A new Croatia: Membership in the EU is a great achievement

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On July 1, after having traveled a long, hard road from application to accession, the ex-Yugoslav republic of Croatia joined the European Union as a full member, the organization's 28th.

The action had deep significance, to the Croats themselves, to Europe and to the many people of Croatian origin around the world, including in the Pittsburgh region.

Croatia was one of the countries that had been most deeply involved in the violence of the wars of the early 1990s that accompanied the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. Its conflict had been sharpest with Serbia, largely the inheritor of the Yugoslav National Army of the Tito regime and its successor, led by the brutal and irresponsible Slobodan Milosevic. It is nonetheless the case that Croatian forces were active also in wreaking death and destruction in Bosnia-Herzegovina, particularly against that state's Muslims, during that period.

For Croatia to have moved on from that dark period, which ended only 18 years ago, to the degree that it could be accepted as a full partner in Western Europe in 2013 is a tribute to the Croatian people. It is worth noting that Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the two other countries most deeply involved in the violence of the period, are still seeking to get traction for their applications for EU membership.

The other achievement for Croatia that EU membership signifies is its success in the difficult struggle against criminality and corruption that it needed to win before the EU was prepared to accept it as a member. How hard that was is reflected in the fact that neighboring regional states Bulgaria and Romania, accepted as EU members in 2007, are nonetheless still considered to be infected by both economic plagues. Bad habits such as these seem to be deeply rooted in what is called the Balkans, resistant even to the economic blessings of the aid that comes with EU membership.

Whether it is the sometimes unforgiving terrain, or the mixed heritage of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, or the varied religious backgrounds of the peoples there, good, moderate government has not always proven easy to achieve. It should not be forgotten that Croatia signed on with Nazi Germany and sent troops to fight alongside German forces at Stalingrad in World War II.

Croatia now has an opportunity for a very fresh start as a fledgling member of what -- in spite of the dramas of the eurozone -- is still easily the most promising economic and financial structure in Europe. It deserves our congratulations for this accomplishment.



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