Komagan.com

Perspectives on Global Economy, Technology, Travel and Culture

By

Exploring former Yugoslavia

April – May 2015

Yugoslavia always fascinated me from my childhood. As a kid I remember watching the contestants from this communist block play competitively in the Olympic games and usually come out in the top 5. It was home to many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds (and still is). They shared the same south Slavic language.In the early 90’s I witnessed the breakaway of this big block after Tito’s fall. If you are not familiar with Tito, he is the first post world war communist leader of Yugoslavia. Some saw him as a tyrant but most saw him as a benevolent dictator.

Visiting Yugoslavia was in always in my bucket list. In spring of 2015, I decided to visit the former Yugoslavian countries to get a first hand experience of their history, culture and religion. What connected them together also separated them from each other.

A little history lesson…

The history of Yugoslavia is an interesting one for the reason it is the most ethnically and religiously diverse and complex to understand for an average person. When the Roman Empire collapsed in the early 4th century, the eastern half of the empire broke along two major groups – Catholic to the west and Orthodox religion to the east. A few centuries later Ottoman invaded and dominated the region for five centuries leaving their Islamic culture and influence in the region that once again split the region into Christian (north) and Muslim (South). Over the next few centuries many distinct ethnic identities emerged. The Yugoslavia meaning “land of the south slavs” began to take root with major ethnicities – Croat, Slovene, Serb and Bosniak. These slavs essentially descended from the same ancestors and spoke somewhat related languages. The only major difference was their religious beliefs.

Former Yugoslavia Map, 1980's

Former Yugoslavia Map, 1980’s

 Yugoslavia block of countries, 1991 (Source: ICTY.org)

When Tito came to power after the Second World War he envisioned the unification of the south Slavic countries into one major block that can dominate the central Europe. He hoped to achieve balance of power among the seven different republics – Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia. His vision was pretty solid in that it gave equitable power among all ethnic groups and never allowed one group to dominate the other. Tito was a communist but he refused to ally with Russia. He would play off east and the west against each other. He knew that no good come from aligning with one side over the other. The arms industry in Yugoslavia flourished under Tito. In fact it was the number one arms export market. Several companies manufactured combat aircrafts and tanks. I happened to visit the hidden aircraft-manufacturing center in Mostar.

To understand the region through different stages in the breakup you can refer to the image below.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breakup_of_Yugoslavia#/media/File:Breakup_of_Yugoslavia-TRY2.gif

Signs of sectarian and religious tensions go all the way back to 1970s. Thanks to ironclad rule of Tito those tensions never materialized into any big revolution or breakdown. Most of these issues were swept under the rug at a local level but only to explode on a much larger scale after Tito’s death. The impression I received from speaking to people from various backgrounds in the former Yugoslavian countries is somewhat of a mixed bag. Some are nostalgic of the old times and some felt this was a union that was never meant to be.

Even after the messy breakup followed by the ethnic cleansing and the unnecessary human loses, there are still some tensions between ethnic backgrounds albeit in a less intense way.

But today these diverse ethnic and religious groups co-exist with each other. You can witness that in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia. Within a ten-minute walk in the main square of the city you will find an Orthodox church, Mosque, Catholic Church and a Jewish synagogue. When you meet people from these different ethnic and religious backgrounds in these countries it is important to not to take anyone’s side but rather listen to get their perspective without judging them or their ancestral background.

Economically speaking …

GDP of former Yugoslavia post communist era..

Slovenia is the most prosperous among the former Yugoslavian republics having a higher per capita that even some of the original members of EU. But interestingly Kosovo has the highest GDP growth. Serbia has the worst economy in the list. Some Serbians still blame U.S for the war in the 90s for the reason for their economic doldrums. As you can see in the table below, the unemployment rate is extremely high in all the countries in the block with most sporting a double digit figure.

Country GDP growth (Q1 2015) Unemployment Rate Major Industries Tourists* and % of GDP(as of 2014)
Slovenia 2.9% 12.30% IT, Auto and Pharma 2.3 Million(3.5% of GDP)
Croatia 0.5% 17.10% Tourism, Shipbuilding, Construction and Petro Chemicals 10 Million(15% of GDP)
Serbia -1.8% 19.20% Chemicals, Electrical and Electronics, Machinery, Mining and Automobile 1 Million(2.1% of GDP)
Bosnia 2.1% 43.31% Steel, Coal, Oil Refining and Agriculture 260,000(2.5% of GDP)
Montenegro 3.2% 27.32% Steelmaking, Agriculture and Tourism 735, 000(20% of GDP)
Kosovo 3.3% 35.30% Coal, Metal, Petroleum, Textiles and Tourism 83, 000(N.A)
Macedonia 3.2% 27.32% Agriculture, Metallurgy and Food processing 922,000(1.4% of GDP)

Source: TradingEconomics.com, Atlapedia.com, Seenews.com, *Excludes domestic tourists

What countries is part of the former Yugoslavia?

Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo.

How I planned my trip in Yugoslavia?

My travel path took a loop around the Yugoslavia block (as noted in the picture below). I skipped Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo due to volatile security situation at the time when I was in Montenegro. I started off in the north in Slovenia then made my way south to Croatia and Montenegro traveled along the beautiful Adriatic coast making stops in coastal Baltic cities along the way. After Montenegro I headed up north to Bosnia and west to Serbia.

Former Yugoslavia Travel Path

Former Yugoslavia Travel Path – 5 country tour

My travel path around the former Yugoslavian countries (black lines indicate the path) 


Some basic Facts about these countries

 Country Capital city  Currency 1USD =?) Languagespoken Religious mix
Slovenia Ljubljana Euro 0.92 Slovenian Catholic
Croatia Zagreb Kuna 7 Croatian Catholic 87%Orthodox 4.5%
Islam 1.5%
Montenegro Podgorica Euro 0.92 Montenegrin (based on Serbo-Croatian) Orthodox – 75%Islam – 18%
Catholic – 3.5%
Bosnia Sarajevo Mark 1.8 Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian Islam 40%Serbian Orthodox 31%
Catholic 15%
Serbia Belgrade Dinar 110 Serbian Orthodox 75%Catholic 18%
Islam 2.3%
Kosovo Pristina Euro 0.92 Albanian, Serbian and Bosnian Muslims (95%), Catholic, Orthodox remaining %
Macedonia Skopje Denar 56 Macedonian Orthodox, Muslims

Source: Wikipedia

Best time to visit –April to June, Sep to Oct. Avoid the touristy summer season.

Visa situation – U.S citizens can get visa on arrival and stay upto 60 days in most countries.

Travel highlights in each country

Country City What to see? How to get there?
Slovenia Ljubljana Capital city – history, culture, arts and shopping. I wrote a separate blog post on my visit to Slovenia. Check it out. Most low cost airlines fly to Ljubljana. Frequent trains operate between Zagreb and Ljubljana. Also can connect to Vienna and Munich.
Lake Bled Nature, Hiking, biking and outdoor activities.A must do activity is to hike the Triglau mountains but it is open in the summer.Also a boat ride across Lake Bohinj is Train or Bus from Ljubljana. About 2-3 hours by car.
Croatia Zagreb(capital) Capital city – history, museums (Museum of broken relationship is a must see), food Trains from Ljubjana to Zagreb. Buy the tickets at the train station.
Plitvice National park Water falls Take the early morning bus from Zagreb to Plitvice and spend the day seeing the water falls. A day is enough at this place.http://www.buscroatia.com/
Zadar Historic Roman cityCheck out the Roman ruins – The Forum, Sea Organ, The Greeting to the Sun and the beautiful sandy beachesTry the Black cuttlefish risotto in any restaurant in the old town. Bus from Plitvice to Zadar takes about 2 hourshttp://www.buscroatia.com/Tip: I strongly recommend to take all the bus trips during the day so you can enjoy the beautiful coastline and Mediterranean towns along the coast
Split Historic walled Roman city, Roman ruins, clock tower, beaches Bus from Plitvice to Zadar takes about 3 hourshttp://www.buscroatia.com/
Hvar Fortress, cathedral, beaches, sea food. Recommend to stay overnight here as the night life is pretty good. Ferry from Split to Hvar takes about 2 hours.http://www.hvarinfo.com/hvar-ferries/#1Tip: Take the ferry in the early morning to avoid the crowd.
Dubrovnik Historic old town with massive stone walls, Cable car to the top of the fortress, Café Buza where you can drink and jump in the open water Bus from Split to Dubrovnik takes 4 hours.http://www.buscroatia.com/split-dubrovnik/
Montenegro Kotor Beautiful coastal town in the secluded part of Montenegro. Known for its scenic views. Bus from Dubrovnik to Kotor takes 2 hours. The coastal drive is one of the most beautiful drives you will ever take.http://www.buscroatia.com/dubrovnik-kotor/
Budvar Less than half hour from Kotor, Budvar is famous for its beaches, shopping and seafood. Frequent local buses from Kotor to Budvar.
Perast Another old town on the bay of Kotor in Montenegro. Best known for Our Lady of the Rocks – an islet off the coast of Perast. Frequent local buses from Kotor to Perast.
Bosnia Mostar Cultural capital of Bosnia. Must see is the Historical Old bridge and remnants of the Bosnian war.Neretva river that flows across Mostar is one of the cleanest rivers in the world. There is a bus from Kotor to Mostar but it goes through Dubrovnik which adds more time to your travel. If you want to go direct without going back to Croatia, you can consider hiring a private car or a shared van service.
Sarajevo Capital city of Bosnia, known for its diversity in culture and religions. The city where you can find Islam, Orthodoxy, Judaism and Catholicism co-exist for centuries. It was the here World War 1 started. Scenic train ride from Mostar to Sarajevo takes almost 3 hours.
Serbia Belgrade Capital city of Serbia with a lot of history and culture. Hike up to Kalemegdan fortress, spend the nightlife at the world famous splavs – floating clubs, Ethnographic museum. Also can see some of the bombings from the NATO attack on Serbia in the late 90’s. Recommend taking a bus over train. If you stay in a hostel you can find a shared van service organized by the hostel.
Novi Sad Historic town. Petrovardin fortress is a must see for its beautiful views and creative workshops. Regular daily train service from Belgrade to Novi sad.

By

Jordan from the air

Jordan is a land enshrouded in mystery. Serving as a crossroads of humanity for thousands of years has left the country with a cultural diversity unmatched by few. Come along with Matador as we explore this beautiful land from an angle never before seen, an aerial delight captured using the latest in drone technology. From the ancient ruins of Petra to the mind-blowing rock formations of Wadi Rum, Jordan is a place that will continue to amaze you—just watch and see…

This entire film was shot with a DJI Inspire and DJI Phantom 2, equipped with the H3-3D gimbal along with a GoPro Hero 4.

By

Slovenia – Beautiful landscape and people

Slovenia

Slovenia, EU

Slovenia shaped like a chicken

It is strange to think that Slovenia was part of the former Yugoslavia block of countries. But Slovenes are more industrious and organized than the fellow former Slavs. During Tito’s era, Slovenia enjoyed a remarkable expansion of industrial infrastructure with 60% of all industry concentrated in this small state. Slovenia was the first country to secede from Yogoslavia after Tito’s fall. The breakaway was rather smooth with only a few dozen deaths compared to the mess we saw in Bosnia and Croatia. Within a decade after their independence from Yugoslavia, Slovenia joined the EU club. It was also the first central European country to adopt the euro currency in 2007.

Facts about Slovenia

Geographic Location: Bounded by Croatia to the south, Austria to north, Italy to west and Hungary to east.
Currency: Euro
Capital: Ljubljana
GDP: ~50B USD (2014)
Population: 2.1 Million (2014)
Unemployment Rate: 9% (better than former Yugoslavian countries but worse than Austria and Czech Republic)
Tourist arrivals: 3.4 Million (2014) – higher than the country population??


If you are into nature and outdoor activities you will thoroughly enjoy spending your time in Slovenia. Most people underestimate the time they need to explore Slovenia. The landscape is diverse with alpine trails, ski resorts, and some of the world’s best caves. Hiking is an absolute must in the nearby Triglav National Park in the Julian Alps if you happen to travel in the summer season. I would skip the much touristy Lake Bled and head straight to Lake Bohinj which is only a 30 minutes drive from Lake Bled. There is a local bus you can take from Lake Bled to Lake Bohinj. Once you in Lake Bohinj, you can take a 30 minute boat ride across the lake and worth doing the trip. You can see the Triglau mountain on one side and Dinaric mountain on the other side.

Get lost in the solace of Lake Bohinj!

Lake Bohinj, Slovenia

Lake Bohinj, Slovenia

Ferry across Lake Bohinj

If you do go to Lake Bled, make sure to hike up to the top of the castle. Once you get to the top you can see the sweeping views of Lake Bled and its surroundings.

I love Slovenia

Beautiful Slovenia

Food to try in Slovenia

Pumpskin seed oil
Carniolian sausage
Prsut – air dried ham – Try the different Prsut at the local open air market in Ljubljana
Walnut Rolls
Bled Cream cake (Try the Bled cake in Lake Bled if you do go there)
Coffee – Even a side road highway gas station makes a good cup of Cappuchino in Slovenia

Ljubljana (Capital)
Ljubljana, located on Ljubljanica River is one of the smallest capital cities in Europe. It gets its cultural influences from fellow baltic and central european states – Czech, Italy and Austria.

You can’t swing a cat without hitting a building that is not designed by this architect Joze Plecnik. His architectural landmarks dominate Ljubljana’s squares, streets and water ways. He studied in Vienna under Otto Wagner and designed many buildings such as libraries, office buildings, cemetries, stadiums and bridges.

Metelkova – Wall covered with graffiti art

If you are in Ljbljana this is a must place to go. Metelkova, located near the main Ljubljana train station is well known for its alternative culture and is quite different from the European atmosphere you experience in rest of the city. When you are here you can see artistic expressions through graffiti art displays on walls. The area also includes some clubs, live music space and art galleries. If you want to know more about it I recommend reading local-life.com.

Untitled

Untitled

Preseren Square

Named after the national poet France Prešeren, the square is the center of activities and meeting points for both locals and tourists where festivals, fairs, cultural events take place. My favorite part of the center is the south end where the Triple bridge crosses the Ljubljanica river. Originally built as a wooden bridge, Jože Plečnik built two additional foot bridges at a slight angle on each side of the middle bridge.


A side thought….

After traveling in Croatia I can say Slovenians are very a nice bunch of happy people who are kind to tourists. Most people who I met spoke decent English (albeit with an European accent).

What do Slovenians think of EU? From my interactions with a few locals I gather people are a bit apprehensive of being a part of EU. They perceive policy decisions are mostly influenced by larger countries. The biggest advantage of the being a member country in the EU block is access to free trade and movement of resources and labor. But it is a double edged sword. It could also mean the possibility of bigger and larger companies gobbling up smaller companies in smaller economies.

Best time to visit: May – June, Sep – Oct
Life expectancy: 80/100
Happiness index: 87/151 according to Happy Planet index

By

Technology that might enhance your travel

After having recently traveled extensively across Laos and Vietnam, I can personally attest to just how much technology plays a role in the planning and management of a travel experience. More so than I’m sure any of us stop to think. Though with the sleuth of technology, tools, services and apps at our disposal nowadays, it can often be an intimidating concept figuring out which to use to enhance your adventure and make the planning process a breeze.

You can read more on Mapping Megan‘s blog

Couchsurfing

By

ASI – Utopia or End of humanity by 2050?

Reading this article will blow your mind. Threat to humanity is not from an alien invasion or WW3 or some terrorist attack but it will most probably be from the development of Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI).

This is where we are currently!

HumanProgress

Part 1 – The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence

Intelligence-scale - chimp to Human to AI

Intelligence-scale – chimp to Human to AI

Part 2 – AI Revolution – Immortality or Extinction

Utopia or Extinction?

Utopia or Extinction?

By

Eastern European trip Itinerary

Total duration – 45 days
Countries covered – Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Hungary, Poland, Austria and Czech Republic
Primary mode of transport – Bus, Train, Private transport and ferry

Eastern Europe Travel Path

Eastern Europe Travel Path

By

Laos Vietnam 2015 Trip

Laos (23 days)

Vietene->Thakek->Pakse->Champasak->Don Det (4000 islands)->Luang Prabang

Vietnam (25 days)

Hanoi->Halong Bay->Sapa->Ning Binh->Hanoi->Hue->Hoi An->Danang->Saigon

Laos-Viet

By

Top Performing Stock Markets in 2014

Not surprisingly Emerging markets tops the list. But Argentina, the country teetering on bankruptcy is No.1 really?

Top Performing Stock Market Performance in 2014

Top Performing Stock Market Performance in 2014

By

Press Freedom 2014

Scandinavian countries tops the list as expected.

Press Freedom 2014

Press Freedom 2014

By

My 2015 Travel Plans

I always wanted to take a few years off and travel around the world and capture the special moments in life. While I don’t have the luxury of taking a few years off, I can at least try taking a few months at a time. Here is a rough outline of my plan for 2015 but it is constantly evolving.

South East Asia

Jan – March
India
Laos
Cambodia
Vietnam

South East Asia Travel Plan

South East Asia Travel Plan

Eastern Europe

May – June

Czech Republic
Hungary
Poland
Slovakia
Slovenia
Croatia

Eastern Europe Itinerary

Eastern Europe Itinerary