Croatia: 2021 Census – Disastrous Downward Spiral in Population and Demographics

During the past week the 2021 Census results in their entirety and detail are out for Croatia and the fact that there is less Serbs living in Croatia, less than 34% of total population in towns under which law of bi-lingual signage on public buildings, offices and institutions is regulated, has hit hard the politicians in Croatia pursuing the interests of Serbia within Croatia. The Census has shown that Croatia’s population is comparatively and significantly lower by  413,056 persons or 9.64 percent than what it was in the 2011 Census. To compare this within the 912,432 (18.7 percent) people lost in Croatian population since 1991 (beginnings of Serb aggression against Croatia) then the last decade has lost almost half of the three-decade loss! That is indeed alarming.

According to the 2021 Census final Bureau of Statistics report, Croatia’s population is 3,871,833, of which 1,865,129 are men (48.17 percent) and 2,006,704 are women (51.83 percent). The 2021 Census shows that the share of Croats in the national structure of the population is 91.63 percent, Serbs are 3.20 percent, followed by Bosniaks with 0.62 percent and Roma with 0.46 percent in Croatia. 99.24 percent of the population included in the census have Croatian citizenship, while foreign citizens account for 0.74 percent or 28,784. According to religious affiliation, there are 78.97 percent Catholics in Croatia, 3.32 percent Orthodox, and 1.32 percent Muslims. The Croatian Bureau of Statistics states that there are 4.71 percent of non-believers and atheists, while 1.72 percent did not answer the question about religion.

The total number of inhabitants decreased in all counties across Croatia and compared to the 2011 Census the largest relative decrease in the population number was found to be in the Slavonia-Syrmia (Srijem), Eastern continental part of Croatia that saw horrific destruction and ethnic cleansing of Croats and non-Serbs during the 1990’s Serb aggression against Croatia. Hence, the largest decreases in population compared to 2011 are shown in 2021 Census as follows:  Vukovar-Srijem County 20.28%, Sisak-Moslavina County 19.04%, Pozega-Slavonia County 17.88%, Brod-Posavina County 17.85% and Virovitica-Podravina County 17.05%.

The 2021 Census also shows that in Croatia the share of the population aged 0 to 14 is 14.27 percent, and the share of the population aged 65 and over is 22.45 percent. With high unemployment and low job creation figures Croatia’s pension and welfare system is bound for total ruin and unsustainability unless, of course, state foreign debt and EU handouts increase and stay rooted as the main bolts holding up for many a barely adequate living standard on life-support.

What happened to the almost 10 percent of population lost in the past decade in Croatia is the question to which the answer automatically comes to the lips of most: overwhelmingly – emigration! Leaving one’s homeland in search of a better life and work. Low birth rate accounts for a lesser decline in this drastic and alarming population decline.  Women in Croatia of child-bearing age have an average of 1.44 children, which is not only below the 2.1 needed for replacing a country’s population, but it is among the lowest in the countries of the region and not enough by far to gather enough taxes towards paying for pensioner outputs.

The 2021 Census data did not surprise demographers, but neither did it surprise the Croatian public, since experts have been warning for years that Croatia is demographically impoverishing, that the impoverishment is accelerating and that it will have negative implications on numerous segments of life and work. With these Census results, the momentum of depopulation has been confirmed. Nothing surprised here, nothing happened that was not expected. Despite all the calls of alarm to governments in at least 15 years to actively intervene in the issue of demographic revitalisation, there have been no or very little positive developments, but, rather, Croatia is collapsing demographically more and faster.

If we take into account that Croatia was (an unwilling) part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918, of  Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1931, and thirty years later part of the communist regime of Federative People’s Republic of Yugoslavia (known as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from 1963), until independence in 1991, the population structure itself was significantly different in terms of parameters such as nationality and age structure. In 1991, which will be remembered for the beginning of the horrific Homeland War that arose in the brutal Serb aggression against Croatia, the population of independent Croatia was 4.7 million. The war of Serb aggression against Croatia, which destroyed and displaced hundreds of thousands of human destinies, ten years later proved to be undoubtedly the biggest, if not the only, culprit for as many as 350,000 people less in the total population number recorded in the 2001 Census. A decade after that, in 2011, which sealed the period of one of the largest numbers of unemployed, economic crisis and political turmoil, a minus of another 150 thousand people was recorded. 2021 Census alone reduced the population of Croatia by more than 400,000. The young, thirty-year-old country lost a quarter of its total population since 1991, almost half of which was lost in the past ten years.

The structure of the population, according to demographic forecasts, showed an increase in the number of older people, because the birth rate is declining. Quite logical. A policy that omits clear goals of education that can be implemented in practice and the encouragement of employment in long-term sustainable sectors, a housing policy that does not consider the standards of young people at the beginning of their independent living, the absence of a clear, strong pro-natal policy and numerous other far-reaching measures have put Croatia in a position that we would not wish on anyone. Perspective, prosperity and well-being have become nothing more than black-humoured nouns, the true meaning of which no one except a handful of the privileged Croatian caste had the opportunity to enjoy. Maybe they won’t.

This is not acceptable from the point of view of Croatian national interests and some solution must be found. The most obvious solution lies in the wealth of numbers, demographic and economic potential that lie within the Croatian diaspora. Everyone knows that it has been staring Croatia proper in the eyes for more than two decades. Croatia’s Presidents, Prime Ministers, Parliamentarians…the birds in the trees… have all been singing praises to the diaspora, calling masses to return. Yet no firm, clear and positive result minded pathway and national strategy, bar small snd pathetic government conditional cash handouts of up to 200,000 kuna (26,000USD) upon return, have been put in writing and legislation by any of them. All simply pretending they want Croats from the diaspora to return yet official government assistance for this has been nothing more than a degradable, fleeting band aid!

When the initial results of 2021 Census came out in January 2022 Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic attributed the cause to the population decrease to Croatia’s entry into the European Union in 2013. As a reminder, as the economic crisis in Croatia lingered, unemployment hovered above crushing and devastating 46 percent  , Croatia was, naturally, hit by a large wave of emigration after joining the EU, especially in 2014 and 2015. In the last wave of emigration, Croatian citizens mostly chose Ireland and Germany as places for a new life. Although about 9 percent in 2021 unemployment rate in Croatia still factored as the highest among the EU states. On course, as numbers of working age people emigrated from Croatia its unemployment rate showed up in figures of reduced percentage of unemployment. It seems that EU funds have helped to somewhat patch up job opportunities in Croatia but obviously not enough is done to attract significant percentage of working age people lost to Croatia in past decade and beyond.

The results of the latest Croatian census have shown the brutally real reasons for disappearing classrooms and long waiting lists for places in nursing homes and aged care facilities that have long been well over a decade long. It is not known who, when and if the Croatian governments will even try stopping this indescribably worrying trend. Because, if Croatia officially remains a nation of old people, will it simply turn into just one huge summer holiday house for foreigners and seasonal returnees with deep pockets? Will young people continue to leave Croatia or will those who, despite everything, decide to stay in it just surrender to the flow of time and face their own old age in insecurity and on the verge of poverty? And maybe over the edge?

The Prime Minister then suggested that population decline in Croatia was about “broader trends” while, apparently, referring to the trends of emigration of the population from the countries of Eastern Europe that had also joined the EU. To me it all resembles excuses and meaningless rhetoric to pass the time. People that emigrated from Croatia are in their majority still living within the EU, and hence, the government should factor into Croatia’s forward planning and national strategy for economic development and population boost from the lost pool of Croats living outside Croatia.

Some readers here may remember that many Croatians did not accept the 2011 Census results, according to which Serb minority was given the right to bilingualism and the official use of the Cyrillic alphabet in that city of Vukovar. Many suspected the number of Serbs in Vukovar was fabricated to make up the needed minimum 34% of total population for the town and many protested, some were fatally wounded by police for trying to smash the bilingual sings on buildings, many arrested and indicted for criminal act of wilful destruction of public property etc. 

According to Croatia’s Constitutional Law on the Rights of National Minorities, equal official use of the language and script used by members of a national minority is achieved in the territory of a local self-government unit when members of a particular national minority make up at least a third of the population of such a unit. The almost well-deserved vengeful ecstasy many in Vukovar and wider may feel regarding the decrease of Serb population in Vukovar, especially, fits into the fact that Vukovar has been named the city of piety; Serb aggression against it in 1991 was horrific and genocidal. War crimes, especially rapes, have not been at all addressed properly and Serb rapists walk the streets of Vukovar unpunished and unhindered. Amnesty for war crimes prosecution was given to multitudes of Serbs from Vukovar area as bargaining chip in 1998 in the process of peaceful reintegration of that area into Croatia that had until then been occupied by Serb rebel forces and forces from Serbia.

Some politicians and journalists, especially those denying the Serb aggression against Croatia in the 1990’s and trying very hard to equate the victim with the aggressor, will try to convince the world’s public that a reduced number of Serbs living in Croatia is a result of the rights of minorities denial and erosion by Croatian politics. What garbage! Croatia stands out as a country that provides its ethnic minorities with more right, including parliamentary seats, than most countries in the world. It would be correct to say that the Census 2021 results that show less Serbs have occurred in the same way as the reduction of Croats: economic basket case country leading to emigration for work purposes. Some of the rights ethnic minorities have and live in Croatia, such as seats in the Parliament, are often abused by the very minorities who choose not to put Croatia’s interests in the first place by their personal interests. For instance, the Serb parliamentary group in Croatia peddles more towards Serbia’s interests than towards Croatia’s. And the tragedy of this is that those Serbs in the Croatian parliament do not represent the Serbs who fought with Croats to defend Croatia during Serb aggression, but the Serbs associated with the aggression via family and local community connections; they belong to the Croatian rebel Serbs lot.  They have no right to speak with representative authority and credibility about minority rights of Serbs in Croatia because they represent a minority within the Serb minority. But they are viciously loud ad politically corrupt and all but suffocate the Croatian Serbs who defended Croatia from Serbs and Serbia. What a pity! Ina Vukic     

Moving To The Motherland – Demographic Fix (?)

Alarming trends in Croatia’s demographics

The latest data released by Croatian Bureau of Statistics showed only 36,647 children were born in the country last year, the lowest in the last 100 years. This is the first time the number fell below 37,000, which is almost twice less than in 1960 when 76,156 children were born.

There are at least two reasons for such tragic numbers. First is the inadequate population policy and the second is the growing emigration of the younger population due to relatively high unemployment underpinned by the alarming lack in progress for creating new job opportunities.

Reacting to the Croatian government’s new policies on demographic revitalization State Secretary for the Ministry of demographics, Marin Strmota, resigned from his position as a matter of protest against what he said were measures that simply will not work. “True, this is a big factor, as a demographer I believe this is not enough. As of today I submit my resignation, what was read today is flippant… The country is dying, this is the worst state in Croatia since its beginnings…” Strmota said.

According to estimates, there are over 3 million first, second, third and fourth generation Croatians living around the world, outside Croatia – the diaspora. As such it holds great possibilities for demographic revitalisation of Croatia itself, but harnessing the diaspora wealth in all walks of life, including demographics, has remained an inexplicably elusive goal to reach. To my view, the lack of positive actions in achieving lustration, in ridding the public administration and services of the suffocating communist heritage, which would undoubtedly encourage greater return of people from the diaspora, is the main culprit for the dire situation Croatian nation is facing with demographics.

Adriana Kupresak in Zagreb, Croatia
Photo: Croatiaweek

I read an interview with a returnee, Adriana Kupresak, these days and I wish to share it here. The interview was conducted and published by Croatiaweek

Moving to the Motherland: Adriana Kupresak

Whilst emigration from Croatia has always hugely outweighed Croatian diaspora immigration, there has been a steady stream over the last two decades. In this series we meet some people who have made the move ‘to the motherland’.

Today we meet Adriana Kupresak. Adriana, who was born in Vukovar in eastern Croatia and moved to Australia when she was a year and a half old with her parents, made the move back.

Was Croatia a part of your life when you were living in Australia?

My father was a well-known footballer in the Croatian community in Australia so I was constantly immersed in the Croatian community in Sydney. Croatian is actually my first language as my parents spoke Croatian at home but of course, I always responded in English and that became a bad habit I brought with me into adulthood. I also attended Croatian school every Saturday for many years and most of our close family friends were all from Croatia. Anytime there was a large function at the Croatian Club, or a Croatian wedding, we would attend so it’s safe to say that my Croatian heritage played a large part in my upbringing.

What made you decide to move and live in Croatia?

My sisters and I were very fortunate to be able to spend many summers in Croatia growing up. My grandmother actually informed me last year that when I was younger I always said that I would return to Croatia to live. The sense of belonging is visible from early on. I decided to leave Sydney four years ago because I no longer felt connected to the Australian way of life and figured that being single and in my late 20s with no “real” obligations (mortgage, children etc.), I had nothing left to lose. My plan was to have no plan and to follow my heart, which lead me back to Croatia. I had an idea of how I wanted to pave my way and what I wanted to do but it took about three years to materialise into the life I call my reality today. There was one thing I was 100% certain of, that I would never return to Australia to live and still to this day, the idea doesn’t appeal to me.

What was the reaction from family and friends?

Every time I speak to my father he asks me when I’m coming home but I always tell him, “Dad, I am home.” Obviously my parents want the best for me and are happy that I have returned to Croatia and found my way however, it doesn’t mean that my life upon returning was necessarily easy compared to my life in Sydney, particularly financially. In Australia you can work hard, day and night, work two or three jobs and get somewhere in life but in Croatia it’s not the case. But look, I believe that if you align yourself with your passion and do something you love, you’ll figure out a way to monetise it. For me, that love was promoting Croatia through my blog and this was the vision I had when I left Sydney four years ago. I believe the best reaction comes from Croatians in Croatia. A day doesn’t go by where I don’t get asked why I came back and if I’m crazy. I’m not crazy, I’m blessed. There’s a peace in my heart I have in Croatia that I don’t have anywhere else in the world and this is a peace that no amount of money can buy.

Where are you living and what are you doing for a living in Croatia?

I am currently living between Zagreb & Zadar, frequently visiting my grandparents and cousins in Osijek. I have been blogging for the past 10 years but in the last four, tailored my blog to my journey since leaving Sydney. Since moving to Zagreb, a lot of my content has been focused on Croatia and I am fortunate to have collaborated with the National Tourism Board of Croatia & various local tourist boards on creating content revolving around the country. I also do a lot of social media consulting in the UK where I focus most of my attention. This year, I also started working with Dreamtime Events Croatia, a bespoke wedding planning and corporate events company that also deals with a foreign clientele, predominately from the UK. I was lucky enough to be introduced to Branka Cubelic, a well-known and respected woman in the Australian-Croatian community, whose contributions to the Croatian community in Australia are extensive and admirable. She took me under her wing and now I am constantly surrounded by ambitious, hard-working women in Croatia.

What do you like about the lifestyle in Croatia? What are some of the benefits?

Croatia is a much slower lifestyle compared to what I am used to and it took me four months to adjust to the pace of the country. My whole life I was always living ahead of the moment, in a rush to get somewhere etc. in Croatia I live in the moment. I always say that Croatia has the whole world in one country and the greatest advantage in living here is that you don’t even need your passport if you want to experience something new.

How do you chill out?

My boyfriend and I enjoy taking long walks to explore and chill out. In Zagreb, we love Maksimir Park or my favourite spot in the city, Gradec that overlooks the Cathedral. I’m not religious but the Cathedral in Zagreb fills my heart with joy when I look at it. In Zadar, we make a habit of walking by the water during sunset. If you follow me on instagram, you’d know that I spend a lot of time at Caffe Bar Finjak on Vlaska Ulica 78. It’s a refined, instagrammable cafe where you’re not allowed to smoke inside. Unfortunately in Croatia, many places still allow smoking indoors and I find this disgusting. There are also a lot of expats and in-the-know tourists who frequent Finjak, so I feel even more comfortable.

What 3 things do you miss about home?

Home is here, however to answer your question about Australia, firstly I really miss the efficiency. The amount of time you’ll waste in Croatia on general paperwork, getting paperwork printed, signed and stamped, in buildings to change your address or even to send something via post is enough to give any diaspora anxiety. I am under the impression that Croatia likes to waste two things, time and paper. Secondly, I miss the sense of community. In Australia, it doesn’t matter who your neighbour is, where they come from or their religion, it’s embedded in our society to help one another, it’s what we call, the Australian way. However in Croatia, it’s a different story. You’ll find your own people trying to take advantage of you in any way they can and experiencing this first hand really made me sad for quite some time. I believe we are stronger as a society and nation in collaboration with one another, rather than in competition. Thirdly, I often miss the pace and sense of urgency. Croatia is much slower to the life I am used to. For example, I once sent a business proposal to someone on Monday, received a response on Wednesday who then confirmed a meeting the following Friday. Believe me when I say, I have received correspondence from Arianna Huffington much faster.

What bit of ‘local’ advice would you give to someone visiting Croatia for the first time – what ‘gem’ should they see?

I can easily pitch my typical, visit Kornati Islands, swing by Konoba Levrnaka for lunch. Consider Zminj, it’s the heart of Istria and a 20 minute drive from all the typical tourist spots like Rovinj, Pula etc. Of course, Zadar for sunset at Pozdrav Sunce (I must say this or my boyfriend will be upset, he’s a typical dalmatinac) but the gem of Croatia is the Slavonian region. I believe that there is not enough promotion put in place for the north eastern end of the country that I was born in. Cities like Osijek, Dakovo, Vukovar, they are all a must see. There’s a gorgeous Castle and Estate in Principovac near Ilok to lose an afternoon in and for the best fiš paprikaš visit Bistro Baranjska Citadela in Baranja county of Osijek. My parents take all guests there during their annual trip to Croatia. It’s a much quieter and less talked about end of the country that deserves as much praise as the other end of Croatia.

Are you happy you moved?Do you plan to stay?

I have absolutely no regrets moving back, it was the best decision that I ever made for myself. My life in Croatia is what dreams are made of, I have the best of both worlds. I also met the love of my life in Croatia (he is also from Sydney, not a local boy) and we are happily settled between Zagreb and Zadar. We are definitely staying to continue our businesses, expand our property portfolio and of course, raise a family in Croatia. I took a huge blindfolded risk leaving Australia but my risk has finally being rewarded.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of moving to back to the motherland?

I get a lot of questions from diaspora all over the world asking how I did it. My simple answer is don’t think too much about it, just do it. If something is pulling you back to the homeland, honour this feeling. Don’t listen to what people say, don’t let your family discourage you. I know the general consensus is that people are leaving Croatia, that it’s not a liveable country but your net quality of life is higher and easier to obtain in Croatia, believe it or not. I’ll be honest, it’s not easy. Don’t expect Croatian people to embrace you because you’ve come back, most will look at you as dollar signs but also don’t be offended by this. It’s typical Croatian mentality and will eventually make you laugh. There is a large number of diaspora in Croatia who will guide you and help you find your feet in your homeland so don’t let anything discourage you from returning. My biggest advice once you do get here is not to give up after a year, you need at least 2-3 years to really find your feet in Croatia.

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