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Croats Flock Abroad To Buy Groceries, As Way to Meet Their Needs

November 22, 1993

KOZINA, Slovenia (AP) _ Every Saturday, the border here with Italy is jammed with cars from neighboring Croatia.

Croats used to flock to Italy to buy fashions. Today they bring home the basics of life.

″Instead of shoes, now I buy my month’s food in Italy,″ said Sanja Araminac, 28, an architect from Rijeka, a Croatian port 50 miles south of the Italian shopping mecca of Trieste.

Sugar, coffee, rice, detergent and many other basics cost twice as much in Croatia as in Austria or Italy, according to one comparison by the Croatian daily Novi Vjesnik.

How can Croats afford to shop in Italy coming from a country where more than 1.7 million people rely on government handouts and the average salary for those with jobs is the equivalent of $120 a month?

Many have savings stashed away in German marks or get money from relatives working abroad. Some have jobs with the United Nations. Others rent out apartments for marks or dollars, two currencies notably safe in times of instability.

Before war tore it apart, Yugoslavia was a place, like other parts of the world, that craved Western currency. Now with inflation soaring Croatia has curbed the printing of new money, creating a shortage of Croatian dinars.

The move has not stopped prices from rising. But at least the official exchange rate for one German mark has come down to 3,600 dinars from 4,444 dinars in October, when the government devalued the dinar 21 percent against the mark.

Ivan Sosic, a deputy in the ruling Croatian Democratic Union, wants shopping abroad prohibited, calling Croats who buy in Italy ″traitors to the national economy.″

But the shoppers don’t feel like cheats.

Araminac’s trunk bulged with coffee, detergent and basic foodstuffs.

″I spent so many early mornings in a bank, waiting in line to change 100 marks,″ she said. ″Then I discovered it is much simpler and even cheaper to go to Trieste.″

″We live and earn like the poorest, but have to pay everything like a luxury,″ she said. ″This is unjust, and we have to find a way to survive.″

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