The Dark Side of Croatia’s Tourism Boom

Motel Plitvice

In the beginning, Plitvice Motel was a tranquil place. The motel opened in the mid-1980s, and was operated by Plitvice Lakes National  Park. In addition to its four-star rating and 118 rooms, the motel had a long list of amenities, including two restaurants, a disco, sauna, hair salon, pool, conference room with a fireplace, and a solar heating system. It was even recommended in a 1989 article in the New York Times. “One might also consider staying at the Motel Plitvice Maslenica,” D. Keith Mano wrote in one of the worst articles ever to be published in the newspaper (excerpt: “Don’t be afraid of Yugoslavia. American tourists are treated with reverent cordiality. And this is your best chance to feel like a person of substance. A hundred dollars will become 900,000 dinars — the average monthly take-home pay in Yugoslavia”).

About 18 months after Mano’s article was published, the war was underway in Croatia. Plitvice Motel would play a tragic role in the conflict. First, Serb forces, including Krajina Serbs and the JNA, occupied it, beginning in Fall 1991. In November, they blew up the nearby Maslenica Bridge, a strategically vital passage for the Croatian Army as it represented the last link between Zagreb and Split within the territory still under its control. Then UNPROFOR (United Nations Protection Force), the first UN peacekeeping mission in Croatia, arrived in early 1992, and some of the UN troops took up residence at Plitvice Motel. According to internal documents sent between Serb units, UNPROFOR was still using the motel as of May 1993. A few months earlier, the Croatian Army launched a major, successful offensive against the Krajina Serbs known as “Operation Maslenica”. But the Serbs subsequently raided UNPROFOR’s weapons depot and launched a nasty retaliatory attack. There were many military and civilian casualties on both sides.

By the end of the war, the Croatian Army had wrested control of the motel. And a few years later, an Australian Croat named Ivan Strika materialized and bought the motel and surrounding land from the Croatian Privatization Fund for the suspiciously low sum of 106,000 euros. But it turned out to be a bad investment: The fact that the Maslenica Bridge was no longer there meant the motel was largely isolated, cut off from any major traffic routes. So Straka just waited for the new bridge to be rebuilt.

By the time the new bridge opened in 2005, the cumulative damage done to the motel through war and neglect was the kind that took millions of euros to reverse. At the same time, Strika was involved in numerous land rights and ownership disputes with residents of the neighboring town of Jesenica. So in 2009, he decided to forget the entire mess and sell the property, setting his asking price at more than 2.5 million euros. Unsurprisingly, there were no takers.

But in early 2011, an unnamed Norwegian company looking to build a nursing home inquired about the property. The Norwegians calculated the initial investment such a project would require, and it was an estimated 35 million euros. While the cost didn’t seem to deter the Norwegians, they soon disappeared from Croatian media reports about the motel, so it’s assumed they took their plans elsewhere. Today, Motel Plitvice is in limbo, and it remains one of the darker sights and symbols of Croatia’s abandoned hotel industry.

Next Page: Hotel Park, Slavonski Brod 

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Lily Lynch

Lily is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Balkanist Magazine. She lives in Belgrade, Serbia.