One Foot In Each Homeland – A Returning To Croatia Reality

Danijela and Josip Prahovic with children (Photo: Private collection)

An interview with Danijela Prahovic by Ina Vukic 

Danijela and her husband Josip Prahovic are a couple in the prime of their life who had established a family in Sydney, Australia, and one could say they “had it made”. They had immediate and extended family support there; it is a family of Croatian ancestry living in Australia for decades. They were financially independent and being educated in the social welfare profession Danijela established there a business supporting people to build their life skills and living skills called InnerSparQ. About a year ago they moved to trial living in Croatia and I caught up with Danijela recently (May 2023) to find out about their experiences in a new country. Here is my interview with Danijela. 

Were you and your husband Josip born in Australia? 

I was born in Australia and my Husband was born in Croatia. 

You have three young children who were born in Australia, what was their response to your announcement of going to Croatia to live? 

We are on an open adventure so we set it up with highlighting the positives and negatives that may lie ahead. We included them in the whole process of packing up things and setting up things. We ensure we talk to them every step of the way and check in with them every day as there are always new experiences here. 

About a year now, you have lived in Croatia. What was your and your husband’s main drive in picking up your whole family and going on this adventure from Australia to Croatia? Why did you move to Croatia? 

We always discussed giving Croatia a go and after all the COVID lockdowns and some personal family reasons we realised it’s time to give it a try and explore while we can. It is our heritage, and we just loved the idea of trying to live on bigger land, teaching our kids where our ancestors come from and in general trying the “selo life’’ (village life).

Danijela Prahovic (Photo: Facebook)

Was your plan to move to Croatia permanently, or something else? 

We are undecided. We are what you might call free spirits, we are open to new ideas, new experiences, and new places – we struggle to sit still. We love the idea of being in Central Europe and Croatia definitely has our hearts.

You had a stable business and work in Australia, you had and have your parents and siblings living nearby, you established a young family and the future in Australia seemed safe and prosperous. How did it feel leaving all that and going into a relative unknown, Croatia? 

It was emotionally very challenging for me especially as Australia, the people there and of course my amazing family live there, it is what I have known my whole life. However, the idea of trying Croatia and giving it a go and my faith, that God is with me and my family on this journey is what helped me give this a try. We have lots of family and friends in Croatia to and often visited here so it has always felt like a second home for me. 

What were the main joys of life you imagined you would experience in a new country? Did you experience these joys once you arrived in Croatia? 

I imagined living on land with fresher fruit and vegetables, relaxed atmosphere, my children learning more about their culture and seeing people often without booking everyone in my calendar. I feel like life is so organised in Australia, here it’s more carefree. Since arriving we have experienced eating fresher items but not as much as I thought, a lot of people now are buying much from the shops and so that’s a big change I have seen. As for the social life it is exactly what I wanted – carefree, catching up last minute, music, food and laughing. My children have learnt so much; they didn’t speak Croatian, now they do, they have joined so many different sports here and emersed themselves in this way of living on the land, its so nice to see. The joys have been wonderful. 

What do you enjoy most about living in Croatia? 

Walking the quiet peaceful streets, feeling more relaxed, social life. 

What, if any, were your main fears in moving to a new country, the country of your ancestors? 

The systems that the country has in place e.g., getting documents, paying for things, what items I can buy, e.g., I’m into natural products so accessing that here has been difficult. These systems have tested my patience a lot but the people who work for these agencies have been helpful mostly; some tell you to go back to Australia where its “better” (their words), some are happy you have chosen to be here – it’s really a mixed bag. 

The weather difference. It snows in winter here and I needed to wear big jackets all the time so I wasn’t sure how I would adjust to that; winter was a struggle and not seeing the sun for over 3 weeks wasn’t great. Majority of people in rural Croatia prepare all year with cutting timber so they have it to keep them, and their families warm via heating the rooms and heating water for 6 months of the year. Whereas we flick on a switch, and we are warm or cool in Australia. They need to think ahead here and prepare for the different seasons. 

The health care system was another concern especially being a parent, so far, thank goodness, we have had minimal contact and when we have done so it’s been with a good General Practitioner/GP and private clinics so I can’t complain. 

For some years the return of Croatians from the diaspora has been a largely publicised desire by the Croatian government and many politicians. Once you arrived in Croatia did you receive any help in settling down from any government or government funded source? Were there any readily available information packages on essentials of living such as health cover, employment, housing, education, taxation etc.? 

Nothing that we were aware of…. We did our own research and kept calling and asking questions everywhere, so we have missed out on those so called incentives so far unless there are some that we haven’t found out yet. They send you to so many different departments here when one doesn’t have an answer, they send you to another one, or they just say sorry can’t help you. You must have a lot of patience and spend time calling and researching on your own. 

We asked friends for the departments we need to go to e.g., Medicare, would be HZZO here, and we approached that service ourselves and took it from there. 

Danijela and Josip Prahovic children (Photo: Private Collection)

How was the process of enrolling your children or child into schools? Was there any cost- free assistance for them to learn the Croatian language to the level with which they could easily integrate into school? 

Fabulous process, the local school was very supportive with everything I needed, and it was such a smooth process. There was a fair bit of paperwork and my kids had to do Croatian language testing which takes a while and can be exhausting for them but overall, a lot of the teachers know English which is fantastic, and they have been supportive when I had questions. 

My kids also receive free Croatian language classes after school this has helped them immensely. The government covers the school fees, and they get cooked food (for free) while school everyday, a big difference from Australia. The only possible downside, depending on how one sees it, is they go to school about 4 hours a day compared to 6 in Australia, so if you’re a working parent who has no other family support then you either can’t work or you need to get a babysitter. Some schools have longer hours but that would mean locating to a different town. 

Were there any other programs or services available for integrating into the Croatian society? 

None that we know of or have accessed.

Have you made new friends? Have your children made new friends? 

We have friends here who all have children, so we have all developed some great bonds which I am very grateful for. My children have their own friendship circles and more freedom with play time feels more safer here when they go out to parks. 

Generally, how did you find the transition of living in a new country? What has been the hardest aspect of your “trial / adventure” so far? 

The transition has been very interesting, tested my patience, helped me build resilience. Like with anything in life, I have laughed, cried, said a few times ok it’s time to go back to Australia but most of all I have had such a fun experience that I wouldn’t change a thing. 

What are you doing now? How have you found the work force scene in Croatia? Is it as easy to find a job as it is in Australia? 

We are looking at options if we choose to stay longer. I opened a café which was so interesting for 6 months, but it wasn’t the job for me. The job scene is not that easy here for me, especially my social welfare field which operates quite differently here than in Australia, so I’m starting to do some research and meet new people and see where it takes me. In many cases it still is “who you know’’ to get you a job in certain places. This employment part has probably been the most frustrating for me as I enjoy working and my career is important to me but here it really is baby steps for me. 

Many people work to survive here with minimal money left to enjoy e.g., eating out and they work hard for their money. I respect them very much since I have been living here and seeing how they work and live. I’m motivated to explore the workforce and see what opportunities there may be available. 

What if any is your work or business plan in Croatia? Have you found any frustrations with bureaucracy and red tape we so often hear about in the media? 

I need to do way more research and meeting lots more people. Lots of processes I’m not used to, definitely…… so if you choose to come here you need a great lawyer and a good accountant, without them I would be lost. To do things on your own here is not as simple as it is in Australia. Australia has clear and concise policies and procedures that are simpler, here they have policies and procedures but a lot of paperwork and running around and visiting sometimes up to 5 different departments before it’s all done. They are working on better systems. I’ve seen some changes since we were last here in 2018 so I’m sure they will get there. 

How does the cost of living compare to that in Australia?

Now that Croatia has entered the EU and changed its currency to the Euro and with inflation all over the world, the cost of living here is high. I would say some things cost even more than they do in Australia. I also feel for the average pay of 700-800 euros a month that people get here it’s extremely difficult to live a lifestyle that we are used to in Australia. An example of this: I just to go by bread, pasta, meat and salad for one meal, I’m leaving 25 euros minimum, and this is only for one day where are the other 29 days in the month plus bills, cars, outings etc. The bills are a bit cheaper for water and electricity. 

They have little variety of things here when it comes to items in the supermarkets, they don’t import nowhere near the amount that Australia does and when they do, the prices are double than what the shops in Australia charge. I do miss a lot of products, I’m used to buying in Australia, but I have definitely changed how I shop – I grab only a basket and get what a need… totally different from the shopping I use to do in Australia where I would fill a shopping trolley with things that are not really necessary. Here you have no choice but to adapt and realise you actually don’t need all those things you throw in a trolley, and which sit in your cupboard for months. 

If you could pick up a piece of advice for anyone moving to Croatia, what would it be? 

Give it a go. Everyone is so different. I really believe that if you want to try it then you are prepared for all the ups and downs that it brings but so does living anywhere in the world. I don’t regret the journey not even for a second. The life experience we have received and what my children have learnt is something you just can’t put a price on. Positive mindset and faith in God have definitely helped me to say strong. 

Croatian Vintage Pampering Australia With Superb Wines

Croatian Vintage Steve Jakic (L)John Gavljak (R) Photo: Croatian Vintage

The past several months have fallen hard on all of us living on the eastern shores of Australia. Covid-19 lockdowns have harshly affected businesses and people alike. It was about three months ago when I planned to write about and interview Sydney-based Croatian Vintage company, distributors in Australia of select wines from Croatia. They were to hold a wine-tasting event with Dalika delicious smallgoods “nibblies” at the Australian Croatian Club O’Connor on July 17, but Covid-19 began spreading once again, and the event was cancelled in compliance with government lockdown measures and moved to August 21. However, given the relentless growth of Covid-19 new infections and ongoing extensions of lockdowns the holding of this wonderful event also seems unlikely!

But our tastebuds and our need for good wines never go into lockdowns. And Croatian wines outside of Croatia are something many have chased into their shopping bags throughout the world for decades. Modern technology gives us the advantage of shopping online and Croatian Vintage in Australia is among those companies that pamper us with such an advantage. So, visit the website and experience the world of amazing Croatian wines.

Croatian Vintage company say this about themselves on their website: “Have you been to Croatia? Sensational. Let’s relive that feeling of when you were sitting on the beach on the Dalmatian coast or having dinner with friends while sipping a glass of wine, served with your favourite seafood dish or dessert… And if you haven’t been to Croatia, let us take you on an experience like no other…

Croatian Vintage is passionate about bringing fine wines from all regions of Croatia and the Mediterranean to your table.

Whether you are looking to purchase wine for your private collection, or would like to supply your restaurant, bar, or local bottle shop, we are proud to distribute these quality wines to your doorstep.”

Recently, John Gavljak, an important wheel behind Croatian Vintage in Australia just as Steve Jakic is, gave me answers to some question I had to ask. Here is that interview:

Croatian Vintage, we are talking about Croatian wines landing on the Australian wine market, which is vast and competitive. What is so special in such a market about Croatian wines? Can Croatian wines stand out in such a market quality wise?

Croatia has many indigenous grape varieties that deserve to be recognised and shared internationally.  Most of our wineries are smaller, specialised wineries focussing on local indigenous wines and are often family run and in the world of mass production this is our unique selling point.  We only import premium quality Croatian wines from the major wine regions of Croatia.  This ensures that our wines stack up in terms of quality in the Australian market.

Your wine distribution company Croatian Vintage has several wine labels from Croatia. What are they and what is so special about those wines? What made you choose those wine labels, given that Croatian wine production is such a large and rich industry?

Our aim was to create a wine journey through Croatia and we have focussed on wineries from all the major Croatian wine growing regions.  From Slavonia we source our wines from Feravino, Krauthaker and TRS wineries (Grasevina, Traminac and others) from Istria the Franc Arman winery (Malvazija & Teran) and from Dalmatia the Rizman and Skaramuca wineries (Posip, Plavac mali/Dingac & Tribidrag). We have recently added Korta Katarina wines to our selection as well as high quality spirits and liqueurs produced by Degenija from the beautiful, unspoiled mountainous region of Velebit, Lika, Croatia.

All these wineries are of repute and their range focus on indigenous Croatian grape varieties.  In addition, each of these wineries were excited to work with us and have their wines represented in Australia.  

Croatian Vintage Wines and Dalika Smallgoods Events

Have you a favourite Croatian red and Croatian white?

Personally, as a red I enjoy our Rizman Tribidrag, an indigenous varietal, the original Zinfandel, with some Tempranillio added – from Komarna, Southern Dalmatia. With a history dating back to the 15th century it is easy to drink and food friendly. From the whites I enjoy our Krauthaker Grasevina from Slavonia. A dry, fresh, aromatic white wine from the Godfather of the Croatian wine industry Vlado Krauthaker.

Why did you start the Croatian wine distribution business in Australia?

 During the first Covid19 lockdown we decided to take two of our passions – wine (drinking it!) and Croatia (loving it!) and launch Croatian Vintage.  It was all about sharing a wine journey through Croatia – so we started sourcing and importing quality wines and spirits from Croatia.

 In the vast selection of wines on the market and wine being a popular beverage in Australia what is one piece of advice you would give someone in choosing a good wine?

Be adventurous, look for those countries that have perfect wine growing conditions and aren’t as well known and then go on a journey – like Croatia.

TRS Winery Croatia Photo: Croatian Vintage

 There is a sentence on your company’s website which goes like this: “ …if you haven’t been to Croatia, let us take you on an experience like no other…”. How special are the Croatian wines your company distributes and are delivering on unique experiences mentioned in this phrase?

Absolutely. All our wines are premium wines, sourced from reputable wine makers with a love of their regions and their indigenous varietals. Many Australians have visited Croatia as a must-see tourist destination and now have the opportunity to revisit it through our wines or use our wines as an entrée into Croatia.  We take pride in the wines we source and want them to be a positive reflection of the Croatian wine industry.

The wine-tasting events you planned to hold at the Australian Croatian Club O’Connor in Canberra where Dalika delicious smallgoods and Croatian food were also be offered have all been  cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions.  Are you planning to hold similar events bringing the Croatian wines closer to the communities across Australia in future?

Yes of course subject to Covid-19 restrictions.  We have held a number of private wine testing events where the feedback to our Croatian wines from non-Croatians has been fantastic. Our aim is not to only bring it to the Croatian communities in Australia but to the wider Australian community.  Our goal is for Australians to know Croatian premium wines and to reference them to other better known European wine countries (like Italy or Spain).

 How important is showcasing of wines within the communities and are you counting on people of different backgrounds will attend not just Croatians in Australia?

 Australians of Croatian descent are an important market segment.  We want to import and source Croatian wines that they are proud to share with their non-Croatian friends. The sustainability of our business model mandates that the appeal of our wines extend beyond the Croatian community in Australia. For example, our wines are already being showcased in a wine bar in the Sydney CBD – Vini Divini, where wine lovers are having the opportunity to indulge in our Croatian wines in addition to ordering them from our website  We are aiming to introduce the whole of Australia to high, quality Croatian wines – we want to be proud of the wines we source and import and want every person who tries them to be left with a positive image of Croatia.

 Interview by Ina Vukic

Croatian Diaspora Celebrates Philanthropy of Marko Franovic

Tony Abbott (L) Ina Vukic (C) Marko Franovic (R)

It was yesterday, on 8th of May 2021, that the family of Marko, Božo, Marija and Milena Franovic delighted many guests at the Croatian Club Punchbowl in Sydney Australia in celebration of Marko’s 80th birthday. It was an event like no other in my memory. This was not a mere birthday celebration, this was also an opportunity when the Australian community and the Croatian community spread across the world recognised and celebrated the outstanding human being that Marko has been especially through his philanthropy spanning across continents in efforts to better democracy and life for all, awarding him the Blessed Alojzije Stepinac Lifetime Achievement Award. And it so happens that Marko Franovic shares the 8th of May birth date with Blessed Stepinac.

Marko Franovic recipient of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac Lifetime Achievement Award for Philanthropy

Croatia’s Blessed Alojzije Stepinac once said: “Nothing will force me to stop loving justice, nothing will force me to stop hating injustice, and in my love for my people I will not be eclipsed by anyone.”

And today, Marko Franovic shows us how these words when translated into actions can mean so very much to so many people.

Sydney based Marko Franovic had, due to oppression and harsh life fled communist Yugoslavia in 1961 and via refugee camps in Italy he reached the shores of Australia – determined to make life better not just for his family but for his Croatian community and the Australian community. His life is a shining testament of success in all he touched with his hard work and dedication. This quiet, humble man delivered enormous positive impact on the creation of the independent State of Croatia and its 1990’s Homeland War and his philanthropy reached every corner in both Australia and Croatia that needed help. Many distinguished guests celebrated yesterday in Sydney and many sent video greetings from Croatia.

To me this was a proud moment not just to celebrate Marko but also to see Australia’s former Prime Minister Anthony (Tony) Abbott among us, thus reminding us that Australia had indeed been an exemplary host country, a new homeland, to so many refugees and migrants from Croatia who were able to nurture a long-standing desire for Croatia to free itself of communist Yugoslavia. Australia was one of the first countries outside Europe to recognise Croatia’s independence and plight for democracy in January of 1992 and it showed a passion of camaraderie with our plights and efforts to achieve that independence and democracy.

Charles Billich (L) Marko Franovic (second from L) Ina Vukic (second from R) Anita Paulic (R)

I was honoured to have been asked to deliver a speech during the celebration of Marko Franovic’s birthday, when he was named Croat of the Year 2021 and received his Lifetime Achievement Award. And here is my speech, which I hope will bring this amazing human being closer to you:     

“Our families of Croatian origins share a common passion and that is freedom from oppression and love for democracy and national identity. We of Croatian origins living in Australia for many, many decades feel especially lucky because this country had offered us the dignity of nurturing our love and dream for a free Croatia, propping up its plight and fight for independence from the Yugoslav communist regime when it was most needed, while growing and nurturing our love for Australia itself. And Marko is a shining example of how wonderful the synergy of love for two countries can be. It is ultimately a win-win situation for all.

As to how very fortunate we, whose immediate families fled to foreign lands, were at choosing Australia to flee to from communist Yugoslavia, like Marko did, I always like to refer to the speech that Sir Robert Menzies’, the longest serving Prime Minister of Australia in history, delivered in Parliament on 27th August 1964 in which, among other things, he said:

“…It is difficult for people coming to Australia easily to forget their historical backgrounds. Since the war a number of organisations opposed to the present Government of Yugoslavia have developed throughout the world amongst refugees and migrants from that country. It is understandable that some Yugoslav migrants of Croatian origin should continue to hope for the establishment of an independent Croatia and within a democracy like Australia they have right to advocate their views so long as they do so by legitimate means. I wish to make it perfectly clear that the vast majority of the migrants from all parts of Yugoslavia who have settled in Australia have proved to be law abiding, hardworking citizens and a real asset to this country…”

Sir Robert Menzies put wind under the wings of our love for our first homeland, Croatia.

Jadranka (Adriana Rukavina (L) Marko Franovic (C) Ina Vukic (R)

This win-win situation that has its foundations in love and loyalty to the first and second homelands is something to celebrate and tonight we celebrate its personification in the shape of Marko Franovic. It needed to be written into a book and I am honoured to present to you the hot-off-the-press ‘Never Forget Your Past: Marko Franovic Story’. It is a book that, after Mr Petar Mamic from Domovina newspaper contacted me with the idea, I myself undertook to write, to collate, to put together with the input of many people as well as collaborating authors Branko Miletic and Vanda Babic Galic. It is a birthday gift to Marko from all of us. Some of you here tonight who have gladly sent me your statements about Marko for the book, know, that you have brilliantly contributed to this gift for Marko but also a gift for both Australian and Croatian communities. Thank you so very much and I apologise if, at times, my requests for contributions came at a time when you had more pressing things to do. But you delivered for Marko and for that I am deeply grateful. Just like many delivered from Croatia. Thank you all, once again.

Never Forget Your Past: Marko Franovic – book covers

Proudly and with deep admiration we can say that the past four decades, at least, of Marko Franovic’s life have been marked by extraordinary gestures of generosity towards the Australian and Croatian communities. Marko is a philanthropist who, with his generous works, personifies the definition of this very word: a person who feels a deep love for humanity, who shows himself with practical kindness and helpfulness towards humanity. Marko is not only respected through his philanthropy. He has integrated with obvious and extraordinary ease his business, philanthropic and civic commitments and has followed a standard for individual and corporate citizenship that reflects a great measure of what we look for in society and rely upon to maintain the preservation of generosity and kindness to others.

Although he prefers to walk selflessly, quietly, under the radar of a bright stage and spotlights – Marko is a man of immense importance. He does not care about fame or recognition because he is a man who loves to support and give the most he can, rather than receive. His firm strides through the social landscape of his Homeland of Croatia and Australia, his many public roles, his contribution to social, political, and cultural care and the achievements that have often been talked about and analysed throughout the many years, are colossal and thus difficult to list in one place like this.

Marko has lived and lives a life what others like to call a life of a good man.

Never Forget Your Past: Marko Franovic Story’ is a book that wanted to show rather than tell and put on display what an exceptional human being Marko is and has been. On that note, the book shows not only the harsh life’s path Marko had to endure in order to become what he is today, but it also gives examples of his prolific philanthropy and how other people and community leaders see him.

I trust you will all enjoy the book and keep it a testament to how love for the first homeland joined with the love for a second can create miracles.  The miracles that are quiet, often unnoticed, but to many have the significance of well-being that inspires creativity and progress.  

Video birthday greetings for Marko Franovic from Croatia with English subtitles

Thank you, Marko, for all you do! I salute you! Happy 80th Birthday!” Ina Vukic

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