Why does Europe have so many prejudices about Croatia?At the end of painstaking negotiations between Croatia and the European Union, nearly every day we hear about what countries are and what countries are not inclined toward us.
We are surprised when certain ministers of developed European countries have doubts about our readiness for membership in this community or are seeking additional monitoring. It is unclear to us how these European bureaucrats do not understand that they have troubled us greatly, that we have done everything we can think of (even at our own disgrace and loss) and that even before the start of negotiations we were more prepared than some countries that have already been members of the EU for a long time. Do they not see that for centuries we have belonged to Western European Christian civilization and that we have sufficiently "Europeanized" ourselves during this long negotiation process? Obviously they do not see or do not wish to see... We have been listening for days how certain European countries are teeming with negative stereotypes about Croatia. Even the Czech foreign minister the other day said that his colleagues have been behaving with prejudices toward Croatia. And we know that in the EU accession process "negotiations" form only the tip of the iceberg, while the larger (invisible) part is formed by prejudices, expectations, misinformation etc. in the minds of our future neighbors. And while negotiations are being brought to a close, we have not done enough to change the picture of our country in their heads and to create a welcoming atmosphere. We are even somewhat concerned that this negative image will follow Croatia as a member of the European Union, which could further reduce the importance of our vote at the European table...
Who is responsible for this? We can spend days name calling politicians of European countries for their lack of being informed or for injustice. In any case they are just reflecting the opinions of their citizens... That is why it is wiser to ask oneself - how much are we ourselves, that is, the people we have elected, done to change the image of Croatia, have we sufficiently motivated European citizens and representatives to get to know us better and have we presented ourselves in a proper manner to Europe, so that it welcomes us as an equal European partner, and not as a poor Balkan cousin?
Country image theorists say that countries are usually remembered by the last significant event to which they are linked. In the modern, hurried world overloaded with communications, if we are not forced to, we hardly find the time to dedicate ourselves more thoroughly its advancement. And Croatia in recent years has not put a great deal of effort into creating significant events or telling attractive stories, which would eclipse the war, trials, corruption, arrest of the prime minister... And believe me - despite the poor economic and political situation, and general pessimism - we do have things to boast about.
Briton Simon Anholt claims that even if the state conceives and conducts a perfect export strategy, a successful foreign investment strategy and a phenomenal economic development strategy, many years, even decades may still pass until the world reconsiders and reexamines its behavior towards that country. Actually, the state can - without a good communications strategy and image management - behave flawlessly for decades, but still be burdened with a poor reputation, which was formed long ago, regardless of how unfair this is. That is why developed countries increasingly consider identity and image management a primary skill of government in the 21st century. Especially if they are looking to change their poor image, to improve exports or to attract investments.
That Croatia does not comprehend this entirely is witnessed by the fact that, a few days ago, we rather blandly celebrated the 300th anniversary of the birth of the great Croatian scientist Ruđer Bošković, who was all the rage in his day in Europe and influenced the development of science throughout the world. Other countries would, through him, tell their story, and through events, movies, symposiums, new products, souvenirs and concerts, throughout all of Europe show the skeptical West that Croatians truly have contributed to creating Europe as we know it today. So, we're not even making use of the opportunities that are being offered to us. And while we are unsure of what to do with our greats, and are philosophizing on how to tell the story about ourselves to curious Europe, whose eyes are turned at this new neighbor, the Serbs have included in their list of greats - not only Andrić, Gundulić and Držić, but Ruđer Bošković as well. And while we do not know how to revel in own successes, nor how to value what our predecessors have left as our legacy, I am honestly worried that, on the eve of the anniversary of birth of this great inhabitant of Dubrovnik, we might even have to prove one day whether or not he is one of our greats at some arbitral tribunal?