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Recession-hit Croatia becomes newest member of European Union

The former Yugoslav country is facing a fifth year of recession and unemployment rates of 21 percent.

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Residents celebrate New Year as fireworks explode skywards in the center of southern Adriatic resort town of Dubrovnik, 01 January 2008. Croatia becomes the 28th member of the European Union at midnight on Sunday. (STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)

At the stroke of midnight on Sunday, Croatia becomes the 28th country to join the European Union.

Just two decades ago, the ex-Yugoslav country was mired in a war that killed some 20,000 people and gave rise to the term "ethnic cleansing". 

The bloody Balkan wars are over but Croatia is still dealing with intense economic struggles and an unemployment rate hovering around 20 percent.

Joining the European Union is a major milestone for the country of 4.4 million people but its people are divided over the benefits.

According to the BBC, many Croatians are not convinced that joining an economic bloc with its own troubles will improve their prospects.

"Just look what's happening in Greece and Spain! Is this where we're headed?" pensioner Pavao Brkanovic told Reuters at a Zagreb market.

"You need illusions to be joyful, but the illusions have long gone," he said.

President Ivo Josipovic said on Saturday that journalists from EU countries had repeatedly asked him why he wanted his country to join the bloc.

"My counter question was: 'You come from the EU. Is your country preparing to leave the bloc?' They would invariably reply: 'Of course not.' Well, there you go, that's why we are joining, because we also believe the EU has a future," he said, according to Reuters.

Croatia boasts thousands of miles of Adriatic coastline and the popular holiday resort town of Dubrovnik that attracts 10 million tourists each year.

But corruption and concerns about organized crime will, for now, keep Croatia out of the single currency and the visa-free Schengen zone.

The BBC's Guy De Launey reports that the EU hopes Croatia's success will encourage the other countries of the former Yugoslavia to join.

Serbia could join the EU as early as next year with Montenegro following close behind.

Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo have yet to be formally adopted as candidates.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/130630/recession-hit-croatia-becomes-newest-member-european-union