Packing up the Skoda with the kids and heading for the Croatian coast has long been an established part of the Czech summer. And to equip a family with the right ingredients for the much-favoured low-budget self-catering break the car boot is invariably stuffed with plenteous supplies of Czech staples such as sausages, beer, bread, tinned meat and dumpling mix.
The Croatian authorities have now been accused of trying to clamp down on the age-old tradition, long disgruntled that Czech holidaymakers hardly spend any money during their stays. Restaurateurs and grocery shops complain they make virtually no money from Czech guests and this damages business.
Food and drink outlets in Croatia have welcomed a new law introduced last Sunday banning the import of meat and dairy products from all EU countries, which will effectively bring an end to Czech self-sufficiency while holidaying there.
Croatia, which is not yet in the EU, says it is reacting to a similar Brussels’ directive that will ban Croatian citizens from taking meat and dairy products into neighbouring EU-member state Slovenia.
Zagreb’s move has sparked a row that makes the legendary British-German sun lounger wars pale in comparison.
Czech tourists have reacted angrily by cancelling their holidays. Prague travel agencies say as a direct result of the ruling 10% of bookings for Croatia have been cancelled since it came into force. As 900,000 tourists from Bohemia and Moravia – almost a 10th of the Czech population – spend their annual holiday in Croatia, the cancellations can hardly be ignored.
“It’s hard to overlook Croatia’s protectionist intent,” wrote Hospodárske Noviny, a Czech business daily. “This is nothing less than a deliberate and malicious attack on our national interests.”
A “scandal” was how the leftwing newspaper Pravo described it. “The Croats court the rich Germans and Austrians, but they discriminate against the Czechs, seeing them as undesirable low-quality tourists,” the paper wrote.
Pravo argued that even if Czechs took their own produce with them, they benefited the local economy by staying in locally-run self-catering flats – rather than the expensive foreigner-owned hotels favoured by Austrians and Germans.
Organisations representing Czech tourists say the new law fails to respect a national conviction, which is: forget the fresh fish and vegetables on offer, a holiday can only be truly enjoyed with home grown produce, such as pickled sausages, smoked or fried cheese and fried pork.
Czech holidaymakers have been so addicted to their Croatian breaks that they even continued going there throughout the Yugoslav civil war.
In 1999 Zagreb owed Prague a £2.5m debt from the communist era. Instead of accepting money, Prague happily accepted free use of a stretch of the Dalmatian coast for several seasons – with all money from bookings going to Czech travel firms and government.
But the Czechs are now reportedly opting for holidays at Adriatic resorts in Italy instead.