A new bridge was opened last week in southern Croatia, linking its southern region to the rest of the country and making it no longer necessary for Croatians to cross the border with Bosnia twice in order to travel to the historic city of Dubrovnik, a world heritage site. The bridge is 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) long and rests on six pylons, hanging from long metal cables above a blue bay in the Adriatic.
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic inaugurated the new border-bypassing bridge, defining the day as “the day the country was united.” In 1991, when Yugoslavia fell apart and Croatia declared its independence, the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina was laid down. The new border included what was known as the “Neum Corridor,” named after the eponymous Bosnian port. It was nine kilometers wide, giving Bosnia access to the sea.
This meant that the southern part of Croatia was cut off from the rest of the country. Local residents and the many tourists visiting Dubrovnik had to cross a border in order to reach other parts of the country. Since Croatia is part of the European Union but Bosnia isn’t, travelers needed to show their passports at two border crossings. Often, especially in the summer, long lines of cars piled up at these crossings.
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Bosnia initially objected to the building of the new bridge, arguing that it would restrict access to the port of Neum. As part of the agreement and in contrast to the original plan, Croatia agreed to raise the bridge to a height of 55 meters (180 feet), allowing large boats to pass underneath it. The Bosnians accepted this solution. A Chinese company, CRBC, won the bid for the bridge’s construction in 2017.
CRBC’s European competitors complained that the offer made, amounting to 550 million euros, was made possible only due to the support of the Chinese government. A competing bid by an Austrian company was almost 50 percent higher. Concerns about the influence China was acquiring over important infrastructure projects in the West kept cropping up through the entire construction process, which lasted four years. The European Union financed three quarters of the costs of building the bridge, with Croatia financing the rest.
We were fortunate enough to cross the new bridge a day after it was inaugurated. A week earlier, when we traveled from Dubrovnik northwards, we had to cross the Bosnian border, travel nine kilometers in Bosnia, cross the city of Neum and then pass the border into Croatia again, traveling north to the city of Sibenik. When we returned to Dubrovnik a week later, we were spared the border crossings and the passport checks.
We were excited to cross the Peljesac Bridge, named after the strip of land on the other side. From there, a new road linked it to the coastal highway, which stretches south into Dalmatia. Excited Croatians had their pictures taken on an observation deck beside the bridge before crossing it.
There, on the observation deck facing the blue bay and the new white bridge, some memories came to mind, besides the understandable excitement over seeing the new engineering project. These memories went back 17 years, to October 2005, one month after the removals of settlers from the Gaza Strip. The move was part of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s wider disengagement plan. The U.S. administration had financed a study looking at different alternatives for creating a land bridge between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, crossing through Israel. The Palestinians were very keen on such a land bridge. For them, it was a test of Israel’s sincerity in agreeing to the establishment of a Palestinian state with two separate regions.
The parallel is obvious – two states, Croatia and Bosnia, that had fought one another and had made a peace agreement, which they’ve respected for 30 years. There was also a desire to open a new page in Israel’s relations with the Palestinian Authority. In both cases, a road was required for linking two separate regions, a road that would skip over border crossings, making life easier for residents and visitors alike.
Aluf Benn, currently the editor-in-chief of Haaretz, wrote an article in October 2005 describing the options examined by the Americans. One was a multi-lane highway sunk into a moat that would cross Israel; another was an elevated road and a railway line linking the Erez crossing at the Gaza border and the Tarqumiyah crossing on the West Bank border. The distance between these two points is 40 kilometers (25 miles). The World Bank supported the moat option, while Sharon was in favor of a train link. An Israeli report said the road should be built be partly at ground level and partly as an elevated bridge.
None of this ended up happening in Israel, the Gaza Strip or the West Bank. In Croatia, a country with a population of four million, almost all of them Christian, and a poor economy that depends heavily on tourism, the new bridge was inaugurated last week. Bosnia, with a population of 3.2 million, Christian and half Muslim, with an economy in even direr straits, welcomed the bridge, with the knowledge that it doesn’t pass through its territory, it had almost no influence over its construction, and may lose some tourist revenue due to the new bridge.