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Croatia enters EU with history lesson in Balkan peace call

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Pictures were projected onto the Neoclassical and Art Deco buildings of the central square dominated by the equestrian statue of 19th-century statesman Josip Jelacic.

Some locals expressed skepticism. Law student Diana Milosevic, 27, sat outside a local espresso shop outlining the pros and cons of EU membership. She said she’s concerned that negative perceptions of Croats abroad may not easily be overcome.

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"I’m afraid we are not prepared enough, and that competition will destroy us," said Milosevic. "But I hope that I will get the possibility to work abroad, that I as a Croatian will be accepted."

While EU membership gives citizens the right to work in other countries, that is being phased in gradually by some older members, similar to what happened to former East Bloc countries that joined in 2004.

Croatia’s unemployment rate stood at 19.6 percent in May. The economy has failed to grow since 2008 and rising labor costs make it harder to attract investment into export industries. Foreign direct investment plummeted to almost one-fifth of the $4.2 billion registered in 2008.

Since then, the economy has shrunk by a combined 10.9 percent, according to Eurostat data compiled by Bloomberg. Gross domestic product contracted 1.5 percent from a year earlier between January and March, government data show.

The country counts on its seashores and vineyards to boost tourism, which makes up about a fifth of the economy. Croatia markets the medieval towns and emerald bays of the former Roman province as "the Mediterranean as it once was."

Croatia also promotes itself as the home of the Dalmatian dog, Zinfandel wine and the necktie - cravat - first worn by Croat mercenaries in the Middle Ages.

It’s the home country of Wimbledon winner Goran Ivanisevic, Alpine skiing champions Janica and Ivica Kostelic, former National Basketball Association players Drazen Petrovic and Toni Kukoc, and a national soccer team that won the bronze medal in the 1998 World Cup, led by Davor Suker and Zvonimir Boban.

— With assistance from Krystof Chamonikolas in Prague.

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