Passionate Returnees For A Better Croatia – An Interview With Mate Pavkovic

 

Mate Pavkovic is one of the organizers of this year’s Cro Diaspora Summit, which will be held from 21 to 23 May on the Island Brac.

As he revealed in an interview with Direktno.hr, which I have translated here into English, the aim of this summit is to improve the investments of the Croatian diaspora in the Croatian economy, to work on reducing red tape and problems in terms of economy and investments in Croatia.

As he said, this event will not have much importance in terms of politics – because the goal is economics. Croatia is an independent and good country, but it could also make much better progress.

What is the purpose of your event?

– Honestly, this conference is not only about the topic of emigration, but it will be a trigger for talks and movements that we must not stop. We need to do something for the survival of our homeland, to make Croatia a better country. I, like many other Croats, lived outside our Beautiful, but that is wealth, not weakness. We must use our wealth to improve our homeland. We must unite beyond sports and humanitarian actions; we must unite as one people for a better tomorrow. We will not achieve this only through politics. In Croatia, much is being done through state institutions, which is not the best solution.

We must free the economy of capitalism so that it can develop and grow on its own. We should cooperate economically with the UK, US, Canada, Australia … and not just with neighbouring countries and EU countries. To achieve this, we need to use the resources of our diaspora, that is, the vast knowledge and business experience that exists in the expat community. We can design strategies that will appeal to our people. I think that Croatian citizens in Canada and the US do not expect the government to do something, but, as a rule, do it themselves. And they don’t care who’s a Democrat and who’s a Republican, or who’s a Conservative, and who’s a Liberal. The only thing that matters to them, it is said, is their ability and success in business.

Who will participate?

– This summit will gather Croats from the expat community and will discuss primarily business and finding solutions, not past problems. The intention of this conference is not political, but the solutions that the participants make at the conference will be delivered to government and business institutions to hear the voice of expatriates at the macroeconomic and political levels. Crodiaspora strongly believes that if business and government strategies focus on better measures of dealing with Croats in emigration, the result will affect the return of Croats and their integration with the whole of Croatia, as a single nation.

This summit is something new. I think the conference will be just the beginning of a conversation that, when it starts, will not be able to stop. Through the application Pleme.app, which is a kind of Facebook for Croatians in emigration, we intend to connect all Croats, that is, all Croatian chambers of commerce in the world, and constantly talk and look for solutions and answers to the question: How to make Croatia a better country? The ultimate goal is to connect through business, because that is how we can liberate the economy.

Mate Pavkovic
Photo: crodiaspora.com

How satisfied are you with the way the Diaspora is involved in socio-political processes in Croatia?

– As Ivan Grbešić stated in his speech at the third session of the Government Council for Croats outside the Republic of Croatia: Although Croatian emigration is the basis of social, political and economic life, the number of Croats in emigration is almost equal to the number of Croats in Croatia, in the Croatian Parliament they have reduced the number of MPs for Croatian emigration from 12 to 3. How can the three MPs represent millions and millions of Croats? I firmly believe in freedom, that we ourselves determine our future.

In Croatia, we know what freedom means in the sense that we have fought for our independence, but we do not yet know what freedom means in the context of the economy. As soon as we learn that we need to reduce the impact of politics in our lives, something we fought in the Homeland War, we will live better. The Croatian government does not need to set up an office for Croats outside the Republic of Croatia, but rather to entice its people to return. This means improved conditions, a legislative framework to attract investment, free up the labour market so that you can hire good and quality people, not through connections. These are things, I hope, that every Croat in the world can agree on.

What have you been doing so far?

– I was employed by the Croatian Chamber of Commerce, the International Affairs and Investment Attraction Division. Everyone told me to stay there because I got good pay and great security. But I didn’t want to stay. I quit because the entrepreneurial urge made me try to start something myself. In Croatia, much is being done through state institutions, which is not the best solution. We must free the economy of capitalism, for it to develop and grow on its own.

We should cooperate economically with the UK, the US, Canada, Australia… and not just with neighbouring countries and EU countries. To achieve this, we need to use the resources of our diaspora, that is, the vast knowledge and business experience that exists in the expat community. We can design strategies that will appeal to our people. We want to free the economy that expatriate Croats and their descendants can return and do business here.

Are there opportunities for third or fourth generation expatriate Croats to return home and start a business?

– Croatia has  huge opportunities. Why do we need to increase the quota of foreign workers in Croatia when Croats from South America are, in some cases, tormented by inequality and lack of opportunity in their countries. We can give our Croats in South America the opportunity to return to Croatia. One famous example is Maria Florencia Celani. Known as a contestant on ‘The Voice Croatia’. Many people who will attend the Crodiaspora Summit have very successfully established world-class companies in Croatia. John Gasparac, PwC Croatia Partner, Joe Basic, Organizer of the Ultra Europe Music Festival, and some who founded big former Croatian companies like Metro – Dennis Rukavina, Darrel Saric, and Michael Prpic (all from Canada), and Marion Duzich, the resort’s owner at which the conference will be held.

Mate Pavkovic
Photo: Facebook

How to heal the Croatian economy?

– If Croatia really wants to cure the economy, they need to hear and bring in experts from the Croatian emigration who will repair and execute real solutions. All these returning people sacrificed and did not surrender, for perhaps a more successful life abroad, but they acted as my dad taught me – that Croatia is our homeland and we have no other homeland. What makes Croatia? Land and people. If we don’t have land or people – then we don’t have a homeland!

What is the biggest obstacle for the Croatian emigration?

– The biggest obstacle for expatriates is obtaining citizenship. Even when I acquired my citizenship, I had to change my name from Matija Matthew Pavkovic to Matija Matthew Pavković because my dad would not be able to transfer property in Croatia to me. One of my Chicago friends waited three and a half years just for his Domovnica (certificate of citizenship). These inefficiencies in our state institutions are unacceptable. There are many proud Croats, first, second, third and fourth generations who would love to be official Croats. When I finally acquired Croatian citizenship, after we came to Zagreb and settled all the paperwork for my Domovnica, I still waited three months. It is much better in Croatia now, but not at the world level. Other countries outperform Croatia easily, even though they were once in a worse position …

What other citizenship do you have?

– I recently acquired US citizenship that my mom passed on to me. I received social security, a foreign voting registration, an ID and a passport in less than two weeks. They respect their citizens, they want as many Americans as possible (legally, of course), and that their citizens have the opportunity to contribute to their economy and society. Croatia must be proud of its citizens and people of Croatian roots. You cannot do it in words, but in deeds. If business and government strategies focus on better measures of dealing with Croats in emigration, the result will affect the return of Croats and their integration with the whole of Croatia, as a single nation.

How can the Diaspora help Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), many of whom came from that country?

– I am a proud Croat but I am a very proud Herzegovinian. From a young age, I always consider that Croats in BiH are not only part of our society, but also part of my homeland. We Croats from BiH are not just votes and political points. We are a capable nation and a prosperous nation. If a Herzegovinian Victor Dodig can be CEO and President of Canada’s largest bank, it is a sign of courage and self-determination. We must encourage our Croats to negotiate for better conditions and, as in Croatia, reduce the impact of politics on daily life. We live in a time where we can make money in our homes, villages, anywhere in the world …

Rescue is not just in one industry, but Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia need to work towards a freer economy. This means diversifying the economy that if one industry crashes, we can rely on other industries and reintegrate the unemployed into the job market.

What do you think about today’s emigration?

– I want to emphasize that it is not a bad thing for people to leave Croatia. That’s our strength. We have to be like the United Arab Emirates. They intentionally sent their smartest students to the best universities. While they were gaining experience and knowledge from other countries, people in the UAE were preparing the conditions for their return. We are ready to return, but we must create the conditions for the return of our esteemed Croats from abroad. Now is the time to create better conditions, to create and determine our future ourselves, and to show the world that Croatia, BiH, Croats … are not only hosts and good in tourism, but we are a capable people.

Otherwise, this summit will gather Croats from the expat community and will discuss primarily business and finding solutions, not past problems.

The purpose of this conference is not political, but the solutions that the participants make at the conference will be delivered to Government and business institutions in order to hear the voice of emigration at the macroeconomic and political levels – the organizers said.

Translated from the Croatian language by Ina Vukic

Excerpt from Crodiaspora website regarding registration and tickets for the May 2020 Summit on the beautiful Island of Brac in Croatia:

Buy your ticket
Dear Croats from around the world, 

Crodiaspora is celebrating the accomplishments of the Croatian diaspora including our very own Marion Duzich who is celebrating 20 years in Supetar, Brač.

Mr. Duzich’s Svpetrvs Waterman resort offers a private atmosphere curated with a spacious and comfortable environment to interact with fellow participants in both formal and informal sessions. The Crodiaspora Summit is about igniting new connections and collaborations between experienced Croatian Professionals and entrepreneurs alike who love their homeland & want to take it to the next level in the new decade.

From the diaspora to the diaspora!

Come to Supetar for an all inclusive “everything Croatian diaspora“ weekend. Network with like-minded Croats from around the world who want to renew and build a better Croatia.

Register for the conference at Crodiaspora.com.

 

Buy your ticket

 

“Success is a series of battles, and how we approach them will make us champions”- #fromdiasporatodiaspora!

 

 

“You Will Fall Madly, Deeply, Truly in love with Croatia” – Second Generation Croatian Diaspora On The Move

 

 

Eugene and Michelle Brcic Jones with children Photo: courtesy of Eugene Brcic Jones

Eugene and Michelle Brcic Jones with children
Photo: courtesy of Eugene Brcic Jones

The Croatian diaspora is an endless source of inspiration and hope for the homeland despite the frustrations that constantly arise from a rather stark neglect by Croatia to effectively lead ongoing and consistent campaigns that keep the homeland/diaspora relationship a vital part of the homeland life. As to inspiration and hope, Australian Croatian diaspora fits this bill, as do all others. Croatia has particularly neglected the diaspora in the past 15 years especially and particularly so the second and third generations that would slip away if it weren’t for that inspiration and hope whose source and nourishment are still in the diaspora, not in Croatia.

I have once again witnessed the power of the love for Croatia in the story of Sydney born and based Eugene Brcic Jones, who is about to take his young family to live in Croatia and I interviewed him. I was utterly intrigued by the fact that this young family settled with living in Sydney is planning to uproot itself and head for Croatia. Eugene’s answers to my interview questions are inspirational and witty and I thank him for his candour.

 

1. Eugene Brcic Jones, tell us about yourself?

Born and educated in Auburn, Sydney, 1972. Parents are from the hinterlands between Sibenik-Zadar, Selo Budak and Velim, near Stankovci in Croatia. Mum and dad met in Zagreb, married there and moved to Australia in 1969. I went to Catholic school Marist Brothers, did my High School Certificate/HSC with 92 percentile success, then enrolled in the Business degree at University of Technology Sydney. My family moved back to Croatia in August 1991, last commercial plane into Pleso airport in Zagreb before the war erupted (I was 18).

2. How many times have you been to Croatia?

Been twice in youth, at the age of 4 and 12 before settling again in ’91 at 18. Dad bought a house in Zadar in 1983, and has been hosting tourists in five apartments ever since then. My family (sister Suzi, one year older) has holidayed there every year since 91.

Eugene Brcic Jones Photo: Courtesy of Eugene Brcic Jones

Eugene Brcic Jones
Photo: Courtesy of Eugene Brcic Jones

3. How would you describe your knowledge of and any connection you may have to Croatia and Croatians?

I was very active in the Croatian community before moving to Croatia – rain, hail or shine I was at the Croatian church, picnics, soccer and other events. Despite my passion for soccer, my parents insisted I go to the Croatian school instead of soccer or folklore dancing.
(An interesting tidbit, I was a hot-headed teenager rebel running rampant inside the Yugoslav consulate yard in Sydney protesting, demanding independence for Croatia, when Josip Tokic, a Croatian school colleague, got shot in the neck by a Yugoslav guard in December 1988.)

4. How would you describe your field of professional expertise/the work that you do?

We were initially to settle in Zadar and enrol in local university, but bombing and fighting deterred our southward march. We signed into “filozofski faks” (Faculty of Arts equivalent) Zagreb and sister and I completed bachelor of English language and literature degrees. I joined Mladez HDZ (HDZ Youth), holding senior positions for students, before volunteering for the war effort. However, I was told I was too young and had never handled a weapon to boot, so i was sent to the Foreign Press Bureau to work with foreign journalists. At this time I also worked with the government office with the UN and EU (Council of Europe) as a liaison officer on the frontlines. This entailed translating for EU officials/military attaches with ‘Krajina’ generals deep in occupied Croatian territories.

Instead of returning to Australia upon completion of studies, I took a job with the Associated Press and became a foreign correspondent covering the region and wider for 15 years. I also worked for the New York Times and other global news outlets. I was fortunate to cover every major leader of the time, from Thatcher, Kohl, Mitterand, Bush to Clinton, Schroeder, Blair, Gorbachev, Putin, etc. as well as other high profile persons like Pope John Paul II (three times), Prince Charles, King Khomeini, Shimon Peres, Dailai Lama, Maradona, Beckham, Ronaldinho, Zidane, Schumacher, Carl Lewis, Ivanisevic, Becker, McEnroe, Nadal, Kostelic’s, Petrovic, Kukoc, Radja, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell…

In 2008, when the global financial crisis hit, I had the choice to either continue in news in hotspots like Iraq or Afghanistan or reinvent myself in a new career, which I did, crossing over into marketing/communications/PR.

I worked for KPMG, Heineken and Red Bull, as well as trying my hand in business (a high-end tourist agency PartyCroatia.com and an organic office cleaning company, Blist Cleaning) before moving back to Sydney in 2010.

5. You have a young family here in Australia and you are planning to move to Croatia soon, taking them with you. Why did you decide move back to Croatia?

It appears Croatia is experiencing a revival of sorts and I’m really keen to have my wife (Australian-Polish) and kids, Eden 3, Emerson 2, see where I spent the most beautiful days of my youth.

Besides, we are tired of the rat race in the West, the alienation and poor social fabric.

I’ve convinced my wife (and showed her on holidays) that life in Croatia is much more substantial in so many ways.

Our souls have a predilection for Mediterranean living, simple but highly interactive with friends.

Michelle and Eugene Brcic Jones Photo: Courtesy of Eugene Brcic Jones

Michelle and Eugene Brcic Jones
Photo: Courtesy of Eugene Brcic Jones

 

6. What do you think some of the best things about living in Croatia will be?

Being immersed in a culture that is alive and vibrant, plus Europe is at your doorstep. We love the coffee and smoke, perve and complain, reflect and contemplate, philosophy of life. It beats sitting at a table, fiddling on your smart phone, taking photos of your food, and pretending to be enjoying your outing in stone-cold silence.

7. What do you think you might miss from living in Australia while you are living in Croatia?

Family (Michelle’s parents, brothers and nieces; my sister and two nieces) and our newly renovated home.

8. Are there any hardships or difficult aspects that you think you and your family might encounter in settling into Croatia and if so what do you think they might be?

Croatia can be a tough place if you are unprepared for the mentality. It can be harsh and cynical. There is also the socialist legacy that hampers everyday affairs.

Also, you need a good financial safety-net as work that pays well enough is not easy to come by despite cost of living being lower than in Australia.

9. In planning your moving to Croatia have there been any particular difficulties with official processes or red tape that you believe could have been done better?

Perhaps I should have been more enterprising in getting Croatian documents for the family. I may encounter serious problems at the airport as we have one-way tickets but no Croatian passports, meaning we may not be allowed to travel. We need return tickets or visa. Since Aussies don’t need a visa, we have nothing to show we are returning or are allowed stay in Croatia for more than 90 days. The Consulate in Sydney has said: “tough titties”, which is sort of what I expect from the Croatian bureaucracy, so we’ll think of something. The lesson is that there is no use stressing. “Snađi se druže” (figure it out buddy), good practice for us becoming resourceful – one of the most prized traits in Croatia.

10. The move you are making by going to Croatia is a significant and large one – culture, language – different to Australia, how much adjusting will your family need to fit into everyday life in Croatia and do you already perhaps know people there who may ease the path into settling there?

After 20 years in Croatia, the onus is on me to ensure that my family feels completely at home in our new adventure. We visited Croatia in 2015 and during 3 months travelled extensively, appreciating every corner of the country, the lifestyle and culture.

I have a wide network of friends and we stayed in Zagreb after summer, investigating life outside of holidays to convince Michelle that life truly was less stressful and extremely social, not just during summer.

As many of my friends are also from diaspora or expats, the language was no barrier (Michelle was surprised that everybody knew and readily spoke English).

She has already forged some friendships.

It’s also a great incentive to have so many exciting cities in Europe to visit during the year for weekend trips, while the ski slopes are also at your doorstep. (In fact, while living in Zagreb, I often used to snowboard on Sljeme before going to work, that’s how close and convenient everything is).

Eugene Brcic Jones Photo: Courtesy of Eugene Brcic Jones

Eugene Brcic Jones
Photo: Courtesy of Eugene Brcic Jones

11. Do you have any advice for people contemplating on moving to Croatia from Australia? What would be your top three advices?

1. Go and experience what you anticipate would be your lifestyle i.e. rituals outside of holidays. Ignore the average; investigate how your opposite number lives in Croatia – someone in a similar situation to yours.

 

2. Choose a big city, it’s very difficult to acclimatise to a small surrounding with limited options and sympathy for your needs and wants. (Personally, it’s a big ask to live anywhere besides Zagreb as nostalgia is bound to hit if you feel like you’ve sold yourself short in a region of limited potential. Of course, my sentiments apply more to young people seeking careers and social events throughout the entire year than retirees).

 

3. Relax and accept that Croatia is a different country, not a potential little Switzerland, America or Australia. It is what it is, warts and all. There are plenty of unsavoury aspects in a transitioning former communist country, so be patient, water off a duck’s back, and you will fall madly, deeply, truly in love with your imperfectly beautiful new homeland.

 

12. Have you ever contemplated on issues such as being an ex-patriot living away from your homeland and what would be the best way to maintain a connection with the homeland while living away? What do you think countries of “Homeland” category could best offer ex-patriots living abroad to keep them interested in either doing business with the homeland or returning to the homeland to live?

I have contemplated this question ample times, and it has been a huge source of frustration. It is as if distance from the homeland hardens your heart, your feelings, it makes people more extreme. Idealism turns to nationalism and patriotism mutates into a form of racism. People need to step out of the time warp, Croatia is changing since our parents left, there is so much going on that a gap has formed between both camps, exacerbated by politics on Markov Trg and Croatian clubs adorned with Pavelic and Ustase symbols and insignia abroad.

Croatia needs young urban professionals with a healthy love of the country from diaspora to act as an engine of know-how, experience and foresight. If they are unable to migrate an add their stone to the mosaic, they should be a bridge between two forward-thinking models shaping its future, rather than separate poles stuck in 1945.

Prepared and written by Ina Vukic

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