Please note that this article is from 2004. Things change.
Just got back from a trip through Croatia, which was magnificent except for the hassle I got over the pass I purchased in the US that was supposed to be for all the trains in the former Yugoslavian republics. First off, this is a pretty expensive pass, costing me about $200, since I am not a student and had to pay full price. But, as I was purchasing it, I was under the impression that I would be able to go through all of Slovenia and Croatia without having to pay for any of the trains. This did not turn out to be the case in the end.
The biggest problem with this pass is that even though it lists Croatia and Slovenia in the brochure that describes all of the European rail passes, they made one fatal flaw of not listing them on the booklet that accompanies the pass and which the pass is stapled to. Not a big deal right? Croatia and Slovenia were both Yugoslavian Republics right? They’re both Balkan Republics right? Buzz! You’re wrong!
Let’s talk about the issue of the word Yugoslavia. If you are even to mention this word, the person you are talking to on the train, or in ticket window will get very, very upset. You see, to the people that once lived in this socialist system and lived through the civil war that happened after it, Yugoslavia has two meanings. The first is the name of a failed country that, for all they are concerned, does not exist and will not exist ever again. The unraveling of that former artificial state was such a painful experience that it seems they are trying to repress it more than anything else and I can’t blame them. The second meaning of Yugoslavia is the association with Serbia, who was the worst offender in the civil war. Serbia was trying to and it seems still is trying to cling to the name Yugoslavia as they controlled most of the former republic’s government and wanted to maintain control of the states, especially ones such Croatia, which are rich in tourist trade. So, to infer that Croatia or Slovenia are part (even in a past tense) of Serbia goes against everything that they fought and died for.
There is the other issue of the word “Balkan” which refers to an area that comprises former Yugoslavia on down to Greece and other areas. I don’t know the exact background of the word, but for the most part people in these areas are okay with the word and whether they be Slav, Greek, or whatever else, they are also Balkan. This is, except for Slovenia, who it seems wants to distance themselves from the rest of the group as much as possible. The Slovenes simply refuse to accept the word and it’s true that they are on the fringe, but they still are part of the area that ends at Italy, Austria, and Hungary, which we call the Balkans.
So, with all of these issues in place, it’s amazing that the train conductors didn’t tear up the pass once we showed it to them and it’s pretty understandable why they didn’t accept it. Toss in the fact that there is no train from Zagreb to Split or from Zagreb to Zadar right now due to upgrades to the line and you get a pretty worthless pass. Oh, there also isn’t any train to Dubrovnik, period. The buses are a pretty affordable alternative, but have their issues too, which are the source of another writing…