It means Welcome to the EU, Croatia, just to be sure
In two days, Croatia will become the 28th member state of the European Union. I think it is positive news for Europe and Croatia's parameters justify its membership because they don't differ too much from those of Slovenia, so far the only post-Yugoslav EU member state.
Vinetou and Old Shatterhand, two most famous Americans, on a lake in the Plitvice Lake Region, Croatia
The European Parliament has already welcomed Croatia as well: by creating a Facebook web page with a huge coat-of-arms of the puppet fascist state of Croatia during the World War II. ;-) Nice. This shows how much understanding the EU has for its citizens and nations.
Croatia has been a part of Yugoslavia (with one name or another) between 1918 and the early 1990s when the federal state violently decayed. Before that, it belonged to the Roman Empire, Austria-Hungary, and other empires. Whenever I had to think about their wars against the Serbs, I just couldn't fully understand the tension as they speak the same language, really.
Now I learned that it's not just the religion – Croatia is mostly Roman Catholic. Their ethnic (I really mean biological, genetic) origin may actually be Iranian, not Slavic (Serbs are surely Slavs) and it can make some difference. If you think about the contemporary Iran, you may find it genuinely ironic when you realize that the more Iranian part of the Yugoslav nation is the most Roman Catholic one, the most Western one, in a sense.
Croatia is a top tourist destination for us. Almost every Czech has been vacationing there at least once. I have been there about 4 times. The Croatian economy is based on services, including tourism. The GDP per capita is $18,000 or so, about 3/4 of the Czech figure. Their current president and prime minister are left-wing. The economy isn't doing too well, with the unemployment near 20%, about 2% annual GDP drop, and so on (I would probably blame many things on their excessively high salaries), but these are temporary details. I am confident that in the medium and long run, it is pretty much a healthy economy.
Their currency is one kuna, which means "marten" (both in Croatian and Czech), because in the Middle Ages, marten pelts were used as banknotes. One euro is about 7.5 kunas. So kuna is still over 3 korunas which isn't too tiny and it means that they still actively use the fractions. 1/100 of a kuna is called a lipa (in Czech: lípa; it's actually our national tree) which means a linden lime tree.
I think that the Croats are friendly. Financially, they probably prefer German tourists who spend somewhat more money than the Czechs but the times when a Czech tourist would be assumed to be a nomad who eats his own sandwich in the middle of a road and spends nothing belong to the past. The Czech and Croato-Serbian languages sound familiar to one another, they use similar roots. However, sometimes the similarity is deceiving. The meanings of similar words may be slightly different as well as completely different.
For example, "plivat" means "to spit" in Czech but "to swim" in Croatian (to swim in Czech is "plavat"). Also, perhaps more seriously, "cura" [tsura] is a girl, a babe, a neutral or positive word for a young woman in the Croatian language. The closely related word "coura" means a "slut" in Czech. The Czech tourists and their Croatian hosts are usually aware of these basic traps and they make fun out of them. If you think about the diversification of the meaning of the word "c[o]ura" that had to occur in the past, it probably means that there had to be a moment in one of the two countries' history when it was either normal for a young girl to be a slut or when being a slut was viewed as a positive thing by the society (at least the part of the society that had power over the mutation of the meaning of similar key words). Otherwise the meaning of the world couldn't have drifted in this way. Do you agree? ;-)
Czechia's T-Mobile, a telephone service operator, produced about a dozen of TV commercials in the most recent year that play games with various Croatian words known to Czechs. For example, there's a town (and/or name) Zadar in Croatia that sounds like "zadara", a Czech word meaning "for free". So a group of ski jumpers wants to "call Zadara" (call Mr Zadar or call for free) and they do lots of crazy things. The Yugoslav languages sound a bit funny to us. The more Southern related languages may sound more funny to the people in the North – something that the Poles who find the Czech language immensely entertaining know very well. I don't claim that Polish doesn't sound funny to us but there's some sense in which more Southern languages sound more similar to a child speak.
The Croatian landscape is pretty. Croatia controls most of the Adriatic Sea's coastline that belonged to Yugoslavia. There are the Plitvice lakes and other cool things, too. Last night, they were airing the last "Vinetou and Old Shatterhard" movie from the series shot by Germany and others in 1968 or so. Some of the picturesque scenes claiming to be North America (including the image at the top) were shot in the Plitvice Lake Region of Croatia. The movies are based on novels about native Americans written by Karl May, a German author. As kids, we would probably name Vinetou (an Apache) and Old Shatterhand (his pale-skinned "brother") to be the two most famous Americans. I have always been amazed that almost no one knew these two guys in the U.S.! ;-)
The EU membership may tame some problems of Croatia that result from their location in the Balkans and from the hot temperament associated with the nations that live there. On the other hand, the increase of diversity and common sense that Croatia (and its 4.3 million citizens) brings may dilute some ultracentralization, Soviet-like tendencies in the EU and countries like mine may be gaining a new natural ally in various questions that matter. Slovenia hasn't really played this role because this nation seems to be obsessed with the right behavior that the EU overlords will like (I mean that the Slovenes have been a bit like swots). I am sure that the Croats are less opportunist and submissive.
Dobrodošli u EU, Hrvatska.
Croatia is great but there can only be one country that wins the most important discipline. Czechia has safely won the Bloomberg tournament searching for the most vice-prone nation in the world. With 64.5 points, it was well ahead of Slovenia at 58.8 and others such as Australia, Armenia, Bulgaria, and Spain. The subdisciplines were alcohol, drug use, cigarette consumption, and losses in gambling over GDP. Too bad that other disciplines such as the divorce rate, out-of-wedlock births, the working womanhours of prostitutes per capita, and so on weren't included because our hegemony would be even more striking. ;-)
More seriously, I am surely not a typical representative of my nation in those things but I do view this high score as correlated with the atheism and the "true freedom" that exists in Czechia. Whether you find it a blasphemy or not, smoking, drinking, sniffing, and gambling are usually not lethal and they even increase the sense that "life is worth living" for those who do such things. I think that in most countries beneath us, such ideas are taboo.
On the opposite side of the table, you find Zambia. Would you prefer to live in Czechia or Zambia? Paradoxically enough, the drug-civil-war-stricken Mexico was among the 5 least vice-prone countries, too.