On a recent trip to Zagreb, I asked a half-Croatian what she thought of her homeland’s imminent entry into the European Union. She had just returned from a peaceful (and failed) protest against the opening of an H&M megastore on the site of a recently torn down historic building. In a combination of accented Lebanese Arabic and fluent English, she replied: “It will not happen bukra.”
The Arabic word bukra means tomorrow, but it takes a local Lebanese to know that it could also mean “soon.” My half Baalbeki, half Zagrebi, all Continental friend refused to believe that the country in which she was born, and which she witnessed emerge from the ashes of the former Yugoslavia will soon enter the third chapter of its incubation as a European nation, but only on the Union’s terms.
This is a country that while enjoying a whopping 98.1% literacy rate (according to the Croatian Airlines in-flight magazine) also suffers, my young friend says, from political and economic corruption, an almost total dependence on foreign imports, severe unemployment, and a rigorous higher-education system from which only 7% of all Croatians benefit.
Europe is sure to bring Croatians a grudging acceptance of Bosnian War’s final score (and salt into the open wounds of a nation that still demands that war criminals be brought to justice), a Starbucksization of Zagreb’s Bohemian cafe landscape (the capital has, count them, zero foreign franchises enjoying wide-spread hegemony) and a total dissolution of its already fragile borders between modernity and history. The country now walks a tightrope through modern history, with the safety net slowly being pulled away.
Ćao Zagreb. It was good knowing you.