The UK gets flogged some pretty poor information on Croatia in its media. It is unfortunate that, after 20 years of Croatian independence, a periodical such as the Economist cannot get past Yugoslavia – and is shown up by a BBC comedy travel programme.
Tim Judah is having yet another go at selling his Yugosphere theory – a sort of vague reformation of Yugoslavia. This time it is an article in the Belgrade magazine Vreme, reproduced in English on the Economist website.
As always with these Yugosphere articles, the hard economic, social and political realities are simply ignored. Despite Judah’s protestations, the Yugosphere is nothing more than Yugonostalgia – reheated Yugoslav ideology. Take Croatia. Zagreb’s economic relations are solidly with the EU – in particular its historic trading partners such as Germany, Austria and Italy. Its political friends are in Vienna and Budapest and so on. Those links in importance dwarf the ‘regional’ groups Judah likes mentioning, which are largely there to impress the EU with talk of ‘reconciliation’ etc – producing a lot of hot air.
Why would Croatia – or Slovenia – turn its back on top EU partners to focus their trade with much poorer ex-Yu countries? They’d be bankrupt within weeks. Communist Yugoslavia’s economy was notoriously propped up by international financial aid – if it didn’t work then why would it work now?
Judah claims ‘Yugosphere’ has entered the lexicon. A swift google search shows most mentions are in actual fact connected with Tim Judah’s articles on the matter. The term has failed to gain real currency. We probably mention it at CBR more than most – albeit critically. Indeed, a number of recent articles by Judah and the Economist have failed to use the term.
Perhaps the lack of mentions explains Judah’s curious statement that ‘Two years later, the idea of the Yugosphere bores me rigid.’ Obviously not too bored, given his article.
Without intending to, an antitidote to Yugosphere thinking comes from an unlikely source. The BBC is running a short series called Three Men go to Venice. Three British comedians travel from Montenegro – including an entertaining trip on one of Tito’s luxury yachts – through Croatia and on to Venice. Here, we have one of the most informative things on Croatia seen in the UK for a while. Vis, Korcula and Dubrovnik are covered well.
The Yugosphere gets a mauling as soon as the trio reach the border with Croatia – the Montenegrin crewed yacht can’t go to Dubrovnik for fear of a diplomatic incident. All of that hot air produced by Judah’s beloved ‘regional’ groups could not solve that issue it seems.
More important are the cultural aspects. Much is made of Dubrovnik’s historic rivalry and similarity with Venice – even being used as a ‘double’ in filming. Such links don’t fit the Yugosphere/Yugonostalgic script. When does anyone every say Dubrovnik – or other Croatian towns – are a bit like Belgrade, Pristina, Skopje etc?
Part 2 may be even worse for the Yugospherists; in a preview clip mention is made on Italians being a presence at the Split boat show, thus highlighting modern economic links. It must be said that Croatia-Italy relations have been very far from rosy in the past – Croats were victims of Italian fascism. However, the cultural and economic links are there, and are important. Italy is Croatia’s top export market. This is a major relationship for Croatia, but you won’t learn of it from reading about the Yugopshere in the Economist.
When it comes to learning about Croatia, a comedy travel programme presented by comedians Griff Rhys Jones, Dara O Briain and Rory McGrath easily – and quite unconsciously – wins against Tim Judah’s latest efforts.
After 20 years, that is a poor result for the UK’s ‘quality’ press in its Croatia coverage.