There are vast differences between being a tourist, being a tourist in Croatia and, of course, being a Serbian tourist in Croatia. Every one of these concepts deserves a full-length essay, but the space is limited, so I’ll try to be as concise as one can be, and explain the differences.
Being a tourist does not mean being a traveler, because it is basically a silly RPG (role playing game). You have your equipment: sunglasses, hat, inevitable digital camera with loads of free space in its memory, a small backpack for the sandwiches and souvenirs and a bottle of water. The game of sightseeing might start. You are one of a million, so you look like everybody else. You sneak around in this weird photo safari, trying to get as many snapshots as you can at the most famous places in the place you are visiting at that moment. The goal is to post them on Instagram or Facebook as quickly as you can, in real time if possible, so that they can talk instead of you – as tourist, you are well aware that a photo is worth a thousand words. It can tell the world what you have seen, and that you have been there. Because, if you are not on the Facebook, or any other social media, then you are as good as dead. The game of being a tourist means exactly that: to visit places, so that you would be able one day to say you’ve been there, and the photos are the best proof.
Being a tourist in Croatia is a strange experience. On the one hand, you have one of the most beautiful countries in the world, but on the other, as one can guess, there are behind-the-scene happenings that are not that pleasant nor tourist-orientated. Croatia looks like a chamber maid all dressed up for a Friday night out. She has put on her best clothes, new underwear, she’s wearing her shining make-up, perfume, and high heels, she is young and promising, but she wouldn’t take you home, never, because she is living in a small, poorly-furnished room in the cellar of the manor, with a suitcase under the single bed, a stained oval mirror with family photos and postcards attached to the frame, overlooking a single dresser and a chair with a broken leg. To cut the metaphor short, it doesn’t take long to realize that all the sunny and beautiful and welcoming and overpriced Adriatic seaside, and its marvelous islands, hide the ruined economy of the big coastal cities, such as Dubrovnik, Split, Šibenik, Zadar. Sometimes it is enough just to take a stroll along a side street to see the broken pavement with yellowish grassroots peeping out from the concrete, shops closed because of bankruptcy, heaps of garbage that no one will take to the dump site...
When I spoke to some friends in Serbia, and told them that I am on vacation in Croatia, they were full of cautious advice against going “there,” and if you have already decided, don’t travel by car. One can understand the fear, because it is fueled by the politicians from the both states, who are using it in the election campaign (the elections in Croatia are due in a few weeks, and in Serbia there are elections all the time) and the people are buying into it.
Vanishing one evening
without a trace.
Without forgotten clues
on the threshold of my room
and no arrow
to show me the way.
Wherever I could have gone
Would be of no relevance:
Laid at the bottom of the sea
Buried in the darkness of the woods
In China devoid of memory
Looking for a pitiful story
Or in the desert with a shroud of sand.
Everything is fine
As long as nobody ever knows.
Vanishing without a certificate of death
So that one day they will understand
What is baffling me now.
Generally speaking, there is a difference in timing between Croatia and Serbia that now stands at about a year, meaning that whatever happens in Croatia will happen in Serbia twelve months later. The good, the bad and the ugly alike. You learn that by talking to seasonal workers from all over the country who are trying to earn their annual salary in those three or four months of hard labor on the seaside – gardeners, chambermaids, cleaning ladies, merchants, waiters and waitresses who, in their regular life, are jobless accountants, farmers, clerks, factory workers from the provincial cities in Slavonija, Baranja, Zagorje, Međumurje, Podravina or Lika. And you learn of their warm hospitality, as well. Small talk over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee is like therapy for the both parties involved. Remembering the things passed (also known as Yugo-nostalgia) is part of the package, and the songs, and the laughs, and sometimes the tears, but the difference nowadays is that one can turn, at any moment, and head home without thinking that he is being used or tricked into something that he wouldn’t want. Being a Serbian tourist in Croatia is a bit like visiting the past with a glimpse of what the future will bring, and it does not always look good. Still: the sea, the coast, and the people are so wonderful and welcoming that I won’t think twice next year. I know I will again be just a tourist in Croatia, and it will feel fine.