Gay Watch: Croatia
BY Dan Allen
June 21 2009 11:00 PM ET
With its idyllic Adriatic-hugging coastline, the land now known as Croatia has been favored by Europe's rich and famous since Roman times, when Emperor Diocletian retired here to his homeland some 1,700 years back. Its tourism star may have temporarily dimmed during decades of dictatorship and a subsequent war for independence late in the 20th century, but the Croatian nation is now firmly on the fast track toward reclaiming its former foreigner-luring glory.
This gorgeous Balkan country of 4.5 million has modernized rapidly, in the process becoming something of a gay rights dichotomy: Gays and lesbians here actually have more legal protections than their Italian neighbors, but there's only one officially gay establishment (Zagreb's g.bar) in their entire nation, and the homo populace remains largely invisible.
That hasn't daunted the ever-growing droves of gay Americans who are flocking to Croatia, mostly to the country's sun-soaked Dalmatian Coast and its pink-friendly (and history-packed) beachfront towns of Dubrovnik and Split. Natives will explain, however, that the country's most homo-forward cities are actually Rijeka in the northwestern province of Istria and, to an even larger extent, the capital Zagreb.
"Zagreb gets more and more gay tourists every year, and is already becoming the new destination of interest for many Europeans," says Marko Jurcic, a self-styled queer, feminist, and anti-fascist activist, and one of the main organizers of Zagreb Pride, which just saw its eighth incarnation on June 13 (the largest to date, with an estimated 600 to 800 participants).
Jurcic says Zagreb Pride sees an increase in foreign visitors with each passing year, as does Queer Zagreb, the city's vibrant and highly respected arts festival that's held annually in May.