One week – it’s on, one week – it’s off! One week we hear that the Croatian government is planning to close some of Croatia’s consular missions in Australia (and elsewhere) and then one week we hear that this is not the case! Certainly, there has been enough in Croatian media over past decade or so suggesting that plans of closures are indeed afoot, if for no other reason then to save money! Such “rumours” as well as statements from left-wing political camp foreign ministers started with Tonino Picula in 2000, lingered, and seem now amplified by Vesna Pusic. While purposeful moves to distance the diaspora from its homeland do not surprise one, as they originate from those who did not want Croatian independence in the first place, it is up to the diaspora to fight against these destructive moves. Particularly in countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South American countries, US – the more distant ones. Since Croatia is a EU member state one can argue that too many diplomatic missions are not necessary across it (?).
Well if the incompetent government wants to save money on operations that are a lifeline to the homeland for its large body of émigrés then, I guess, it has the mandate to do it.
However, the Croatian government must know that most of the properties where the diplomatic and consular missions are established in the “Western” world were actually purchased through dedicated, specific, purposeful charitable fundraising and if the government cannot operate them as intended and promised then it is only reasonable to demand that these properties be handed over to the Croatian communities who donated the funds for their purchase and such properties be utilised for other uses the donor Croatian community needs. I would hate to see the government selling these valuable properties and pocketing the proceeds from the sale to plug holes in the state budget they brought to the brink of bankruptcy through incompetence.
When on Easter Sunday 1991(31 March) the war of Serb aggression against Croatia began, the initial shock that struck hard within Croatian communities across the world (there are were/are as many Croats living outside Croatia as there are in Croatia itself) swiftly turned into actions of solidarity with the Croatian homeland, with the plight of democracy and secession from communist Yugoslavia. Almost overnight, countless new associations of Croatian ex-patriots emerged – everywhere, across all six continents where Croats lived, whose mission was to collect humanitarian aid (goods and money) and send it to assist Croatia. The clubs, churches and associations that had already existed joined the efforts and Croatian diaspora was mobilised in helping. Without the solidarity from its diaspora Croatia would not have emerged as an independent and democratic country in those days when Yugoslav institutions and communist controls still existed from Belgrade (Serbia) with the sole purpose of quashing with extreme brutality of murder, rape, ethnic cleansing, wanton destruction, plunder… the will of the people for democracy in Croatia
Having achieved widespread international recognition as an independent country by February 1992 the time came for Croatia to establish its own diplomatic and consular missions across the world, Serbs took hold of the properties where the embassy and consulates of Yugoslavia had been as if they were their own! So, “penniless” and still defending itself in the war of Serb aggression, Croatia had no adequate financial means to set up its diplomatic and consular missions abroad. In came the initiative from the diaspora to set up special-purpose Funds that would raise charitable funds among émigrés, which would be used for the sole purpose of purchasing properties that would house Croatian embassies and consulates.
As the laws in “Western” countries where Croats fundraised dictate, charitable funds and assets must only be used in furtherance of the purposes the funds were raised. And so, by the end of 1992 to about March 1993 Croats across the world raised enough funds to purchase the needed properties and equip the diplomatic and consular missions with all and necessary equipment and tools needed. In Australia the results were as amazing as everywhere else in the world. Australian Croats had purchased valuable properties in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth for consular offices and in Canberra they commenced building a grand building that would house the Croatian Embassy.
On hearing about the plan Croats living abroad had to raise funds for the purchase and establishment of Croatian diplomatic and consular missions Franjo Tudjman, Croatia’s first president, wrote letters to Croatian communities abroad applauding their efforts and thanking them. In his letter to Australian Croats in March 1992 he wrote:
“To the Croats in Australia
With great satisfaction, I have received the information that you wish to collect charitable funds with view to giving Croatia the buildings for diplomatic and consular missions in Australia.
As the president of all Croats, I support and highly respect the intention that the fundraising action for this purpose be all-Croatian and that it gathers together as many of our émigrés as possible, regardless of political or other association.
At the same time, I would like to inform you of my intention and my great wish to, if at all possible, visit Australia for the occasion of the opening of the Embassy of the Republic of Croatia in Australia.
Signed: Franjo Tudjman, President of the Republic of Croatia, 13 March 1992 Ref. PA12-7/3-92”.
In just over twenty years of Croatian diplomatic and consular missions in operations across Australia, Canada, New Zealand, US, South America…there has been very little achieved in that “gathering” of diaspora Croats towards a better, stronger and optimally fruitful and dynamic connection with the homeland. If anything, since the death of Franjo Tudjman in 1999, the close and benevolent connection that existed then, and had the potential of significant contribution towards building a full democracy in Croatia, targeting in particular issues associated with transition from communism, had been systematically eroded. Purposefully perhaps?
And so, having been centrally and significantly involved in the early 1990’s fundraising drives for the establishment of Croatian diplomatic and consular missions in Australia, I sit here and ponder, with an uneasy and heavy heart. Should we allow an incompetent government in Croatia tear apart that which the community secured with charitable funds? Should we keep quiet until it’s too late and the properties we purchased for specific purposes, with charitably donated funds – are sold off by the government? I think not! But if the government sells the properties anyway, then it should be stopped in squandering the money from the proceeds of sale in plugging budgetary holes. The properties or the proceeds of sale should remain in the function for which they were purchased and if that is not possible then their function must remain in the greater use and benefit of the diaspora community, which donated the funds to establish them. Certainly, there are ample records kept of the history of the sources of funding for ‘the bricks and mortar’ and how these diplomatic and consular missions were established.
“When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty” said one of the American founding fathers Thomas Jefferson long ago.
And I resist and rebel against the sale of the properties purchased specifically for Croatian diplomatic and consular missions with charitable donations. If the Croatian government comes to the decision to ‘get rid’ of these properties then I do expect that the Croatian community in the diaspora will know how to protest and stop such madness and unjust actions and assert once again its rights over these properties. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)