Fumbling For Croatian National Strategies

Second from Left:
Gordan Jandrokovic, president of parliament;
Centre Kolonda Grabar Kitarovic, President of Croatia
Photo: Screenshot, Vecernji List


Branding has been the buzz word for decades in the world of successful (and unsuccessful) marketing a product, constructing its reputation – upon which many things depend in life, to those that matter but it seems the same word has picked up on speed in the world of Croatian politics during the past few months. Branding a whole nation is indeed a task that requires the input of all stakeholders, just like a strategic plan would – which, by the way, Croatia as a nation still does not have in its post-Homeland War era. I cannot say with certainty that that is what happened in Croatia last week when one of a series of conferences on the need to brand Croatia occurred in Zagreb, that all stakeholders were represented. Perhaps representatives of all stakeholders will get a chance of input when/if the process of actual national branding of Croatia gets on the way (?). It is good to note that talk of the need for national strategy as far as branding is concerned is being heard. Croatia has no national strategy for anything and so every new government and president has no blueprint to follow with actions that fill the pattern of a strategy and, hence, directional chaos rules in politics and the grassroots bandwidth. I do cross my fingers with hope that any national strategy in branding will include the Croatian diaspora input.

Croatia needs a unique and comprehensive national strategy to brand itself, said Croatia’s president Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic at the “What kind of Croatia do we want” conference on 29 May in Zagreb. “Branding of a nation encompasses the definition of a comprehensive strategy whose enactment includes state authorities, domestic and foreign policies, but also the non-government sector, various agencies, cultural and sports and other sectors… One can conclude that the reputation of a nation cannot be constructed, it has to be earned,” Grabar Kitarovic said.

Sorry President – whoever told you the latter part of your vocalisation (and you believed it) is wrong, wrong, wrong!

Reputation in essence is an image and it usually is mimicked through exhibited behaviours/factors and these can and usually are constructed or steered via branding and marketing. Building a brand is just like building a reputation in that you need to prove yourself again and again in order for people to put their trust in and become loyal to you. This holds true for individuals, small companies and  nations as a whole.

Nation-branding professionals and activists in essence have one goal – the goal of endowing the nation with specific qualities in the minds of the target audience, so that it is identified with those qualities. In other words, they are constructing an identity for the country that emanates, produces and constructs a reputation.

Croatia needs to find areas which make it different to other countries in order to achieve successful branding the President continued, “It’s important to ask what makes a nation different and attractive … we must emphasise differences.”

The importance of promoting differences was also emphasised by Gordan Jandrokovic, president of Croatian parliament, who said that “it is the duty of politics to secure political framework and political stability as a precondition of everything else, clearly define political and economic goals, strengthen the international position and reputation and define areas which separate us from other nations, which are our added value and advantage.”

Croatia should compare itself, as Bozo Skoko from the Faculty of Political Sciences said, to other smaller countries comparable in size to Croatia who built a good image – Denmark with Lego, design or Hans Christian Anderson, the Netherlands with windmills, tulips and orange colour, or Switzerland with immediate association with cheeses watches and banks, not allowing the image of Croatia to be created by others such as happened to Kazakhstan after the movie Borat.

Can you believe this rhetoric of aloof and textbook-like lip-service to an essential ingredient in what makes a country special. “Not allowing the image of Croatia to be created by others” – well, Croatian key politicians and diplomats have been doing just that since the 1990’s; hardly ever bothering to publicly assert the truth about Croatia and its fight for democracy through and including the Homeland War on the World’s stage; almost never demanding that untruths published by others be condemned and truth asserted. And the frightening thing to me personally is that some individual politicians who have contributed to this tragic modus operandi of shaping Croatia’s image through neglect as well as purposeful negative actions and inactions were actually a part of this conference on branding Croatia and some are most likely acting as advisers to the country’s President.

Clean up your act politicians and leaders of Croatia – branding or shaping or permitting a reputation to be formed is either an act of love or its opposite disposition. And the biggest problem Croatia has had with asserting its rightful reputation of a nation striving for freedom from communism, a nation seeking to thrive on patriotic love and dedication to justice for all including victims of communist crimes, is plucking out at all levels the communist mindset and its destructive practices including those responsible and/or associated with communist crimes and their justification. Once that’s asserted the wealth of Croatia’s excellence characterised by the individual innovators and achievers, its defensive and amazing Homeland War that ushered in freedom through much human sacrifice and the country’s breathtaking natural beauty will shine through as selection of material from which the formula for branding can benefit.

We need to carry out research in countries that are important to us in order to test out what are the associations with Croatia, what are the prejudices, and base our strategy on that,” said president Grabar Kitarovic.

Oh dear! Prospects of actually having national strategies do seem distant for Croatia. What a shame.

It is a given that branding of a nation is an extraordinarily complex task. The stakeholders are legion (politicians, businesses, industries, citizens, etc.) as are the potential target audiences (investors, tourists, immigrants, emigrants, business and political leaders, etc.). It is extremely difficult to control a nation’s image because of all of factors that can influence that image. Because so many factors contribute to that image and because brand building is such a long term process.

Impressions are created by foreign policy including diplomatic and military strategy, participation in multinational discussions and agreements, immigration, emigration and trade policy, foreign aid, alliances and media briefings. Impressions are also created by exports (especially exported media and high profile product brands), tourism, study abroad, exchange programs, friends, relatives, and business associates residing in (or visiting) the country, the hosting of international events (cultural, sporting) and the domestic and foreign press. The culture itself is a significant contributor to brand identity as is the nation’s brand building capacity (resources and marketing savvy). A brand’s perceptions will also be influenced by how long the nation has been an active part of the world community and known by the world community. Put another way, industrialised countries that export have more brand awareness and “country of origin” associations than developing countries that do not.

Countries also have distinctive personalities and Croatian personality’s trump card is the personality embedded in the 1990’s forces that plucked Croatia out of communist Yugoslavia. So, Croatia – stop fumbling around and get to the business of merging Croatia’s personality into strategic plans for governments to follow. Decommunise the country via a strategic plan focusing on what Croatia wanted to achieve from the beginning of its modern sovereignty. Ina Vukic


  1. Keep hammering the common sense at them Ina.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

  2. zoran nosic says:

    Ina, I can’t agree more with you than if I had written your story!!
    I’m also glad it has at least become an issue to entertain at such a level but similarly feel the inadequecy of discernable vision present.

    We in the Western world have no problem with understanding branding strategies. Why is it these “Eurocrats” don’t? It seems confusing that they don’t see Croatia’s distinctivness given the region and its’ history.

    Many of us have fought the lies, innuendo and half-truths flung around at Croatia over the years and on a very personal and indivual basis. The venting may offer some solice but little more in effect. You correctly point out the lack of a co-ordinated official effort to deal with these deliberate, provocative and often institutional efforts to discredit Croatia.

    Maybe they ought to look to the West and hire some outside perspective if they fear getting it wrong?

    Ina, thanks again for the great story and certainly…keep up the great work!

    • Thank you Zoran, I believe it will still take lots of time for some key people in Croatia to raise they do not know everything and could well use the knowhow of those who know their stuff.

  3. Angela Babic says:

    I agree with you Zoran and Ina- Croatia does need to look towards the West to hire professionals for a clearer perspective….they are definitely getting it wrong, but as the old saying goes: you can lead the horse to water but you can’t force it to drink. There’s no disputing that Croatia – and the key players- want to move forward and reach the stage of development- both political, social and economic- but institutional corruption and to some degree, downright stubbornness is holding Croatia back. We shouldn’t be where we are- given what we have to offer from all facets. Maybe it is going to take someone ‘izvana’ to make the necessary changes Croatia so desperately needs- but how much more can everyone take?

    • Personality cult is a huge problem – individuals sticking to power and positions regardless of the fact they’re incompetent…perhaps you are right Angela, maybe it will take people from outside to sort the sorry mess

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