Breaking Bread With The Diaspora

President of Croatia
Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic

It has come to my attention that the Office of the President of Croatia is on 21 July organising “Open Doors Day for Croatian Diaspora and Croatian Minority Communities Abroad”.

One does, however, from the perspective of Croatia itself, wonder why “Croatian ethnic minorities abroad” are separated in this event’s title from the concept of the diaspora. At any rate and assuming there may be “logical” reasons for this differentiation in the title, the issues-driven profile of intended attendees confuses many.

Nevertheless, this is a nice and needed gesture but bound to be “more of the same” empty political rhetoric theatre stage unless it’s actually followed by government-level affirmative actions that will lift the Croatian diaspora as an integral part of Croatia and enroot diaspora plights, which coincide with the plights of some political figures and activists in Croatia itself, for the betterment of Croatian nation and its life. To be precise: decommunisation.

The fact is that (unlike ethnic minorities within Croatia) the diaspora has a clear focus on collective memory of Croatia as a nation and a collective thrust for democratisation, away from former communist mindset, and for the betterment of life in Croatia. That is the reason why the Croatian diaspora had in 1990’s, at and around the time when Croatians voted overwhelmingly to secede from Yugoslavia, played a vital role in Croatia’s fight for independence from communist Yugoslavia.

But, as fact would have it, ever since about year 2000 a systematic mindset led by former communists, who paint themselves with antifascist colours even though they retain communist stature, has eroded drastically Croatia’s ties with the Croatian diaspora.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the strength and persistence of diaspora depends upon the strength and weakness of the homeland. Strong homelands facilitate the maintenance of diasporas; weak homelands are less able to do this. Croatia was a strong homeland for the diaspora during 1990’s, in fact it was one with the homeland and that is where the roots of its successful actions for the independence of Croatia lie. Since 2000, Croatia has been a weak homeland for its diaspora and the fact that Croatian parliamentary seats representing the diaspora were drastically reduced in the years after demonstrates this clearly.

Although Croatian governments and presidents since the year 2000 (including current president Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic) have fostered the myth of return among its diaspora in order to preserve at least some linkage to it, Croats from the diaspora have not necessarily been welcomed back. It has often been said and thought that this is because they might undermine the homeland’s social fabric and political value system, and threaten the existing elite’s hold on power. Only few politicians and public persons of note (including the most diligent one so far on the issues of the diaspora, the independent member of Croatian parliament for the diaspora, General Zeljko Glasnovic) have actually been realistic enough and continue pushing for changes and reforms in Croatia that would actually create conducive conditions for Croats from the diaspora to return. But their plights, regretfully, so far appear to remain political banter to the ears and eyes of the political elite who hold the power to change things.

General Zeljko Glasnovic (R)
at May 2017 public rally for
the removal of “Josip Broz Tito” name to the Zagreb city square

For a variety of reasons, most members of diaspora do not “return” to their homeland, among them the fact that economic and/or political conditions there are not very attractive, and that real life in Croatia does not conform to the image of the homeland they significantly helped in seceding from communism.

Contrary to certain mainstream sentiments in Croatia, the diaspora is not a conglomerate of careless and caring nationalists that has often been attributed to it from the left angle of the political sphere especially, and can aid Croatia in its pursuit of full democracy. Diaspora can transfer funds to civil society organisations, political actions, lobby effectively using professional and uncompromising skills attained through living the western democracies, and become critical factors in running democratic change political campaigns inside the homeland. Diaspora can challenge the home political and practical attempts to suppress democratic change, assist with the homeland’s international legitimacy, expose human rights violations that may occur in various facets of life including those associated with constitutional rights, combat the plunging trend of Croatia’s economic well-being through investments and targeted programs for financial boosts. The diaspora can return in many instances especially when the conditions for that flourish and, for those for whom the return is simply a life’s impossibility, the diaspora can assist life in Croatia significantly.

Diaspora is identified as a social collectivity that exists across state borders and that has succeeded, despite obstructions from Croatia leveled at weakening the diaspora-homeland ties, to sustain a collective national, cultural and religious identity through a sense of internal cohesion and persistence to sustain ties with the homeland.

Every Croatian should feel that Croatia is his/her home but that certain alienation of the diaspora through various political and practical thrusts, which have spread since the year 2000, certainly leaves this feeling lacking in many from the diaspora. It had often been said that a person returning to Croatia from the diaspora is faced with hard work of asserting the rights that a home provides. Returning home should be a smooth, effortless affair. The numerous promises of helping people return to Croatia we have seen throughout almost two decades remain empty promises. Let’s hope that the event on 21 July in Zagreb when the president, according to the event’s announcement, is breaking bread with the diaspora will stop the playing of the same old broken record and start the needed trend of determined removal of obstacles that keep the myth of return alive. Move away from myth into real progress in reality that does away with empty promises of helping people return from the diaspora, usher in effective national strategy in helping the returnees and assist effectively those that remain in diaspora strengthen their influence on bettering life in Croatia. Ina Vukic

Comments

  1. Zoran Juraj Sabljak says:

    Ina,
    What do you think is needed to ensure returning home is a “smooth and effortless affair”? I think that President Kolinda’s efforts to embrace Croatians and encourage their return has been tenfold to that of Mesić and Josipović.
    I for one would like to see a Govt Department dedicated to this task where returning Croats are given the assistance and guidance in settling back to the homeland. I don’t mean that they should be given preferential treatment, but more so a Dept like our Human Services or Centrelink which accommodates refugees and new arrivals in Australia. I’d call it something like “Ministarstvo za Povratnike Iseljene Hrvatske” or similar.
    I believe there are already tax incentives and advantages for those returning who wish to carry on a business although this information is not readily available and one needs to spend hours to research the matter.
    My parents moved back in 1996, on the invitation of President Tudman who invited Croats the world over to return and occupy the empty houses around Krajina following “Oluja”. So they did just that. Within a year or two of Mesić coming to power, that policy changed and they had to hand back the property that they had renovated, restored and invested in.
    Their return was not entirely smooth, but it wasn’t too bad and my late father was pleased to finally get his NDH Pension of which he refused to spend even one Lipa, saying he’d waited more than 50 years to get and he ain’t spending it. It wasn’t much (less than 1000HRK), but to him it meant the world.
    The difficulties they encountered was more to do with health care which really needs to be addressed and set high on the agenda for President Kolinda’s visit in August, and we need to lobby any one we can to see that this is addressed. This issue alone is most concerning for those wishing to return to the Homeland and in my parents’ case they had to take out private health cover and in the meantime lost their Medicare privileges due to an extended period of absence from Australia. Some people aren’t even aware of this rule. They think just because they are Aussie citizens, that she’ll be right mate… no not exactly.
    Pozdra Jure

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    • Well Zoran Juraj Sabljak, while it’s true the president has been talking a lot about the diaspora in a positive sense she has failed to influence the government in making returning home a “smooth and effortless affair”. Some issues include the impossible red tape and bureaucracy, double taxation of foreign pensions, unreasonably long process of obtaining citizenship especially for those of Croatian roots, slack and unhelpful diplomatic personnel…to name just a few, and you have rightly named the issues with health cover, I think Croatia should have a Ministry for the diaspora, not emigrants or immigrants as these terms encompass wider issues than matters for the diaspora.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. antun babic says:

    Very well said, Ina. Yes, Unfortunately, it will be more of the same.

    Like

  3. Martin Komsic says:

    General Zeljko Glasnovic has indeed proven he cares for the diaspora in his frequent public addresses and commentaries. He is a credit to the Croatian parliament. Thumbs up, Ina Vukic, for your great political prowess! Zivila! Zivili!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wilkinson says:

    Great article, Ina Vukic. You lead by far – lead on. Croatian democracy in plight needs people like you. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Robert Mali says:

    While president Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic does some great things on the wider field it is evident that her influence within Croatia is quite limited when it comes to following up or pressuring the government to act on important matters to diaspora. Knowing her official role may be limited it still leaves room to influence and to call government to account. I trust we will get to see such things in determined action. Good article.

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  6. Regarding the three seats from the diaspora in Croatian parliament and the Bosnian Croats, independent Zeljko Glasnovic, who won a seat, which previously went to HDZ candidate. Just as well he did because the HDZ candidates that won the other are useless when it comes to issues of diaspora including Bosnia and Herzegovina. Good going and keep going!

    Like

    • Well observed, Marlon. Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina are Croats that need good representation especially as their survival as an equal constitutional ethnic group in that country has been and is in serious jeopardy

      Like

  7. Mile Malekin says:

    Putting up with the Croatia government office for Croats living abroad is like having ones teeth pulled out slowly, one by one, without anesthetics…sign of some serious problems there. A government body should do much better than serving the diaspora bits and pieces of this and that while nothing much changes towards real progress. Here’s to a better future.

    Like

  8. Great article, as usual, Ms. Vukic. In my opinion, Croats in Croatia are never too keen on their diaspora. We, for example, have been promoting Croatian tourism with our website http://www.visit-croatia.co.uk for 20 years. In that time we have replied to over 40,000 questions and brought thousands of tourists to the country. We have 2.5 million visitors annually to our website, and also promote Croatia on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. We have never received one thank you from Croatia, in fact have been totally ignored! The reason, in my opinion, is because we are diaspora.

    Like

    • Thank you, Angelo. I am familiar with your website and it has been a great source of information for years. It doesn’t surprise me that no thank you or acknowledgement for it and for your work has come from Croatia, it appears the official Croatia still has a lot to learn about the diaspora and the way we work with heart, love and good intentions. Hopefully that too will sink in one day.

      Like

  9. I support the meeting with the President.
    But the fact is that most of the diaspora don’t want to come back.
    I presume that you yourself are more an Australian than Croatian, even though you cherish both of your identities.
    To be honest, I don’t believe the diaspora will return, nor will they preserve their Croatian identity in the long run.
    When you say that the diaspora always battled communism, you are only half right. There were people who wanted Croatia to be free no matter what social order would be ruling.
    That was before the Wall came down, of course. Also, the people gave no condition when the money was collected for Croatia to free itself and it was natural at the time.
    Lastly, Communism isn’t our main problem, economy and demography are. And we should get our priorities straight if we want to survive.
    Lijep pozdrav iz Zagreba.

    Like

    • Hrtica, don’t presume you know people you don’t really know. As to the economy and demography problems – these two are tied together, a good economy retains the people at home and Croatian economy suffers from practices that were ingrained in the communist system. The only competition that economy saw under communism was that of competing to retain communist party power. Not much different today with all the nepotism and politically suitable cadre sprawling the scene.

      Like

  10. Reblogged this on Arlin Report and commented:
    Excellent article.

    Like

  11. Excellent article Ina!

    Like

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