Breaking Bread With The Diaspora

President of Croatia
Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic

It has come to my attention that the Office of the President of Croatia is on 21 July organising “Open Doors Day for Croatian Diaspora and Croatian Minority Communities Abroad”.

One does, however, from the perspective of Croatia itself, wonder why “Croatian ethnic minorities abroad” are separated in this event’s title from the concept of the diaspora. At any rate and assuming there may be “logical” reasons for this differentiation in the title, the issues-driven profile of intended attendees confuses many.

Nevertheless, this is a nice and needed gesture but bound to be “more of the same” empty political rhetoric theatre stage unless it’s actually followed by government-level affirmative actions that will lift the Croatian diaspora as an integral part of Croatia and enroot diaspora plights, which coincide with the plights of some political figures and activists in Croatia itself, for the betterment of Croatian nation and its life. To be precise: decommunisation.

The fact is that (unlike ethnic minorities within Croatia) the diaspora has a clear focus on collective memory of Croatia as a nation and a collective thrust for democratisation, away from former communist mindset, and for the betterment of life in Croatia. That is the reason why the Croatian diaspora had in 1990’s, at and around the time when Croatians voted overwhelmingly to secede from Yugoslavia, played a vital role in Croatia’s fight for independence from communist Yugoslavia.

But, as fact would have it, ever since about year 2000 a systematic mindset led by former communists, who paint themselves with antifascist colours even though they retain communist stature, has eroded drastically Croatia’s ties with the Croatian diaspora.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the strength and persistence of diaspora depends upon the strength and weakness of the homeland. Strong homelands facilitate the maintenance of diasporas; weak homelands are less able to do this. Croatia was a strong homeland for the diaspora during 1990’s, in fact it was one with the homeland and that is where the roots of its successful actions for the independence of Croatia lie. Since 2000, Croatia has been a weak homeland for its diaspora and the fact that Croatian parliamentary seats representing the diaspora were drastically reduced in the years after demonstrates this clearly.

Although Croatian governments and presidents since the year 2000 (including current president Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic) have fostered the myth of return among its diaspora in order to preserve at least some linkage to it, Croats from the diaspora have not necessarily been welcomed back. It has often been said and thought that this is because they might undermine the homeland’s social fabric and political value system, and threaten the existing elite’s hold on power. Only few politicians and public persons of note (including the most diligent one so far on the issues of the diaspora, the independent member of Croatian parliament for the diaspora, General Zeljko Glasnovic) have actually been realistic enough and continue pushing for changes and reforms in Croatia that would actually create conducive conditions for Croats from the diaspora to return. But their plights, regretfully, so far appear to remain political banter to the ears and eyes of the political elite who hold the power to change things.

General Zeljko Glasnovic (R)
at May 2017 public rally for
the removal of “Josip Broz Tito” name to the Zagreb city square

For a variety of reasons, most members of diaspora do not “return” to their homeland, among them the fact that economic and/or political conditions there are not very attractive, and that real life in Croatia does not conform to the image of the homeland they significantly helped in seceding from communism.

Contrary to certain mainstream sentiments in Croatia, the diaspora is not a conglomerate of careless and caring nationalists that has often been attributed to it from the left angle of the political sphere especially, and can aid Croatia in its pursuit of full democracy. Diaspora can transfer funds to civil society organisations, political actions, lobby effectively using professional and uncompromising skills attained through living the western democracies, and become critical factors in running democratic change political campaigns inside the homeland. Diaspora can challenge the home political and practical attempts to suppress democratic change, assist with the homeland’s international legitimacy, expose human rights violations that may occur in various facets of life including those associated with constitutional rights, combat the plunging trend of Croatia’s economic well-being through investments and targeted programs for financial boosts. The diaspora can return in many instances especially when the conditions for that flourish and, for those for whom the return is simply a life’s impossibility, the diaspora can assist life in Croatia significantly.

Diaspora is identified as a social collectivity that exists across state borders and that has succeeded, despite obstructions from Croatia leveled at weakening the diaspora-homeland ties, to sustain a collective national, cultural and religious identity through a sense of internal cohesion and persistence to sustain ties with the homeland.

Every Croatian should feel that Croatia is his/her home but that certain alienation of the diaspora through various political and practical thrusts, which have spread since the year 2000, certainly leaves this feeling lacking in many from the diaspora. It had often been said that a person returning to Croatia from the diaspora is faced with hard work of asserting the rights that a home provides. Returning home should be a smooth, effortless affair. The numerous promises of helping people return to Croatia we have seen throughout almost two decades remain empty promises. Let’s hope that the event on 21 July in Zagreb when the president, according to the event’s announcement, is breaking bread with the diaspora will stop the playing of the same old broken record and start the needed trend of determined removal of obstacles that keep the myth of return alive. Move away from myth into real progress in reality that does away with empty promises of helping people return from the diaspora, usher in effective national strategy in helping the returnees and assist effectively those that remain in diaspora strengthen their influence on bettering life in Croatia. Ina Vukic

State Of The Croatian Nation – Observations


Taking into consideration the seemingly prevalent mood, the problems that revolved around me during the last three weeks while I was visiting Croatia in March point to an alarming and concerning situation from which one can conclude that Croatia is revolving in a destructive circle whose orbit needs to be thwarted as soon as possible and Croatia returned to the principles and directions that it set for itself 27 years ago when it headed on its path to independence.


Today, people in Croatia are tired of big democracy that isn’t really there, as it is in the West, and the roots of such desperation lie in bad privatisation that was marked by uneducated and money-hungry political elites – from Pantovcak (Office of the President) across Mark’s Square (Government offices) to the Parliament as well as to the local government levels. Great possibilities exist in Croatia but, in the face of the still existing well-networked communist mentality, which evidently still expects that others solve their problems from personal life to jobs as it did during the Socialist era, most people are afraid for their personal existence.


The citizens appear to be suffering more and more from apathy or depression thinking that nothing can be changed, and this is exactly what is dangerous for a young democracy. There are individuals who have the will and who are trying to change things but are quickly disabled or trampled upon by the networked family, political party and particular personal interests machinery.


And when a certain hope for progress appears, or as it did two years ago with the change of President or recently with the change of Government, one quickly sees that the destructive structures soon thwart them, stop them in the realisation of goals they promised during election campaigns. The political-economic climate is filled with big words borrowed from Western democracies but without matching results and so we continue spinning in a circle, and palpable results are nowhere to be seen.


Not even the long-awaited entry into the EU has moved Croatia forward because it had been presented to the nation as an almost instant saviour and we have demonstrated that we are not up to the task of acting as equal partners in that organisation. After all, we couldn’t be any other way when the old communist mentality and habits wreak havoc at almost every level and crevice of public administration and processes.


What’s to be done: like others I too have been saying repeatedly that investments or capital are not enough to lift Croatia into the prosperity it once planned for, demographic revival, with which without doubt comes a spiritual revival, that is – fresh ideas and more people who have learned how to lead a country and how to make the people more satisfied, is also needed but even after 27 years the Croatian emigrés have no role in Croatia as similar population structures have in, for example, Israel, Ireland and the newest diaspora efforts occurring in India, etc. Emigration is not only a demographic revival of Croatia but the ideas and the knowhow it brings are more important than capital itself, and I dare say that the most important thing about émigrés is that they have no fear – that is, they are independent and have no fear of those in Croatia who try stopping various processes in order to save or keep their own positions there.


Besides the need for lustration, which is running terribly late in Croatia, a climate for the cessation of auto-censure needs to be created because people are afraid to express their ideas and wishes, and such people are vulnerable to manipulation and are not active members in the creation of a better Croatia, which we wanted when we headed towards the battle for independence.


Through conversations with many people of different intellectual, business and political groups I realised that the situation in Croatia is much more serious than seen by Brussels or other centres of power and they will not help with anything unless Croatia itself starts the changes that are needed.

Ivan Pernar,
Member of Parliament, Live Wall


I noticed neglect in the work with the young, whose idols are becoming populist tribunes such as Ivan Pernar (whacky and often bizarre member of parliament), and that is of short breath or incongruous with the expectations we have of youth in general in the developed democracies. Because of their self-interests the political elites do not permit change of generations nor are they preparing the young or other people to take up positions in society and, hence, we have the same city mayors for 20 years, the same members of parliament for 20 years, the same public company directors for 20 years … which, of course, works against stimulating further progress and as a result our educated and our young are leaving the country. I hold more dangerous the fact that the young do not feel needed and that they cannot change anything than the fact that they are unemployed.


To think that the whole country (Croatia) is trembling because of one private company like Agrokor, which employs some 60,000 people, is blackmailing the government with those jobs, while it brought ruin upon itself by itself in the process of receiving government subsidies and other perks, never seeking help with company governance but doing it all on its own, and when forced against the wall pulls the whole country by the nose – is something that’s unthinkable in Western democracies.


General Zeljko Glasnovic
Independent Member of Croatian Parliament for the diaspora

Alarming indications of a dying nation are not taken seriously, and there is no adequate immigration policy or long-term vision but, instead, every new government goes its own way, pushing the country deeper into crises and hopelessness.


The bright spot in my visit to Croatia was the widespread realisation of what needs to be done and, hence, I believe and hold that the diaspora, as it did during the 1990’s, can serve as a flywheel of changes if we got together as we did before and with such strength found an opening into Croatia whose doors appear mainly closed for us. The fact that confirms this is found in that there are only three seats in parliament designated to the representation of the diaspora (and only one of those representatives, independent member General Zeljko Glasnovic, maintains a determined representation of the need for changes in the status and the role of the Croatian diaspora) and three seats is not even close to being enough. I believe that those representing the diaspora in the parliament should be independent, not members of political parties, so as to avoid the threat of political party or interest groups’ influences. Ina Vukic

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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