Croatia: Harnessing The Wealth Of Diaspora

Croatian Diaspora Congress - Zagreb 2014

Croatian Diaspora Congress – Zagreb 2014

In the late 1980’s, as the Berlin Wall came down, masses of Croatian people set forth to utilise the justifiably strong anti-communist sentiment in Eastern Europe particularly and, led by Dr Franjo Tudjman, with open arms, charged forth with realising their “thousand-year old dream” for an independent (and democratic) Croatia. 94% of Croatia’s voters opted to secede from communist Yugoslavia – the brutal war of Serb aggression ensued!

The relatively enormous Croatian diaspora stepped up to the task within an instant and joined in to help fight against communism – lobbying the West, humanitarian aid and financial assistance (among other significant forms of assistance) for democracy to win in Croatia poured in with never before seen determination and sacrifice.

Croatia, Dr. Franjo Tudjman, did not even need to ask for help – it came naturally and it came out of love for democracy and freedom from oppression. After all, the diaspora was full of Croatian people who had fled their homes, seeking freedom and a “better life” for centuries – most notably during Austro-Hungarian Empire times, after World War I (running as far as they could from the oppressive and forced union of Serb-led Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, Kingdom of Yugoslavia), after World War II – for years and decades (running as far as they could from the oppressive communist Yugoslavia regime).

And so it is a fact that had it not been for the diaspora and its dynamic in every sense engagement towards achieving independence of Croatia, Croatia would not be independent today.

But things went terribly wrong in this positive and essential tie between Croatia and its diaspora, especially once Franjo Tudjman had died and Stjepan Mesic got to be the president of Croatia; losing not a minute to alienate the diaspora labeling it “fascist”. One cannot expect anything different from a hard-core communist, who has proven himself not to be a stranger to initiating vilification, dishing out the cruelest of injustice towards a group of people (diaspora) most of who needed to grab a dictionary to understand the meaning of Mesic’s “fascism” and his evil innuendo against every single Croat in the diaspora! With such moves Croatia had slowly distanced itself from its best ally, an important member of its immediate family – the diaspora! Transitioning from the totalitarian communist regime into democracy had since 2000 been significantly hampered by this loss – the loss that was an intentional alienation of the diaspora and did not occur accidentally by any measure.

There have been several unsuccessful attempts to revive the mass-connection between Croatia and its diaspora in terms of re-establishing the rightful place of the diaspora as an equal partner in the creation of democracy and prosperity in Croatia over the past decade or so.  One does not need to search far and wide to see that the lack of success in this has been underwritten by the communist repugnant wheeling and dealing; after all the Yugoslav communists chased Croats out, slaughtered hundreds of thousands who did not toe their lines, trawled the diaspora for Croats to assassinate and murder … they did not want to be “haunted” by their own past crimes were the diaspora to achieve equality of sorts in Croatia.

And now, just a couple of weeks ago, the largely communist die-hard government in Croatia have opened the “Office of Welcome” (Ured Dobrodošlice)! Certainly, something is better than nothing and I wish this office success and good work. However, the fact that the same government has collected dozens of unpaid advisers from all over the world ( my emphasis here is on “unpaid” because that very fact indicates the extent to which any such advice binds the recipient of that advice and the accountability of them all), mainly those nominated by only a relatively smaller section of the Croatian diaspora community (clubs and organisations that do not as a rule attract or involve most Croats living in the diaspora) suggests that this body does not represent the diaspora. What I mean to say here is that minimal, if any, effort has been made to reach out to the whole of the diaspora – not just the established clubs or associations whose effectiveness is as large as its membership numbers.  Indeed, the requirement by the Croatian government for the government adviser on Croats living abroad position was that an individual had to be nominated by a club or an association in the diaspora. What a wasted opportunity! The results would have been much better and more representatives had the Croatian government advertised in mainstream media of the countries where Croats live abroad – independent of tight-knit community networks, which spread thinly and narrowly – as a rule because multitudes simply do not go to such clubs etc.  This fact suggests to me that the establishment of this “Office of Welcome” will prove to be a superficial exercise unless some serious work is done on reviving the whole of the diaspora, as it was the case in early 1990’s. Why the Croatian government saw the need to call this office “Office of Welcome” is beyond my full comprehension but not beyond my heart, which tells me:

it is wrong, it is insincere, it is belittling …

It is like you, the reader, owning two homes and as you visit or move from one of your homes to the other your access to your home is marked by other people standing at your doorstep, showing you a “Welcome” sign! You know then that there are those there who do not welcome your arrival to your home, who consider you a visitor, at times possibly unwelcome.

But it seems not all is lost. The mass-connection between the diaspora and Croatia and the efforts to harness the enormously positive prospects through its revival will not it seems rest only upon what I see as a rushed and superficial “Office of Welcome”.

An equally important event, when it comes to efforts towards lifting the diaspora to its rightful and equal place with Homeland Croatia is being organised in Zagreb for June 2014.
It is the Croatian Diaspora Congress, which aims to deal with the issues of harnessing and reviving links between Croatia and its wider diaspora.  And I quote here below its invitation to participants, wishing all sides and all efforts great success, real results and distance from political point scoring for once and for all! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)



Croatia’s entrance into the European Union has instigated the need for the development of new strategies upon which to base its relationship with the millions of Croatians living in the diaspora. With the aim of mutually creating new strategies, as well as systematizing the process of monitoring and globally connecting emigrants with their homeland, a joint effort has begun to organize the first Croatian diaspora conference which will be held in June, 2014, in Zagreb. Participants will include prominent scholars, public and cultural figures, church prelates, missionary priests and pastoral associates, along with business people from Croatia and the diaspora.
Croatia belongs to the circle of European countries which has one of the largest emigrant populations. According to some estimates, there are more that 2.5 million emigrants, including their descendants, living worldwide. In terms of modern day integration processes, this is a huge developmental, cultural, demographical, and security resource upon which the Republic of Croatia can build a successful future and bridge the many barriers that have separated the unique Croatian national entity in the past.
Today several generations of Croatian emigrants living outside of Croatia have integrated, and with varying degrees have been assimilated, into the societies in which they live. However, it is important to note that Croatians emigrants have established various organizations and institutions in their respective host countries with the aim of preserving their Croatian national, cultural, and religious identity, as well as connection with their mother country. These organizations and institutions can serve as a basis for globally connecting the diaspora and achieving the aforementioned strategic aims.
It is also important to emphasize that the expected massive return of Croatian emigrants failed to occur after the establishment of the independent and democratic Republic of Croatia. On the contrary, Croatia continues to be a country with a large emigrant population outside its borders.  A new wave of emigration transpired during the process of Croatian independence and the Homeland war, as well as in the post-war period. This wave of emigration, in contrast to the previous ones, included a significant increase, for the first time, in the number of people emigrating into Croatian, in particular, Croatians and Bosnians from Bosnia and Herzegovina. This new emigration process was stimulated by the events of the war, in addition to the poor economic situation which was caused in part by an unjust and ineffective privatization model.
At the same time, due to the lack of job prospects and educational opportunities, a large number of young and educated people left, which was particularly detrimental for Croatia. Moreover, war refugees within Croatia, as well as refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina, affected the growing adverse economic and migration situation in Croatia.
Since 1991, according to some experts, several hundred thousand Croatian citizens, including approximately 180,000 Croatians, migrated to the West. At the same time, according to official data, 232, 966 inhabitants migrated to Croatia  (from 1991), of which 189,039 from Bosnia Herzgovina. In the same period, the mortality rate in Croatia has been larger than the birth rate.
As a result, homeland policy needs to be manifested primarily in the development of better cooperation with countries in which Croatian emigrants live. In fact, expatriates have already paved the way for this cooperation. It is necessary, furthermore, to scientifically investigate and analyze current cooperation since previous experience has shown that Croatian emigrants are extremely successful ambassadors of their home country in the world. Moreover, homeland policy needs to encourage modern integration processes by focusing on Croatian emigrants and planning their return to Croatia.
However, returning does not simply imply to come back, on the contrary, they need to be offered the opportunity to have a high quality of life and jobs in their home country. In this context, the Republic of Croatia is obligated to provide its emigrants with a secure environment which will protect the investment of their hard-earned capital in homeland resources. A positive relationship towards its emigrants and effective action is expected from the Croatian government. In the last few years, unfortunately, the trust between homeland institutions and emigrants has, to some extent, been undermined. Consequently, it is necessary to invest additional effort in order to establish cooperation once again.
Furthermore, it is necessary to establish new forms of cooperation with emigrants who have no intention of returning to Croatia. Above all, it is important to help them maintain their Croatian identity and sense of affiliation with their fellow native Croatians, as well as aid in nurturing Croatian traditions and connections with the homeland. It is particularly important to stress that these actions should be based on long-term goals and be national in character, rather than short-term, or the policies of political parties. Accession into the European Union has provided new opportunities to actualize these programs and, accordingly, the design and implementation of the programs needs to be based on knowledge.
The Croatian Diaspora Congress will surely achieve the aims of its organisers in that it will aid in fostering new strategies with regard to Croatian emigrants based on scientific research and with the support of relevant institutions and individuals both within Croatia, as well as among the Croatian diaspora.
We kindly invite you to participate in the conference and help contribute to its success. Attached please find important information concerning the conference and a draft program. For further information please contact the program organizing committee.


  1. Michael Silovic says:

    While I am happy that some movement is happening via Diasporas the reality is that it is not complicated issue at all if they truly want us back. If you have paper work issued by Croatia that proves family history you should be given citizenship in a week not 2 years. I will not go on a rant this time around because many already know how I feel on this issue and the hardship of many years I had to endure to get my family papers from the Croatian goverment that always denied having any but now produced all of a sudden all of my families papers except for my mother and grandfather which I find kind of odd that every family members documents were all of a sudden found. So now on my next trip I have to find out what it takes to have papers made for my mother or perhaps they may have found them but do not want to release them. Am I being treated unfairly as a political target because of my outspokenness about our goverment only time will tell but I will be going home soon one way or another…..~ Za Dom Spremni !~

    • Hey Michael – keep at it! If we as individuals don’t persist on the respect the diaspora deserves then much will be lost. Good for you, good on you – Za Dom Spremni Always!

  2. Good blog. The Jews refer to themselves as diaspora. I had no idea that it happened to Croatians too. You need to do a blog about all that happened so all of us understand. I am so grateful that we found each other out in cyberspace and that we are friends.hugs, Barbara

    • There are many of us Barbara, many, many generations and the cyberspace has been so good – we find each other and connect. I will write more in the future on this topic for sure. Hugs XX

    • Vladimir Orsag says:

      What happened to Croatians including ‘internees’ you can find in my modern historical novel, The Balkans Conspiracy. Only after reading you will have a much better picture of reality. We are divided as much as Jews and our enemies use this for their own plans.

  3. RobertfromSplit says:

    According to Croatian government data, there are some 3.75 million Croats living outside of the country’s borders. They are divided into three groups – Croats in Bosnia who are constituent people of that land (400,000), Croatian minorities in 12 European countries (350,000) and the rest of diaspora (3 million), the majority of them residing in transatlantic countries.

    And there are some 4.2 million Croatian citizens living in Croatia!
    Wow – diaspora is almost as big as Homeland!

  4. Well, I am third generation Croatian family here in the USA and I know hundreds of people with similar background, we do not and have never gone to Croatian clubs…they were far from where we live and even if they weren’t I’m not sure we would go as membership in clubs is a personal thing of choice…but I still feel the pride of having Croatian ancestry and take an avid interest in what’s happening there.

  5. Miso Sorbel says:

    Most likely about 40% of Croats living abroad belong to or go to clubs. The sad part is that many call this the diaspora when in fact the diaspora is so much larger and there has been little if any initiative since Tudjman’s death to harness that majority – among which are some of the most successful people – Croats who truly made it, who truly assimilated into the “Western” life, who have succeeded in business and professions, in all walks of life and yet that Government sought only those who attend the clubs to be nominated as its advisers, caring little that some nominees are losers in real life, have achieved nothing much except to be written about in ethnic press as “community leaders” – to my way of thinking advisers to Croatian government on people living abroad should be chosen from those who truly made it abroad, especially in professional fields including business and public administration etc.

    • Perhaps Miso Sorbel these are baby steps by the Croatian government venturing into reconnecting with the diaspora. My hunch though is that the same government may not want to cast its adviser net too wide for risking being criticised. Whether they accept the fact that criticism can be constructive and if taken on board, very positive, is another matter.

  6. Very dodgy system of choosing government advisers on diaspora! The essential qualification was that a candidate be nominated by a club or association. What if a club or association nominating were a bunch of political hopefuls for personal gain and their nominees were dills with all words and no real action? I agree, Ina, advertisements for expressions of interest from individuals in the diaspora (with biographies reflecting managing and creating public policies and administration etc and references) would have been a much much better and fairer system. This way the advisory body is likely to be a mixed bag of great people and losers. Perhaps that’s the reason why these positions are not paid? But yes, you get what you pay for.

  7. Yes idealisticrebel, there are similarities between the Jewish and Croatian diasporas – they are both significantly large, they both arose from forms of persecution or being driven from their homes in one way or another. It’ll be interesting to see how the revived interest in Croatia for the diaspora pans out.

  8. Huh, “Welcome” to your own home! What a joke. Let’s hope that office will do a better job than what its name hides.

  9. Croatia is indeed much loved! Much to love, the incapable nuts who seek glory will fall off the wagon sooner or later.

  10. I trust this congress will bear good fruit and not end as just another opportunity to network and be seen, and nothing changes.

  11. I am a proud and passionate Croat – born in Zagreb – but live in the diaspora since I was a child. I do not belong to any clubs and associations. But I am no less Croat, no less passionate and give no less aid. Why has the Cro government left me out of the consideration set? I believe that Croatia should model itself after Israel and the learn from the unity and common goals of the Jewish people. Every Croatian living outside Croatia should visit the homeland and contribute to her success. Israel has programs in place to assist Jews across the world to make this piligrimage – and you don’t have to be a member of a club to get nominated. The communists in Croatia are a cancer that was almost eliminated, but the corruption under the HDZ allowed it to grow. Cancer must be removed from the body – lustration and reconciliation is needed.

  12. I found it odd that the red Croatian government selected the advisers for the Diaspora! In Canada there were many nominations – but it was the Croatian government that selected who they wanted. From what I see, the people selected were “softies”.

    The only country in the world that selected their own representatives was Argentina. The Argentine community held internal elections and submitted the names of their two representatives.

    In Canada, our 3 representatives were chosen for us. One month after the meeting in Zagreb we have heard NOTHING about what was accomplished and what the take-ways or projects will be.

    • My point Zeljko, the nomination process should have been replaced by an expression of interest process, advertised wider because the nomination process the government put into placed ensured that only a relatively narrow selection of candidates would be put forth and decisions as to whom to nominate rested upon clubs/associations whose criteria was as varied as one can find, I take it. Personally and from the beginning the Croatian government announced such a selection/nomination I found it rather unfair and liable to introduce certain biases, which should not be because the government must cater for all diaspora, including those who do not frequent clubs etc but feel Croatian and want to contribute. I am aware that Argentina had elections as to who is to be nominated by the community for that post and that was good.

  13. Good article Ina, but please note not all Club’s/Organisations were involved in the exercise. The club I’m a member of had no involvement with the selection process – something the Club should wear as a badge of honour. It would have been perhaps better to state nominations came from a small select number of clubs and organisations – that do not as a rule attract or involve most Croats living in the diaspora.

    • Yes Tom, I actually presumed that not all clubs participated in the nomination and one wonders for those that how nominations came to be, whether the clubs advertised and asked for expressions of interest from people and then assessed the biographies of those interested against a fix criteria etc, or whether in fact persons wanting a nomination approached a club and asked to be nominated etc…your thoughts on what clubs should have perhaps participated in nominations is very interesting and suggests perhaps that small clubs did not participate just as individuals not belonging to clubs didn’t because they did not know and because the criteria for nominations was too limiting. Thanks on your comment.

  14. Its a start! Of course its not enough, but its a start. To build something, first you must lay the first brick, then the second and so forth. Its a start and that is welcome. I’m not insulted by the “Office of Welcome.” When I went away to college, my mother said “Son, you are always welcome home.” We can work with these advisers. I’m in that murky segment of the diaspora which is largely “undocumented,” aging, not wealthy, in a remote location about halfway between New York and Buenos Aires and even though I am really no one at all, of no importance whatever, I hear from both Nenad Bach and Joza Vrljicak with some regularity. I even hear from Zvonimir Aničić who is as far away. These advisers are proactive. The lines of communication are open! We have an honorary consul within 400 miles of us. Even the Ambassador comes around. We have ears which will listen to us. Less than a decade ago, when I wanted to take my wife’s ashes back Home, we didn’t have all this. Now we do. The conversations have begun. The diaspora must not sit idly by, we must to converse. We must formulate ideas and help bring them to fruition for the good of Croatia and all Croatian peoples everywhere. We can help do this. Yes. Živjela Hrvatska!

    • I agree David B. there are many or several advisers who are good to my view and will, if given a chance, make a difference, but there are also those who do not really deserve to be there but had the “luck” of being nominated by a club etc…because they’ve been hanging around clubs in diaspora but when you look into what they have done comes down to very little, my very deep regret is that the government failed to cast the net wider, advertise widely for expressions of interest and there would have been many more candidates, I am certain of that because majority of people in diaspora do not gravitate to clubs or community pockets etc. I wish them luck. I do not consider “Welcome” as a good name for that office because diaspora has already deserved its rightful place as equal. Perhaps you are not aware but under Tudjman’s times there was a whole government department in Croatia dealing with emigration/diaspora which was disbanded a few years later, then there were a couple of other attempts etc, although half-hearted and I fear this one too may prove to be a dud simply because of the way its organised etc – a very limited think tank so to speak. I get what you mean with what your mum said, governments though come and go and mothers stay the same and so too does Croatia – our Croatia, not government’s.

  15. “Superficial exercise indeed and probably a job opening for a family member of some shady government employee 😀 Unfortunately, the Croatian government doesn’t welcome the dijaspora with open arms or give us “special treatment” (like they give to some minorities :/) Expect to run around like a headless chook when seeking information on basic procedures from unhelpful staff…if you’re lucky you might succeed by the seventh attempt 😀 If this office is to genuine and successful, it should be run by someone from the dijaspora who has relocated back to Croatia. Good luck!”

    • I agree Anita, instead of being unpaid advisers people from diaspora should run the unit, at least those who have experience in public administration in the “West” and who know how to promote EQUAL OPPORTUNITY for applicants or nominees.

  16. Ina, also of interest is the fact that I asked, a number of times, the Croatian department responsible for the adviser selections on what criteria the advisers would be selected. I never did receive an answer to my question. The only response I received was to look at the letter that was sent out to the Croatian community.

    How can a government have a competition and not inform interested parties what the selection criteria is.

    • Yes well Zeljko, it seems that government can do as it pleases – as I said before I think that if the government had truly wanted to seek applicants/nominees from the whole of the diaspora, thus giving EQUAL OPPORTUNITY to all not just club members etc or those who knew about it and approached a club for a nomination…

  17. 🙂 Hi, I would like to give you a couple/few more Awards.. . 😉

  18. Did you find your awards I gave you on Sunday? You do such a service for the Croatian people. I wish my grandfather were here to meet you. Hugs, Barbara

    • I did thank you Barbara – I will post them with links in a few days as I’ve been snowed under – all for good causes. I thought I had acknowledged and thanked but perhaps my best moves have somehow got lost in cyberspace 😀 thank you so much, Barbara. I appreciate the support very very much and wouldn’t it be just great if your grandfather could appear and we meet and chat 😀

  19. My grandfather was sent from Croatia to New Zealand as a boy and died when my mother was a child and as such we knew of our Croatian heritage but were not part of the Croatian community abroad i.e clubs and groups, and never learnt the language. We still had a large number of relatives in Croatia and reconnected with them over a decade ago. I have always intended on getting Croatian citizenship but now I am obliged as far as I can see to follow the same rules for citizenship as any foreigner with no claim to Croatian heritage. How is that making it easier for the diaspora to reconnect. Currently I am in Croatia living with relatives to learn the language (in order to take the citizenship test) but can only stay 3 months like any traveller as I don’t fit any of their visa categories. Should there not be some kind of special visa for people who can prove Croatian ancestry to stay longer than 3 months in a 6 month period. If there is I can not seem to find any information on it. I hope this congress can fix some of these problems in integration and make it easier to come and explore and learn about our heritage.

    • Lisa, you have Croatian origins via your grandfather and need to prove that lineage – grandfather’s birthcertificate, your parent’s birth certificate that shows your grandfather, then your own birth certificate that shows that parent of yours etc. You do not fall into the foreigner category as far as citizenship is concerned and perhaps you may not even need to do the test, you should inquire further there to clarify this, or you may do the same back in New Zealand through the consulate etc. I have heard of people having all sorts of hurdles but law is law – good luck

  20. War is a very ugly thing.

  21. Wow, great article and informative!

  22. As a descendant of Croatia-born grandparents who came to the USA, I’ve written several times to various of our consulates to obtain information about acquiring dual citizenship so that I could more actively participate in the success of the new diaspora scheme. After an initial reply from the home office in Zagreb directing me to the locals, I’ve been roundly ignored here. Not much of a plan seems to be in place if you ask me.

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