Here’s a country that for thousands of years has been invaded by some of the worlds heavyweights. The Venetians, the Ottomans, the Romans, the Greeks, the Austro Hungarians, Napoleon and of course the Nazi’s all took turns in bringing Croatia to it’s knees
In more recent times, Croatia has continued to receive a battering. In the early 90’s in what they call the Homeland War, Dubrovnik for example, the town you now associate with Game of Thrones, was torn apart with shelling. Only a quarter of buildings in the old town remained. So….Game of Thrones!
You would think that after all of this occupation and devastation Croations would be a bitter and twisted lot. Not so, quite the opposite actually. The God of Happy Moments smiles on contemporary Croatia, allowing this people to forgive, forget and continue smiling into what promises to be a prosperous and certainly peaceful future.
It is a different sort of invasion that we witness today in tourism. Cruise ships queue in the harbours of Split and Dubrovnik, set to disgorge their cargo. Thousands of folks sporting stickers and detailed briefings of the limited time they will have on their shore leave. Perhaps I am a little too critical as it is these folks who pave the bright future for Croatians.
The increasing interest in Croatia as a tourist destination coalesces with its increasing ascendancy in the current football world cup . This happy combination produces a cocktail, fit for Kairos himself.
And on the subject of football, we are only in the cab a couple of minutes, fresh from Scotland before we are speculating on Croatia’s chances in the game later that night. Sure enough, football was to be a core theme of this trip as later in the evening we joined billion dollar yachts and excited locals in the harbor of Togir. The yachts were reduced to silhouettes by the incendiary red flares, celebrating the fact that Croatia had won the penalty kick off and were through to the quarter final with England.
Perhaps a blatant metaphor, the billion dollar yachts are small change when up against fervent supporters passionate about their countries introduction to the holy grail of football.. There is no room for hate here tonight, only pride, only love and only the exuberance of people who can appreciate once again what celebration means.
The Grey Army, I call them. A group of senior men proudly wearing smart slate grey T shirts and warm smiles, all singing from their souls. The Croatian flag is held high, as close to Kairos as they can manage. As all of these men embody such fervour, such passion, I can’t imagine them having any room for hate in their hearts. I can only imagine that they, like us, are happy to share in their camaraderie, embracing their enthusiasm and love.
More exuberance, more goodwill is shared in the crowd sitting outside a charming hotel on the striking island of Korcula. Several beers accompany a nail biting game with England getting an early lead. The crowd is roused with a clever equalizer but moved to tears by a ten year old boy, of course in a Modric Football jersey, whipping them into a frenzy of support. It just feels like it was this little boy filled with the spirit of Croatia that kicked that final Croatian goal to put them in the final.
Still, a visit over the border to Montenegro delivers a stark reminder. I ask a Serbian waiter, if he can find a way to support Croatia in the final. “No” he says urgently, “I stay with my brothers.” This cold declaration sits as a reminder to me that not all wounds can be healed and hurt people can still hurt people. I put this in the background and enjoy the hospitality of Montenegro, mostly populated by people who want you to come to their country and want you to enjoy your stay. With 75% of their land dominated by mountain ranges, they like Croatia highly depend on tourism to survive.
Our young guide in Montenegro has a sharp wit. He maintained that whilst Montenegran’s were hospitable they were also very lazy. You need to have a chair next to your bed in Montenegro he joked, so you can have a rest when you wake up.
We returned from a truly glorious day, travelling peacefully by a small fishing boat to the Elephite islands, eating , drinking and swimming with the permission of the Gods. The clear warm waters of the Adriatic blessed our presence and provided a lovely background for what was to come. The World Cup Final, France V Croatia, live from Moscow.
We all know that the French won that game, the 2018 World Cup and surely deserved their victory.
But really, did we truly believe Croatia would win the final? It was a statement from a local person here in Dubrovnik that absolutely nailed the spirit for me. A comment I will leave you with and one that I think would appeal to Kairos and ring true to all Croatians. It may even sit well with you.
‘The French might have won the game, but the Croatians, they won our hearts.’
Alan Silcock July 2018