Joining EU, Croatia aims for historic unification

Wed Sep 5, 2012 12:37pm EDT
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By Matt Robinson

DUBROVNIK, Croatia (Reuters) - Beneath the bell tower in Dubrovnik, behind the cold stone walls of the city's state archive, there is a map drawn by hand depicting an age of empires.

Of unknown date, its faded lines show the 'Republica di Ragusa', the city-state forerunner to Croatia's Dubrovnik, squeezed between the rival Venetian Republic on the coast and the vast Ottoman Empire in the hills to the east.

"Venice was Dubrovnik's sworn enemy," says Croatian historian Niko Kapetanic.

But the tiny maritime republic, its walled old town now a UNESCO world heritage site and a magnet for tourists, was far more adept at diplomacy than war. So in 1699, Dubrovnik agreed for the Ottomans to extend their reach to a 20-km (12-mile) strip of thinly-populated Adriatic coastline, creating a land buffer against the encroaching Venetians.

The deal would defend Dubrovnik until the city fell to Napoleon at the start of the 19th century, but it has come back to haunt Croatia as the country of four million people prepares to join the European Union next July.

The short stretch of coastline passed to modern-day Bosnia as the country's only outlet to the sea, growing into the drab resort of Neum and cutting Croatia in two at its southern tip.

From July, tourists and truckers will have to cross the external borders of the EU to go from one part of Croatia to another, negotiating long, costly queues and strict customs checks twice within the space of 20 km.

Diggers are eating into the hillside to upgrade the border crossings, but even then many trucks, particularly those carrying foodstuffs, face being routed via ferry from the mainland to the Peljesac peninsula and on to Dubrovnik to avoid leaving EU territory.   Continued...

A man walks in Croatia's UNESCO protected medieval town of Dubrovnik August 28, 2012. REUTERS/Marko Djurica