One of the tasks facing any newly independent nation, and one that the Croatian Government had to address in the early 1990s, is what to do about money. I’m not referring to the economy, although that should be a higher priority, and based upon the competing claims made in both the Scottish Independence Referendum and the Brexit vote it’s virtually impossible to forecast accurately. No, I mean cash. Notes and coins. The balance in your bank account.
The UK never entered into European Monetary Union, so our exit from the EU won’t include such a challenge, but let’s say that Scotland had voted to leave; what would they have used for currency and how would they have valued it?
Back when I was a young banker working on the “foreign till” anyone travelling to Yugoslavia would come to ask for dinar, though I suspect there were probably exchange control regulations that might have limited the availability. When the communist state disintegrated the same currency continued in use for a little while (though it became the Croatian Dinar) while the administration considered alternatives.
In 1994 they issued the kuna, which was equivalent to 1000 dinars and with an exchange rate pegged to the German mark until its replacement by the euro. The intention was that Croatia would join the European Monetary Union in due course at which point they would also adopt the euro. Some businesses, including my hotel, are already charging in euros, and just over 50% of the population favour its adoption (40% oppose it) and it remains to be seen when the transition will take place. Ordinarily it should have happened within a year or two of joining, but the financial crises that have beset Europe have delayed that.
But back to the kuna. I’d wrongly assumed that the word itself was a variation on crown, such krone and krona as used in Scandinavia and Iceland, or koruna in Czech, but the Croatian word would then have been kruna. Kruna was actually considered, but as the currency of their former Austro-Hungarian overlords this was rejected. So why kuna?
The word means marten, and goes back to a Slavic tradition of using the pelts of the animal as currency in medieval times. Each kuna is worth 100 lipa (meaning lime tree) though I don’t understand the logic either of the name, or the existence of the lipa at all. Since a kuna is roughly equivalent to 11p in the UK or 15¢ in the US what is the point of such a subdivision? Everything I saw was priced in whole kune, and I never received anything less than a kuna in loose change. Marten pelts clearly aren’t what they used to be, but imagine if they still had the dinar? Ah yes, it would have been just like Italy in the 70’s!
A little disappointing then that the notes don’t actual portray the beast…
Luckily the coins do!