Against the backdrop of the Dutch EU Council presidency, OneWorld.nl has sent Reinier Vriend on a mission to identify the everyday European values and concerns. In the interview series #ThisIsMyEurope he speaks with colourful individuals in and of the continent, trying to find out what ‘Europe’ means to us. Today he meets Croatian-Swedish Stephanie in Dubrovnik, Croatia.
“Europe is the coolest bubble in the world. This close little space where nobody knows what's happening in the outside world. We're living our decent, secure lives. It's really a cultural bubble.”
Stephanie Milina (32) currently works as a trainee for a film production company. We meet over a coffee in Dubrovnik's old town. Stephanie curses at the prices of the establishment and launches straight into a description of how the town where she grew up has changed in the past decades. “I've been living abroad for 10 years, until I returned about three years ago. I think it might have given me a more critical perspective than would be good for me. Maybe.” She laughs. “In the last twenty years, Durbrovnik's old town has turned into a ghost town. At first, thousands of people lived here. Then foreign investors started buying apartments, leaving them empty for most of the year. Now the old town has just 500 permanent inhabitants.”
Problem is that none of the money made here is put to public use. “Each year, by the end of July we get one million visitors. And that’s only by airplane. Add to that the buses, the mega cruise ships. Imagine the cash that is made from entrance to the city walls, tourist tax, all of that. As citizens, we should get more benefits. But we only experience the downside of ever increasing prices. Dubrovnik is the most expensive city in Croatia, but the quality of services and range of products is below average.”
This is fascinating about Europe, joining together all these countries that are so different and so unconnectable
Stephanie sees no resistance. “In Croatia we don't have a culture of protesting. People don't believe in that anymore. And it's all about information. How can you ask about something that you don't know about? Laws and rules change, but no-one communicates about it. They should teach you in school. Even voting, people don't even vote. The people don't believe that what they voted for will actually be carried out. Here we believe in corruption.”
Stephanie was born to a Swedish mother and a Croatian father. She has spent considerable time in Sweden. How do the two countries relate? “There is nothing, absolutely nothing that ties them together. This is also fascinating about Europe, joining together all these countries that are so different and so unconnectable.”
The European Union
Joining the EU has changed the situation in Croatia. “It's getting a little bit better. But it is not like someone will come to your house and inform you about your rights. There is a direct change to see in support for infrastructure, like roads and solar panels, but the availability of public information is going slowly.”
The future of the EU? “I think it will crash
At the same time, EU also means a unifying force. “Croatia and the rest of the world will look like Sweden soon enough, because we now have IKEA and H&M.” She laughs. “Sweden, the Kingdom of Democratic Design.”This is in stark contrast to Turkey, where Stephanie spent 3,5 years living and working. “All countries of Europe are trying to be modern, blindly running in this direction. While we do that, we discard our past. People in Europe don't like to play traditional instruments anymore, they don't like the folk traditions, they don't value craftsmanship. Look at this city: here in Dubrovnik, we only have one shoe repair shop left. It's this really grumpy old man who sends you away and says that your shoes so broken that you should buy new ones.”
You know how many applied for refugee status? Five!
The future of the EU? “I think it will crash. Look at the pressure in Greece to get out, Britain. And what's happening in Ukraine, the tension that the refugees are bringing. Last year, close to a million refugees past through Croatia. You know how many applied for refugee status? Five! The problem is that everyone wants to go to Germany. Not just the refugees from the Middle East. All the Spaniards, Italians and Croatians want to go to Germany too. If the Germans outsource something to Croatia, more people would want to stay here! Maybe the EU will offer this kind of integration here, but we will have to see. For now, I think that a rosy future for the EU is highly unlikely.”