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How Croatia Got The Coastline Away From Bosnia

There is a small joke going around social media circles for the past few weeks involving the strange border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. You may have seen it a hundred times already, but here it is anyway:

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As you can see from the map, Croatia is located mostly north of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but a long stretch of the former borders the Adriatic Sea blocking nearly all of the other country's access to the water. It might appear—and as the joke suggests— that Bosnia and Herzegovina is completely landlocked with no access to the sea. This is not correct. Bosnia and Herzegovina does have a beach, albeit a short one—only 20 kilometers long. It is the second shortest coastline in the world after Monaco. Even tiny islands such as Tuvalu and Nauru have longer coastlines.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s coastline is barely visible on the map above. To see it, you have to zoom into Google Maps.

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This is Bosnia and Herzegovina’s coastline. All 20 kilometers of it belongs to the town and municipality of Neum. Being the country's only access to the Adriatic Sea, Neum is a popular tourists destination and there are lots of beach resorts here. Neum actually punctures the long Croatian arm cutting off its southernmost territory from the rest of Croatia. This part of Croatia is a pretty big tourist destination itself. The beautiful walled, mediaeval city of Dubrovnik is located here.

So how did Croatia end up with all that coastline? To understand it, we have to go back to the time when Dubrovnik was an independent state.

This entire coastal region, historically known as Dalmatia, was fought over by the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire for centuries. The Venetians had control over most of Dalmatia, with the exception of the city-state of Dubrovnik which became independent in the 14th and then became a vassal of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire had control over the adjacent Kingdom of Bosnia and the region of Herzegovina. But when the Ottomans began encroaching on other’s territories, an alliance called The Holy League was formed between the Venetian Republic, the Holy Roman Empire, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and Russia, and the Great Turkish War broke out in 1683.

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The walled city of Dubrovnik. Photo credit: Hans Permana/Flickr

Dubrovnik found itself in the middle of a war it had nothing to do with it. Being a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire, Dubrovnik feared that the Ottoman’s enemies might try to attack their city. So in order to shield itself from an attack from The Holy League, Dubrovnik literally distanced itself from the rest of Dalmatia by seceding a small piece of land by the Adriatic Sea—the land we now know as Neum—to the Ottoman Empire. Now to get to Dubrovnik, Ottoman’s enemies would have to cross over this small territory belonging to the powerful Ottoman Empire.

This arrangement actually worked, even though the Turks themselves suffered a crushing defeat and lost large amounts of territory in Hungary, Poland, as well as part of the western Balkans. Dubrovnik was left untouched until it fell to Napoleon's army in 1806.

Meanwhile Bosnia remained under the Turks until 1878. Then came the Austro-Hungarians, and following the First World War, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was born. Finally with the end of communism, Yugoslavia broke up into a bunch of independent nations, namely Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. Bosnia and Herzegovina retained its only access to the Adriatic Sea through the Neum corridor.

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The Adriatic coast at Neum, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo credit: Chris Goldberg/Flickr

Croatia was left with an exclave surrounding Dubrovnik, and this caused some headache for tourists wishing to visit this stunningly beautiful coastal city. To get to Dubrovnik, tourists have to cross two international borders and go through two custom checks and the associated security arrangements causing a lot of unwanted delays.

A bridge has been planned connecting Croatia's mainland to the Pelješac peninsula that would allow traffic to completely bypass the Neum Corridor. Construction on the 2.4 km long bridge was supposed to have begun early this month.

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