The only thing more frightening than the news is what some experts are predicting for the future. Some of the world's best and brightest minds are warning that a "hard rain" is about to fall on what had been some of the world's most prosperous, democratic nations.
People who are listening and watching are looking for a shelter from the storm.
Where did we end up? The little peninsula of Istria in Croatia. "Croatia!?!," you say. "Hasn't there been a war there recently?" Indeed, there has, but what was once a killing ground has become a kind of Hobbit's Shire where the people love to eat their home-cured Istrian ham and drink wine made from their own grapes. And above all, they love peace.
Finding a Shelter from War and Terrorism
Fifteen years ago, Croatia declared its independence from the Federated Republic of Yugoslavia. War with the Serbians and occasionally the Bosnians was the result, and a conflict known for its violence and "ethnic cleansing" raged for four years until the signing of the Dayton Accords. Istria was removed from the fighting, but its economy was devastated as its once vibrant tourist industry evaporated during the war and in the years immediately after.
Croats who are 40 years old and older bear the scars of the conflict in their faces. Wrinkles wrought by worry make them look older than their chronological age, but with those wrinkles has come a wisdom that permeates both the people and their leaders. They want no more war. They desire to get along with those they fought against back in the 90's. They welcome Serb and Bosnian artists to the music and film festivals here and often give them the loudest ovations. Scholarly Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader is working hard not to build an army to attack old enemies but to negotiate a free trade zone that will include all of the former Yugoslavia and help the economies of Serbia and Bosnia as well as Croatia.
The desire for peace in the Balkans is not limited to Croatia. Montenegro peacefully voted a few weeks ago to break its ties with Serbia, and the Serbians responded not with bullets and bombs but with a blessing--albeit reluctantly. International negotiators are helping Serbia and Kosovo work out the last remaining issue from breakup of Yugoslavia.
On the broader international stage, Croatia's leaders have learned the lessons taught by Marshall Tito who ruled Yugoslavia from the end of the Second World War until his death in 1980. Tito, a communist, managed to remain neutral between the Soviet Union and the West during the height of the Cold War. As the enemy of neither Russia nor the U. S., Tito often served as a key mediator, and Yugoslavia reaped a dividend of peace and prosperity as a transit point for East-West trade..
Sanader and President Stepjan Mesic are steering a similar "middle course." They maintain cordial relations with the United States and seek membership in NATO, but they declined an invitation to participate in the 'Coalition of the Willing' that invaded Iraq. They have reached out to China and Iran hoping to foster increased trade and investment at the same time as they work hard for EU accession.
Croatia seeks to be the enemy of no one. Since they have kept their distance from some of the most controversial of the Bush administration's adventures, they have not attracted the ire of Muslims. At the same time, they have refrained from criticizing the U S. and drawing the kind of negative attention from American neoconservaties now being received by Hugo Chavez and Vladimir Putin. Croatia's policy is calculated to produce peace and prosperity in the future. A smiliar approach worked for Tito as two great superpowers were poised with their fingers on the nuclear trigger. If it can work in this new age of a "Global War on Terror," Croatia will remain one of the few shelters from the storm of war and terrorism.
Finding a Shelter from Civil Unrest and Crime
When looking for a refuge, there's more to consider than the possibility of war and terrorist attacks. We didn't want to move to a place where civil unrest or crime posed serious risks. Our research revealed that in countries where there is great disparity between rich and poor, there is a higher danger of violent and other crime. Nations like Sweden and Denmark enjoy lower crime rates than places like Costa Rica and Brazil where there are large numbers of desperately poor people. Croatia, a formerly socialist country with an emerging free market economy, is not a rich nation, but its social safety net still provides an education for all its children and health care for all its citizens. There is no "underclass" here that survives through petty criminal activity. Murder and rape are very rare; people feel comfortable walking alone at night. Young children ride their bikes through neighborhoods and play soccer in the parks as in "Leave It To Beaver" days in the U. S.
Another factor contributing to Croatia's lack of crime and civil unrest is its homogeneity. Croatia doesn't have major cultural fissures like France or the United States. Nearly 90% of the population is Croatian Catholic, and the small minorities of Orthodox Serbs, Muslim Bosnians and Roma are neither oppressed nor restive. At the same time, years of experience hosting visitors from all over the world have kept this cultural homogeneity from producing prejudice or xenophobia. While there are a few "skinheads" and hooligans in Zagreb, the vast majority of Croats welcome people of different religions and races.
Finding a Shelter from "Big Brother"