On my final day in Slovenia this weekend, I heard something that really ground my gears.
As several other interns and myself were waiting for a bus, an elderly woman poked her way into our conversation and asked if we were from Michigan. The block M on one of our shirts had caught her attention, as she herself went to school at Michigan State. She started talking to us and introduced us to her travel companion, and we began discussing their trip so far. As we spoke, the second woman asserted, “You know, in Croatia they kept going on and on about their corrupt government. It was just too much!” The first woman emphatically agreed.
The comment really rubbed me the wrong way, although at the time I wasn’t sure why. But as I chewed and digested the conversation, I eventually realized why it had bothered me so much: their annoyance with Croatian politics seemed indicative of their complete lack of consideration and concern for citizens beyond the US.
Eastern Europe has a history of major conflicts about every 50 years. There have been multiple instances of ethnic cleansing, systematic rape, and at least two officially declared genocides. No one wants to repeat the past, but with a corrupt government, repetition seems inevitable as the true problems of the past continue unresolved. Croats can, and should, worry about, rant, and discuss their corrupt government as much as they want – that is the only way anything will ever change. To say that “it was just too much”, to wish that Croatians cared less and thus spoke less about their government, is to say that they should be mindless citizens, patiently perpetuating the pattern of atrocities. It is completely unfair to expect another country’s political problems to conveniently move out of vacationers’ paths, especially in a place with a history of inhumanity.
I am sure the women were not bad intentioned. I am sure they simply did not know or did not think about the history behind their words. But it is my opinion that as tourists, we must strive to understand in entirety the places we visit. Otherwise what is the point of being a tourist? And if you don’t want to understand your destination in its entirety, if you only want a 2-D version of the country you’re traveling through, I suggest you stop traveling and look up some pictures. You’ll save a lot of money and be just as satisfied.