Croatian Diaspora: Living For and Giving To Croatia

Marko Franovic (L) Dr Ivan Hrvoic (R), Photo: Hrvatski tjednik

 The 23rd June 2022 issue of the revered Hrvatski Tjednik (Croatian Weekly) had published an extensive interview conducted by the Weekly’s Editor in Chief Ivica Marijacic with two prominent Croatian expats who are both successful businessmen, philanthropists of note and profound patriots to Croatia.  I have translated below into the English language much of the said interview primarily because it provides a clear and proud picture and a profile of the Croatian diaspora, of Croats living abroad who were a significant part of the strength in the 1990’s that made it possible for Croatia to leave communist Yugoslavia, defend itself from brutal Serb aggression and establish a democracy in a new independent state.

One of the interviewees is Sydney Australia based Marko Franovic who fled the oppression of communist Yugoslavia from Croatia and his native Boka Kotorska to arrive in Sydney Australia in 1960, embark on a long journey of hard work, business acumen and entrepreneurship coupled with his Croatian patriotic activism, publishing, humanitarian activities and outstanding philanthropy towards the betterment of both his new homeland Australia and his first Homeland Croatia.      

The other interviewee is Toronto Canada based Dr Ivan Hrvoic, a Croatian scientist, innovator, entrepreneur, and philanthropist who in 1972 emigrated to Canada and in 1980 founded his own the company GEM systems Inc. for measuring the earth’s magnetic field for magnetic observatories, searching for minerals, diamonds, and oil, for volcano and earthquake studies, for archaeological research, metrology, etc. His company today rates as a leading company in its specialty and he is considered as one of the leading, probably the best experts in the world when it comes to measuring the Earth’s magnetic field. Hrvoic was very active politically in Canada during the 1990’s having focused on Croatian patriotic activities that would prove invaluable in Croatia’s secession from communist Yugoslavia and the creation of a democratic and independent Croatia.   

Both of you left Croatia a long time ago, you come here often. How do you feel every time you touch Croatian soil?

 Marko Franovic: I have been in Australia for 61 years, but every time I come to Croatia, I am just as happy as if it were my first time. I follow everything that happens in Croatia intensively, I am frustrated with many things and every time I touch, as you say, the Croatian soil, with happiness and pride, I feel hope, I always hope that it will be better in Croatia. It saddens me to see that only a little is moving in the right direction.

 Ivan Hrvoic: I have been in Canada for 50 years, I come often, once, or more every year, but every time I feel like I came home. Of course, not everything in Croatia is happening according to my liking, but we all expect and demand that the situation improve, that there is finally a normal democracy here. But I repeat, the first feeling is always that I have come home and there is nothing that can pay for that.

You both went out into the world fleeing communism. Did you have any ideals that you believed in or didn’t believe would come true? What can you say today about that, have your ideals been realised, not only the political ones but also others?

Marko Franovic: I have always been and remain an optimist. When I say that I am going to Croatia, I always say that I am going home, even though my home is down in the Bay of Kotor, and the Bay of Kotor, as we know, is no longer in Croatia. But I always say, when people ask me, that I go home to Croatia. When they remind me that this is not Croatia, I answer that Boka has always been Croatia for me. If the existing world no longer allows it, it doesn’t matter for me it is always Croatia. Finally, I fled 60 or so years ago because Boka did not stay in Croatia, Josip Broz Tito gave it to Montenegro. I remember in 1954 I was the youngest apprentice in the workshop, I was only 13 years and four months old. It was a repairs unit for the army. One man says he heard that Boka would belong to Croatia. But that was according to what Grandma liked, that’s what she dreamed of. This, unfortunately, did not happen then or today, it will never happen again. We must be aware of this fact: we cannot start a war with the Montenegrins today to get Boka back. In the meantime, we Croats moved out of there, as my brothers and I did. Others began to inhabit the area. But let me answer your question: I never gave up on Croatia, although I said in 1982 that I would not think about Croatia anymore because there were so many UDBA or Yugoslav secret service operatives that it was unbelievable. UDBA supervised everything. While I was initially in Italy, I was a member of HOP (Croatian Liberation Movement), in Australia I didn’t want to join that organisation because I realised that UDBA was overseeing everything. I am proud of everything that is Croatian, but unfortunately there were bad people among us.

In 1991, the Croatian state was created. In that sense, I asked if your political ideals had been realised.

Marko Franovic: Of course, they were. I saw another God in Dr Franjo Tudjman. I was happy we got the man who returned the state. For the first 20 years I believed in the realisation of that dream, but later, when I saw how many UDBA operatives were infiltrated into everything, I was suspicious. In 1984 we decided to build a church, we got together and organised in Australia. I got involved with all my heart and when people saw that people like me and I were giving $ 10,000 each to buy land and build a church, everything started like a river, everyone started giving as much as they could. And so, we succeeded and strengthened. We built two churches in a year in Sydney.

Ivan Hrvoić: I left after the Croatian Spring. I have the same attitude today towards Yugoslavia and communism as I had then. At that time, however, I did not believe that there would be an independent Croatian state because it was a communist system and there did not seem to be any force that would realise it, although the Croatian Spring was encouraging in that sense. When Tito broke the resistance of the springers near Zagreb with tanks, my hopes somehow faded. But when Franjo Tudjman appeared at the head of the movement 20 years later, it was phenomenal for me, like a new awakening or birth. I had quite high duties in Canada. I was the vice president of the Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ and the president of the AMCA (Alma Mater Croatica). That association was supposed to be cultural, but I turned it into a political one. We lobbied for Croatia, we went to demonstrations, we demanded that the aggression against Croatia be stopped, we helped in all ways and made ourselves available to the Homeland. So, that’s right – in the 90’s my political ideals came true.

Is the Croatian emigration disappointed with the attitude of the Croatian authorities towards it?

 Ivan Hrvoic: I think so. After the first glorious years of the establishment of Croatia and especially the Homeland War, we were told: “We don’t need you anymore, now we have money and don’t interfere … etc.” This greatly disappointed the Croatian emigrants. Later, all bridges to emigration were completely demolished by a shameful electoral law according to which they gave us three seats in parliament, to vote only at diplomatic missions and to many these were a thousand kilometres away, while at the same time they gave three seats in parliament to the practically aggressive Serb minority who are still paid to vote. It is so frustrating and humiliating for us Croats throughout the world. After that, bridges to our emigrants were no longer built. I had the opportunity to talk about this humiliation to former President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic when she was with us. She didn’t change or try to change anything.

Marko Franovic: The Croatian diaspora is very frustrated, it has almost no ties with the Croatian government.

Why, in your opinion, does Croatia fail to free itself from Yugoslavianism and myths like Jasenovac, even though it has been free and independent for more than 30 years? Here, the media and politics still create a pro-Yugoslav atmosphere, every year in the spring we are collectively subjected to the months-long terror of one Milorad Pupovac and Jasenovac myth. Why can’t Croatia slam the door on these relics of Yugoslavian and Greater Serbian politics?

Ivan Hrvoic: That is a very open and complex question. I see that the moves made by our political elite lead more and more in the direction of Yugoslavia, even though it is a failed idea, and, in my opinion, it will never succeed again. But unfortunately, some forces still insist on this, I think because the network of those who lived well in Yugoslavia and terrorised others, especially us Croats, is now being renewed and completed again. That network has become extremely powerful and strong. Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic commands it. He and his partner Milorad Pupovac are managing it and we, unfortunately, do not have any movement in Croatia that would give hope that this will stop any time soon. For example, all this right wing – it’s all a collection of big ambitions, everyone thinks they are the new Stjepan Radic or Ante Starcevic, but that’s not the case. They cannot agree and become a force, so there are no changes.

Marko Franovic: First, we have to understand that we were educated in lies. We are ashamed of our nation and our Croatian past instead of being proud of our past and loving it. If we blush when we say we are Croats, that is terrible. We must know that our past was clean, that our past is not the one we were taught about in the communist system, not the one taught to us in schools by Serbs and communists. My nephew once asked me how I could love the Ustasha, when they, he says, killed children. I told him that he went to school, but he didn’t learn there that two and two are four, but only as a joke that the Ustashas were killing. The Ustashas did not kill. Historian Stjepan Lozo wrote well: Serbs were not killed because they were Serbs, but because they killed Croats, and everything that the Serbs accused the Croats of, they themselves actually did to us Croats. This has been proven in all or much of the most current research, but we don’t seem to believe those researchers. That is why I have now started an association headed by Dr Andrija Hebrang with the aim of promoting the historical truth. For me, Dr Hebrang is another Tudjman; a man who was not in with the communists and is independent and free. Our goal is to spread our true Croatian history. We have been learning a lie for 80 years. Today, schools still interpret that more than 83,000 people were killed in Jasenovac, and it is known that 16,800 people passed through Jasenovac, while the number of victims in various ways (including death) was slightly more than 1,500. And that is true.

Marko Franovic (L) Ivan Hrvoic (R) in Zagreb Croatia June 2022, Photo: Hrvatski Tjednik

Could it happen in another country that it stands accused without evidence by its privileged citizens and people living in it, like Croatia is often slandered by Milorad Pupovac who often flees to the country of aggressors during the biggest holidays and does not want to be in Croatia?

Ivan Hrvoic: That is unthinkable anywhere except in Croatia. Not only do they have no evidence for their allegations, but they are also not trying to find it, and they are preventing any attempt to verify or investigate. This is nowhere to be found in the civilised world. The question is, of course, how to get out of that situation. That’s a big question. The only legal way is elections, and in the elections, people were discouraged because their choice was reduced to HDZ or SDP, and it is not known who is worse between the two of them. We already have some third parties that are not yet unfortunately strong enough to be a real threat those two.

You are successful entrepreneurs, you earn a great deal of money with your businesses, knowledge, and skills, and you spend a lot of money on various charity projects. I know you both shared with others many millions. It is my opinion that today patriotic thought in Croatia would practically die out if it were not for you, because Plenkovic’s government, through Minister Obuljen, suffocated it and preferred to help hostile anti-Croatian projects. Are you sorry for the money you gave for these purposes?

Marko Franovic: I will never be sorry. My plan is to invest for Croatia, not in Croatia, for as long as I live. I have invested in every idea to help Croatia, whether it is the renovation of churches or political campaigns, institutions, films, books, projects. I invested a lot of money for Ivo Sanader. Do you remember his warranty card? Trust me, I wrote him those seven promises. I wouldn’t mention everything – movies, books, associations … I share my surplus. I get up at 4 in the morning and go to work, I come back around 6pm and so on five days a week, and on Saturdays I work until 6pm. Myths about my wealth are being spread, but such stories are not simply true. I have investments that I have achieved by working, saving. Indeed, money comes to me very successfully, but I work constantly just as my 60 employees do.

Ivan Hrvoic: As you yourself said, we do not want self-promotion when we help many and when we just talk about it. I almost never talk about it. I can say that I must have received a message from above at one point: “If you have extra money, you have to share it with your friends, with your people!” The argument for this is that once we leave, we will not be able to take anything with us. Croats, like, for example I think, Jews, do not have this culture of giving and it is only a minority that donates. And I have orientated myself to help many. As a last example, for example, I helped the deaf-mute with a smaller amount, some of our defenders, I helped Ms Zeljka Markic with the referendum, and when there are some more important actions, I give more. I covered all the costs of the Croatian Orthodox Church for symposia, in Zagreb, Osijek, Split, Rijeka … There is no need to talk about films, books, translations of these books in the world with the aim of opposing Serbian propaganda. We founded the Croatian-Canadian Academic Society in Canada with the aim of translating and spreading our truth around the world. I don’t know how much of an impact it has, but I am fighting for Croatia as much as I can.

(Translated and prepared by Ina Vukic)

Comments

  1. Brankec says:

    Contribution of Croatian emigrants over the years has been very much suppressed here in Croatia. The dominant ideologically extreme left media rarely has anything good to say about our ‘diaspora’ for fear of their readership realizing that their stories about antifascism are basically baloney. They have even been attempting to hijack the Homeland War by only giving credit to extreme left-minded vets who have suddenly come out of the woodwork. Seldom any mention of emigrant contribution only glorified bs about a bunch of ambushing bandits who in the end slaughtered tens of thousands Croatians during peacetime after the war, causing many of them to seek refuge outside of jugoslavia for fear of the same thing happening to them. Good for you for accentuating this Ina.

    • Thanks Brankec. So true what you say re the leftists suppressing the majority Homeland War heroes as well as the diaspora. The leftists in Croatia that try to forge a new and false version of Homeland War and the creation of independent Croatia must not succeed like their communist Yugoslavia predecessors did. They are even actively trying to interfere with the diaspora community profile, inserting new people into various organisations who were nowhere near the activities of creating a free Croatia in the 1990’s. That trend in Croatia with regards to war veterans and the interference with Croatian diaspora community on foreign soil is becoming painfully noticeable and bitter for most. I only hope that we will have enough strength and motivation to stop them in their tracks before they obliterate patriotism from the face of teearth.

  2. Thanks for translating this to english and sharing with us. An important read.

  3. So much suffering, and it lasts…🌷

  4. Croations live everwhere, but there is a centre.

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