I have spent a week in Romania, three months in Austria, and five weeks in Croatia, and while I loved each country and wanted to go back to each one each time, Croatia was the one I felt most involved with.
A Land of Contrasts
Croatia is a smallish, south-central European country (it has about a third of the area that Montana has), and it’s a land of quite vast contrasts. On the west, it’s basically a Mediterranean country, being across the Adriatic Sea from Italy and not very far north of Greece, and on the east it has a lot in common with Hungary and Serbia.
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In some ways it’s very Western European, and in some ways it’s very Eastern European. The west is a popular tourist vacation destination, with the seacoast, palm trees, beaches, and historical Roman sites. The east is fairly flat farmland. It looks rather like North Dakota, as a matter of fact.
The Croatians are Slavs, but they’re proud of being Western Europeans and are probably the most westernized of the Balkan countries. Only a few months ago, Croatia finally joined the European Union. They were trying to move in that direction when I went there in 2008.
Croatians are mostly Catholic, with a small number of Serbian Orthodox, Evangelicals, and Bosnian Muslims. There were higher numbers of Orthodox and Muslims until the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s, when Croatia and its fellow former Yugoslavian countries went to war with each other for reasons that some people now consider pointless. Nationals from other countries were evicted, drastically changing the demographics of each country.
After The War
All the Balkan countries are still affected by that terrible war. I had no idea, until I started noticing that a lot of the buildings had strange pockmarks in them. Slowly I realized they were bullet holes.
You can see the lingering results of the war in the beautiful buildings, and you can also see it in many of the people. Psychological trauma doesn’t go away that easily.
Out of fear that such a war may happen again, and out of hope that with work it need not happen again, several organizations across the former Yugoslavia are working to maintain peace among the varied people groups. The Bible college I worked at for five weeks in Osijek, Croatia, was one of them. I was very moved by the work they’re doing and became eager to go back.