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News 04 Sep 17

Croatia's Isolated Islands Hope Law Will Ease Plight

Croatia's sun-kissed islands may look heaven in travel brochures - but the reality is different, and activist say a new law needs to help them become more independent and self-sustainable.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Famous Zlatni rat beach on the island of Brac. Photo: Frane and Roni Marinkovic

Faced with such problems as an ageing population, the flight of young people, patchy healthcare and the over-dominance of tourism , the procedure is starting for the drafting of Croatia's new Law on Islands, designed to address some of these issues.

An umbrella network of NGOs and individuals called the Island Movement says the new legislation needs to create a framework under which different bodies can ease the problems caused by the islands' isolation from each other.

Croatia has a lot of islands - 78 in all - and their popularity with the wealthy yacht crowd and with tourists in general grows steadily each year.

Travel magazine pictures of golden sands, azure skies and equally azure waters evoke an image of paradise - but the reality for most people living there is often different.

A representative of the movement who is part of an expert group working on the draft, Andreja Baraba, told BIRN that the islands face “a complex problem” – and the new law must create a framework to address it.

“As things stand now, the islands are 'alive' for just two months during summer tourist season,” she said, referring to their growing dependence on tourism for survival.

Although the media often focus on weak connections between islands and the mainland as the key issue, this was not “the problem number one”, she said.

“The law should work in the direction of making islands self-sustainable, so that they are less dependent on the mainland in general,” Baraba emphasised.

However, she conceded that poor connnections was certainly an issue. “In Solta, I can see Hvar with my own eyes, but to get there, I need to take a ferry to Split [on the mainland] and from there take another ferry to Hvar,” she noted.

Baraba explained that better connections between the various islands would help them all become more independent of the mainland.

More traffic connection between islands could improve healthcare provision, for example – by different islands sharing doctors.

Another problem the islands face in trying to keep hold of their youngsters is the lack of broadband internet, which is a prerequisite for finding jobs and furthering education.

An extra educational problem is that teachers and professors who teach on the islands tend to look for opportunities back on the mainland.

On some islands, the non-existence of proper sewers causes problems, especially during the tourist season.

According to Baraba, the old law on the islands, passed 18 years ago, besides having omissions, was never properly implemented.

This claim seems confirmed by the government’s own document, designed to kickstart a public discussion on the law proposal.

The document notes that in the 18 years that have passed since the first law was adopted, only one of 26 planned programs for sustainable development has been realised.

It further notes that the seven committees currently monitoring the islands’ development do not work or communicate with each other properly.

Of 13 programmes they planned in different fields, only two were realised – one sorting out land property books and another concerning the use of islands that are only occasionally or never inhabited.

Croatia has one of the world’s most indented coastlines, with 78 islands, 525 islets and 641 rocks and reefs. Some 124,958 people – out of 4.2 million inhabitants in total – live on 50 permanently inhabited islands.

The majority have demographic problems, due to an ageing population, low birth rates and a movement of the young to the mainland.

Islanders rely a lot on ever-growing tourism – and, to a lesser extent, on the older industries, such as production of wine and olive oil, as well as fishing.

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