“I would say within the next 20 to 30 years,” said my friend and colleague as we sat over coffee. My chin almost hit the table in shock. “Really, that short,” I said with a look of sadness. “Yes, if that long to be honest, every year my street gets darker and darker,” she added.
If her prediction is true, and I have to agree with her, then the historic Old City of Dubrovnik will be virtually uninhabited within my lifetime. That’s shocking. Shame on us, shame on all of us.
The reason that is was asking her was a journalist friend from the UK had enquired if I knew any young family who had bought a property and moved into the city. I didn’t, I thought it would be rare that a family did that, but I promised to ask around. The more I asked, the more depressed I became.
It has been coming for a long time, and it could be argued that the time to stop the exodus was a small time window between 2000 and 2005.
Here is the downward spiral of population. In 1961 around 5,800 people lived inside the old City walls, that’s pretty much every home with a family inside. Forty years later, 1991, and that number had dropped considerably to 3,500. And then just 10 years later, in 2011, again a massive plummet to around 2,100. Today the realistic figure is 850. Meaning that more people in the summer migrate to work inside the city walls than actually live there.
Ghost town without the tourists
So it is clear to see which time period it all went wrong. Capitalism killed the Old City.
And I fully understand why. If you could sell your townhouse for half a million and buy a larger place for half that amount and leave half in the bank, well you’d have to be mad not to. That’s why the time window to stop the mass migration was so small.
And what measures were taken back then. Absolutely none. Nobody tried anything. Politicians sat on their hands. And now we have the consequences.
It’s much too late now to turn the tide.
There is no bright future for the Old City - the time has passed
Three times more pensioners than children live inside the walls. Can you see a bright future there?
“The historic core of Dubrovnik is a space of unwelcome demographic collapse. The depopulation and high rate of elderly citizens means that we can almost guarantee the continue of this process,” stated the Institute of Migration and Civilisation back in 2018.
And in that year in the first grade class of school, of the twenty pupils in the class only four actually lived in the Old City. It is Game Over!
Will the last person to leave the city please turn off the lights!
We now basically have AirBnb city. One huge stone apartment, that is full of tourists in the summer, and a ghost town when the planes stop flying. “We play spot the light in the winter,” said another friend. “We count how many lights we will see in homes as we walk from Pile to our house on St. Marija,” she added. “And every year the number of lights is less,” she concluded.
One small detail that shows the fall from grace of the city is how it is now known, and this has changed during my lifetime in Dubrovnik. Before everyone would call it just City or Grad. “I’m going to Grad,” and everyone would know exactly where you were going. Not anymore. Now is has morphed to the Old City. Probably due to the simple fact that very few people actually go there anymore.
Apart from to enjoy the sights and maybe (that’s a big maybe) to welcome in New Year there really isn’t any reason to enter the city walls. And that’s sad.
We have created a museum
Only around 2 percent of the entire population of the whole of Dubrovnik actually live within those walls. And that percentage is dropping like a pebble in the Adriatic. And in my lifetime, I can’t believe that I am writing this, the city will be dead.
Anything on or around 100 citizens means death. We have created a museum, not a living one but a museum to our incompetence.
In one hundred years’ time, when future generations look back at the history of the city and its citizens, they won’t be looking back in pride but confusion and disbelief. “Sorry, but I have tried and tried,” I said to my journalist friend in the UK. “The population is basically on its last legs, its attached to life-support and not even a defibrillator can save it,” I concluded. It is indeed Game Over!
Read more Englishman in Dubrovnik…well, if you really want to
About the author
Mark Thomas (aka Englez u Dubrovniku) is the editor of The Dubrovnik Times. He was born and educated in the UK and moved to live in Dubrovnik in 1998. He works across a whole range of media, from a daily radio show to TV and in print. Thomas is fluent in Croatian and this column is available in Croatia on the website – Dubrovnik Vjesnik