tells TCN over the phone from Croatian hospital Dr fra Mato Nikolić in Nova Bila, near Vitez, central Bosnia. “They can have stunted mental development, autism, Down's syndrome, disharmonic development, epilepsy, cerebral palsy. They all need to put under general anesthetic for dentistry and, of course, that requires a specially trained anesthetist to be present throughout, as well as the surgeon dentist and several members of staff. It can be necessary to have between six and ten highly skilled medical professionals in the operation, depending on the case. And, of course, that's very expensive. The parents of many children simply don't have that kind of money.”

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Croatian hospital Dr. fra Mato Nikolić in Nova Bila, which answered the call for free dentistry for all special needs children

A doctor of dentistry, Nikola Matković became acutely aware of the financial difficulties for many such parents in 2016, when NGO Betanija from Vitez put out a call for help. His main job is there, in the local health centre. They help provide care for about 50 special needs clients in the region. Responding to the call, Dr. Matković approached colleagues to see if they'd be interested in trying to help give free dentistry for all special needs children.

Dentist Lidija Lasić-Arapović and anaesthesiologist Zoran Karlović, both from Mostar, were quick to offer their assistance. They were followed by dentists Dr. Anja Hačimić, Dr. Ivana Dunđer-Vidović, Dr. Nikola Kezić, Dr. Ozrenka Raić from central Bosnia and assistants Slavica Šimić and Anita Martinović from Mostar. All agreed to join Dr. Matković in his attempt to offer free dentistry for all special needs children in their region.

IMG-20200909-WA0011.jpg
The team of Croatian hospital Dr. fra Mato Nikolić doctors at work, supplying free dentistry for all special needs children

Dr. Matković needed the approval of the Ministry of Health and of Central Bosnia Canton and authorities at the Croatian hospital Dr fra Mato Nikolić, lead by director Dr. Velimir Valjan, in order to begin the programme. Both quickly agreed that it was needed and agreed to contribute funding to help establish it. The programme of free dentistry for all special needs children in the Central Bosnia Canton region started in late 2018. But, that was just the beginning.

“We soon started getting calls from parents of special needs children from outside the region,” remembers Dr Matković. “And from full-time carers of adults who also have special needs. We soon realised we could not just leave them with nowhere to turn. We again approached the authorities and asked for permission to widen the programme and they were incredibly supportive. We've so far had around 120 clients, between the ages of six and thirty-five. And they've travelled here for treatment from every corner of Bosnia.”

Hrvatska-bolnica-Nova-BIla.jpg
Croatian hospital Dr. fra Mato Nikolić. Welcoming all ethnicities and people of all religions, it gives free dentistry for all special needs children

For an outsider – such as this writer – if can be baffling to try and understand how Bosnia and Hercegovina works. The country is populated by the same people, although they've been separated for hundreds of years by three competing religions. This separation led to ethnic tensions rising during the break up of Yugoslavia, leading to Bosnia now being split up into several internal cantons under one federation, another autonomous state - Republika Srpska - plus the self-governing district of Brčko.

“This question may be stupid, but is healthcare the same in Bosnia as it is in Croatia?” asks this British member of the TCN team, rather naively. “Do you have the same option of health insurance to all the people who live there, no matter where they live? And, you're called Croatian hospital Dr fra Mato Nikolić. Does that mean that you treat only Croats? Do Muslims and Serbs have their own separate hospitals?”

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Dr Nikola Matković

“Ahahaha, it's not such a stupid question really,” laughs Dr Matković. “Bosnia can be a confusing place. Well, the answer to your first question is no. It's not the same as in Croatia, it's a lot more complicated because there's a completely separate system for those who live in Republika Srpska. But, I'm pleased to say that we have overcome all the bureaucracy and difficulties to be able to treat patients from every part of Bosnia, including Republika Srpska. The NGO Betanija who set the ball rolling is a multi-ethnic organisation. They welcome people of every ethnicity and religion. So do the Croatian hospital Dr fra Mato Nikolić and this programme within it. Our hospital is called Croatian hospital because it was set up with great financial assistance from the Croatian government.”

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The parish church of the Holy Spirit in Nova Bila became the only medical resource for some 70, 000 trapped people during the war. Around half of them were refugees.

Croatian hospital Dr fra Mato Nikolić is named after a prominent Bosnian Franciscan, humanist and the first graduate doctor from Bosnia and Herzegovina - Fr. Mato Nikolić (1776-1844). It is a hospital known throughout Bosnia and Croatia because of the heroic work undertaken there by staff and volunteers during the time of war.

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The church hospital in the time of war

In 1992, violent fighting caused a huge wave of forced migrations all across Bosnia. In the area where the hospital is now situated, the population almost doubled with the arrival of refugees. Some 70,000 people found themselves in an area 30 kilometers long and 2 kilometers wide. They were cut off from the rest of the world by the lines of fighting and by blockades. No hospital existed within the area, just the parish church of the Holy Spirit in Nova Bila. From there, a few healthcare professionals worked day and night, with almost no supplies, to treat the sick and wounded. So cut off was this group of people that they faced famine. The absence of any medical supplies was secondary to the very real threat of starvation.

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Staff of the war hospital Fr. Mato Nikolić pictured in 1993

War hospitals set up to try and deal with the trapped people proved ineffective, as the lines of fighting were constantly shifting. But, at the end of 1992, it was decided that the church in Nova Bila would be established as the main hospital for all those within the four municipalities of Travnik, Novi Travnik, Vitez and Busovača in the Lašva Valley. This war hospital took the name Fr. Mato Nikolić.

Despite having no regular supplies of electricity or even water, between 19 October 1992 to 1 April 1994, over 20, 000 people were treated and cared for in the hospital. 1,260 operations were performed under general anesthesia, 4,200 under local anesthesia. 721 children were born.

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Despite having no regular supplies of electricity or even water, between October 1992 to April 1994, over 20, 000 people were treated and cared for in the hospital. 1,260 operations were performed under general anesthesia.

In June 1994, the President of the Republic of Croatia, Dr. Franjo Tuđman, visited the Lašva Valley and promised to build a new hospital. The new Croatian hospital Dr. fra Mato Nikolić was opened in 1999. Its pioneering programme to offer free dentistry for all special needs children from across Bosnia is just the latest commendable action undertaken by those associated with this hero hospital.

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How the new Croatian hospital Dr. fra Mato Nikolić looked a few years ago, as its sixth wing was being constructed

All colour photographs © Croatian hospital Dr. fra Mato Nikolić, Dr Nikola Matković and municipality of Vitez
All black and white photographs © Bijeli Put documentary, original sources Davor Višnjić, Željko Maganjić, Srećko Stipović, Arhiv konvoja Bijeli put, Arhiv Kruh svetog Ante, Foto klub Split

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Friday, 12 June 2020

Plenkovic: Relationship with Bosnia Is Important to My Government

ZAGREB, June 12, 2020 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic formally opened the Office of the Foundation of the Sarajevo Archdiocese in the eastern Croatian town of Vukovar on Friday, saying that Croatia's relationship with Bosnia and Herzegovina was very important to his government.

"We have considerably increased funds for specific projects including education, healthcare, culture, and the economy. We have increased trade and intensified our relationship with Bosnia and Herzegovina by opening two consulates, offices of the Croatian Chamber of Commerce, a broadcasting organization, and have improved transport connectivity," Plenkovic told the press after the opening ceremony.

"All this helps strengthen the status of the Croats as an equal constituent people in Bosnia and Herzegovina," he stressed.

The Archbishop of Sarajevo and president of the foundation's board of directors, Cardinal Vinko Puljic, said: "We have opened the foundation here to make it easier for benefactors to invest funds that can be controlled." He added that the foundation would work transparently and that it would be clear at all times what the money was being invested in.

"The foundation will be an encouragement to our survival and our future in Bosnia and Herzegovina," the cardinal said.

The foundation was established in Vukovar in February as a not-for-profit humanitarian organization to carry out projects in Croatia and the Sarajevo Archdiocese.

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