There is a big city on Croatia’s coast (it’s actually the third biggest city in Croatia overall, after Zagreb and Split) that holds the title of the European capital of culture 2020. But there’s also a big chance:
a) you haven’t heard of it
b) you didn’t consider visiting it
c) it wasn’t offered to you by your travel agencies during your Adriatic holiday
Why? Let’s sniff around and find out.
Welcome to Rijeka (it means „river“ in Croatian)
This year, Rijeka is the European capital of culture and the huge celebration took place on its docks by the sea. It caused conflicting reactions among the public.
Bear in mind that after the 90’s war and the breakup of Yugoslavia, many decided (whether because of opportunism or their true personal belief) to cut all relations to our past, including the antifascist one from the WW2. Everything associated with Tito, socialism, Yugoslavia, partisans, went down the toilet. Some great Serbian writers lost their place in school books on literature, a lot of antifascist monuments were destroyed, streets that were named after people’s heroes and anti-Nazi fighters now wear names of Croatia’s nationalists or patriots…
With that in mind, Rijeka comes as a cultural shock for Croatians. You’ll see why.
The show that took place on Rijeka’s giant stage celebrated everything Croatia’s trying to forget
What Detroit was to the USA and the car industry, Rijeka was to Yugoslavia and the shipbuilding industry. It’s still an industrial city, which you can tell by just one look: concrete, ships, cranes, docks – they all form the panorama of the city.
Unfortunately, Croatia’s industry suffered during the war of the ’90s. Today, abandoned factories and jobless workers are associated with our dirty transition from socialist to capitalist economy and theft that took place for decades later. Politicians know that people know about it, so they avoid the subject.
And what Rijeka did? They celebrated with Opera Industriale! Hundreds of musicians and singers performed dressed in their work uniforms, proudly showing their legacy and identity and making the music mixed with factory sounds.
Not only that, they sang a famous partisan song Ciao bella and this is how it looked like (3:30 is where I get goosebumps if you are impatient)
In the comment section, you can see a lot of support coming from all parts of former Yugoslavia, with some proudly calling themselves ”the children of the Third May” (Third May is the name of the shipyard, named after the date when Rijeka was liberated by the partisan army).
As you can see, the official slogans of Capital of Culture 2020 are Port of diversity, Tolerance, Respect, Coexistence…
Why nobody told you about Rijeka?
To be honest, Rijeka is not for everyone. Tourists usually come to enjoy Split, Dubrovnik, or Hvar which are – we can not lie – beautiful Mediterranean cities perfect for lovely vacation photos.
Rijeka has a rougher appearance. Parts of it look like an Austro-Hungarian crack house with palms and sea. It has a certain mess that usually comes with harbor cities. Unlike medieval and ancient streets of southern Adriatic, streets of Rijeka are more urban. A lot of graffiti!
But, if you ask someone to translate them for you, you might be pleasantly surprised. ”My streets are my home. Just like people decorate their homes, I decorate the streets.” / ”Take care of yourself!” / ”Be the badass person you want for yourself :)”
Or the funny-tragic one ”When I grow up, I want to be UHLJEB”
Uhljeb is a famous Croatian word that you must know to understand the pulse of the nation. Uhljeb is usually an incompetent person who got a job via a friend or a relative in an important position, usually, public administration – which is a nightmare for common people when trying to start a business, get a license for something, go to the court… Not to mention how it leads to corruption and massive bureaucracy, weighing the whole country down.
Rijeka has other great things.
Great cultural scene and program in the National Theatre.
Alternative music and concerts.
Main street called Korzo where you can chill with locals over a cup of coffee.
Colorful Austro-Hungarian architecture.
Beaches and parks.
Tito’s yacht called Galeb (Seagull) resting by the docks.
Even touristy spots like Trsat castle on the hill above, with a great view and lot of greenery.
I will soon write more about Rijeka (consider this to be an intro), especially its overlooked parts. Tell me if that’s something that interests you or if there’s something you’d like to know about.
Is it fair that it’s been neglected for Split and Dubrovnik?