Croatian Diaspora On Agenda – Most Parliamentarians Busy Bunking

Zvonko Milas
State Secretary, Office for Croats living outside Croatia
Photo: Damjan Tadic/HANZA MEDIA

Imagine this: it’s Friday 20 October 2017, a very important government office report is about to be read and tabled in parliament. Your eyes circle attentively around the chamber, apart from the State Secretary for Croats living abroad and his assistant, the government front bench is empty – all the ministers and Prime Minister probably too busy elsewhere to clear their diary for attendance here. There are barely 20 out of 151 members of parliament sitting on their seats, including two of three representatives for the diaspora – General Zeljko Glasnovic and Bozo Ljubic (Couldn’t spot Zeljko Raguz, the third MP for diaspora). The report to be read is that of the government’s Office for Croats living outside Croatia – the first one, in fact, even if the Office has been operational for almost five years (most of those under the former Social Democrats government that set up the office in the first place).

You ask yourself: is this truly the parliament majority of whose members, whether government or opposition, incessantly give public statements how the diaspora is the most important element that can ensure future prosperity for Croatia? Incessantly keep saying how Croats from the diaspora need to return, need to invest – are desired and welcome… You shake your head in disbelief; so much energy wasted in creating the hope that the Croatian diaspora will once again (after twenty years of leftist consistent politically fuelled erosion) become a vibrant and indispensable part of Croatia as it was during the 1990’s times of fight for independence and freedom – the relative apathy radiating from the empty seats in the parliament suffocates with disappointment.

When the nation is looking forward to change – and attracting significantly increased diaspora engagement in the domestic economy and demographics is one of them – these ambassadors of change are busy bunking! It’s a serious problem when teachers bunk classes in schools, but it’s perfectly fine if you are member of parliament! The shortage of attendance of MP’s does not only reflect their carefree attitude towards the problems and challenges that we as a nation face but it is an insult to the apex authority of the Parliament. People who have no respect for the parliament should not have been nominated in the very first place. But that’s another issue that reeks for changes in the electoral system.

State Secretary Zvonko Milas tabled his report about what has been done for Croats living abroad, for the diaspora. While acknowledging that more work could have been done by the office in the past years Milas emphasised that connection with the diaspora has been active with some 50 advisers from the diaspora, however the Office and its work have largely remained unknown to the diaspora Croats. He said that there have been a number of infrastructure built especially in the areas of education (Croatian language and culture) across the world and that Croatia has financed some 40 million kunas (5.3 million euro) worth of diaspora projects last year. The Office’s strategy has focused especially on areas of Croatian identity in the diaspora through assistance with language and culture but also fostering connections with Croatian organisations and business networks.

There are three strategic goals that the Office wants to achieve, Milas said: develop cooperation, protect rights and interests of Croats outside Croatia and strengthen their communities, encourage the return of emigrants and their descendants. Milas announced the establishment of a new TV channel for the diaspora attached to mainstream state TV HRT. Milas did not in his report give away any notable detailed or concrete steps or strategies how these goals will be achieved – apart from help with Croatian language and culture education. Which, can mean that concrete strategies or steps are still in the development stage.

One thing that disappoints from this report and announced goals is actually in the lack of concrete reference to the needed integration of Croatian diaspora with Croatia, homeland. Helping and supporting the diaspora with its own educational organisations, helping it maintain a Croatian identity is not integration but rather maintenance of status quo that could be seen as “you stay where you are and we will help you”. Integration requires engaging the diaspora in matters that are relevant within Croatia. That in essence means extending the rights and obligations enjoyed by the Croatian citizens in Croatia itself to Croatian citizens living abroad. And there has so far been little of that, apart from some half-baked initiatives that barely wet the ground let alone help it flourish.

General Zeljko Glasnovic
Independent Member of Parliament for Diaspora
Photo: Screenshot

While noting the good work the Office has done with limited means, especially in the area of cooperation, the independent Member of Parliament for the diaspora, General Zeljko Glasnovic, alerted in his speech and reply to the sorely lacking strategies and concrete steps to be taken for integration of diaspora to homeland. He particularly drew attention to the need to develop strategies, to improve Croatian citizenship access for the diaspora which is still abominably long and complicated, to improve and provide acceptable access to voting by introduction of postal and electronic voting …he noted that Croatia still has socialist bureaucracy that stifles and denies progress and a diplomatic core riddled with former communist Yugoslavia UDBA secret service operatives whose interests lie only in their personal ones. He said that people from diaspora would not return to Croatia until the “judicial quagmire” is fixed. The barriers they encounter upon wanting to return are still enormous, he emphasised.

Bozo Petrov
Member of Parliament,
President of Most/Bridge Independent Lists
Photo: Screenshot

Bozo Petrov, Most/Bridge coalition of independent lists, went on to also criticise the government’s lack of actions in solving the problems Croatians in Bosnia and Herzegovina face. When we talk about the status of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina the biggest challenge is reflected in the respecting of Constitutional court’s decision regarding the non-constitutionality of the election of members for the House of Peoples of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the change of electoral law. He said that the electoral law needs to be changed as soon as possible.

So, to summarise what’s going on in Croatian parliament regarding the Croatian diaspora at this stage one could say that the government’s side is leaning more to activities that help maintain identity of Croatian diaspora abroad while the independent member for the diaspora, General Zeljko Glasnovic, places emphasis on diaspora engagement and integration with the homeland. The latter, of course, in today’s globalised world is so much more relevant and important than anything else. I would go further here and say that, given the almost daily invitations that come from Croatian leaders for the return of emigrants and their increased contributions to Croatia’s economic development, it’s the integration strategies that will produce desired results more than any strategy in any other moves that support the diaspora. The diaspora is watching this space with great interest and Croatia needs to take on more and stronger initiatives for action. Ina Vukic


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