In the famous episode of Alan Ford, ‘The Million-Dollar Dog’, Bob Rock and Alan Ford are on a short vacation, relaxing on a beach. Their peace is shattered by some trash being flung over a nearby wall which makes them realize: they are on the ‘poor man’s beach’, while the food is from the ‘rich man’s beach’. Bob Rock gets easily upset and yells, “Hey, rich folk, this is not a public storage, it’s a free beach!” From across the wall he gets an affronted response, “Listen, those down-and-outs are complaining!”
We used to read the great Alan Ford during the summers on the Adriatic’s free beaches, laughing carelessly and understanding the subliminal criticism of the American class system in the humor, never realizing that a few decades later, we would find ourselves in the same situation. The public beach in Dubrovnik (Banje) locals colloquially split into the part for the poor and the part for the rich. It’s the same beach, but one part is filled with bathers who bring their own things, while the other is occupied with those who recline on lounge-chairs and under canopies. When one sees an aerial photo of Banje, it is clear which part is which.
The Banje beach. The public beach in Dubrovnik is colloquially divided between the beach for the poor and the beach for the rich. It’s easy to see which is which.
Although we’ve been taught that the Croatian coast is accessible to all, more and more beaches have an entrance fee or a fee for renting lounge chairs which are scattered all over the beach or the beaches are fenced so you can’t even get to them. At the beginning of June, the management of the Rixos Libertas hotel in Dubrovnik singlehandedly decided to tear down the stairs that lead to the “hotel” beach and allowed access only through the hotel. This is something we’ve already written about. But, they claimed that all are allowed on the beach only to put up rules of conduct for the beach and for the poolside where all those who are not guest of the hotel must not recline or sit without renting a lounge chair – and this delight will cost them 100 HRK.
Rules of conduct on the beach and at the poolside of the Rixos Libertas hotel in Dubrovnik
This is just one example of coast usurpation, a process made possible by concessions, franchising and the will of franchise owners. This occurrence is becoming more and more common. When they were implemented, concessions were supposed to allow those who own the concession to take care of the beach and, in return, make a profit. Most often, these were food or beverage facilities on the beach which were soon accompanied by lounge chairs, parasols and similar summer props which left no room to sit, or better yet, lie back comfortably.
At the beginning of May, the Draft of the Law on Maritime Good and Seaports was presented. This law is to regulate the management of resources that are so precious to us – the seaside and the sea. Some critics claim that this is just an intro into privatizing the beaches and the sea (see text by Jurica Pavičić, so we can settle this issue right away: will this part of the Adriatic soon have ‘private beaches’ such as those in Italy?). “In today’s legal system, beaches are a public domain so I believe such fears are unfounded. This is derived from the very nature of a public domain which cannot be an object of acquiring ownership nor similar rights and is, as such, unattainable. The privatization of the seaside in such a legal system is out of the question. In the case of a maritime domain not being susceptible to the legal guidelines for public domains, all options would be available. The suggested Draft does not predict such a situation”, responds lawyer and captain, Branko Kundih, author of books on maritime good in Croatia and editor of ‘pomorsko-dobro.com’ portal. So, the Draft defines maritime good as public domain –which means that it has no ownership and cannot be sold – it has special value for the Republic of Croatia. “Everyone has the right to use the maritime good under the same conditions.”
The Draft defines maritime domain as public domain –which means that it has no ownership and cannot be sold – it has special value for the Republic of Croatia. “Everyone has the right to use the maritime good under the same conditions.”
This sounds reassuring, but the Draft has several weak spots which can be interpreted differently and do not guarantee equal rights for all. Journalist and commentator Jurica Pavičić warns how the Law states that “public beaches should be protected and marked which can, if ‘creatively’ interpreted, lead to all-out fencing of public beaches.” How plausible is such a development? Will we come face to face with barriers on our favorite beaches as soon as next summer when the Law will surely be implemented? “Every outcome is realistic if there are no good intentions and control mechanisms in place. Experiences show that there is no limit to human creativity when it comes to bending the law and being extra cautious is justifiable. This is a very valuable resource which includes more than one third of the national territory. In any case, I salute the guideline of the Draft related to public seaside beaches where a concession owner cannot exclude public use of the beach and is required to assure and protect public interest of beach use, especially if a beach must satisfy the needs of a wide array of users, depending on its position and function.”, Branko Kundih explains. Since he is an expert on the topic, we asked him to further explain what awaits us with the new Law. How many things are new, that is, what are the most important and/or controversial changes for citizens who use beaches ‘only’ for bathing? “The Draft of the Law provides a formal and legal protection of the maritime good but its inconsistencies and contradicting decrees leave way for a wide array of doubtful interoperations in its implementation. The decree stating that the concession owner can completely exclude up to 30% of the beach from public use is especially difficult. Such a decree would be acceptable for five-star facilities that are already built. Of course, some tourist facilities such as naturist camps, regardless of categorization, need to have a secured procedure for use. But even in cases such as these there have to be clear criteria and conditions so that exclusive use and special legal matters can be made available to users. In my opinion, a concession owner cannot have an exclusive right to decide on such delicate matters. Furthermore, the decree of the Draft related to beaches of special use and which are under concession is also problematic. I believe these beaches, such as those for the handicapped, for hospitals and sanatoriums, for pets, etc. should not fall under the category of profitable usage, but under a legal framework of special usage and should require a permit. This means that beaches with special usage must be used on the basis of a permit and, according to that, must not require an entrance fee. Beaches for special usage that are used for profit and are under concession should be an exception.” Kundih explains.
According to the Draft, concession owner can exclude up to 30% of the beach form public usage.
Even if there was no entrance fee, many beaches are already inaccessible because they are covered with lounge chairs one has to pay for to use. How can this be regulated, why isn’t there a prescribed percentage of a beach that can be covered with lounge chairs like it is with public squares and terraces of cafes and restaurants? “This is a consequence of the lack of clear legal regulations and is mostly the responsibility of concession providers. I dare say that the institution of maritime domain in Croatia is a legal wasteland. It is incomprehensible that such an important resource is not deemed more valuable. Croatia has, as a tourist destination, brought forth an inconclusive and faulty Regulation on seaside beaches exactly 19 years ago. In the same time, Montenegro has regulations with precise conditions among which it is set that the user of the bathing area is obligated to leave vacant a half of the beach (length and width) and clearly mark the area.”
One of the regulations of the proposed Law which has greatly distressed yachters is the one stating that between 50 and 150 meters from the anchorage under concession, anchoring cannot be free. In practice this would mean that most coves would not be free of charge because they are not big enough to allow for such distances. Kundih explains that the new, recent Draft does not account for a protected anchorage area and herein lays the danger of additionally determining that the protected anchorage area is 300 m or more, for example. Kundih believes that “a protected anchorage area is necessary and justified and should be legally regulated, but to a distance of 50 m from the outer limit of the concession. Outside of this area, free anchorage should be allowed for ships and boats.”
The Law leaves the possibility of exclusive use and closing of seaside beaches from being publicly used.
On his portal, Kundih himself wrote that the Law, based on its draft, “leaves too much leeway for interpretation, which in turn means possible misuse.” Kundih deems the Draft contradictory and inconsistent instead of being clear and beyond question as well as a good foundation for determining implementation regulations. “Up until now, the Law was not based on norm and this caused the law to be substituted with implementation regulations. This triggered a legal mess in the maritime domain on all levels of managing and decision-making – from determining nautical boundaries to issuing concession permits instead of concessions.” The starting point of the Republic of Croatia’s policy towards nautical domain should be the protection of public interest with simultaneous protection of secure investment and usage. The legal regulation not up to norm, improvisation and discrete right to make decisions is tragic for the state of national interests in the nautical domain. Of course such a state allows for misuse.”