First time I walked into a Croatian police station I felt like I was on the set of the original Mission: Impossible. You know how they used to portray the communist characters – thick accents, hard as nails dictators and smoke. Commies always smoked.
So I half expected Mr. Phelps to walk in the door as I waited to get permission to stay in Croatia. The small room had it all: posters that dated back to the Pioneers, 70's style unis, flakey paint and a little square of cardboard to cover the hole at the bottom of the reception window.
And smoke. All four policemen were smoking as if their jobs depended on it.
That was only 3 years ago but it seems a generation ago now that the no smoking signs have gone up in every public indoor location in the country. Another government building – the post office – has been transformed into an up-to-date European service station simply by eliminating the smoke.
But it doesn't come naturally here.
Telling your average Croatian bar-frequenter that he can't light up in the cafe is like informing the U.S. Marines they can't bear arms in a battle. Impossible.
Luckily for the cafe-owners, there's always outside. The fact that the law was enacted at the beginning of summertime is no coincidence. Your average Kafić probably won't start losing money until the fall. That's the time when tourists get out of dodge anyway and the economic downturn is expected.
But will the law stand? At the beginning of '09 the government passed a no-work on Sunday legislation. Every grocery store had to close its doors all day no matter who wanted to shop. Once they realized they were losing 1 million Euros a day (no, they don't even use the Euro here yet, they just use it to measure money when they want to make a point) they did away with that one.
Who knows how long our public locations will lack smoky air? There aren't any 'just say no' ad campaigns, no Drug Abuse Resistance Education in the schools and smoking when you're 13 is still cool. The number of smokers in the country could actually be on the increase.
So what happens when the autumn winds blow everyone back indoors? Will the law stand firm or will it fade into the air – Croatia's hopes to get into the EU drifting along with it?
If you ask me, this idea needs another 10 years to be successful. Right now it's just mission impossible.