General Zeljko Glasnovic is a Member of Croatian Parliament representing the Croatian diaspora and is currently visiting Australia. General Glasnovic was born in Croatia and had spent much of his life living and working in Canada. He returned to Croatia at the outbreak of Croatia’s Homeland War in 1991, joining the Croatian National Guard. He served in the Canadian Army, the French Foreign Legion, the Croatian Army (HV) and the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) and fought in a number wars: The Gulf War, the Croatian Homeland War and the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was elected Member of Parliament in November 2015 and again in new elections held September 2016. I met up with General Glasnovic during his visit to Australia and conducted the following interview, which I hope will enlighten many readers particularly with regard to issues affecting the Croatian diaspora and its relationship with Croatia. These issues and questions had also arisen during the forums and meetings General Glasnovic has in the past ten or so days held with Croatians across three states of Australia (South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales).
1. Given that you are a member of the Croatian Parliament representing the diaspora your visit to Australia could be seen as a member of parliament visiting his constituency. What was the main reason or reasons you decided to make this journey?
Glasnovic: Basically, there is no comprehensive strategy towards the Croatian Diaspora including Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There’s much talk and little concrete action. Dialogue is not a strategy and Croats are being deliberately excluded from economic and political development and I would like to develop a strategy, hence my visit to the Croatian diaspora.
2. You have held a number of meetings or forums across Australia during this visit, would there have been any major issues of concern that may have been put to you by Australian Croats or that may have arisen during these forums and if so what were they?
Glasnovic: The problems are the same in Europe, in North America and in Australia. Croatians in the diaspora are victims not only of a dysfunctional legal system but also of socialist bureaucracy and post-communist mindset. For example, in the war, between 1992 and 1994 the Croatian diaspora contributed over US$ 660 million to the country’s defence in armaments alone, today the diaspora contributes at least 16 billion kunas to the country’s economy and despite this contribution of at least 4% Croatia’s GDP the country’s political elite have done everything possible to prevent integration in the return of Croatians living abroad. Examples are numerous, these are rhetorical questions: Why has no one up to now compiled a unified list of Croatians living outside Croatia and offered everyone Croatian citizenship? Why haven’t the Croatians living abroad been enabled to vote electronically? What is the reason behind that? There’s no electronic voting as in other countries. What is the purpose of renewing documents every six months for Croatian citizenship, e.g. birth certificates can’t be more than six months old – so, Croatians are born every six months…
It’s mind boggling that a Croatian born abroad to Croatian parents needs on average three years to obtain citizenship.
Preventing people from coming points to the fact that they’re not only victims of socialist bureaucracy but also of a corrupt and dysfunctional legal system.
How is it possible that over twenty years after the end of the war there’s still no set of regulations that determine the relationship between the Croatian State and the Croatian diaspora; no one has yet put forward a unified law dealing with the rights of Croatians living abroad.
3. The diaspora should have a direct influence on political decision processes in Croatia and that is facilitated via having a number of seats in parliament dedicated to elected representatives of the diaspora. Given the size of the Croatian diaspora do you consider 3 seats adequate or representative or do you believe the number of seats should be increased to adequately represent the number of Croats living in the diaspora?
Glasnovic: What we have is discrimination in reverse and the best proof of that is the voting system, which allows minorities more representation in parliament that the much more numerous Croatian diaspora, which is restricted to the current three symbolic seats in parliament. Constitutionally the Croatian diaspora plus Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina should be allowed a minimum of three more seats in parliament. These members of parliament should be deployed globally and cover North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific.
As far as economic diplomacy is concerned they would be the best ambassadors for investment in the country. As the situation stands now – there’s no existing framework that enables Blue Chip investments in the country, while, for example, Kuwait is investing US$4 billion in a suburb of Sarajevo. The only large investment in Croatia in last decade has come from IKEA. Serious corruption in Croatia is another symptom of communist mentality and it is the Achilles’ heel of the Croatian state. Black market economy in Croatia is more than twice that of what it is in European Union states.
4. There has recently actually been an initiative in Australia seeking Croatian clubs and community organisations’ endorsement in approaching the relevant authorities in Croatia for the purpose of adding seats to the parliament for the diaspora: one for Australia and New Zealand, one for North America and one for South America. What is your opinion on such initiatives?
Glasnovic: Initiative is great but you can’t implement the initiative unless you have functional legal institutions, pragmatic laws and the legal mechanism that will enforce these laws. The Croatian judiciary is still bogged down in quagmire of ineffectual laws that Croatia has inherited from the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). This fact combined with the communist mindset is the biggest stumbling block to modernisation.
5. When it comes to taking part in political decision processes in the diaspora via voting at elections, the fact that the polling booths are impossibly limited to consular or diplomatic premises and, therefore, not easily accessible or not at all accessible for majority of voters represents a discriminatory approach towards Croats living abroad wishing to vote. Croats living in Croatia have reasonably good access to polling booths. A solution to this problem would undoubtedly be in electronic and/postal voting system. Has there been any progress in making legislative changes or additions to accommodate such voting and if not do you think such legislative changes have a chance of being brought into the Parliament?
Glasnovic: Spoke of this before but yes – no progress at all, the sabotage continues.
6. A particular problem seen by the diaspora lies in the Income Tax rules in Croatia by which Croats on Australian Age Pensions returning to live in Croatia also fall under the Croatian taxation rules which are disadvantageous to them. That is, the Australian taxation laws under which their pension was earned provides them with income tax free thresholds that renders their pension income almost tax-free while under the Croatian income tax thresholds their pensions are taxed quite highly. It seems Croatia has not signed an avoidance of double tax agreement with Australia when it comes to the Australian Age Pension not coming under Croatian taxation rules. Do you have any information on this issue that may clarify where Croatia stands with double taxation agreements with Australia?
Glasnovic: The very idea of double taxation on pensions is an absurdity but Croatians returning from abroad to retire in Croatia are not a burden to the tax system. Their pensions are a direct bonus to the Croatian economy. The law should be scrapped.
7. What are currently the general prospects for the returnees in Croatia to establish themselves, and also, to contribute to a national development debate and agenda if they exist?
Glasnovic: A national development agenda does not exist. The bureaucracies, the corruption I mentioned – there’s absolutely no political will to develop a comprehensive action plan that will enable Croatians to return.
There’s no institutional framework to implement any sort of strategies for returnees, no programs …the present state of affairs only confirms that Croatians from abroad have been deliberately excluded from Croatia’s everyday life.
8. What are some things you consider could be done in order to improve the participation of the diaspora in Croatian economic recovery and demographic profile?
Glasnovic: Another thing that handicaps any type of plan of return of Croatians from abroad is a lack of integrated collective action from the Croatian diaspora itself. Croatians abroad have become increasingly disenchanted and apathetic which is a direct result of alienating politics towards the diaspora, particularly since year 2000. Nation building is a process and, as associated with disenchantment, Croatians living abroad may believe their help in rebuilding the country is no longer required.
The process of decommunisation has never been implemented in Croatia and this is an important stumbling block for Croatia’s relationship with its diaspora. Also importantly, the questions of communist crimes, confiscation and the nationalisation of property remain unresolved. I call Croatia – Croslavia, because what we actually have is a dysfunctional state that is a sort of communism after communism.
Interview by: Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)