Mark Thomas - The editor and big chief of The Dubrovnik Times. Born in the UK he has been living and working in Dubrovnik since 1998, yes he is one of the rare “old hands.” A unique insight into both British and Croatian life and culture, Mark is often known as just “Englez” or Englishman. He is a traveller, a current affairs freak and a huge AFC Wimbledon fan.
Robin Harris, a British historian, former advisor to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, author of the best-selling book “Dubrovnik: A History” recently visited Dubrovnik. He was a guest speaker at a project launched by the City of Dubrovnik entitled “Discussions on the City” where he talked about the political, economic and social life of Dubrovnik through its turbulent and fascinating history. We caught up with Harris after the event to find his opinions on Dubrovnik and Croatia today, the overcrowding problems of Dubrovnik and Brexit.
Where does your interest in Dubrovnik come from and how did you decide to write history books about our city?
It was during the Homeland War. I am a historian and I am also a great friend of Croatia. I wanted to do something for your country, I'm not a soldier, but I'm a historian and I can write. That is why I wanted to write something that would be useful to Croatia. I then considered it most important to show the West that the attack on Croatia was in fact an attack on Western civilization. I thought that the most suitable place for this would be Dubrovnik because everyone knew about this city. After that, when I made more research, I saw that this history and six centuries of autonomy, it was much easier to explore Dubrovnik's history than any other part of Croatia.
What are your opinions on Dubrovnik today? We receive a large number of tourists every season and face the dangers of over tourism. Is our city losing its soul due to mass tourism?
Such danger always exists. I hope it will not be achieved. Dubrovnik, as a smaller city, could well fall into the trap of over tourism but I believe it still hasn’t. I think your Mayor, Mato Frankovic, is aware of this danger and will do whatever it takes to stop it from happening.
What do you believe should be done to stop this from happening?
Always the biggest problem in Dubrovnik is the number of cruise ships. Of course you shouldn’t have anything against tourists who wish to visit Dubrovnik by cruise ship, but you must also bear in mind that these cruise passengers don’t spend as much as tourists. In addition, they create large crowds which is not good for other visitors who want to come and see and experience everything Dubrovnik is famous for. And that's a problem. I think it is necessary to limit the number of cruise ship arrivals. In the modern world, the tool for this is to raise prices for cruisers coming to a city. I think this is the best solution because regulation itself is not enough. I think that the price of this type of tourism is much higher than what one city actually receives.
The city should concentrate on the problem of solving big crowds. It is positive that your city government is headed by a mayor who is aiming to reduce the number of cruise ships. This is a constructive step for the future of Dubrovnik’s tourism industry.
I also think that your city should aim towards a high quality offer and not be obsessed with the numbers of tourists visiting. This is true not only for Dubrovnik but also for all tourist destinations in Dalmatia.
You speak Croatian very well, was it difficult for you to learn the language?
I really wanted to learn the original Croatian language from the beginning, but initially there was a problem because all the literature was in Serbian. In any case, it was certainly a challenge to learn Croatian.
British tourists have been the most numerous in Dubrovnik for a long time now. In your opinion how much will the uncertainty over Brexit affect the arrival of British tourists to our town?
Brexit will absolutely have no influence on the arrival of British guests in Dubrovnik. There are people who think that after Brexit it will be a disaster and that everything will change, however I don’t think there will be any big differences. In this world that we live in today the relationship between people is much more important than the relationship between countries. It is very important to understand. If I want to come to Dubrovnik, I certainly do not need to ask Mrs. May. That old system is now useless and now people are freer. Tourists will certainly come if Dubrovnik offers them what they are looking for.
Do you think however that Brexit could bring some technical problems for British tourists in the future?
I do not think it will be any more complicated than today. For example, people do not come to Dubrovnik with Kunas in their pockets, we know that today people pay for everything with cards. Twenty years ago this was not the case, but now technology has moved everything forward and we can go where we want and spend how we want. I do not think there will be any obstacles for British tourists in the future. What is important is to have a good quality product and offer and at a reasonable price which offers value for money. That’s what the people of Dubrovnik must think about.
You were an advisor to former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, could you compare the policy that she would have had to Brexit to the one that is currently being conducted by the British government?
It's hard not to be very critical of the current situation. I will openly say that I am pro Brexit, but I am against a Croatian version, Croexit, meaning Croatian leaving the European Union. The interests of Croatia and Great Britain are not the same inside the European Union. The United Kingdom has far more opportunities outside the European Union than it does inside the European Union. The people of Great Britain realized that the direction the European Union was taking was not in their interest. I will openly say that what was needed and what Margaret Thatcher would have done in this situation was to prepare for the UK to leave the EU without a deal from day one. She would have prepared for a no deal Brexit at the beginning of the two-year negotiation period. She wouldn’t have brought the UK into the situation that Prime Minister May has lead us.
Your Prime Minister, Andrej Plenković, who is more enthusiastic about the European Union than me and probably most Croatians, said that it was not good for some members to leave the European Union. He was completely right. European Union leaders, such as Michel Barnier, Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker, are not aiming to reach a good deal with the UK but to show other EU members that it will be very painful if they choose to leave the EU and reject what Brussels wants. I am sure Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, who was very realistic, would have been prepared to leave without a deal from the very beginning, unlike Theresa May, who just lost time and in fact has proved absolutely useless. In my opinion, she is the worst British Prime Minister in the history of Great Britain. It is sad that we have such a leader in this crisis, it is extremely bad for the UK and the country's reputation. According to surveys, 90 percent of people in the United Kingdom think that the Brexit situation is humiliating for the country. They are completely right.
On this day, the 15th of April, in 1979 Dubrovnik was hit by a massive earthquake that badly damaged over a 1,000 buildings in the city. Measuring a massive 7.2 on the Richter Scale the earthquake was reported at the time as the strongest ever earthquake to be felt in the region, stronger than the earthquake of 1667 which flattened two-thirds of the Old City of Dubrovnik.
At 7.20am the earthquake started to shake the city, and left 1,071 buildings damaged, including 106 sacral objects and 33 fortifications, according to UNESCO reports.
Over 130 people lost their lives in the region, and there were aftershocks of various strengths throughout the day. In Dubrovnik nobody was seriously injured although 80 percent of buildings were damaged. The earthquake was even felt as far away as Vienna.
A reader of The Dubrovnik Times has contacted us and needs your help.
Whilst on holiday in Dubrovnik, from the 11th to the 13th of April she unfortunately lost four silver rings. She believes that she lost them on the 11th of April, either in the Old City of Dubrovnik or at the Dubrovnik Airport. One of the rings has blue stones and the others were spiral. As the rings were her mother’s they quite clearly mean a lot to her and any information that could lead to their recovery would be important.
From the 9th to the 11th of April one of the most important cruise exhibitions in the world was held in Miami, the Seatrade Cruise Global, and many Croatians ports were present including Dubrovnik.
This traditional fair was held for the 35th time in a row and saw as ever all of the major cruise ship organisations in attendance. Along with the Port of Dubrovnik the Croatian ports of Rijeka, Zadar and Split also presented their offer in a joint stand named “Croatian Cruise Ports.”
This four-day event saw 11,000 members of the public, 979 presenters from 123 countries and 300 international journalists. The event was also attended by the director of the Dubrovnik Tourist Board, Romana Vlasic.
After a week of rain and grey overcast skies the sun has finally decided to break through the clouds and Sunday in Dubrovnik is bathed in sunshine and blue skies.
The historic Old City of Dubrovnik was a busy as ever with locals and tourists enjoying the calmer weather to sip coffee al fresco and stroll along the cobbled stone streets. And some tourists took the time to create their own Dubrovnik art. Not only is Dubrovnik used to filling social media throughout the summer but some guests take a little bit longer to make their Dubrovnik memories.
We just can’t help thinking that they could have found a better place to sit than next to the public rubbish bins.
Citizens’ rights organisations British in Europe and the3million, who represent the five million people most directly affected by Brexit, demand an immediate end to crippling legal uncertainty in the wake of an agreed extension to the Brexit process until 31 October.
While the Withdrawal Agreement on citizens’ rights has been gathering dust for over a year all 28 EU member states are busy making their own, widely differing preparations on how to treat the five million people who have crossed the Channel to live in another EU country.
These five million people demand an urgent explanation as to why EEA EFTA and Swiss citizens already have security about their rights, but they do not. They also plead with the EU to not waste the hard work that went into agreeing citizens’ rights and uphold them even in case of no deal.
Maike Bohn, co-founder of the3million – which represents the 3,6million EU 27 citizens living in the UK - said:
‘This extension does not guarantee that there will actually be a deal. Citizens' rights – the bit of Brexit that affects five million real people’s lives on day one - were agreed between the UK and EU in December 2017. Yet a year and a half later we still don't know whether the agreement is worth the paper it's written on. This means five million people still can't be sure of the rights that will determine whether they will have jobs, study opportunities, healthcare and the ability to keep their families together in future.
It would be utter madness to risk throwing these painstakingly negotiated rights into the bin.’
It is unlikely that any post-no-deal-Brexit agreement on citizens' rights would have the same scope and rights as the Citizens' Rights part of the Withdrawal Agreement - and it could take years to negotiate.
The current EU no-deal contingency plans for British citizens in the EU amount to little more than calling on Member States to ‘be generous’. This approach also leaves the 3,6 million EU citizens in the UK at the mercy of the UK government, which has already announced that their rights will be cut in a no-deal scenario. Without the protection of an international treaty, future British governments will be free to reduce these rights even further. In addition, the campaign groups argue that dealing with areas like healthcare, pensions and social security will require a coordinated approach at EU-UK level.
Jane Golding, Co-Chair of British in Europe – which represents 1.3mn British citizens living on the continent - said:
This may be the last chance before the European elections to show the five million people who used their free movement rights in good faith that they matter more than fish carcasses or Cheddar cheese. At almost a third of only 17 million Europeans who currently use their free movement rights, what message does it send for the future if the EU fails to protect their rights in this unprecedented situation? We need a binding commitment now from both sides that rescuing the hard won citizens’ rights part of the Withdrawal agreement will be the contingency, instead of the current contingency plans providing for 28 separate unilateral solutions without international treaty protection’
The two campaign groups have had unanimous support in the UK parliament and the Dutch parliament recently voted in favour of committing the Dutch government to ring-fencing the citizens’ rights part of the Withdrawal Agreement.
The capital’s airport is looking to attract more low-cost airlines as it considers a new business model, according to a report on the specialised website EX-YU Aviation.
Zagreb Airport's General Manager, Huseyin Bahadir Bedir, commented that "We understand the principles by which low cost carriers do business and we are attempting to find ways to cooperate with them. However, as an airport that handles over two million passengers per year, we have certain obligations which are regulated by the European Union. The two main rules we have to abide by are transparency and a non-discriminatory policy for all airlines. Of course, if low cost carriers find some other ways to subsidise their arrival into Zagreb, we are fully prepared to cooperate".
Over 90 percent of the passengers that arrive at Zagreb Airport come on full service carriers, with low-cost carriers accounting for only 10 percent of passenger arrivals. It is believed that the high cost the Croatia government charges the management company is the main reason why low cost airlines are deterred from landing in Zagreb. Only one budget airline, Eurowings, maintained a regular service to Zagreb last winter but even they commented that the landing charges are “significantly higher than most major European airports, making it less appealing for low cost carriers".
EX-Yu Aviation reports that following the opening of the new passenger terminal in 2017 saw fees increased by two Euros to a total of seventeen Euros per international passenger.
The average working week in the European Union lasts for 40.2 hours. According to latest available from Eurostat from 2017, men across Europe work on average 41 hours per week whilst women work 39.3 hours a week.
People employed in the mining and quarrying sector work the longest - 42 hours on average, while the shortest working week in education - 38.1 hours.
Inside the EU the longest working week is in the United Kingdom - 42.1 hours. Followed by Switzerland (41.8), Cyprus (41.6), Austria (41.3), Greece and Portugal (41 hours). And the lowest working week is in Denmark, which is the only country with less than 38 hours per week - 37.8 hours.
Taking into consideration the non-EU countries covered by the survey, the longest working week is in Turkey – 49.1 hours. Followed by Island (44), Montenegro (43.6) and Northern Macedonia (42.3).
The Eurostat survey also covers four Western Balkan countries. The working week is the shortest in Croatia - 40.4 hours, followed by Slovenia - 40.9 hours. In Northern Macedonia the average is 42.3 hours a week, and most in Montenegro 43.6 hours per week.