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THE BALKAN COUNTRIES

Between 1945 and 1989 most of the countries of the Balkan Peninsula, with the important exceptions of Greece and Turkey, formed part of the Communist Eastern Bloc, sharply differentiated in their political and economic make-up from the countries to the west of the ‘ Iron Curtain ’ . However, this impression of unity was to a large extent imposed by the Soviet Union following its victory in the Second World War, and concealed the deep-seated differences between the many and varied ethnic groups which make up the population of the region. Most countries had substantial ethnic minorities at variance with the majority culture, and all had experienced long periods of foreign rule. Most of the region formed part of the Ottoman Empire, but Croatia, Dalmatia, Slovenia and Transylvania were ruled until 1918 by the Habsburg Empire based in Vienna and Budapest, and as such, tended to be more advanced in their social and economic development than their neighbours to the east of the Dinaric Alps and south of the Carpathians. The period between the First and Second World Wars was marked by the political instability caused by these tensions in the new independent nations, particularly Yugoslavia. During the era of Soviet domination, the Black Sea beaches of Bulgaria and Romania were, in some respects, the East European equivalent of the Spanish costas, attracting sun-seeking tourists from the more developed socialist countries of Poland, East Germany and Czechoslovakia. Since the collapse of Communism, the Balkan countries have made progress in varying degrees toward democracy and closer association with Western Europe. In 2004, Slovenia was among the ‘ accession states ’ to join the EU, followed two years later by Bulgaria and Romania. Croatia is due to join in 2010, while Montenegro has already adopted the euro as its currency. Membership of the European Union should encourage investment in tourism, and boost demand in countries where travel propensities are relatively low.

ALBANIA

The change from Communism to a free-market economy has perhaps been most traumatic in Albania, which is also the poorest and least developed of the former Eastern bloc states. Although only a narrow stretch of water separates it from Corfu, the country was virtually unknown, let alone frequented by tourists until the 1990s. A small mountainous nation, known to its people as Shqipri (land of the eagles), Albania is different in language and culture from its Greek and Slav neighbours. In 1991, following the fall of Communism, the government envisaged ambitious plans for tourism development, under a new Ministry of Construction and Tourism. There is little doubt that the country has considerable potential, including an extensive and as yet unspoiled Mediterranean coastline where ramshackle developments are now being cleared away, spectacular lake and mountain scenery, and potential ecotourism based on the great biodiversity of the country with its bears, lynx and golden eagles. However, Western-style tourism has been held back for the following reasons: ● The historical legacy of the hard-line Communist regime established by Enver Hoxha between 1945 and 1989, which imposed a policy of economic self-suffi ciency, closed mosques and churches, and isolated the Albanian people from contacts with foreigners. Some 700 000 concrete bunkers survive as reminders of that time; ● Inadequate infrastructure. The road network is poorly developed, with horsedrawn vehicles impeding the traffi c fl ow. Many mountain villages remain inaccessible by road. External transport links by road, air and ferry are limited, there are constant power cuts, and water supplies are of poor quality; ● Lack of investment due to the poor state of the economy. It could be said that 40 years of collectivisation and a closed economy were followed by rampant individualism and unregulated capitalism. The collapse of get-rich-quick ‘ pyramid ’ investment schemes in the 1990s discredited government attempts to introduce a free-market economy. Since 2000, the construction industry (much of it illegal) and remittances from Albanian emigrants have sustained the economy; ● Political instability. In the northern part of Albania there has been a recrudescence of the traditional blood feuds between clans that characterised much of the country’s pre-1945 history, and visitor safety cannot be guaranteed. By 2005, inbound arrivals exceeded 700 000 a year, and domestic tourism was a signifi cant growth sector. To provide for this market, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is closely involved with the funding of facilities suitable for Western tourists, such as hotels, holiday villages and campgrounds and the bedstock has grown to approach 8000. Most of the development will be on the coast, particularly south of Vlore. The EBRD would like developers to concentrate on a relatively few up-market projects. However, the Albanian government desperately needs the foreign-exchange earnings from tourism to modernise the country’s infrastructure, and some observers fear that this will put pressure on Albania’s unique ecological and cultural resources. These include:

● The archaeological sites at Apolonia and Butrint –the ‘ lost city ’of the ancient Illyrian civilisation, and one of the best-preserved classical sites in the Mediterranean Because of its accessibility from the beach resort of Ksamil and Corfu, Butrint may have to cope with visitor numbers well beyond its present capacity;

● The mountains of the interior. These contain a number of medieval fortresstowns which played a major role in the Albanian struggle for freedom against the Ottoman Empire; of these Berat, Gijrokastro and Kruje are the most important;

● The lakes on the borders with Macedonia and Montenegro. The changes that have taken place in Albania since the fall of Communism are mainly evident in the capital, Tirana, which has tripled in population since 1990. Under Hoxha the city was effectively a car-free zone, but it now has severe traffi c problems, exacerbated by the lack of planning and infrastructure. The private sector, often with Italian fi nancial backing, is providing hotels and restaurants in competition with Albturist, the state travel organisation.

THE REPUBLICS OF THE FORMER YUGOSLAVIA

The pre-1991 Yugoslavia has been described as an experiment to unite many peoples of widely differing languages (including two alphabets), religions and historical backgrounds. It was a federation of six republics –Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro –and two autonomous regions – Kosovo and Vojvodina. This complex arrangement was made to work largely through the authority of Marshal Tito, who ruled the country from 1945 to 1979. Furthermore, as a non-aligned country following Tito’s break with Stalin, Yugoslavia set out earlier to attract foreign investment, and was far more successful than Bulgaria or Romania in attracting package holidaymakers from Western Europe. In 1960, Yugotours was set up to market the country and in 1965 restrictions on the movement of foreign visitors were removed. In the same year, the Adriatic Highway was completed with Western aid, permitting the development of resort facilities along the coast from Istria to Montenegro. By 1988, Yugoslavia was attracting 9 million foreign visitors annually, but these were highly concentrated geographically on the Adriatic coast, while the former West Germany accounted for a third of the total. Although domestic tourism was mainly accommodated in low-cost holiday villages away from the main Adriatic resorts, Yugoslavs were not discouraged from contact with Western tourists at home and had greater freedom than other East Europeans to travel to Western countries. However, the communist system of ‘ worker’s control ’in practice caused problems in hotel administration and marketing, and did little to encourage private enterprise. The ending of the Cold War also brought about the revival of nationalism and ethnic rivalries, initiated by Serbia. This caused the break-up of the Federation, swiftly followed by a series of wars that lasted throughout most of the 1990s. Needless to say, this was disastrous for the tourism industries of the former Yugoslavia, although the republics of Croatia and Slovenia have now recovered most of their former popularity. As the following survey shows, tourism resources are far from evenly distributed throughout the region.

CROATIA

Croatia has both Mediterranean and central European characteristics in its national make-up. The country can offer the visitor a great diversity of landscapes and cultural attractions and a well-established tourism industry. The coastline is deeply indented, extending to 5800 kilometres if we include the thousand or so islands in the Adriatic. The coastal regions of Istria and Dalmatia are protected by the parallel ranges of the Dinaric Alps from the cold winters experienced in the interior. However, where there are gaps in the mountains, the blustery Bora wind can be disruptive in spring and autumn. The eastern part of Croatia, known as Slavonia, is plains country similar to neighbouring Hungary. The west on the other hand is mountainous, and here we can fi nd some of the best examples of karst limestone scenery in Europe, culminating in the lakes and waterfalls of the Plitvice National Park. Croatia accounted for over 80 per cent of tourist nights in registered accommodation in the former Yugoslavia during the late 1980s, but received a much smaller proportion of the revenue from tourism, which was shared out among the other republics in the federation. Nevertheless, tourism did much to benefi t the economy of the Dalmatian islands and stemmed out-migration, which was a problem in the early part of the twentieth century. With the apparent resolution of the ethnic strife in Bosnia and Kosovo, the country has regained its position as a major holiday destination, but this time as an independent nation. The revival, spearheaded by the Ministry of Tourism through a privatisation policy, has attracted a fl ow of investment into the tourism sector since 2000. The Croatian National Tourist Board promotes the country as ‘ The Mediterranean as it used to be ’with an emphasis on culture and unspoiled nature. In 2007, Croatia attracted 10.8 million arrivals. The domestic market is relatively small, accounting for only 10 per cent of tourist nights. The great majority of foreign tourists come from neighbouring countries and central Europe. Germany is in the lead with over 20 per cent of overnight stays, followed by Italy (12 per cent), Slovenia, Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Croatia has been slower to regain its pre-1990 popularity with British tourists, who account for only 3 per cent of arrivals, mainly on inclusive tour holidays. Croatia has a good transport infrastructure, with international airports at Zagreb and Dubrovnik, and Croatian Airways as its national carrier. Ferries operate from the ports of Rijeka and Split to Italy and Greece, and a network of hydrofoil services links the Dalmatian islands to the mainland. Much of the tourism development since the 1960s has been in the form of selfcontained hotel and apartment complexes, such as the Babin Kuk peninsula near the historic city of Dubrovnik and the ‘ Makarska Riviera ’ . However, ‘ hotels and resorts ’accounted for less than 20 per cent of the available bedspaces in 2006. Private houses make up the largest category of accommodation, followed by campgrounds, which are mainly used by tourists from central Europe. Marinas also provide a signifi cant supply of accommodation. Tourism in Croatia is largely based on the coastal resources of Istria and Dalmatia, and has a long history. For example, Opatija, which has good road and rail links to Central Europe, was a fashionable resort for the Austrian and Hungarian elites before the First World War. The Istrian Peninsula has good beaches, easy access to Italy, and the major resorts of Porecˇ and Rovinj. Dalmatia offers more spectacular scenery, but its disadvantage for family holidays is the lack of sandy beaches. The numerous sheltered deep water harbours have encouraged cruising and sailing, while the clear unpolluted sea is ideal for diving and bathing. Some of the Dalmatian islands –such as Brioni and the Kornati group –are protected as national parks, while others –notably Hvar, Korcula and Rab –have been developed as holiday resorts. The coast can also offer a rich cultural heritage, including:

● Important Roman remains, such as the arena at Pula, and the impressive remains of the palace of the Emperor Diocletian, which now form part of the old quarter of Split;

● The architecture of the coastal towns and islands, showing the infl uence of Venice, which was the major power in the region in medieval times;

● Dubrovnik, an almost perfect example of a medieval seaport, complete with city walls and pedestrianised streets and squares. The buildings damaged by the Serbian bombardment of 1991/92 have been meticulously restored, while the international summer festival continues to be a major attraction. Away from the coast, tourism in Croatia mainly gravitates to the capital, Zagreb. This is an attractive historic city and an important business centre, hosting conferences, international trade fairs and sports events.


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