August 6, 2018 — It seems Croatia’s been sitting on a solution to its demographic problems for years.
[Hint: It involves tourism.]
Knin was quiet. A bit too quiet, especially for an event celebrating a military operation named “Storm.”
Stately processions and ceremonial patriotism typically mark the laundry list of state holidays celebrated in Knin every August 5. This year, they were tranquil.
Not for wont of patriotic sentiment. Croatia’s just coming off a boom in national pride thanks to its showing in the World Cup.
The streets weren’t noticeably emptier because of dissatisfaction with the political elite. They’re hardly ever a popular bunch anyway.
One can’t blame thinning government coffers either. Two 30-year-old Israeli F-16 fighter jets swooshed overhead, reminding those in attendance there’s money to spend.
And yet the crowds were thin. The usual jovial din more of a murmur. It wasn’t humility or the excruciating heat.
Knin — and Croatia — is simply running out of people. By some estimates, the city lost about one-quarter of its population between 2011 and 2016. It’s making inroads via development projects designed to help locals find jobs.
Those in attendance told Jutarnji List the crowds were paltry. Some guessed a 20 percent drop in total attendees in comparison to last year.
“How can they be [here] when they’re in Ireland or working on the Adriatic,” Miroslav Novaković, a veteran of the Homeland War, told the paper, adding his own son was one exam away from leaving the country.
Prime Minister Andrej Plenković’s government has unveiled programs it hopes will, in part, stem the tide of Croats leaving the country. The latest, a series of tax cuts in 2019, has been met with some skepticism.
But perhaps Tourism Minister Gari Capelli hit upon a pseudo-solution when commenting on lackluster tourism figures for the month of July, which only saw two percent growth.
“Our wish is to further stimulate the growth of tourist traffic outside of the summer months, which will ultimately contribute to increased income, employment opportunities for a longer period and, in the tourism sense, stimulate the economic growth of all of [Croatia’s] destinations,” Cappelli said.
It’s a “down is up” sort of flip. By that logic, a 15 percent increase in July’s tourism numbers would have sent Cappelli into embarrassed hiding… Right? But there’s a perverse connection between the urge to keep the crowds coming year round and Knin’s empty streets.
During the height of the season, tourism-reliant regions such as Dalmatia and Istria experience a short-lived population boom, according to figures from the Croatian Chamber of Commerce (HGK).
Medulin’s 6.000 permanent residents get an estimated 28.000 or so new neighbors during the summer — a 469 percent population increase.
Ditto Nin (not Knin), whose 447 percent population “boom” every July and August means it has to make room for 13.000 more people.
Dalmatia as a whole sees a 40 percent increase in populace during August, while Istria has an astounding 129 percent increase.
Take these statistical population explosions and parse them out through the course of a year, and presto, you’ve instantly reversed Croatia’s demographic decline. At least statistically.
If Cappelli successfully executes the dream of a year-round tourism season, Croatia will be full. Of life? Technically, yes. Of people? Sure, but not Croats.
The government would probably have to continue raising the quota of foreigners allowed to work in the country, as it did before going on vacation this summer.
The nation’s airline would still need to be rescued to prevent a looming strike, which could torpedo the summer season.
And with the exception of a few exchange students, the falling numbers in higher education enrollment will likely continue.
No guarantees those folks will attend war memorial ceremonies.