Croatian Diaspora – The Magic Bullet

Croatian Diaspora Congress, June/July 2018

Beyond chanting mantras and slogans on the political platform in Croatia, the devil seems to lie in the details. How does the Croatian diaspora engagement take place and in what form? Or is there real engagement at all?

A few days ago I attended a Croatian Diaspora Conference in the city of Osijek, third one of its kind organisation of which is headed by the Centre for Research of Croatian Emigration based in Zagreb. The conference was well attended as Croats from all over the world came to contribute towards the conference’s goals that include animation of scientists and economists towards promoting collaboration with the Croatian émigrés as a matter of national interest of the Republic of Croatia. An amazing wealth of knowledge and experience filled the conference rooms as ideas as to how to make Croatia a better place to live in or return to flowed freely and assertively. It was a kind of a showcase of Croatian diaspora knowhow! The stuff struggling countries would “kill for”! Not the official Croatia, though! What a shame!

Government representatives made a token effort to be at the conference opening but soon left the place, leaving the feeling of disengagement with the diaspora there where engagement should count the most. Being there; being among the people who care about Croatia. Certainly, cocktail parties government may organise or open doors at the Office of the President for Croats from the diaspora don’t cut the mustard when it comes to real collaboration and engagement. Without real progress in making reforms conducive to successful integration and return, politically staged photo opportunities by those in power with individuals from the diaspora get tedious to watch.

Croatian Diaspora Congress, June/July 2018

It was truly great experiencing the enthusiasm displayed by the people from the diaspora despite the fact that the lack of support for the gathering from “official” Croatia is enough to dampen many spirits. One cannot avoid a comment which would go something like this: if an event is not organised or controlled by the official government representatives then it’s not worth the paper it’s written on (?). That would fall within the sentiments left at the conference when government representatives dashed throughthe exit doors at morning tea break.The fact that it was a gathering of real people with real problems and real solutions did not seem to capture the various government and president’s representatives’s stamina to stay a while and experience first-hand that well of knowledge Croatia needs so desperately. An elitist approach that leads to nowhere that’s good, for the people.

When it comes to issues affecting the Croatian diaspora and it’s potential, both economically and socially/demographically, political will in Croatia appears shockingly sparse despite the widespread high-level political talk that puts the diaspora on the pedestal of a “saviour”. In Croatia there is simply no visible national operational and concentrated focus on issues needing practical solutions for engaging integration of Croats worldwide for the good of Croatia. There is simply no visible road map to engaging the diaspora towards the goal of integration and ideally – return. Work on engaging people, especially the young, from the diaspora in politics should be seen as an investment in the future of democracy and well being – an investment in its legitimacy, relevance and engagement.

If no natural outlet is found in Croatia’s politics for the frustration that is growing among the Croatian diaspora, then politicians are at risk of disenfranchising entire generations of its demographic make-up, which are Croats from the diaspora. After all, the large diaspora was the one that actively enabled with its financial backing and political lobby and Homeland war participants the creation of the modern independent Croatia.

I note that politicians and people in key public positions in Croatia have been mentioning almost daily the important contribution(s) by the Croatian diaspora in Croatia’s development. We often hear of the billions of dollars the diaspora pours into Croatia every year and we often hear of the vast knowledge and experience the diaspora possesses and which Croatia should harness towards its own well-being. But hey – words come cheap in a political clutter choking on former communist mindset.

Indeed, the contribution(s) of Croatians in diaspora have become a catch phrase in today’s development and political jargon. Countless articles by Croatian politicians, scholars, business leaders, journalists, ordinary citizens … advocate for Croatia’s diaspora as the next panacea, or ‘magic bullet’, for solving much of the economic and demographic development quagmire. I take no issue with these claims for, indeed, they are realistic and their information is valuable, however, what has taken my attention is that such claims seem to conclude pretty much the same way. Typically they outline the advantages of the Croatian diaspora over any other development contributing elements but there is little activity that ensures that the diaspora is taken into account in moving Croatia’s development into a bright future. So, there is no “magic bullet”, there is and there will ever be only real effort in engaging the diaspora by extending to it the rights and responsibilities enjoyed by the Croats living in Croatia. That is true integration.

None of the above claims about the potential of the Croatian diaspora have given any real or visible analytical thought to the nuts and bolts of this engagement, nor do they offer any concrete way forward, they seem to chant a nice slogan and leave the diaspora hanging. While the Central government office for Croatians living outside of Croatia has been operating in Croatia for some five years now, while a parliamentary committee for the Croatian diaspora exists, while the President incessantly talks of the importance of the diaspora for Croatia, the ability to influence change and reel-in real diaspora engagement somehow eludes them all. Much of their self-gratification can be found in boasting about how much Croatia helps and supports the maintenance of Croatian identity in the diaspora, from financial assistance to Croatian language courses in the diaspora to propping up cultural pursuits etc. But they seem not to realise that such pursuits do not mean engaging the diaspora for the development of Croatia. That is simply helping to maintain Croatian identity in the diaspora and that is simply not integration. Far from it.

Croatian Diaspora Congress, June/July 2018

There are serious internal problems in Croatia which I believe are at the root of (not)engaging the diaspora, and which perhaps have a far more reaching consequence than the magnitude of the sums of remittance flows that are sent to Croatia; a deeper debate concerning the “how” aspect of the diaspora / institutional engagement needs to occur and without instilling into Croatian society and government the spirit of inclusion, including diaspora in all aspects of life in Croatia, nothing will shift towards an effective harvest of the diaspora potential for Croatia.

The diaspora has become a relatively new fad in development since the downturn in economy and demographic health especially, though it existed for ages and remittances have always been channelled to Croatia (where remittances make up a significant contribution to the country’s GDP), yet the diaspora has no real ‘presence’ in Croatia. That needs to change, the diaspora must have presence in Croatia and that can only be achieved through integration and inclusion. The chants and mantras about the importance of the diaspora for Croatia have led to progressions of euphoric interest in the diaspora (just as the late 1980’s and early 1990’s movements towards independence from Yugoslavia did) and this interest must be captured for the good of all. Yet, despite the good will and a wealth of ideas the diaspora feeds into Croatia, the ground for integration has not moved from standstill, really.

Many people have began to feel that politics is a game for the elite, and that ordinary people should expect nothing from it, and that politics bears no relation to their own interests and problems. Gradually, Chaos syndrome emerges, a chronic decline in the political system’s capacity for self-organisation emerges. It begins with the weakening of the institutions and brokers—political parties, career politicians, and parliamentary leaders and committees—that have historically in democracies held politicians accountable to one another and prevented everyone in the system from pursuing naked self-interest all the time. As these intermediaries’ influence fades, politicians, activists, and voters all become more individualistic and unaccountable. The system atomises. Chaos becomes the new normal— let’s trust things won’t come to that in Croatia even if they seem close to it. At thoughts like these Croatia is lucky that it still has so many people in the diaspora and within the country holding onto their motivation and hope to effectuate with work – real change and betterment. The real question remains: for how long and under what circumstances this motivation will exist? Ina Vukic

Croatia: Harnessing The Wealth Of Diaspora

Croatian Diaspora Congress - Zagreb 2014

Croatian Diaspora Congress – Zagreb 2014

In the late 1980’s, as the Berlin Wall came down, masses of Croatian people set forth to utilise the justifiably strong anti-communist sentiment in Eastern Europe particularly and, led by Dr Franjo Tudjman, with open arms, charged forth with realising their “thousand-year old dream” for an independent (and democratic) Croatia. 94% of Croatia’s voters opted to secede from communist Yugoslavia – the brutal war of Serb aggression ensued!

The relatively enormous Croatian diaspora stepped up to the task within an instant and joined in to help fight against communism – lobbying the West, humanitarian aid and financial assistance (among other significant forms of assistance) for democracy to win in Croatia poured in with never before seen determination and sacrifice.

Croatia, Dr. Franjo Tudjman, did not even need to ask for help – it came naturally and it came out of love for democracy and freedom from oppression. After all, the diaspora was full of Croatian people who had fled their homes, seeking freedom and a “better life” for centuries – most notably during Austro-Hungarian Empire times, after World War I (running as far as they could from the oppressive and forced union of Serb-led Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, Kingdom of Yugoslavia), after World War II – for years and decades (running as far as they could from the oppressive communist Yugoslavia regime).

And so it is a fact that had it not been for the diaspora and its dynamic in every sense engagement towards achieving independence of Croatia, Croatia would not be independent today.

But things went terribly wrong in this positive and essential tie between Croatia and its diaspora, especially once Franjo Tudjman had died and Stjepan Mesic got to be the president of Croatia; losing not a minute to alienate the diaspora labeling it “fascist”. One cannot expect anything different from a hard-core communist, who has proven himself not to be a stranger to initiating vilification, dishing out the cruelest of injustice towards a group of people (diaspora) most of who needed to grab a dictionary to understand the meaning of Mesic’s “fascism” and his evil innuendo against every single Croat in the diaspora! With such moves Croatia had slowly distanced itself from its best ally, an important member of its immediate family – the diaspora! Transitioning from the totalitarian communist regime into democracy had since 2000 been significantly hampered by this loss – the loss that was an intentional alienation of the diaspora and did not occur accidentally by any measure.

There have been several unsuccessful attempts to revive the mass-connection between Croatia and its diaspora in terms of re-establishing the rightful place of the diaspora as an equal partner in the creation of democracy and prosperity in Croatia over the past decade or so.  One does not need to search far and wide to see that the lack of success in this has been underwritten by the communist repugnant wheeling and dealing; after all the Yugoslav communists chased Croats out, slaughtered hundreds of thousands who did not toe their lines, trawled the diaspora for Croats to assassinate and murder … they did not want to be “haunted” by their own past crimes were the diaspora to achieve equality of sorts in Croatia.

And now, just a couple of weeks ago, the largely communist die-hard government in Croatia have opened the “Office of Welcome” (Ured Dobrodošlice)! Certainly, something is better than nothing and I wish this office success and good work. However, the fact that the same government has collected dozens of unpaid advisers from all over the world ( my emphasis here is on “unpaid” because that very fact indicates the extent to which any such advice binds the recipient of that advice and the accountability of them all), mainly those nominated by only a relatively smaller section of the Croatian diaspora community (clubs and organisations that do not as a rule attract or involve most Croats living in the diaspora) suggests that this body does not represent the diaspora. What I mean to say here is that minimal, if any, effort has been made to reach out to the whole of the diaspora – not just the established clubs or associations whose effectiveness is as large as its membership numbers.  Indeed, the requirement by the Croatian government for the government adviser on Croats living abroad position was that an individual had to be nominated by a club or an association in the diaspora. What a wasted opportunity! The results would have been much better and more representatives had the Croatian government advertised in mainstream media of the countries where Croats live abroad – independent of tight-knit community networks, which spread thinly and narrowly – as a rule because multitudes simply do not go to such clubs etc.  This fact suggests to me that the establishment of this “Office of Welcome” will prove to be a superficial exercise unless some serious work is done on reviving the whole of the diaspora, as it was the case in early 1990’s. Why the Croatian government saw the need to call this office “Office of Welcome” is beyond my full comprehension but not beyond my heart, which tells me:

it is wrong, it is insincere, it is belittling …

It is like you, the reader, owning two homes and as you visit or move from one of your homes to the other your access to your home is marked by other people standing at your doorstep, showing you a “Welcome” sign! You know then that there are those there who do not welcome your arrival to your home, who consider you a visitor, at times possibly unwelcome.

But it seems not all is lost. The mass-connection between the diaspora and Croatia and the efforts to harness the enormously positive prospects through its revival will not it seems rest only upon what I see as a rushed and superficial “Office of Welcome”.

An equally important event, when it comes to efforts towards lifting the diaspora to its rightful and equal place with Homeland Croatia is being organised in Zagreb for June 2014.
It is the Croatian Diaspora Congress, which aims to deal with the issues of harnessing and reviving links between Croatia and its wider diaspora.  And I quote here below its invitation to participants, wishing all sides and all efforts great success, real results and distance from political point scoring for once and for all! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)



Croatia’s entrance into the European Union has instigated the need for the development of new strategies upon which to base its relationship with the millions of Croatians living in the diaspora. With the aim of mutually creating new strategies, as well as systematizing the process of monitoring and globally connecting emigrants with their homeland, a joint effort has begun to organize the first Croatian diaspora conference which will be held in June, 2014, in Zagreb. Participants will include prominent scholars, public and cultural figures, church prelates, missionary priests and pastoral associates, along with business people from Croatia and the diaspora.
Croatia belongs to the circle of European countries which has one of the largest emigrant populations. According to some estimates, there are more that 2.5 million emigrants, including their descendants, living worldwide. In terms of modern day integration processes, this is a huge developmental, cultural, demographical, and security resource upon which the Republic of Croatia can build a successful future and bridge the many barriers that have separated the unique Croatian national entity in the past.
Today several generations of Croatian emigrants living outside of Croatia have integrated, and with varying degrees have been assimilated, into the societies in which they live. However, it is important to note that Croatians emigrants have established various organizations and institutions in their respective host countries with the aim of preserving their Croatian national, cultural, and religious identity, as well as connection with their mother country. These organizations and institutions can serve as a basis for globally connecting the diaspora and achieving the aforementioned strategic aims.
It is also important to emphasize that the expected massive return of Croatian emigrants failed to occur after the establishment of the independent and democratic Republic of Croatia. On the contrary, Croatia continues to be a country with a large emigrant population outside its borders.  A new wave of emigration transpired during the process of Croatian independence and the Homeland war, as well as in the post-war period. This wave of emigration, in contrast to the previous ones, included a significant increase, for the first time, in the number of people emigrating into Croatian, in particular, Croatians and Bosnians from Bosnia and Herzegovina. This new emigration process was stimulated by the events of the war, in addition to the poor economic situation which was caused in part by an unjust and ineffective privatization model.
At the same time, due to the lack of job prospects and educational opportunities, a large number of young and educated people left, which was particularly detrimental for Croatia. Moreover, war refugees within Croatia, as well as refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina, affected the growing adverse economic and migration situation in Croatia.
Since 1991, according to some experts, several hundred thousand Croatian citizens, including approximately 180,000 Croatians, migrated to the West. At the same time, according to official data, 232, 966 inhabitants migrated to Croatia  (from 1991), of which 189,039 from Bosnia Herzgovina. In the same period, the mortality rate in Croatia has been larger than the birth rate.
As a result, homeland policy needs to be manifested primarily in the development of better cooperation with countries in which Croatian emigrants live. In fact, expatriates have already paved the way for this cooperation. It is necessary, furthermore, to scientifically investigate and analyze current cooperation since previous experience has shown that Croatian emigrants are extremely successful ambassadors of their home country in the world. Moreover, homeland policy needs to encourage modern integration processes by focusing on Croatian emigrants and planning their return to Croatia.
However, returning does not simply imply to come back, on the contrary, they need to be offered the opportunity to have a high quality of life and jobs in their home country. In this context, the Republic of Croatia is obligated to provide its emigrants with a secure environment which will protect the investment of their hard-earned capital in homeland resources. A positive relationship towards its emigrants and effective action is expected from the Croatian government. In the last few years, unfortunately, the trust between homeland institutions and emigrants has, to some extent, been undermined. Consequently, it is necessary to invest additional effort in order to establish cooperation once again.
Furthermore, it is necessary to establish new forms of cooperation with emigrants who have no intention of returning to Croatia. Above all, it is important to help them maintain their Croatian identity and sense of affiliation with their fellow native Croatians, as well as aid in nurturing Croatian traditions and connections with the homeland. It is particularly important to stress that these actions should be based on long-term goals and be national in character, rather than short-term, or the policies of political parties. Accession into the European Union has provided new opportunities to actualize these programs and, accordingly, the design and implementation of the programs needs to be based on knowledge.
The Croatian Diaspora Congress will surely achieve the aims of its organisers in that it will aid in fostering new strategies with regard to Croatian emigrants based on scientific research and with the support of relevant institutions and individuals both within Croatia, as well as among the Croatian diaspora.
We kindly invite you to participate in the conference and help contribute to its success. Attached please find important information concerning the conference and a draft program. For further information please contact the program organizing committee.

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