Top Ten Facts About Living in Croatia
Nestled between Bosnia, Herzegovina and Slovenia, Croatia is a small country in Eastern Europe with an extensive history. Once a part of Yugoslavia, Croatia officially declared its independence in 1991 and became a fully developed country in 1998. Despite the country’s tumultuous beginnings as an independent nation, it has established itself fairly well as a developed nation. Keep reading to learn about the top 10 facts about living conditions in Croatia.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Croatia

  1. Ninety-nine percent of children attend primary school, which is split into two stages: grades one to four and grades five to eight. After primary school, children receive the option of stopping school or obtaining a secondary education. There are three options for secondary education in Croatia including grammar schools, vocational schools and art schools. After completing any of these options and receiving a Certificate of Education, students may enroll in a university.
  2. Croatia requires people to have a public health insurance plan as of 2002 which is funded via tax collections. While the quality of medical care in Croatia is good, the country is facing a financial problem due to low fertility rates in relation to the older population. To help combat this burden, doctor’s appointments, hospital visits and prescription medications require co-payments.
  3. Taking the bus is the most efficient way to travel in Croatia. The railways are not up-to-date and run slowly, whereas the bus systems are well-developed and fairly priced. Other travel options throughout Croatia include flights, coastal ferries and of course, driving.
  4. A portion of Croatia’s population (24.4 percent) is obese, ranking the country 59th in the world for obesity rates. The large reliance on transportation to get around the country may be a cause.
  5. Up until the 1990s, Croatia’s population was steadily increasing. In the 1990s, however, the population underwent a significant demise in population growth due to displacement from war, emigration to countries like the United States, Australia and Canada and increased deaths. As of 2018, 40 percent of the Croatian population is between the ages of 25 and 54, which places stress on both the majority population of older citizens and the minority population of younger citizens.
  6. Formerly a communist state up until 1990, Croatia’s economy has shifted to market-oriented capitalism. This shift was not easy due to the lasting effects of war in the country, leading to high unemployment rates lasting into the 21st century. Additionally, Croatia’s war-torn past has allowed the country to sustain an informal economy and has led to the emergence of a black market.
  7. Unemployment is prevalent among young Croatian citizens in particular, with 27.4 percent of people between the ages of 15 and 24, and 12.4 percent of the total population living without work. However, the government’s economic reform plan — scheduled for implementation beginning in 2019 — may lead to more job opportunities.
  8. Croatia largely depends on its imports in terms of resources and power. It uses up more oil and gas than it can produce, and while it has enough rivers to potentially use hydroelectric power, Croatia receives the vast majority of its electricity as imports. Croatia has begun efforts to implement the use of liquefied natural gas by early 2020, planning to redistribute this LNG throughout southeast Europe.
  9. Croatia had no organized armed forces when the country declared its independence in 1991 but subsequently formed an army, a navy and an air force. The country is not very militaristic and relies mostly on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for national security after joining the Treaty in 2009.
  10. Croatia is not a significant haven for refugees, though refugees do use it as a transit country. Between 2015 and 2019, roughly 672,418 refugees and migrants passed through Croatia. However, as of June 2018, the country only had about 340 asylum seekers actually residing in Croatia.

These top 10 facts about living conditions in Croatia make it clear that despite progress, the country still has work to improve the quality of life for its inhabitants.

– Emi Cormier
Photo: Flickr

The Endless War in the DonbassThe War in Donbass is still ongoing after its onset in 2014. What started as a trade disagreement between the former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Russia, spiraled into civil protest which shifted into a bloody civil war among the protestors and the military.

Living in a War Zone

Since then, the civil war has worsened, affecting a majority of the citizens who reside in the war zone. There will be no signs of a permanent ceasefire within the country until common ground is found between the resistance and Russia’s military presence. Nick Thompson, a reporter for CNN, stated in 2016 that, “Ukraine’s prolonged stalemate is causing grief and isolation among millions living in the conflict zone, the United Nations warns, 9,500 people have been killed in the violence and more than 22,100 injured, including Ukrainian armed forces, civilians and members of armed groups, the UN says.”

Damaged Healthcare Facilities

Along with the high casualty rate, health care for citizens is becoming harder to reach due to the destruction of many hospitals and healthcare clinics in the region. Nearly one-third of medical facilities in the Donbass region have reported damage as a result of the conflict from the civil war.

The destruction of medical facilities is only worsening the burden placed on the citizens of the Donbass by the war. The significantly reduced accessibility of healthcare is compounding the many elements of poverty that have stricken the region.

A Weakened Economy

Before the war, the urbanized area of the region accounted for nearly 15 percent of Ukraine’s population and produced 16 percent of its domestic product. The GDP in Ukraine in 2013 was approximately 183.31 Billion USD until the conflict arose, which dropped the GDP by nearly 50 percent.

This reflects the economy present within the region and asserts the idea that individuals, as well as the country, are suffering from the effects of the civil war. Many have been forced out of their homes to migrate to other parts of Ukraine leaving displaced individuals in need of aid. While the EU expanded sanctions against Russia for a brief period, they shrank back in 2015, reducing Russia’s incentives to end the conflict.

The War in Donbass has permanently affected the people who once lived there or are currently residing in the war zone. This war has created many new elements of poverty by damaging the economy and reducing healthcare access. Many reforms will have to be established in order to combat against this civil war and rebuild the region once the war has ceased.

Struggling Peace Agreements

NATO has increasingly worked on their relationship with Russia in order to hinder the war but most of these agreements have failed to appease both sides.

While the outlook for the Donbass region may appear grim, the EU can still hold its considerable sanction power over Russia. Additionally, peace agreements are still in the works, despite their failures to reach a quick conclusion. A number of organizations are undergoing efforts to support the people of the region. For instance, the People’s Project of Ukraine, a non-profit organization, is engaging in crowd-sourcing efforts to support those displaced by the war. Consider donating to projects such as these if you are interested in helping the people of Ukraine.

– Elijah Jackson
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Serbia
In recent years, poverty in Serbia affected astounding rates of unemployment despite reasonably high levels of development. The country faces unique geographic and economic difficulties that make poverty reduction especially difficult.

Top Six Facts about Poverty in Serbia:

  1. One in four people in Serbia lives below the poverty line, making it the poorest country in Europe. However, poverty statistics alone do little to illustrate Serbia’s complex problems that make destitution so prevalent. Many external and internal factors, some of which are uncontrollable, heavily contribute to poverty in Serbia.
  2. In 2014, Serbia’s population and economy took a massive hit. In May of that year, flooding caused serious damage within Serbia — many towns were destroyed and thousands of people displaced. The Serbian government estimated the total damage at 1.5 billion euros. The GDP growth rate decreased 4.4% to an alarming negative 1.8%. While those numbers have since begun to increase, there’s no getting around that such a devastating event will take years to recover from.
  3. The areas hit hardest by the natural disaster — small southern towns and rural regions — had the highest incidence of poverty before the flood. These areas are dependent on smallholder farming and often have less access to education than major cities. In 2014, the southeastern region of Serbia had poverty rates close to four times higher than those in Belgrade, the nation’s capital city.
  4. Unemployment remains a huge problem in Serbia, with a reported 1 in 5 people unemployed and half of the country’s youths jobless. The United Nation’s report suggests that much of the potential workforce is unequipped to participate in the economy due to a lack of education.
  5. Despite persistently high rates of corruption in the entire Balkan Peninsula, Freedom House has rated Serbia a highly democratic and free nation, which gives hope for the future. As a result of the improvements made by the government to encourage democracy and freedom, Serbia has begun negotiations to join the European Union. Membership to the E.U. is a major developmental goal for the Serbian coalition government.
  6. Even though Serbia recently faced a massive economic setback, The World Bank has a positive outlook for the nation’s economy. Likewise, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) sees the current government as demonstrating a strong commitment to economic transformation to eliminate poverty in Serbia.

These six facts about poverty in Serbia are not exhaustive, nor are they a tell-all of the conditions within the Balkan country. Even with relatively little aid from international groups and extremely costly natural disasters, Serbia has shown some real progress in recent political and economic development. Joining the E.U. may give the Serbian government the resources it needs to adequately address issues of poverty and unemployment.

John English

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Poland Facts
Poland is not a poor country by any means, but the region has historically possessed little wealth due to occupation, wartime and political mistreatment. As such, alleviation of poverty in Poland has been a focal point of recent Polish governments. Discussed below are the leading facts about poverty in Poland, and how the issue is addressed at the national and international level.


7 Key Facts About Poverty in Poland


  1. Poverty in Poland has been steadily decreasing since 2004. Over the past decade, the country has cut the population of people living on less than $5 a day in half, from 20 percent to 10.
  2. Poland’s government spends heavily on social resources, with a quarter of the nation’s GDP spent on pensions, public health care, public education and other social services.
  3. Compared to other parts of the world, poverty in Poland is shallow. There are very few people living in dangerously extreme poverty or hunger. Less than a tenth of the population live on $2 a day or less.
  4. Income inequality in Poland is also relatively low. In a World Bank ranking of income inequality, Poland scored significantly better than the United States and Russia with stratification levels near the U.K. and France.
  5. While they are rarely in extreme poverty, many young people in Poland live on very little due to a lack of employment. Overall unemployment in Poland is at 14 percent, but is 25 percent for those who primarily seek industrial jobs.
  6. Poland’s heavily industrial economy is something of a double-edged sword. GDP growth was mildly hindered by the 2008-9 global economic downturn when compared with other European nations. This growth, however, has proven slow with an average of a one percent annual increase.
  7. Poland seeks to both decrease rural poverty and increase its economic productivity by improving the agricultural sector. The EU has been a major benefactor in this cause, revamping the nation’s agricultural policy in 2004 and annually contributing large sums of money. In 2014, Polish farmers received three billion euros in direct payments from EU funding.

These facts about poverty in Poland only begin to scratch the surface of such a complex region. This eastern European nation exudes fiscal prosperity amidst underlying unemployment and rural poverty, a conundrum that needs to be solved.

John English

Photo: Flickr

After the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Turkmenistan was granted independence for the first time in over 100 years.

According to data gathered by the Soviet government officials in 1991, at that time Turkmenistan’s population was nearly completely literate. Since its independence from the Soviet Union, education in Turkmenistan has significantly changed. Here are five facts about education in Turkmenistan.

1. Reform

President Berdimuhammedov, appointed in February 2007, encouraged hope for the people of Turkmenistan that reforms in education would occur. In addition, in 2007, Turkmenistan underwent an over 500 percent increase in their gross domestic product (GDP) due to increased oil and gas prices. Since 2007, the Turkmenistan government has made a number of educational reforms, such as raising the amount of compulsory education, the proliferation of “model schools” and the creation of curriculum guides.

2. Attendance

In Turkmenistan, there is a primary school attendance rate of 97 percent. However, there is only an 85 percent attendance rate for secondary schools.

3. Equality

Despite the relatively high percentage of attendance, education in Turkmenistan is not equal for all citizens. While there is near gender equality, there is significantly higher attendance in urban instead of rural areas. Enrollment in primary education is at 67 percent for Turkmenistan’s capital city, Ashgahat, but only 11 percent for Lebap, a rural region.

4. Completion

Only 0.1 percent of students who attend primary school in Turkmenistan drop out, while 0.8 percent of students in Turkmenistan repeat a grade. However, 99.8 percent of students who attend, finish primary school.

5. Infrastructure

A challenge that education in Turkmenistan is facing is the quality of its educational buildings. Due to the lack of investments in education prior to 2007, many school buildings are deteriorating. Around 15 percent of schools have structural problems that make them too dangerous to use for classes.

While there is a greater wealth access to education in Turkmenistan than in surrounding countries, there is still a necessity for further educational reforms in Turkmenistan.

— Lily Tyson

Sources: BBC, CountryStudies, UNICEF
Photo: Flickr

Lumos Foundation J.K. Rowling
J.K. Rowling may be most famous for her adventurous and classic tales of witchcraft and wizardry, but the author of the Harry Potter franchise has much more up her sleeve. The Lumos Foundation, Rowling’s charitable organization, has bettered the lives of millions.

A well-known advocate for international human rights, Rowling spent time volunteering for Amnesty International prior to her breakout success.  Rowling cites her time with the organization for teaching her about the kind of impact she wishes to have for humanity.  In the wake of her celebrity status, Rowling became the 12th richest woman in the world.  With her wealth, Rowling decided to donate half of it to charitable causes, taking a pledge alongside other billionaires and initiated by Bill Gates.


The Lumos Foundation


Rowling’s shining charitable achievement, however, is the Lumos Foundation. The Lumos Foundation is an organization committed to providing basic human rights services for over eight million children living in institutions.  The organization seeks to provide community-based services such as primary education and healthcare as replacements for institutions that often neglect these basic needs.

While the Lumos Foundation is globally minded, it focuses most specifically on Eastern European nations.  Moldova, for example, has one of the highest institutionalization rates among children of any nation.  “Most of these vulnerable young people are not orphans and poverty has separated them from their parents,” says Lumos, concerning orphanages in Moldova.  Furthermore, many of these children are placed in institutions due to gaps in the education system.  Children with disabilities are especially at a disadvantage and have a high chance of being institutionalized.

“Lumos works on every level, with every actor, to transform an outdated and harmful system into one which supports and protects children and enables them to have a positive future.”  Founding the Lumos Foundation and supporting the development of the world’s most vulnerable citizens, children, shows how dedicated Rowling is to advocacy (even without Hogwart’s training.)

Taylor Diamond

Sources: Lumos, The Borgen Project

adams family
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports while drug use is stabilizing in industrialized countries, it is increasing in developing nations around the health and security of a nation than drug use in developed countries. Poor nations may not be able to handle drug abuse because of their underdeveloped boarders.

There has been a growth of heroine use in Eastern Africa and cocaine use in West and South Africa.  South East Asian and the Middle East are experiencing increased production and use of synthetic drugs (synthetic drugs include synthetic marijuana, MDMA, and “bath salts”.)

The Economist reports that Afghanistan is the heart of a multi-billion-dollar drug network smuggling heroine.  Tajikistan, part of the former Soviet Union, borders countries economy.  The majority of the country’s population lives on less than $2 a day and often do not have power to heat their houses in the winter. However, the capital city of Dushanbe is full of mansions and flashy cars, signs that the city is profiting from the drug trade.

If is hard to find data on illicit drug use in developing countries but the use of opiates (heroine, opium, morphine) is likely to be the highest in Eastern Europe and Central, South and South East Asia where the drug is produced. Most opiate users, 7.8 million, live in and around Afghanistan and Myanmar, both major opiate-producing countries.

The World Health Organization reports that alcohol abuse and tobacco use have also risen dramatically in Eastern Europe and South and Southeast Asia. Research on the social and environmental causes of substance abuse has been lower than in the developed world but early research and case studies point to urbanization, poverty, migration, technological change, and interest in drug production as contributing factors.

Historically imprisonment has been the most common solution to illicit drug use and addiction. However research shows that imprisoning drug users is not very effective. The medicalization of drug use and the medical and therapeutic treatment of drug use is much more effective. Unfortunately developing countries face many barriers when implementing the medical treatment of drug addiction. Developing countries do not have the financial recourses or health infrastructure to provide programs like harm reduction initiatives (clean needles, needle drop off sites), drug residential rehab programs, or oral methadone.  There is also a moral view of drug use held by many people in poor countries that drug addiction is a personal choice and people should assume responsibility for it. These countries are more likely to take punitive action in dealing with drug use rather than treatment or harm reduction.

Elizabeth Brown

Sources: World Health Organization, Elements Behavioral Health, The Economist, The White House

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One of the best ways to begin the fight against global poverty is to immerse yourself in another culture.  Eastern Europe is region rich with folklore and literary tradition.  Whether you are looking to become further acquainted with Eastern European culture, or have an interest in promoting development and human rights in the region, curling up with some of Eastern Europe’s best works is a wonderful place to find inspiration.

1. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Kafka was one of the foremost existentialist authors in the world.  Czech by heritage, Kafka wrote many novels and short stories, but none more famous than his novella The Metamorphosis.  The novella is the story about a salesman named Gregor who wakes up one day and discovers that he has transformed into a giant insect.

2. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

Taking place during the Prague Spring of 1968, this novel is a classic story of a man torn between his love for a young woman he has just met and his old playboy habits.  But much more than that, it is an exploration of our choices as humans and chance events that influence our lives.  The “unbearable lightness of being” is when we forget the weight of what happens in our existence.

3. Between the Woods and the Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor

Although Patrick Leigh Fermor was a British author, Between the Woods and the Water is a story about the Balkans and Eastern Europe at its core.  It is a memoir about Fermor’s attempt to cross all of Europe on foot.  Stories about crossing the Danube, Budapest, and the mystical landscape of the Balkans and Carpathian mountains all abound in this exciting journey.

4. Café Europa: Life After Communism by Slavenka Drakulic

This work is a collection of essays by Croatian journalist Slavenka Drakulic.  A humorous, but always poignant work, Café Europa is an exploration of how former U.S.S.R. states are dealing with post-Communism.

5. The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek

This piece is a biting satire on war and politics.  Written by Czech author Jaroslav Hasek, the book tries to piece together the devastation of World War I by creating a fictional story about a well-meaning Czech man in the Austrian army.

Taylor Diamond

Sources: Good Reads, Rick Steves

Despite the fact that Belarus has one of the lowest poverty rates of the post-Soviet states, poverty, though not extreme, threatens the welfare of her people. Only 1% of Belarusians are living on less than $1 a day, but a more concerning 27.1% are below the poverty line, with 17.8% living below the minimum subsistence level. The “minimum subsistence level” is defined per the Czech Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs as “a minimum level of income, which is considered to be necessary to ensure sustenance and other basic personal needs at a level allowing the individual to survive.” The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Belarus identifies the “rural population, children, and single-parent households” as the most vulnerable victims of poverty.

Fortunately, the UNDP is executing a poverty reduction plan in Belarus that fosters the development of small businesses and, therefore, encourages a vibrant private sector. The plan is spearheaded by multiple players, from the International Finance Corporation and the World Bank to the Belarusian government and small rural Belarusian businesses. The UNDP hopes that the installation of an agricultural business sector will rejuvenate rural Belarus and bring an end to poverty in the Eastern European country.

Rural initiatives are especially necessary in former Soviet territories where local economies have declined due to the rocky transition from collective to private farming that occurred after the fall of the USSR in the early 1990’s. Agricultural workers were completely unprepared to grow crops on their own. This resulted in a situation in which uneducated farmers with limited resources in a now free-market economy were unable to maximize the productivity of their land.

Part of the UNDP’s strategy has included the establishment of the Rural Business Development Center outside of Minsk, the nation’s capital. The Center is the legal hub for the development of former Soviet collective farms into efficient private enterprises. The director of the Center, Alla Voitekhovich, describes the day-to-day activities of the Center as including the “registration of small enterprises, the conducting of market surveys, (and) the facilitation of job creation,” among other efforts. The RBDC also holds workshops for small business owners and entrepreneurs and has recently begun to encourage local farmers to exploit agro-tourism as a means of job creation in the region.

The UNDP says that rural poverty has been significantly reduced in Belarus in the last decade, stating “From 2000 to 2009, the share of poor households dropped by 7.4 times in rural areas.” Surely, the UNDP has made great strides in Belarus, breathing new life into an agricultural system that only a short time ago seemed irreparably broken. The success of the UNDP in rural Belarus is truly a testament to the resourcefulness and efficiency of the United Nations.

Josh Forgét

Sources: UNDP Belarus, CIA World Factbook, Czech Republic Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs
Photo: Spotlight