Translation of article by Dusan Miljus, published online at Jutarnji List, 7 November 2016 (slightly different to the printed version published 6 November 2016 – Nedjeljni)
Translation by Ina Vukic
Should Hillary Clinton win she will have the support of the Democrats in the Congress, and the Republicans will be her opposition. Should Donald Trump win, besides the Democrats being his opposition he could also have against him half Republicans in the Congress who believe that he is a bad choice for president. This clearly shows who would have greater control in the Congress.
This is how Connor Vlakancic thinks about the elections. He is an American of Croatian origins, a candidate at the extraordinary elections for the American Congress for the state of Illinois and has behind him two attempts at being elected for the Senate. (September 10, 2015 for the replacement Illinois 18th Congressional District, US Representative, he was a write-in Independent candidate. Registered early 2016 to be the US Senator [Independent] candidate in Illinois.)
And while the election campaign enters its final stage, and given that the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails had “lifted” Donald Trump and increased his chances of becoming the 45th American president, even if some polls do say Hillary Clinton has advantage over the Republican candidate, Vlakancic sent Trump a letter last year asking him to support him as an independent candidate for the Congress.
“I sent him a letter in which I reminded him of the situation in 2000 when the presidential election results were decided by electronic votes from Florida in George Bush’s favour. I think this could be repeated again and that the support from independent candidates could actually be decisive if it happens that votes from independent candidates in Congress get to cast the deciding votes. I received a thank you letter from Trump’s election campaign camp but I think that Trump did not read that letter not did he have the time to consider my proposal,” says Vlakancic.
The story of this American of Croatian origins, 73-year-old businessman and an eager Chicago Cubs fan in whose checkered T-shirt he arrived at this interview, is not a typical story of the Croatian Diaspora in the United States that nurtures links with the old homeland of second generation immigrants and their contemporaries. His story is specific and almost unbelievable and was not known to the Croatian public, except for an article published in the Croatian Heritage Foundation Journal.
“In our house there were never discussions about ethnic origin. We were all raised as Americans. We wrote our surname as Vlakancic but pronounced it Vlakensik. As for my grandfather Constant the records for the state of Illinois say that he arrived in 1917 from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. He worked as a machinist in Aurora and had three children with my grandmother Ana. My mother was from a farming family of German origins that had property in northern Illinois and I spent my childhood there. My parents made it possible for me to achieve a high level of education so that after studies in Chicago and California I began my business career in the Silicon Valley in late 60’s,” Vlakancic reveals. In 1984 he founded a successful personal computers retail company and in early nineties a company for videoconferencing transmissions – Visitas Televideo. At the end of the last century he served as an advisor to entrepreneurs and investors in Silicon Valley, and was also on the boards of several companies. He has published professional articles, is active in the field of security issues in the communications industry, and the owner and manager of the company for the import and distribution of Croatian products, primarily food and alcoholic beverages in the US market.
In his youth he even met Ronald Reagan, the then governor of California and the future US president, who left a very strong impression on him.
“He was an actor and as such he knew and understood the importance of communication with people and its power in politics,” Vlakancic remembers the former US president and continues reflecting on the discovery of his own Croatian roots during late eighties. He considers that it’s Hillary Clinton’s bad communication after the investigation into whether in her private emails she used classified information, which FBI reopened at the later election campaign stage, that increased Donald Trump’s prospects for victory at the coming elections.
“It’s questionable whether the voters who have now found out about it and who had already made their decision to vote for Hillary Clinton, will remain with their decision to vote for her,” Vlakancic says among other things, and considers that many Americans will decide at the last minute to whom they will give their vote.
“ In 1987 I found in my mailbox a letter written in an unknown language to me. The only thing I understood in that language that was foreign to me then was that it was sent from the Croatian Catholic Parish San Jose, and the telephone number. I called that number and he asked me what my name was. Vlakenskik. ‘Vlakančić would be the correct way to say it. You are a Croat,’ replied fra Bono, who after arriving at the parish came across the Vlakancics through reading the telephone directory and wrote a letter to everyone he thought could be of Croatian origins. I came to mass the following Sunday and was among many people in front of the Croatian church in San Jose,” – Vlakancic remembers, as he at that time forged a strong emotional connection with the land of his ancestors who originate from the island of Cres.
He shared his discovery with his mother and asked her: “Did you know that grandfather was a Croat?”
“Of course I did,” she replied.
“Well, why haven’t you ever told me?” he asked her.
“Because you never asked,” she replied.
Although the real reason behind it is unknown to him, he says that there was never much talk about the family origins in their house. When he discovered his Croatian roots his first visit to the land of his ancestors soon followed – in 1988. He saw many grave headstones with Vlakancic name at the parish cemetery in Stivan, his grandfather’s birth place. He sat down and kissed the ground and cried and cried for a long time. From that time on, he often visits the homeland of his ancestors.
I met Vlakancic by pure chance, at the Samobor town square when the president of the town’s Lions club branch introduced me during a humanitarian action for raising funds for needy families. They were selling sweet rolls, Bermet sweet fruit and herb wine, pita bread with pork crackling at the stall and in the background there was a large pot in which pork cracklings were being made as cubes of pork fat melted inside it. These were the Croatian specialties that thrilled the would be American congressman who, although of the age at which many contemplate retirement, he, himself, has “American plans” with that as well as with other Croatian products.
“Hm, crackling, brandy (rakija), beer. They’re excellent,” he says as tasty cracklings melt in his mouth. During his visit to Croatia, where he intends to remain as he follows daily the developments in US presidential election campaigns, he contemplates new business and political undertakings while his peers consider peaceful days in retirement. Since the nineties he has been actively following Croatian politics, and, upon recommendation by the US Ambassador William Montgomery he acted as US State Department observer at the year 2000 elections. He met today’s president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic in the US as well as the former president Ivo Josipovic, and also had the opportunity to meet the Croatian Prime Minister, Andrej Plenkovic.
Vlakancic was very critical of the time-frame between Christmas to just after New Year for the last presidential elections in Croatia as he considers that that time of the year should be devoted to holidays and family, not politics, and thinks that such practices should be changed. Although he failed twice at his bid to become a congressman, he is not giving up on the intention. He laid out to us his plan for the coming Congress elections at which he plans to be a candidate for the 18th District and he reveals his plan as to how he will win voters over. During the last elections he mentioned that his idol was Abraham Lincoln, who was first elected as congressman in that district of Illinois, and after that became the president of the USA.
“I will firstly turn to the Americans who have Euopean origins, of all ethnic groups. I will send them a message: I am one of you. I will visit all Croatian immigrants’ clubs, I will try and reach every voter of Croatian origins and their descendants and try to win over their vote. Pork cracklings and Croatian beer will be served at my election campaign gatherings…Most voters are from immigrant families and I’m counting on their votes,” Vlakancic explains his election strategy.
We did not get a precise answer to the question we asked as to how much money he will need to succeed in all that, but he says that he will be available 24 hours and that only hard and determined work can bring success. He believes in his success and hopes as Congressman to host a member of Croatian parliament in the Congress at Capitol Hill. Besides furthering the Croatian-American relations, which he has been doing since discovering his origins and maintains contact with Croatian politicians, he will apply efforts, he says, into making it possible for Croatian citizens as soon as possible to be able to travel into the US without a visa. Before anything else the Croatian political representatives will need to get support from the EU for that. Vlakancic says he will always work for the benefit of Croatia, a large potential as a tourist destination into which he will try and bring as many tourists from the US as possible. He sees a big opportunity for the launching of agricultural products, beer, randy (rakija) …and says he will work at that regardless who will be president (of US). He firmly believes that in two years time he will be a yet another American Congressman of Croatian origins.