I visited Croatia in 1993 when the war was approaching an end, but the Serb front line was still close to Zadar. I was struck by the frequent sight of one house in a whole street bombed to destruction, the homes of Serbs who before the war had lived side by side with Croats as neighbours. I returned to Zadar a few months later; the combination of the extraordinary beauty of the Dalmatian coast and the destruction and bitterness of the war have stayed with me ever since.
On each visit, I stopped in Zagreb briefly on the way there and back: on these short visits Zagreb always seemed cosmopolitan and friendly, a much less complicated place to be than the troubled regions closer to the conflict. The Grand Theatre Cafe doesn’t seem to exist any more, but it must have done at some point because I have a table mat from it amongst my other souvenirs. There are many books on the Balkan war, but the one I need to credit here is Mark Thompson’s A Paper House: The Ending of Yugoslavia (1993), each chapter focusing on one of the various pieces of the former Yugoslavia. From here I picked up the phrase “Even a foetus is a little Croat”, a slogan Thompson saw in Zagreb in the first heady and zealously nationalistic days of Croatian independence.