Joy as border gates open between Slovenia and Croatia

A sign at Obrežje border crossing between Croatia and Slovenia reading free passage.
Border checks are abolished on the Slovenian-Croatian border as Croatia joins the Schengen zone. Photo: STA

There was celebration and joy on both sides of the Slovenian-Croatian border as Croatia joined the Schengen area and adopted the euro on 1 January. More than 30 years after the countries broke away from Yugoslavia, their citizens are once again using the same currency and can cross the border freely.

Locals living along the border are especially happy that they can now cross into the other country wherever they wish because many have friends, relatives, property or jobs on the other side of the border.

The Slovenian village of Kostel has no shop but there is one on the other side of the border and the locals will now be able to do their shopping there without having to change currency. “It’s like being born again,” one local from Croatia told RTV Slovenija at a ceremony in Petrina a few days ago.

Many Slovenians own real estate on the Croatian coast, often spending summer weekends at the seaside and driving back inland for work during the week. In fact, Croatia is the top tourist destination for Slovenians, even those who do not own a property there.

Barbara from Ljubljana told the STA it was very hard to travel between Slovenia and Croatia along the coast during the summer, as roads are literally gridlocked. Petra from Ljubljana, whose family spends much of the summer on Krk island, is happy that Croatia joined the Schengen area and hopes that border checks will not be reintroduced.

Danijela, who lives on the Croatian side of the border near the very busy Sečovlje crossing but works in Slovenia, hopes there will indeed be fewer traffic jams. “I’ll be able to say more in about two weeks,” she was cautious. “During the summer it was horrible. Constant gridlocks and long traffic jams. It’s really hard to get to work and back home.”

Locals living near the Dobova border crossing are looking forward to the new regime after two years of very long tailbacks caused by Croatia’s checks of coronavirus entry conditions.

In Dolenjska, Slovenians living close to the border will be able to go shopping across the border, especially for building materials, as for many it is faster to drive to Zaprešič in Croatia than to Novo Mesto in Slovenia.

Meanwhile, Joško Joras, a Slovenian living near the Sečovlje border crossing, who has been fighting for his stretch of land to be part of Slovenia, is less upbeat. “Nothing changes for me,” he said. “I’m still in a territory where my human rights are violated.”

Slovenia joined the Schengen area just over 15 years ago, when it abolished border checks with Austria, Hungary and Italy. Indeed, apart from the single currency, Schengen has been the most tangible benefit of EU membership for Slovenians.

To celebrate Croatia becoming the first EU country to adopt the euro and join the Schengen zone on the same day, Slovenian President Nataša Pirc Musar met with Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Obrežje.

The trio agreed that this was a historic day, one which should be celebrated all across the EU. “My first visit in my capacity as president is a tribute to the EU, our neighbour, European integration and to cooperation,” said Pirc Musar.

She believes integration is the only possible way forward, also for the Western Balkan countries. This was echoed by Plenković, who expressed satisfaction that Bosnia and Herzegovina had been granted EU candidate status.

At midnight, Croatia’s Interior Minister Davor Božinović and his Slovenian counterpart Sanja Ajanović Hovnik symbolically raised the gates at the Obrežje border crossing. Ajanović Hovnik promised that security would not deteriorate despite border checks being suspended. “Both countries have been preparing diligently for this moment and cooperation will only become more intensive,” she said.