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New Europe

Day Six: Split

Republic Square, Split 
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Stepping out with Goran Golovko in Republic Square, Split's most popular piazza.
Michael Palin - New EuropeThe day is warming up and we take lunch at a small, friendly place a little way up the hill from the seafront. Zdravko, the owner, is gregarious and chatty. He introduces me to his son and grandson, both of whom are wearing Arsenal T-shirts.

Fish is the speciality here.

'We always say in Croatia that fish has to swim three times. Sea water, wine and olive oil!' Zdravko enthuses, and a plate of anchovies, sardines and whitebait washed down with a pale pink Croatian rosť is just about faultless.
We talk, inevitably, about the new Croatia.

'I'm very critical, of course,' says Zdravko, 'but imagine living through the fall of communism. It's a fantastic feeling... very emotional.' He doesn't think, however, that Yugoslavia was necessarily doomed and is unusually critical of Marshal Tito.

'You know, the Serbian influence was too strong... especially in his older age. As for your personal human rights there were no limitations, but political expression was cut, harshly. There was no democracy in Yugoslavia and that's why everything fell apart.'

He won't, however, hear any criticism of Croatia's hardline nationalist President Tudjman, who took the country to war in the 1990s and who some think could have stood trial as a war criminal if he'd lived.

'Our President is criticised much more abroad than here... I consider him a real statesman... the father of our country.'

After another bottle of chilled rosť the talk veers towards present-day rivalries. Like the Eurovision Song Contest, taking place tonight. It's already been a small Balkan war of its own, with Serbia and Montenegro withdrawing from the contest because the Serbs accused the Montenegrins of unfairly swinging the vote for their own song. Croatia's hopes lie with Severina, a local girl and a national star. Unfortunately they are not the only things to have lain with Severina. She recently featured in a pornographic video that was broadcast across the country on the internet. Goran shakes his head.

'The day the video was released, nobody worked in Croatia. In the police, in the ministries, in the government, universities, banks, schools.'

'Really?'

'Well, of course there are rare people who say they didn't see it, but I don't trust them at all.'

Later that evening, in a bar by the sea we watch the Eurovision final from Athens. Severina's song, 'Moja Stikla' ('High Heels'), is loud and bouncy and frenetic and her red skirt, slit to the crotch, is whipped off fairly early in the song. She comes thirteenth.

Croatian pride must have taken a pasting. Not just because she was thirteenth, but because she was soundly beaten by the only two other ex-Yugoslav entrants, Macedonia and Bosnia.

And the bar was half-empty. Perhaps they knew what was going to happen.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Six: Split
  • Country/sea: Croatia
  • Place: Split
  • Book page no: 22

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