Croats pin peacetime ambitions on reviving their strong tourist trade


THEY'RE queuing day and night on Petrinjska Street in Zagreb: not for food or water, but for bureaucracy to put the final touches to Croatian independence.

Passers by have little sympathy. Those waiting in the cold have bad a year to get the letters on their driving licences changed, they say. But some have left it to the last minute.

From last Thursday, all driving licences must carry the letters HR, rather than CRO. The new inscription stands for Hrvatska, the Serbo Croat word for Croatia. It replaces the original licences issued after the declaration of independence.

A Croat policeman, speaking conspiratorially from under his New York style hat, says the change is a UN demand. Others say the letters CRO belonged to another country's international motoring shorthand.

Already most of the cars parked on the streets carry the HR sticker on their back windows.

In Zagreb a queue is the exception - the shops are well stocked and consumerism has firmly replaced communism. While they queue in Petrinjska Street, a man dressed in a polar bear suit hands out free ice creams to children in the main square. Each child gets a flag with the name of the ice cream as part of the promotion.

Meanwhile, Croatia itself has embarked on a huge promotional drive. Its territory, some of which was only recently "liberated" from the Croatian Serbs, is depicted in a colourful tourist map in Zagreb Airport. Croatia wants to shake off its war image and be reborn as a holiday resort.

The history of the republic, according to the glossy tourist brochure, ends in 1992, when Croatia was recognised internationally. There is no mention of the bloody war between Croats and Serbs that ended when 14,000 peace keeping troops moved in.

Before the fighting ended, the eastern city of Vukovar was virtually destroyed. On the tourist map it is marked with a traditional bird, and a bottle of wine nearby.

One Zagreb monument missing from the brochure is the make shift wall of lost soldiers. Outside the headquarters that the UN now shares with Nato, the four foot high wall stretches the length of the street. Each brick bears a name. The brown bricks are the people who are confirmed dead, and the red bricks are those whose bodies were never found.

A middle aged woman lighting a candle in front of her memorial brick tries to articulate her anguish. In tears she shakes a fist at the entrance to the headquarters.

The UN soldier at the checkpoint says that parents sometimes gather under a bell hung from a wooden scaffold at the entrance. He doesn't think any more bricks have been added recently.

"But maybe they come during the night," he says.

Most of the photographs in the tourist brochure were taken before the war, according to Zagreb journalist Renato Pandza. He remembers a recent attack on the city less than nine months ago when the Serbs retaliated for the taking of western Slavonia.

Croatian politicians believe their country's future is tourism, he says. "It could be a realistic future for us, but the problem is so many people are thinking of continuing with the old type of tourism - mass tourism."

Like the city be lives in, Renato is optimistic; in two weeks he hopes to publish the first edition of a football supporters' magazine. If he can drum up enough advertising, it will be a glossy monthly publication. Croatian football has been given a boost since the national team qualified for the European Championships.

The tourist officials will be hoping that their participation will spread the good news about Croatia's normality. Beside the tourist map in Zagreb Airport, a sign in red letters reads "Croatia welcomes Ifor/Nato."

The Nato Implementation Force of 60,000 troops is Croatia's other dream team. The hope is that they will make the normality permanent.