On experiencing mild racism in Dubrovnik

My visit to Dubrovnik was memorable for several reasons. Firstly it was the first place that I visited with my daughter alone – just the two of us – she was five at the time. Secondly it was for the very first time that I experienced racism in all its full-fledged glory. Thirdly it is a beautiful place and one that I had been keen to visit for quite a while.

When we were about to land in Dubrovnik, I remember my daughter asking me loudly whether Croatia was a poor country. Having seen what poverty means on the streets of Mumbai, she was keen to know where Croatia stood on this scale. Croatia has seen periods of unrest and war and is not a member of the EU (though that is about to change very soon). Dubrovnik looked beautiful from the air though.

If at all possible then you must try and arrive in Dubrovnik in the evening. It is a pleasant and scenic journey from the airport to the city along the sea coast. The old city is entirely walled and lighted up in the evening and the first glimpse is breathtakingly beautiful. Our hotel was located just outside the city walls. Though it was darkening rapidly, we could not resist taking a walk inside the city walls. It was old, serene and very beautiful. Our visit was in February, which was off-season and there were not many tourists around, which suited us just fine.

We explored the entire city, within the walls, the next day. We thought that it would be a good idea to get some bread for some reason that I now cannot remember. We went inside a small store and asked for bread. I could see the bread stacked in the corner. There was a language barrier and when I asked for bread, the old lady at the counter shook her head. I pointed to the bread thinking that she had perhaps, not understood but she again, shook her head. There was another lady in the store, who translated my request and yet again the lady at the counter shook her head. I was a little puzzled and left the store. It was only later that I realised that the lady did not specifically want to serve me. Having lived in the UK for several years I had never ever experienced racism before and therefore was a little surprised – maybe the lady simply did not like my face? Thinking about the city, there had not been a single other Asian or black person that I had seen during my visit. Maybe the Croats were not used to being exposed to travellers from different parts of the world (my visit was in 2009) or maybe my stars simply did not match with the lady’s at the counter that day? On returning to the UK, I did a quick Internet search to find out whether racism was rampant in Croatia. I did not really find anything to that effect (only two articles citing racism encountered by black travellers in Croatia) but was told by the knowledgeable that it was the fear of the Roma which caused this. And if there is anyone who looks like a Roma then I certainly do, I guess, – brown skin and dark unruly hair more ‘Romasque’ than the Romas themselves! So that was that. I can now safely cross off ‘encountered racism’ from my checklist of experiences.

In spite of this I still fondly remember my visit to Dubrovnik. Racism is, to a large extent, caused due to ignorance and the more you travel, the more these kinds of barriers are broken down and become meaningless to both the parties involved. Other than that single incident, I found the hotel, airline and museum staff courteous and polite. Moreover I had so much fun with my daughter that I would recommend these mother-daughter bonding trips to all parents. Whether it was experiencing the delicious black bread that we were served or climbing the walls of the old city – it was a great bonding experience and one which both of us fondly remember to this day. Croatia on the whole is a breathtakingly beautiful place and I will definitely be visiting it again.

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6 comments on “On experiencing mild racism in Dubrovnik

  1. Hi,
    I’m not saying that what has happened to you was not racist but living all my life in Croatia I have to say I highly doubt it! It seems like a misunderstanding more than anything else (maybe the bread was old and they didn’t want to sell it to you, or it was reserved by some restaurant…who knows). Anyway hope it didn’t ruin your trip!

    All the best to you

  2. Hello, I would love to give the lady the benefit of doubt. However she could have easily rectified the matter by letting the other customer in the store (who was translating) know the reason, if there was any. It is just that something did not feel right. Anyway, as I said, other than this minor incident, I did not face any problem at all and Croatia is a beautiful place and one that I would definitely visit again. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  3. I am glad to have read this article. I was in croatia- Zagreb and Dubrovnik and I also felt there was a little bit of racism. Don’t get me wrong I am not saying I know for a fact or can confirm that the people are racist- as a young south african I have never felt so uncomfortable. Everywhere I went people just stared at me, even the kids looked shocked to see a black person in their country. Some of the places I went to they would talk about you, make comments, and even laugh. Croatia was beautiful and I would go back there just for a night. In all honesty I did not feel the safest, and it was uncomfortable

  4. Well Rosey,
    I’m Croat (not in Croatia for now) I don’t take that as racism, just people there don’t see much of black people so they are maybe just a little curious, or in worse impolite, but I would not called them for that racist. I think that people use that word these days to lightly. As you said “even the kids looked shocked to see a black person in their country”, well that says enough, the kids don’t know hot to hate someone for the color of their skin.

    • Hi Tom, Should be ok, I think. As I said, other than the one minor incident that I experienced, my visit was trouble free. I haven’t been back since & my visit was so long back.

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