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EU accession or bust

The spectre of a return to Balkan-style politics has raised its ugly head again and threatens to undermine Croatia's recent politico-economic renaissance. Has the country the wherewithal to keep its EU dream alive?

BULLETS CHANGE HISTORY. Nowhere is that truer than in the Balkans. So it's no surprise that the slaying of Serbian premier Zoran Djindjic on March 13 has revived the question of whether neighbours such as Croatia are safe, attractive destinations for strategic and portfolio investment.

So far investors are relatively sanguine. "Politics, with the honourable exception of a few brave individuals like Djindjic, is the continuation of crime by other means in Serbia, but that's not the case in Croatia," says James Oates, managing partner of hedge fund Convergence Capital in London.

He adds: "The current government has made a decent stab at cleansing the Augean stables that was the Croatian corporate world - ousting most of the so-called tycoons who gave the country such a bad reputation in the 1990s."

Nevertheless Djindjic's murder could not have come at a worse time for Croatia, taking the gloss off the official application for EU membership it made in February.

The new millennium has been a time of renewed hope and optimism in Croatia. The election of a reform-minded coalition government early in 2000 has led to growing political acceptance abroad. Earlier, Croatia had risked becoming a pariah state under president Franjo Tudjman and the nationalist government of his HDZ party.

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