Croatia: Population Triple Whammy

Croatia’s population of elder Croatians is soaring, its birth-rate plummets deeper and deeper while increasing droves of working age people leave the country have put Croatia at the forefront of a global demographic trend that experts call a disaster needing an urgent fix in order to retain a national identity and prosperity as we know it. The levels of age and disability pensioners (including disabilities resulting from participating in the 1990’s Homeland War and, would you believe it [!], participating as Yugoslav communist partisan in WWII) compared to levels of taxpayers are so very far apart that the economy itself cannot sustain such a state in retirement and requires increasing reliance on borrowed money for pensions. Certainly, Croatia is not one of the countries that though and planned decades ahead to set up a Superannuation system that would significantly relive the burden on tax funds for age pensions.

There is great deal of movements in Croatia that affect its well-being both politically and economically and spell out national crises of all sorts. Firstly, the relatively excessive loss of population, close to 18% since the War of Independence and subsequent entry as member state of the European Union.  Source. In 2022 though, more than 10,000 people came to Croatia than the number that left. That is, 46,287 people left Croatia in 2022, while 57,972 individuals arrived or returned (according to the August 2023 preliminary report by Bureau of Statistics), with a significant number being workers from other countries. Furthermore, an analysis of the data shows that the positive migration balance is partially due also to the arrival of Ukrainian citizens who were fleeing from Russian aggression. However, at the same time, there is also a continuous emigration of Croatian citizens, with emigration increasing by 26% compared to 2021. Hence, population mix is occurring at a rather fast pace so much so that a different character of multiculturalism will be the result, but not by choice of Croatian citizens. Most feel that they have been forced to tolerate cultures that are completely strange and incompatible with theirs and that make them uncomfortable if not bitter. For the time being it is understood that the foreign workers are a temporary fixture to Croatian population as work visas are time limited, however, the economy may dictate the opposite as time goes by and brain and muscle drain from Croatia continues at such high rates into countries with better wages and better working conditions or seeking better education. The January 2023 entry in the Schengen Zone that provides a great deal of fluidity for movements and residence choices to the Zone’s citizens means that people movements between countries may not be labelled as emigration for much longer.  

And so, secondly, large number of foreign workers imported into Croatia during the past 18 months even more signifies the drastic loss of Croatian work force to other countries. The foreign workers imported into Croatia have brought a visible clash of cultures feeling of which has surely resulted from the unpreparedness of the domestic population to deal with an entirely different multicultural fabric of daily life than what they have been used to with established several ethnic minorities (all of European descent). The foreign workers though, with their productivity and taxpaying are poised to benefit the economy of Croatia. To add fuel to the fire because of their ethnic characteristics and appearance majority of Croatians see the foreign workers in similar light as they see illegal immigrants. This is troubling because illegal migrants are mainly seen as disturbing the way of life people have been used to and essentially seen as enemies of sort or unwelcome guests.   

Thirdly, Croatia is experiencing an ‘unprecedented’ number of migrants crossing its border from neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina this summer, with the government working to combat the influx by finalising plans for a new migrant registration hub and building a large registration centre on an abandoned military training ground around the town of Karlovac. This is currently causing much unrest and protest within the domicile population.

Croatia is located on the so-called Balkan route, walked by many illegal migrants originating from the Middle East and North Africa, which sees them travel from Turkey and Greece towards northwest Bosnia and Herzegovina. Once there, they cross the EU’s external border into Croatia from where most intend to reach other EU countries like Germany and France. In fact, the number of incoming migrants this year increased by 170% according to the Croatian Ministry of Interior Affairs and recorded a 700% increase in asylum applications in the country.

Croatian mainstream and other media have become saturated with heart-wrenching stories and plights for help from the local population. They feel that their lives have been infringed and intruded upon by the migrants that walk into their private courtyards stealing food or water, set up camp in their unused field cottages, sleep and defecate in their private forests or agricultural fields, they feel their children can no longer go and play in the local park because the illegal migrants lie or sit there or congregate… For months now the local Croatian population has been living in desperation from wanting its normal life back but unable to due to constant influx of migrants. Amidst questions as to where the illegal migrants should apply for asylum in March 2023 the Croatian government had pushed back into Bosnia and Herzegovina hundreds of illegal migrants who had crossed the Croatian border. How desperate and alarming the situation is can also be seen from public statements Croatian Interior Minister made this past week.    

“Last night alone, some 600 illegal migrants were apprehended while attempting to illegally enter Croatian territory – these are unprecedented figures. Everyone who does manage to enter the country has certain rights according to European law, and we respect those rights,” Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic told reporters on Thursday 7 September 2023 while attending a police event near Zagreb.

“However, we will respect their rights by making the rules ourselves. This means we will take them to migration centres in an organised manner,” Bozinovic added, Hina Agency reported.

“It is in everyone’s interest that migrants are moved from the centres of cities and parks. In the facilities above Krnjak (near the town of Karlovac), we can carry out all the administrative tasks that we must carry out in accordance with European and national legislation, and on the other hand, create conditions so that our citizens feel it as little as possible”, he pointed out and noted that the migration pressure, which the whole of Europe is facing, cannot disappear overnight, given that millions of people from mainly Africa and the Middle East see their future precisely on the European continent.

Croatia plans to build a large registration centre at the village of Krnjak, some 20 kilometres south of the major town of Karlovac, on the site of an abandoned military training ground. Last week, about a hundred locals protested the plan and against the setting up of a migrant camp on their doorstep. The protesters insisted that the Republic of Croatia must have greater border control and take care that as few people enter Croatia illegally as possible, and now that number is extremely high and creates problems for the government system and the population. There is a small number of inhabitants in this area, as in many other rural areas in Croatia. The local government had made rather great efforts for people to return to the area, to settle. If an open-type camp is built, it will have negative consequences for the demographics and the area will be abandoned, the protesters asserted.

Evidently, people living in those areas are not ready for what is being imposed on them and asserted that “there are already bad experiences with migrants”, i.e., with thefts, burglaries, and littering. The fear is that these will increase if the migrant camp goes ahead.

“I’m afraid of everything. I am most afraid for the children, the future, the local community, and most of all for the state,” said Dejan Mihaljovic, the Deputy Prefect of Karlovac Municipality.

On Tuesday, 5 September 2023, Bozinovic visited the site and told reporters that the complex includes some 55 buildings suitable for housing people and that the government plans to ask the EU for funding to repurpose the site.

Evidently a great deal of movement and happening is occurring in Croatia that threatens the relative homogenous population profile is concerned as far as ethnic majority and prevalent culture and religion are concerned. It does not matter if some of these movements are considered temporary because there are no indications that the Croatians who have emigrated or those living in the diaspora for decades will return in such large numbers that would improve the demographic picture of Croats living in Croatia. That scenario is a possibility but only with the right political and economic program and the Croatian governments since year 2000 have not had much to offer to make the return of Croats a real and practical choice for most. Political spinning of romantic phrases about love for Croatia as a motive for return can only be stretched so far and to only a few when it comes to realities of living. Considering all that it is more certain than not that Croatian demographics are changing in the race mix and this fact is likely to become permanent rather than stay temporary. The only problem then would be to ensure prevalence of the Croatian ethnic mix to preserve the mainstream culture and language/ Croatian identity. Ina Vukic  

New Film – Help Build A Roadmap For Croatia’s Future – Croatian Studies Zagreb

IFilms/Croatian Film Institute new film – Croatian studies/ Studies in Demography and Croatian Diaspora

The Croatian Film Institute (Texas, USA) announces a new short film directed by Nikola Knez (President of iFilms LLC,USA and Chair of Board of Directors of the Croatian Film Institute,  entitled “Study of Demography and Croatian Emigration”, which you can watch on the institute’s website, more precisely at or

University professors and students from the Faculty of Croatian Studies, University of Zagreb, in this short film of about 17 minutes duration, share their vision of the mission of a new academic discipline that addresses the effect of emigration of generations of talented Croatians on their beautiful homeland. They extend a heartfelt, inspiring invitation to youth and émigrés to join and support their new program–Demography & Croatian Emigration–at the University of Zagreb. This field of study prepares a future generation of policymakers, researchers and professionals who will use scientific projections and models to make decisions in the best interest of people, shifting away from political stalemates and power struggles that have hampered the country’s progress and created a 21st century diaspora of the best and brightest. 

Nikola Knez Photo: Private Collection

“In this film, university professors and students share their vision in a new academic discipline that deals with the problem of emigration of generations of talented Croats from their beautiful homeland, the Republic of Croatia. Despite having all the natural and human components for the successful development of society there is a political status quo between forces that want to fully embrace a democratic, productive, demographically inclusive free market economy and those seeking only their own interests, rooted in the past of privileged communist elites.

This has resulted in growing dissatisfaction of the population with state decision-making and governance, tolerant officials and thus promote eligibility over quality, and corruption over transparency and accountability. All this leads to the stagnation of democratic, economic, and demographic development and the emigration of a large number of young people. In an attempt to scientifically solve this problem and for science to offer solutions that would determine the future of the Croatian state in this aspect, the University of Zagreb established the Croatian Studies, and recently the Department of Demography and Croatian Emigration.

Therefore, professors and students extend a cordial, inspiring invitation to young people and the diaspora to join and support their new program – the Study of Demography and Croatian Emigration – at the Croatian Studies, University of Zagreb. This study prepares future generations of public policy makers, researchers and experts who will use scientific projections and models for decision-making in the best interest of the Croatian people.

On the website of the Croatian Film Institute, in addition to film, you also have a link to studies so that all those who are interested in this topic can directly contact and see opportunities for study or other types of participation.

The aim and goal of the Croatian Film Institute is to inform and encourage cooperation and qualitative action to stop the emigration process, stimulate the return process and to build Croats together, across the diaspora and in the homeland to build a better, better and happier Croatian state. ourselves and the whole world,” says the iFilms/Croatian Film Institute Press Release January 2022.

Entrance to Faculty of Croatian Studies University of Zagreb

According to the latest census from 2021, there are just over 3.88 million people living in Croatia. Croatia has lost 395,360 inhabitants in the last 10 years. This negative trend of depopulation indicates the importance of the Study of Demography and Croatian Emigration. It is expected that the Government of the Republic of Croatia will take urgent and decisive measures for the benefit of Croatia and the Croatian people, which will alleviate the outflow of population if it does not stop it completely.

While improving in many spheres of living Croatia still lags behind other developed countries in the realisation of its potentials. Population is the key factor in the development of a nation, of its society and space. The demographic problem Croatia has been facing for quite some time (e.g. the fall of natality rate, large emigration or exodus numbers of people etc) had become an urgent problem to solve and, hence in 2019 University of Zagreb had founded the Faculty of Croatian Studies via which the demographic problem has been lifted to academic level. While Croatian studies stream had soon after becoming an independent state, since 1992, existed as part of larger Faculties of the University of Zagreb it was thus almost three decades after becoming an independent state that Croatia had opened a new, distinct, and dedicated avenue of studying and perhaps coming up with solutions in addressing demographic problems, including studying one of the richest diasporas in the world relative to the population numbers in the homeland. The short film tells us that this new Faculty, Croatian Studies, had set the directions of its activities. And they are:  

  1. Research and study the Croatian society, its population, culture, and its diaspora
  2. To create scientific knowledge about the Croatian civilisational and historical heritage that contributes to the development of an independent Croatian state that nurtures Croatian national and cultural identity in the European and world context.
  3. Research current demographic and migration trends and their consequences.

The key role in this scientific project would essentially need to have and head the newly formed department of demography and Croatian diaspora.  Doc dr. sc. Stjepan Sterc, an assistant professor of that department considers that “the Croatian diaspora is the wealth of Croatia and that the total development of Croatia must be founded on the functioning of the domicile and emigrated populations and on that basis, we have formed the study streams within this Faculty so that we may best be able to acquaint ourselves with all aspects of associated issues…”

The study of demography and Croatian emigration is a scientific novelty at Croatian universities vis-a-vis importance and general interest and in terms of importance for Croatia and emigration issues.

Doc. dr. sc. Gordan Rados Photo: Screenshot iFilms/Croatian Film Institute

Doc. dr. sc. Goran Rados, assistant professor, says: “It took many years for the study to be established, although phenomenology had been studied for emigration for a long time. In the last seven or eight years, there have been significant movements of emigrants, but in a bad direction, which means that Croats have begun to emigrate from Croatia more than they immigrate to Croatia. These phenomena can be studied at the study from all aspects – economic, political, legal … mainly through social interdisciplinary sciences …”

In the past ten years and according to the Census 2021 Croatia has lost around 400,000 of its people mainly due to emigration but also due to the fall in natality rate etc. Given that Croatia had a population of 4.2 million from the last census the recorded loss calculates to 10% of the total loss of population in ten years. The force of high emigration in recent years has begun to jeopardise and threaten the fundamental systems upon which the Croatian state rests. With the current population of Croatia being 3.8 million it is without a doubt that the population of people of Croatian descent through to, say, fifth generation,  living in the diaspora is far greater than the population living in Croatian.

Doc. dr. sc. Wollfy Krasic Photo: Screenshot iFilms/Croatian Film Institute Wollfy Krašić, assistant professor, says: “The aim of this study is to attract young Croats from all over the world to come here to study and then stay in Croatia or return to their communities and then be guardians and promoters of Croatian national identity, culture and language.”

Doc. Stjepan Sterc Photo: Screenshot iFilms/Croatian Film INstitute

Doc. Dr. sc. Stjepan Sterc: “So this is a very beautiful story that is extremely important to direct towards Croatian emigrants so that Croatian emigrants see that we here have not forgotten, among other things, what they did with their idealism towards Croatia in the 1990s and what they do every year through remittances sent very extensive through the financial system of the Republic of Croatia and larger than all modes of foreign investment. This only proves that this idealism in the emigration still exists and that it is only a question of the political attitude towards them as it will look like in the future.”

Become a student of Croatian Studies. Visit

Help build a scientific roadmap for Croatia! Ina Vukic

Croatia’s Government Turning A Deaf Ear To Concerns From Diaspora


On Saturday 9 November 2019 the 3rd meeting of Government’s Advisory Council for Croats living outside of Croatia was held in the town of Varazdin. The Advisory is made up of some fifty-five Croats from all over the world (9 from Bosnia and Herzegovina, 17 from Croatian minorities in European countries and 29 from countries outside Europe/diaspora/emigration) that are said to be representing their local Croatian communities and this is its third four-year mandate. However, it is actually very questionable whether the diaspora representatives represent their local communities in a great deal of cases given that they are drawn from individual clubs or organisations that do not necessarily work with the entire communities nor is it essential for them to demonstrate that they consult their local communities when it comes to accountabilities to the Croatian government’s Central office or Croats living outside Croatia! The fact that most Croatian communities around the world are not consulted about matters taken to Zagreb by their “representatives” has become a source of discontent in those communities, if not a source of withdrawal from actively participating in the process of asserting the rights of Croatian citizens living abroad. Many say they are yet to experience their “representative” asking them about what concerns them about Croatia and its relations with its diaspora, about what they would like to see changed in order to optimise this relationship between the Homeland and the Diaspora. Due respect to those “representatives” that actively and publicly consult with their communities across the world but thumbs down to those that act alone and formulate their own personal input to the Advisory under the pretence of representing their local communities abroad.

The president of this Advisory body to the government, Mr Ivan Grbesic from Canada, on Saturday 9 November, delivered an excellent opening speech at the meeting which was televised by Croatian HRT television live and it could have not been clearer that dissatisfaction and disappointment about changes needed in Croatia in order to improve relations between the Homeland and Croats living abroad, in order to adjust legislation to needs, etc., is widespread throughout Croatian diaspora. Whether points on these matters of concern were articulated in Mr Grbesic’s speech or whether they were encompassed in and clearly implied by the questions he asked is not the issue here. The issue is that Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic in his addressing speech chose to tun a deaf ear to Mr Grbesic’s questions and their significance. Surely, any prudent and sensitive and considerate leader would at least take on board the concerns from the diaspora articulated in Mr Grbesic’s speech!? But, instead of acknowledging the concerns, instead of seeing further explanation or details, Plenkovic’s speech was patronising and in parts offensive towards the diaspora, while boasting how much his government has done for the diaspora! That’s the same diaspora that was crucially important with its contributions in the creation of modern Croatian state in 1990’s.

Clearly, as far as Plenkovic’s government is concerned the Croatian diaspora has a long way to go before its rights and responsibilities are treated as equal to those of Croats living in Croatia.

Ivan Grbesic, President of Advisory Council to Croatian government representing Croats living outside Croatia
Photo: Screenshot

Ivan Grbesic, President of the governments Advisory for Croats living outside Croatia, among other things said:

“Several questions went through my mind before this meeting and according to many talks I have had I know I am not alone:

Is Croatia afraid of its diaspora? It’s obvious that someone is afraid or has been afraid because the Ministry of Emigration had been closed, and after that the Ministry of Return in year 2000. Barriers have been imposed in relation to voting with changes to the Constitution in 2010 so that Croatian citizens living outside Croatia can only realise their voting rights in places where Diplomatic-Consular Missions are. And then the number of parliamentary seats designated to represent the diaspora had been reduced from 12 seats to 3 in 2011.

Is Croatia ashamed of its diaspora? I hope not. We are not ashamed of our parents, grandfathers, great grandfathers who left their homes and families for personal reasons, either political or economic. Most of them without education, without money in their pockets, without blood relatives in the foreign land – we respect them and are grateful to them not just because they are our parents but because they had a dream to preserve their identity in a foreign land and that a free and independent Croatia be created. And they fought for that dream, which was realised thanks to joint efforts of Croats in the Homeland and Croats outside it…

Is Croatian diaspora non-essential for Croatia? Every year a huge number of Croats from all over the world come to Croatia to spend their holidays and their money there… It’s estimated that from financial point of view from 1991 to 2011 more that 100 billion dollars has entered Croatia from the diaspora and that today more than 2 billion euro annually comes to Croatia from the diaspora, which is some 10% of Croatia’s government annual budget…and then there are investments…

Does Croatia not wish to make use of the additional potential offered to it by its diaspora?  It’s obvious that something is pressing onto the brakes. Something is not right or simply the diaspora potential is not a priority among other problems Croatia is confronted with. As far as the diaspora is concerned, regretfully most are disappointed with Croatia and that’s not just now but for a string of years. And after six years of work of this Advisory the diaspora is disappointed with the results… perhaps it is needed to add new resources and set up a Ministry of emigration, not to be able to say that we have another Ministry but for it to be an institution with resources that would have working targets in order to maximise the contribution of émigrés to the homeland and stronger relations between the homeland and the emigration.

If the answer to all four of these questions is ‘no’ … then we need to invest more efforts in order to attract and make use of the potential of our émigrés, their capital, their life and work experience, their connections and links, and their differing perspectives from the world. Why are the rights of our émigrés being denied, Constitutional rights, why is such a long time needed to introduce new or change existing laws? Is it not in the interest of Croatia and Croatian people to cooperate with their own emigrants, with their own brothers, sisters, parents, cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents from across the world? If the answer to this question is ‘no’, that it is not in Croatia’s interest to collaborate in unity with its own people across the world, that our country, our Croatia be like the one our ancestors, our parents have dreamed of, then we need to ask ourselves: whose interests are being served?  Perhaps only personal or those of foreigners.

I want to publicly commend the recent government and parliament’s decision…regarding changes to the Citizenship Act. Is this law for citizenship an ideal solution, for some it is not, but at the same time it’s hard for anyone to say that it’s not a significant step in the right direction, to contribute to the return of trust between Croats outside of Croatia and the official Zagreb and to reduce the disappointment felt by most in emigration connected to the homeland relationship with its emigration …”

Andrej Plenkovic, Prime Minister of Croatia
Photo: Screenshot

And then came Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovi’c speech:

“ … let me first refer to the question put by Mr Grbesic ‘Is Croatia ashamed of its diaspora’, I think this is a question wrongly put, Croatia is proud of its diaspora, proud of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, proud of all Croats in the countries around Croatia, of Croats throughout the world … the importance of this Advisory body…in its yearly meetings this Advisory body is for us a platform where we must listen well to your recommendations, constate that which we do well, see what we can do better, define some themes upon which you correctly expect greater facilitation, speed and performance of institutions…to us the key element has always been inclusion, protection of rights … it’s important for us to create encouraging conditions for return of our émigrés to the Homeland…we have increased access for Croatian emigration of financial supports, in the last 3 years we have financed 1537 projects throughout the world to the value of 115 million kunas. We have improved communication, this structured form  is exceptionally important as I consider that it’s important to hear this Advisory’s messages and to meet their requests as much as we can…as far as out attitudes towards the totalitarian regimes they are strong and clear and I would ask you to attentively listen to that which is really truth, because besides all the good being done by Croatian World Congress and Matica Iseljenika you are often met with information, which is not verified and correct. And so I appeal to all of you to filtrate well that which you read on the internet, every source is not correct, we live in times of fake news, lies and disinformation and a large portion of that is directed at you so that you could have the feeling that there is something wrong here (in Croatia)  or that this Croatian government does not take care of the diaspora. When you read that I say that some 95% of that is an intentional political manipulation…check the sources and authors who are telling you that just like those who go to various meetings do and show Croatia the way it is not…”

3rd Meeting of Croatian Government’s Advisory Council
for Croats living outside Croatia i Varazdin 9 November 2019
Photo: Vjeran Zganec Rogulja/Pixsell

Well, what can one say in wrapping up an article about all this? Mr Ivan Grbesic mixed no words in making it clear to the government that not all is well and rosy with Croats living abroad when it comes to their relationship and mutual respect with the Homeland. Kudos to Mr Grbesic! The Prime Minister Plenkovic, on the other hand, turned a deaf ear to these messages even though he stated that the government’s task is to hear them, boasted about financial supports to projects (most of which have been in existence, in one way or another without the government’s help long prior to 1990’s in the diaspora) only to end up insulting the intelligence of Croats living in the diaspora by telling them to be careful of what they read in some media (probably meaning the media not controlled by his government)! The fact that a great majority of Croats from the diaspora visit Croatia often and experience it on the ground, so to speak; the fact that they are capable of making realistic conclusions from accessing both the mainstream and non-mainstream media mean nothing to Plenkovic, it seems! I am not infuriated by such a patronising attitude towards Croats living outside Croatia; Plenkovic is temporary and Croatia is forever! Ina Vukic

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