Neglected by Croatia: The Realities of Dubrovnik
The political battle to build the Pelješac bridge that would connect the Dubrovnik region with the rest of Croatia has taken on a new dimension: theFree Dalmatia newspaper from Split published a story (link in Croatian) warning of the increase in the separatist mood among the Dubrovnik population due to the negligence of Croatia’s authorities towards this remote region.
How is this a topic for the Serbian Roundup, you ask. Dubrovnik was a Serb-inhabited medieval city whose survival through centuries of foreign occupation of other Serb lands ensured the survival of great historical and cultural heritage, invaluable to Serbdom. Since its inclusion in the Croatian Banovina in 1939 and in the Independent State of Croatia, it’s been divesting itself of its Serb Dalmatian character. Now it is a part of the Republic of Croatia and almost no Serbs live there, but it is still a part of the Serb cultural heritage and one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. The mere fact that it belongs to Croatia as of lately cannot erase the Serb millennium of its ethnic character and its political independence. As a historic Serb city, it is, of course, of interest to the Serbian Roundup.
Now, this is not a call to return Dubrovnik to its Serb origins in any way. Serbian dreams and Dubrovnik realities diverged significantly after the Croat genocide against Serbs of 1941-1945, perhaps even before that. After Napoleon Bonaparte abolished the Dubrovnik Republic in 1808, according to the local lore the Dubrovnik gentry decided to stop having children as they refused to raise offspring without freedom. Many did heed that call and entire noble families died out. The Croat genocide against the Serbs did not exclude the Dubrovnik area and most of the Serb inhabitants were eradicated from the city and from the vicinity. The Austro-Hungarian abolition of Serb rights in 1908, the croatization of the Serb Catholics, the influx of Croats from other parts of Dalmatia, the genocide against Serbs and the revival of Croat ultra-nationalism and chauvinism of the 1990s turned Dubrovnik into an all-Croat area. Serbs can’t stake a claim to it anymore and, obviously, Dubrovnik is neither a Serbian problem nor on the radar as a Serbian political issue.
Although this article in Free Dalmatia was clearly a lobbying effort aimed at Croatia’s government to push through with the stalled building of a bridge to the Peljesac peninsula, probably aided by financial interests that are in a hurry to make good on their investments, it cited some definite reasons for dissatisfaction in Dubrovnik, which, coupled with Dubrovnik historic statehood and independence, can indeed increase separatist tendencies. Namely, the Dubrovnik coast, since it is not a Croat historic land, is geographically isolated from the rest of Croatia, with very weak transportation connections, which, according to Free Dalmatia, significantly deteriorated after Croatia’s independence in 1992, mainly due to neglect. It is not easy for Croatia to maintain the connection with Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik was an independent merchant state, a rival of Venice, and its overland trade networks, as well as other relationships, ethnic and cultural, were mainly leaning on its most natural logistical partner, the Serb hinterland of Herzegovina, Bosnia, Zeta and Rascia. The inhabitants of Dubrovnik were mostly Serbs of Hum (Herzegovina) and their descendants, the most famous of them being Ruđer Bošković (Ruggero Boscovich), one of the most important European astronomers of the 18th century. The Ottomans, after the conquest of the Serb hinterland, knowing the significance of Dubrovnik’s Western connections allowed its trade with the hinterland to continued unimpeded. All this has been well-documented in the Dubrovnik Archive, one of the most precious resources for students of Serbian history. Dubrovnik is simply not near the rest of Croatia and that, apparently, is a problem.
Free Dalmatia sources cited not only a lack of transportation connections, especially during the off-season months between October and April when Dubrovnik is not as important to Croatia’s economy as during summer, a lack of drinking water, sanitation services, including the sewer system, and the increased transfer of local institutions of political and economic self-governance out of Dubrovnik and into Split and the port of Ploče. Corruption and budget misappropriations are rampant, according to the article. Now, we are not talking about some fishing village where tourists like to come, bathe and eat figs; this is Dubrovnik, whose Old City – under UNESCO protection – is one of the pearls of the Mediterranean and whose history and architectural beauty transcends politics of Zagreb or Split. Increasingly a remote province and a milking cow, Dubrovnik and its citizens like artist Davor Lucianović, who contributed to theFree Dalmatia story, are right to feel aggrieved.
The Free Dalmatia article suggested: if you don’t build this bridge, expect Dubrovnik to request more autonomy. Since Dubrovnik’s history of independence is much longer than Croatia’s own, this would not be an unreasonable request even if Free Dalmatia’s only motivation was to lobby for the bridge.
Even if Dubrovnik became completely croatized during the fascist Independent State of Croatia, it is not unreasonable to find popular dissatisfaction in this historically independent region, especially with the prospects of economic prosperity an increased independence would carry. A renewal of the spirit of independence among the people of Dubrovnik would, due to its traditional outlooks and geographic position, also renew its historic role as a cultural and economic bridge between the quarreling states of the Southeast Europe. Croatia supports secession in neighboring countries, and although one shouldn’t deduce too much from one article, I’m sure the region wouldn’t stand in the way of Dubrovnik gaining more independence from Croatia. A case in point is the international affair surrounding the very bridge that started all this, with Istanbul, I mean, Sarajevo, conveniently invoking an agreement between Franjo Tuđman and Alija Izetbegović to block Croatia from connecting with Dubrovnik.