“You Will Fall Madly, Deeply, Truly in love with Croatia” – Second Generation Croatian Diaspora On The Move

 

 

Eugene and Michelle Brcic Jones with children Photo: courtesy of Eugene Brcic Jones

Eugene and Michelle Brcic Jones with children
Photo: courtesy of Eugene Brcic Jones

The Croatian diaspora is an endless source of inspiration and hope for the homeland despite the frustrations that constantly arise from a rather stark neglect by Croatia to effectively lead ongoing and consistent campaigns that keep the homeland/diaspora relationship a vital part of the homeland life. As to inspiration and hope, Australian Croatian diaspora fits this bill, as do all others. Croatia has particularly neglected the diaspora in the past 15 years especially and particularly so the second and third generations that would slip away if it weren’t for that inspiration and hope whose source and nourishment are still in the diaspora, not in Croatia.

I have once again witnessed the power of the love for Croatia in the story of Sydney born and based Eugene Brcic Jones, who is about to take his young family to live in Croatia and I interviewed him. I was utterly intrigued by the fact that this young family settled with living in Sydney is planning to uproot itself and head for Croatia. Eugene’s answers to my interview questions are inspirational and witty and I thank him for his candour.

 

1. Eugene Brcic Jones, tell us about yourself?

Born and educated in Auburn, Sydney, 1972. Parents are from the hinterlands between Sibenik-Zadar, Selo Budak and Velim, near Stankovci in Croatia. Mum and dad met in Zagreb, married there and moved to Australia in 1969. I went to Catholic school Marist Brothers, did my High School Certificate/HSC with 92 percentile success, then enrolled in the Business degree at University of Technology Sydney. My family moved back to Croatia in August 1991, last commercial plane into Pleso airport in Zagreb before the war erupted (I was 18).

2. How many times have you been to Croatia?

Been twice in youth, at the age of 4 and 12 before settling again in ’91 at 18. Dad bought a house in Zadar in 1983, and has been hosting tourists in five apartments ever since then. My family (sister Suzi, one year older) has holidayed there every year since 91.

Eugene Brcic Jones Photo: Courtesy of Eugene Brcic Jones

Eugene Brcic Jones
Photo: Courtesy of Eugene Brcic Jones

3. How would you describe your knowledge of and any connection you may have to Croatia and Croatians?

I was very active in the Croatian community before moving to Croatia – rain, hail or shine I was at the Croatian church, picnics, soccer and other events. Despite my passion for soccer, my parents insisted I go to the Croatian school instead of soccer or folklore dancing.
(An interesting tidbit, I was a hot-headed teenager rebel running rampant inside the Yugoslav consulate yard in Sydney protesting, demanding independence for Croatia, when Josip Tokic, a Croatian school colleague, got shot in the neck by a Yugoslav guard in December 1988.)

4. How would you describe your field of professional expertise/the work that you do?

We were initially to settle in Zadar and enrol in local university, but bombing and fighting deterred our southward march. We signed into “filozofski faks” (Faculty of Arts equivalent) Zagreb and sister and I completed bachelor of English language and literature degrees. I joined Mladez HDZ (HDZ Youth), holding senior positions for students, before volunteering for the war effort. However, I was told I was too young and had never handled a weapon to boot, so i was sent to the Foreign Press Bureau to work with foreign journalists. At this time I also worked with the government office with the UN and EU (Council of Europe) as a liaison officer on the frontlines. This entailed translating for EU officials/military attaches with ‘Krajina’ generals deep in occupied Croatian territories.

Instead of returning to Australia upon completion of studies, I took a job with the Associated Press and became a foreign correspondent covering the region and wider for 15 years. I also worked for the New York Times and other global news outlets. I was fortunate to cover every major leader of the time, from Thatcher, Kohl, Mitterand, Bush to Clinton, Schroeder, Blair, Gorbachev, Putin, etc. as well as other high profile persons like Pope John Paul II (three times), Prince Charles, King Khomeini, Shimon Peres, Dailai Lama, Maradona, Beckham, Ronaldinho, Zidane, Schumacher, Carl Lewis, Ivanisevic, Becker, McEnroe, Nadal, Kostelic’s, Petrovic, Kukoc, Radja, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell…

In 2008, when the global financial crisis hit, I had the choice to either continue in news in hotspots like Iraq or Afghanistan or reinvent myself in a new career, which I did, crossing over into marketing/communications/PR.

I worked for KPMG, Heineken and Red Bull, as well as trying my hand in business (a high-end tourist agency PartyCroatia.com and an organic office cleaning company, Blist Cleaning) before moving back to Sydney in 2010.

5. You have a young family here in Australia and you are planning to move to Croatia soon, taking them with you. Why did you decide move back to Croatia?

It appears Croatia is experiencing a revival of sorts and I’m really keen to have my wife (Australian-Polish) and kids, Eden 3, Emerson 2, see where I spent the most beautiful days of my youth.

Besides, we are tired of the rat race in the West, the alienation and poor social fabric.

I’ve convinced my wife (and showed her on holidays) that life in Croatia is much more substantial in so many ways.

Our souls have a predilection for Mediterranean living, simple but highly interactive with friends.

Michelle and Eugene Brcic Jones Photo: Courtesy of Eugene Brcic Jones

Michelle and Eugene Brcic Jones
Photo: Courtesy of Eugene Brcic Jones

 

6. What do you think some of the best things about living in Croatia will be?

Being immersed in a culture that is alive and vibrant, plus Europe is at your doorstep. We love the coffee and smoke, perve and complain, reflect and contemplate, philosophy of life. It beats sitting at a table, fiddling on your smart phone, taking photos of your food, and pretending to be enjoying your outing in stone-cold silence.

7. What do you think you might miss from living in Australia while you are living in Croatia?

Family (Michelle’s parents, brothers and nieces; my sister and two nieces) and our newly renovated home.

8. Are there any hardships or difficult aspects that you think you and your family might encounter in settling into Croatia and if so what do you think they might be?

Croatia can be a tough place if you are unprepared for the mentality. It can be harsh and cynical. There is also the socialist legacy that hampers everyday affairs.

Also, you need a good financial safety-net as work that pays well enough is not easy to come by despite cost of living being lower than in Australia.

9. In planning your moving to Croatia have there been any particular difficulties with official processes or red tape that you believe could have been done better?

Perhaps I should have been more enterprising in getting Croatian documents for the family. I may encounter serious problems at the airport as we have one-way tickets but no Croatian passports, meaning we may not be allowed to travel. We need return tickets or visa. Since Aussies don’t need a visa, we have nothing to show we are returning or are allowed stay in Croatia for more than 90 days. The Consulate in Sydney has said: “tough titties”, which is sort of what I expect from the Croatian bureaucracy, so we’ll think of something. The lesson is that there is no use stressing. “Snađi se druže” (figure it out buddy), good practice for us becoming resourceful – one of the most prized traits in Croatia.

10. The move you are making by going to Croatia is a significant and large one – culture, language – different to Australia, how much adjusting will your family need to fit into everyday life in Croatia and do you already perhaps know people there who may ease the path into settling there?

After 20 years in Croatia, the onus is on me to ensure that my family feels completely at home in our new adventure. We visited Croatia in 2015 and during 3 months travelled extensively, appreciating every corner of the country, the lifestyle and culture.

I have a wide network of friends and we stayed in Zagreb after summer, investigating life outside of holidays to convince Michelle that life truly was less stressful and extremely social, not just during summer.

As many of my friends are also from diaspora or expats, the language was no barrier (Michelle was surprised that everybody knew and readily spoke English).

She has already forged some friendships.

It’s also a great incentive to have so many exciting cities in Europe to visit during the year for weekend trips, while the ski slopes are also at your doorstep. (In fact, while living in Zagreb, I often used to snowboard on Sljeme before going to work, that’s how close and convenient everything is).

Eugene Brcic Jones Photo: Courtesy of Eugene Brcic Jones

Eugene Brcic Jones
Photo: Courtesy of Eugene Brcic Jones

11. Do you have any advice for people contemplating on moving to Croatia from Australia? What would be your top three advices?

1. Go and experience what you anticipate would be your lifestyle i.e. rituals outside of holidays. Ignore the average; investigate how your opposite number lives in Croatia – someone in a similar situation to yours.

 

2. Choose a big city, it’s very difficult to acclimatise to a small surrounding with limited options and sympathy for your needs and wants. (Personally, it’s a big ask to live anywhere besides Zagreb as nostalgia is bound to hit if you feel like you’ve sold yourself short in a region of limited potential. Of course, my sentiments apply more to young people seeking careers and social events throughout the entire year than retirees).

 

3. Relax and accept that Croatia is a different country, not a potential little Switzerland, America or Australia. It is what it is, warts and all. There are plenty of unsavoury aspects in a transitioning former communist country, so be patient, water off a duck’s back, and you will fall madly, deeply, truly in love with your imperfectly beautiful new homeland.

 

12. Have you ever contemplated on issues such as being an ex-patriot living away from your homeland and what would be the best way to maintain a connection with the homeland while living away? What do you think countries of “Homeland” category could best offer ex-patriots living abroad to keep them interested in either doing business with the homeland or returning to the homeland to live?

I have contemplated this question ample times, and it has been a huge source of frustration. It is as if distance from the homeland hardens your heart, your feelings, it makes people more extreme. Idealism turns to nationalism and patriotism mutates into a form of racism. People need to step out of the time warp, Croatia is changing since our parents left, there is so much going on that a gap has formed between both camps, exacerbated by politics on Markov Trg and Croatian clubs adorned with Pavelic and Ustase symbols and insignia abroad.

Croatia needs young urban professionals with a healthy love of the country from diaspora to act as an engine of know-how, experience and foresight. If they are unable to migrate an add their stone to the mosaic, they should be a bridge between two forward-thinking models shaping its future, rather than separate poles stuck in 1945.

Prepared and written by Ina Vukic

Comments

  1. It appears the Jones family has found their way back home. Great interview.

    Like

  2. Great article, Ina!!! This is such an inspiration to many of diaspora ‘new generation’ members.

    Like

  3. Tomislav Damjan says:

    Is it not a shame that extreme SDSS has almost the first and last word on crucial political matters in Croatia’s parliament and political influence, whereas the Croatian diaspora immensely helped Croatia in its fight against Serbian fascist occupiers intellectually and financially, for which the diaspora is left holding the short end of the stick! Not acceptable!

    Like

  4. Master Ivan says:

    Such an important subject for Croatia, Ina – second and third generations have been ignored, really, can’t feel much care from Croatian government in that field for some years apart from an occasional invitation to visit or what have you, which of course get limited media coverage so more often than not does not reach those it’s supposed to reach. Let’s look into a more assertive future on this front. I am certainly game!

    Like

  5. Congratulations to Brcic Jones family!

    Like

  6. Spectator says:

    Personal reasons often are paramount in second generation expat decision to go live in parental first homeland and these decisions have a great deal to do with love. I congratulate Eugene Brcic Jones’ parents for the nurture of love of Croatia they evidently invested in their children. So important in personal identity too.

    Like

    • Good one, Spectator. Certainly life is so much better with love as its driver, love in all forms but love for ones country is I think essential for living a settled productive life on all fronts. It certainly beats walking down the street all grumpy about ones surrounds …

      Like

  7. It’s nice to read about someone who has discovered where his true homeland is.

    Like

  8. He will always see loose ends when an achievement is greater in a struggle for freedom. Some people want to attribute success by trampling on others who did a great job.

    Like

  9. Thanks Ina. This fellow was/is lucky because his parents bought property there in the 1980s, when it was still Communist Yugoslavia, and they were able to rent it out to tourists and make an income. That is a luxury few could afford.
    My Croatian Catholic parents had to flee Yugo-land in the 1960s and could not go back until 1990, due to the Communist regime harassing them. Their tragic story is like that of so many others.
    I don’t mean to sound negative, but Eugene certainly is luckier than others.
    Many people from the diaspora who went back during the 1990 to help out, were sadly, completely ripped off by an un scrupulous regime that is still in power today, controlling the judiciary, police, all levels of government administration, etc.
    Glasnovic talks about this regularly and he is correct.
    Most of Croatia’s land cadastre (map registry) is still in, you guessed it, Belgrade, Serbia! And it’s been how many years since Croatia’s independence from Yugo?
    In other words, Croatia is not free and independent and good luck buying property there or investing there unless you pay someone under the table.
    It is often impossible to figure out who owned what land because so much was stolen by the regime and given to party members following 1945. Croatians who lost their family property when the Communist regime took over still, to this day, have an impossible time retrieving it. The Church is still owed property that was theirs for centuries but was taken by the Communists.
    Many of us go back to Croatia and spend years there and we absolutely love it BUT we are always forced to leave because it is impossible to live in a country where you have to bribe people to get things done — from work on your house to medical assistance.
    I love Croatia with every inch of my soul but until that communist mentality is eradicated it will be very difficult to live there or in any country from central/eastern Europe.

    Like

    • So, so very much needs to change there, Veronika – the state admin and processes are still atrocious and unfriendly just as they were then…and yes many fled communism and could not return before 1990 and even then suffered discrimination and what not – while the communist mindset and habits rule state run customer services etc not much will develop by way pf a modern Croatia – decommunisation & lustration are absolutely essential and I do wish General Glasnovic and others like him the will and health to survive the rough and dangerous ride towards achieving the two…support for that is very vital

      Like

    • Veronika, having been to Croatia this past spring to bury my father, I can confirm that much of what you write is true. Croatia seems to have no functioning court system. Fact is that most of Croatia’s government is seriously dysfunctional and corrupt. However, I must disagree with you as to the reason. It’s not a ‘communist mentality’ that is the problem, it’s gangsterism, the majority of Croats are afflicted with with a mafia mindset. Don Corleone would feel right at home in Croatia.

      Despite having been born and raised in New York City, I have a conversational ability in Croatian. Communicating while in Croatia is generally not a problem for me. The reception I received from family members….mostly first and second cousins…in the small town were my parents were born was truly an eyeopener. The reaction of my relatives ranged from barely concealed contempt to open hostility. Some relatives openly accused me of seeking to ‘steal’ their land. These were relatives who directly benefited from money my parents sent back….in some cases for decades.

      If the Croatian government despises and seeks to limit the return of diaspora Croats it’s because the majority of Croats in Croatia support such a policy. They don’t care about rule of law, or the ethical and equitable treatment of Croats who left after WWII. Many, if not the majority, of people currently residing in Croatia are only interested in getting their hands on as much land as possible at the expense of the true owners or their heirs. I believe that this type of behavior is encouraged by the EU. It’s a “:divide and conquer” strategy that will ultimately result in Croatians losing their most valuable land to foreigners. I’ve already heard Germans joking about how they ‘feel at home’ in Croatia since they own so much of it.

      Like

  10. It would be so good if most of us , of the Diaspora , and our children ( if possible ) went back to Domovina . For fear of being
    occupied by the cashed up and invading ” Huns ” neighbouring us and to the nort east and far east . I don’t know the stats on former communist millionaires in our region and Russia because they are hiding in the shadows of camouflage . But a revealing eye opener is that the CCP has ninety million members and in their politburo they have the biggest amount of billionaires in the world today . They are not invading with armies (yet) but they are doing it the civilised way by buying us out . They are scooping up the most desirable places on the globe . That is why Hrvatska is in great danger . The other threat is world migration of all displaced people because of wars and famine .
    If we went back the invasion may be slowed somewhat . We would be with the people that Our Lord created us with . We could preserve and fully appreciate the beauty of the land that our predecessors worked and left for us to enjoy .
    Everywhere globalisation is about mass migration and theft of native lands . Look at here in Australia alone , at half a million (or probably double) new settlers a year , we can see where this is heading . Two thirds of the worlds population are just above us in Asia . If they do it by force the floodgates will be open and that’s an entirely new matter . Sorry to be negative but there 80 million new arrivals on this planet every year . The overwhelming numbers are stacked against small nationalities and this is our peoples problem for future survival . Economics and politics , however important , pale in significance . So let’s get over our differences and support a united Hrvatska free from communism the military industrial and darwins crazy theory of evilution .
    Vjera u Boga i Hrvatsko sloga .
    For us seniors the days are getting shorter but our children and their children deserve a better future .
    All the teachings of Jesus suggest that we go through life virtually blind , unable to see the riches and beauty surrounding us .
    Congratulations and admiration for all people going back to
    Domovina .

    Like

    • I reckon Anto, the diaspora could bring in a fashion: for every Croat who leaves Croatia the diaspora provides one to move into Croatia – that is actually a suggestion made by Eugene here and I love it 🙂

      Like

  11. Gosh, they’re very brave. I wish them all the best, and I hope the bureaucratic paperwork part gets sorted out so that they don’t get into difficulties. I hope you will let us know how they get on, Ina.

    Like

  12. Such a wonderful place
    to see and visit
    in this clip:

    Like

  13. Beautiful interview. It’s a lovely tribute for the love of Croatia.

    Like

  14. pretty neat story of substance over fame…

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Disclaimer, Terms and Conditions:

All content on “Croatia, the War, and the Future” blog is for informational purposes only. “Croatia, the War, and the Future” blog is not responsible for and expressly disclaims all liability for the interpretations and subsequent reactions of visitors or commenters either to this site or its associate Twitter account, @IVukic or its Facebook account. Comments on this website are the sole responsibility of their writers and the writer will take full responsibility, liability, and blame for any libel or litigation that results from something written in or as a direct result of something written in a comment. The nature of information provided on this website may be transitional and, therefore, accuracy, completeness, veracity, honesty, exactitude, factuality and politeness of comments are not guaranteed. This blog may contain hypertext links to other websites or webpages. “Croatia, the War, and the Future” does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness or completeness of information on any other website or webpage. We do not endorse or accept any responsibility for any views expressed or products or services offered on outside sites, or the organisations sponsoring those sites, or the safety of linking to those sites. Comment Policy: Everyone is welcome and encouraged to voice their opinion regardless of identity, politics, ideology, religion or agreement with the subject in posts or other commentators. Personal or other criticism is acceptable as long as it is justified by facts, arguments or discussions of key issues. Comments that include profanity, offensive language and insults will be moderated.
%d bloggers like this: