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Englishman in Dubrovnik Englishman in Dubrovnik Bozo Radic / CROPIX

Cherishing the Past, Questioning the Future: Reflections on Dubrovnik's Evolving Identity

Written by  Englishman in Dubrovnik Jan 21, 2024

Without any shadow of a doubt one of the main reasons that I changed my address all those years ago was the sheer indescribable beauty of the walled city. It feels almost like a gift, no an honour, to live so close to something so unique and astonishing.

And my first steps into life here were very much shaped by the city and indeed more importantly the people who call it home.

Whether it was luck or destiny I’m not sure, but working in and living right on the doorstep of the iconic walls injected a massive dose of love for the city into my heart and soul. And over almost thirty years I have seen it change, both in a positive and negative manner. Sometimes it has been hard to watch, I kept having the feeling that somehow this world-class gem deserved a much better form of leadership.

If I didn’t love it so much it would have been easier. But your heart doesn’t choose.

I have been thinking a lot about the latest move from the City of Dubrovnik, to limit the number of apartments inside the city walls by not issuing new permits.

“In just the last three years, the city has gained 4,000 new rental beds. If the trend of increasing the number of private accommodations continues like this, it will literally lead to certain residential buildings becoming entirely dedicated to daily rentals," commented the mayor.

It is certainly a bold move. And whilst generally, after a great deal of consideration, I think it’s a move in the right direction there are many (many) more steps than need to be taken to revive a city that is strapped to a life-support system.

Back when I first arrived here the city wasn’t just a distraction from the rigours of daily life – it was the centre of daily life. You didn’t need an excuse to visit, you had to requirement to visit. But as citizens have sold up and moved out so has the vast majority of institutions and businesses, to be replaced with awful “Made in China” souvenir shops. This has not only made it almost impossible to live a “normal” life inside the city walls but it has also taken away any need to visit.

If I had to go to the city to get some permit, some paperwork, then I would probably also stop and have a coffee or a meal, etc.


Photo - Bozo Radić/CROPIX

Stopping new apartments won’t help unless it is combined with the amenities that people expect, and that is a much longer and harder path than making one decision.

Why aren’t local, authentic crafts given rent-free shops? Is our annual budget that small?

Would tourists prefer to see real jewellers, cobblers, watchmakers, embroideries – or plastic statutes of St. Blaise, candy shops, hundreds of ice-cream shops and ATMS? These local trades would bring with them more options for a) the citizens who live inside the walls and b) citizens from other parts of the city to visit.

If I want a Game of Thrones T-Shirt I’ll buy it on Amazon, but if I want my watch fixed I’d love the excuse to go to the city.

Would I live in the Old City again? Not a chance. You could give me an apartment for free and I still wouldn’t be interested!

It was always going to much harder to attract people to come back and live in the city than to try and convince them not to leave in the first place.

Just think what life would be like if this new law had been brought in 30 years ago.

There is an English saying which perfectly sums up the new law “Closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.”

Will it have a negative effect on real estate prices? Maybe. A real estate agent told me that over 80 percent of all the deals he has done in the historic core over the years has been with investors looking to open accommodation for tourists. I am guessing the other 20 percent were with foreigners looking for a second home.

Reading between the lines it indicates the number of local citizens who are interested in actually living there.

I only hope that this latest move is part of a much grander strategy, otherwise it will be like giving resuscitation to a dead body.

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


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