Croatia: Still Playing Same Broken Record To Diaspora

President Kolonda Grabar-Kitarovic Met With Croats From Abroad in Zagreb, July 2015 and other times

President Kolonda Grabar-Kitarovic
Met With Croats From
Abroad in Zagreb, July 2015 and other times


During the Homeland War in Croatia the diaspora, the expats living abroad, had an enormous role to play if they chose to play it. That role was multifaceted and the facets were divided into three main areas:

  • Lobby the governments of countries they lived in for recognition of the sovereignty of independent Croatia (which wanted to secede from communist Yugoslavia) and stay politically active, organise large protests abroad in informing the World and helping make it aware of facts regarding the war of aggression against Croatian early1990’s;
  • Fundraise to help financially with humanitarian aid (Croatia had over 1 Million refugees and displaced persons it needed to care for as Serb aggression ethnically cleansed Croats, Muslims and other non-Serbs from areas of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina) and to assist with the setting up an administration of an emerging state whose finances were still under communist Yugoslavia control and the establishment of a new, independent democratic state had enormous problems in the beginning, many of which were easier to solve and bear with financial backing from the diaspora; and
  • Fundraise to provide crucial financial support for the defense of Croatia help feed and clothe the newly established and impoverished Croatian military as well as regional defense volunteer units.


It is often said that the heart of an expat always remains with their homeland. That goes for any nationality and it’s certainly not unique for Croats. Croats living in the diaspora had put their money where their heart was when the brutal war raged across Croatia. Many sacrificed a great deal to go without in order to donate money to the free Croatia cause – hundreds of millions of dollars poured into the cause during the war through bank accounts mainly held in Austria so that the Yugoslav communists don’t get their hands on the money, so to speak. A clever strategy, indeed – freedom and the promise of one always finds a way.It has been recognised many a time by all leaders in Croatia that without the help of its diaspora, of its expats, Croatia would not have been so successful in winning the war of aggression against it and established a democratic, sovereign, independent state of Croatia. It became a widely accepted discourse that the new Republic of Croatia had an immense debt to its diaspora. Some measures were passed in acknowledgment of that “indebtedness” to the diaspora:

1. A new citizenship law. In 1991 a new law granted Croatian citizenship to all Croats and descendants of Croats, no matter where they lived. Anyone who could prove Croatian descent was given citizenship and a passport.
2.Voting Rights. Croatian citizens abroad were given the right to vote (including the new citizens mentioned above), and a dedicated electorate (Electorate 11 or Electoral Unit 11). Initially, approximately 10% of the seats in the Sabor (Parliament) were reserved for this Electorate. Later (this is also current) this was changed to 3 seats in the parliament representing the diaspora regardless of voter turnout.
3. A special ministry in the government. First in 1991 with the short-lived Ministry for Emigration, then in 1997 with the Ministry for Return and Immigration, which lasted to end of 1999 (when the first President Franjo Tudjman died this ministry was disbanded by the Ivica Racan government [former Communist League] and president Stjepan Mesic, a die-hard communist).

Fusion1 Conference On Croatian Diaspora September 2015, Zagreb Photo: Mirko Cvjetko

Fusion1 Conference On
Croatian Diaspora
September 2015, Zagreb
Photo: Mirko Cvjetko


All the years since 2000 terrible practical neglect and planned alienation from the homeland of Croatia’s diaspora occurred through successive governments and presidents as if it was a well-planned project oiled by former communists driving it all. Yugoslav communists had never forgiven Croats who fled or emigrated from communism during the decades after WWII and wanted nothing to do with it. Knowing how strong the diaspora was in its support of Croatian War of Independence (Homeland War) it was more than transparent that former communists, who did not want an independent Croatia in the first place, who were now in power, weren’t about to permit the continuance of financial support from the diaspora at the time when war had ended and Croatia needed support for and investment in its economy. It’s safe to conclude that former Yugoslav communists did not want Croatia to succeed away from Yugoslavia.

Many, many plans to set in motion investments from the diaspora, the return of Croats from abroad, setting up business in Croatia…emerged after 2000 but, funnily enough, disappeared mostly without even a puff. Lack of commitment (and probably not enough engaged knowhow) despite the affirmative rhetoric from the government and also the country’s presidents stood behind the failures to “make it happen” – engage homeland Croatia and expats in delivering plans and programs that would actually yield investment and entrepreneurial outcomes and help boost Croatian economy.

The current government had created an Office for Croats living abroad a couple of years ago that works with people from diaspora on issues of return, of investment, of collaboration…but so far it seems that the biggest role of that Office is to keep the diaspora politically relevant for election purposes of politicians in Croatia and a grand and expensive photo opportunity once or twice a year in the Capital. Just to demonstrate the evidently disorganised and seemingly uncoordinated attempts within to come up with a workable and effective mechanisms of achieving economic and economic and demographic results for Croatia via its diaspora here are some examples of conferences, meetings etc. that all seem to have great ideas but no mutual linking fiber, little prospects of succeeding without government commitment to support. In July 2015 this office held two day meeting attended by dozens of representatives from the diaspora – round table discussions bountiful. Then in September 2015 there was a conference in Zagreb “Croatian diaspora – encouragement for economic development and creators of future policies – irresistible Croatia Fusion 1” organised by a different group but supported by President of Croatia, the Minister for the Economy and the Mayer of City of Zagreb. Then, over the years, various organisations held numerous conferences and seminars and workshops in Croatia on involving the diaspora in Croatian economy, how to strengthen ties between Croatia and the diaspora…all seem not to be able to translate into any notable practice or result. President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic has also met with a group from the Croatian World Congress from diaspora in recent months, discussing “how to” strengthen ties between Croatia and the diaspora etc. She had at her inauguration made a point of inviting Croats from the diaspora to return to Croatia…but there seems to be a huge gap between an invitation and taking practical steps to make such invitations attractive and fruitful, probably because it’s the government and not the President that has executive power and budgetary power to make things happen on the ground level. The president will be giving a speech at the opening in Zagreb of G2 (Second Generation) meeting to be held in Zagreb 26 to 30 October! Another initiative on the same old theme – get investment from diaspora into Croatia! Wishing them the best of luck and success. However, all that seems very disjointed with the government pulling one lot of strings, the president another, the opposition another, independent groups and organisations another lot of strings and it all sounds to me so far as a terribly broken record, playing over and over and over, the same old tune!

Immigrant communities around the world in the global 21st century leverage developments in communications to connect with their homelands in ways that were unimaginable in the past and certainly not existent during the years of the Croatian Homeland War (early 1990’s). And yet the Croatian government seems to have failed miserably at harnessing the technology and communications advances to reach the whole of the diaspora as opposed to just the smaller sector that keeps ties with various clubs and associations that exist in the diaspora. Is that failure purposeful? I think so!

Participants in previous G2 Second Generation Croats from diaspora meeting Photo:

Participants in previous G2
Second Generation Croats
from diaspora meeting

Many countries finding it difficult to compete in the global race for investment capital have and are turning to their diaspora to attract investment. Croatia is no different. In an effort to stimulate diaspora homeland investments many countries have developed specific investment marketing campaigns but the going hasn’t been easy, even if some have succeeded more than others. And, of course, an investment is not just an investment in the diaspora homeland case – it’s not a purely business decision, a profit maximisation one – the decision to invest has surely psychological factors associated altruistic feelings and personal moral convictions …Ah, there is also the matter of the social relationship between the diaspora and the homeland with all its facets, whys and wherefores … It needs to be a government supported program, as opposed to a private venture, that brings together all the different great ideas in such an important field as the role of and relationship with the diaspora, and supports their realisation. So I truly trust we will see more commitments from the Croatian government and president that would actually come up with a mechanism to make diaspora homeland investment work but I strongly suspect new and carefully chosen advisers are a priority – a group with a good mix of sound business, finance, marketing, communications and psychology skills – all molded in successful practice in democracies abroad. But then again, I might re-run this article in five or ten years time. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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