No To “Croatians Outside Croatia Day” – Yes To “Croatians Day”!

Some ten or so days ago the Croatian government has come out with a proposal about declaring a “Croatians Outside the Republic of Croatia Day”! While celebrating the Croatian diaspora or Croats outside Croatia in such a way that they are allocated a Day in the nation’s calendar may appeal to some, or even many (?), for many intents and purposes this proposal is likely to end up being counterproductive for the goal of integrating Croatia and its diaspora. The fact that protrudes here, and given the fact that the Croatian diaspora played a key role in the creation of the Republic of Croatia (both internationally and domestically), such separatist ventures as having a Day for the diaspora does absolutely very little, if anything, for the desired national goal of integrating Croatia and its diaspora into one body that breaths Croatia equally. In fact it’s counterproductive.

Instead of proposing extending equal citizens’ rights and obligations to Croatian citizens living in Croatia and abroad, we are now faced with something that evokes thoughts such as this coming from Croatia: “Hey, you, you Croats out there in the world, aren’t we great, we are willing to dedicate a Day to you here in Croatia,” and such indigestible tripe to any Croat living abroad, breathing for Croatia for decades and decades.

Sure, Croatia needs to acknowledge the importance of its diaspora in bigger ways than what has been done in the past twenty years, but to dedicate a “Day” seems tokenistic and political point-scoring at this time when nothing much is changing to attract a better and needed integration between Croatia and its diaspora.

Public submissions regarding the “Croats outside Croatia Day” are now open on the government’s e-Savjetovanje portal.

This is how the Croatian government has explained the reasons for its proposition for a “Croatians outside the Republic of Croatia Day”:

For the purpose of strengthening the relations of the Republic of Croatia with Croats outside the Republic of Croatia, Article 10 of the Act on Relations between the Republic of Croatia and Croats outside the Republic of Croatia (Official Gazette 124/11 and 16/12) stipulates that the Croatian Parliament upon the proposal of the Government of the Republic of Croatia may deliver a decision regarding proclamation of ‘Croats outside the Republic of Croatia Day’.

‘Croats outside the Republic of Croatia Day’ is a day that will connect Croatians outside the Republic of Croatia with their Croatian identity, roots and rich Croatian history, and acknowledge the achievements and contributions of Croatians outside the Republic of Croatia in achieving independence and assistance in the most difficult times of the Croatian people.

‘Croats outside the Republic of Croatia Day’ will emphasise the unity of a single and indivisible Croatian nation that includes Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Croatian national minority in European states and Croatian emigration in European and overseas states

The Advisory body of the Government of the Republic of Croatia for Croats outside the Republic of Croatia, as an advisory body of the Government of the Republic of Croatia for relations of the Republic of Croatia with Croats outside the Republic of Croatia, made up of elected representatives of the most significant and most numerous associations, organizations and institutions of Croatians outside the Republic of Croatia, suggested that the 22nd of August, the feast day of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Queen of Croats, be the ‘Croats outside the Republic of Croatia Day’, taking into account the centuries-old migrations of the Croatian people and its attachment to the Catholic Church, which kept not only the central gatherings of Croatians outside the Republic of Croatia but also the preservation of Croatian cultural customs, language and identity, especially in the period preceding the achievement of Croatian state independence.

Since the title of the Blessed Virgin of Mary ‘The Queen of Croats’ was presented and recognised through the history of the Croatian people all over the world, the proclamation of the ‘Croats outside the Republic of Croatia Day’ on August 22 will provide a permanent link between the Croatian people in Croatia and beyond on the basis of respect for global Croatian customs, heritage and identity.”

What a load of hogwash!

Croats living outside Croatia have held a permanent link with Croatia for almost 200 years!

The law on relations between the Republic of Croatia and Croats outside Croatia even if it is relatively a new Act, was initially brought into being by Jadranka Kosor/HDZ government (Jadranka Kosor wielding a communist whip against Croatia’s independence and Croatian diaspora integration) and set into action by the Zoran Milanovic government – Social Democrats, former communist league who did not want an independent Croatian state in the first place and whose political allies together with them made a great deal of effort to alienate the Croatian diaspora from Croatia proper. Basically the Act talks mostly of ways to collaborate with the Croatian diaspora and strengthen ties but it fails miserably on the test of actually integrating the Croatian citizens in the diaspora with Croatia proper by extending same rights and responsibilities. It’s utterly disappointing that the current HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union has done nothing to amend this law in order to include the whole of the Croatian diaspora into the processes of both integration and collaboration.

The latter leads me to the government’s abovesaid explanation for a Day for Croats outside Croatia which talks of the government’s advisory body for Croats outside Croatia and describes it as “…made up of elected representatives of the most significant and most numerous associations, organizations and institutions of Croatians outside the Republic of Croatia…”. This gives the impression that this advisory body is highly representative of the whole of the Croatian diaspora! Nothing could be further from the truth in many, if not most cases. The nominations for the advisory body are based on the above Act and the Act excludes the whole of the diaspora, favours only some 25-30% of Croats living abroad; to be nominated for the advisory body one must be a member of a Croatian organisation or association abroad and the reality is that up to 70% are not! This nomination for the Advisory rule is as discriminatory and as biased as processes can come. It’s a crying shame that it has not yet been changed to reflect reality and better impact collaboration by providing the ability for all to be nominated regardless of whether they belong to a club or not. This way, depending from which part of the Croatian diaspora the government’s “advisor” comes, depending on the level of harmony within individual communities, representation within the current and lacking nominations process can realistically mean anything between 1 – 15% of the community in many if not most cases, and that is no representation at all when it comes to important matters of the diaspora.

The government can boast as much as it can afford but the reality is that its Advisory body does not represent the majority of the Croatian diaspora. And that is because of its biased and undemocratic nominations/selection process for Advisors.

As is the case with almost all Diasporas, between 65-70% of Croats living in the diaspora do not engage with Croatian organisations abroad even though they identify themselves as Croatians (e.g. “Croatian-Americans”, “Croatian-Australians”, “Croatian-Canadians”, “Croatian-Brits” etc.) At the threshold of creating the independent state of Croatia, late 1980’s and early 1990’s over 80% of Croats living abroad made a point of engaging in and contributing in various ways (political lobby, humanitarian aid, fundraising for defence of Croatia, volunteering in defence forces, etc.) to the independent Croatia cause. It seemed that Croats “came out of the woodworks” (for many were not known to engage with Croatian community organisations prior to that) to lend a hand to Croatia. This percentage of engagement declined drastically after the Homeland War, “thanks” to the politics of former communists who started wielding power in Croatia then, but this does not mean that Croats not engaging in Croatian community clubs or associations are lesser Croats than those belonging to them. On the contrary, there are many examples of successful people of Croatian descent within the host country’s milieu, contributing to the Croatian being perhaps even more than some who are engaged in clubs or associations!

The point here is that if Croatia continues with its separatist ways when it comes to its diaspora the ever-existing connection between Croatia and the Croatian diaspora is in real danger of being further eroded. The true appreciation of the diaspora by the homeland does not come through dedicating a “Croats outside Croatia Day” but through genuine integration and extension of citizens’ rights and responsibilities. Having a “Day” just deepens the notion that Croats living abroad are different Croats to those living in Croatia. They are not and they never have been!

If Croatia needs a “Day” in its annual calendar to focus on Croats living outside Croatia and celebrate their achievements and their contributions to Croatia then, to my view and I believe to the view of multitudes, Croatia is on the crossroads of losing much of its diaspora and what it could still contribute for a better Croatia. Cherishing the diaspora means building the diaspora into everyday life of Croatia; providing for truly representative seats in Croatian parliament and not the tokenistic three; extending citizens’ rights and responsibilities to those living in the diaspora, and much, much more – but giving diaspora its “Day” – well, it may be welcomed by many but it also may offend many, because they consider themselves Croats and Croats only, regardless of where they live! Not homeland Croats, not diaspora Croats! Just Croats!

Instead of “Croats outside the Republic of Croatia Day” the Croatian government should consider having a “Croatians Day” (“Dan Hrvata”) celebrations and within that honour specifically Croats living everywhere. It’s interesting to read that politicians in Croatia and people in government compare this notion of having “Croats outside the Republic of Croatia Day” on Virgin Mary Queen of Croats feast day (22 August) as being comparable to St Patrick’s Day celebrations as far as diaspora is concerned! They seem to have missed the fact that the Irish people throughout the world celebrate Ireland and the Irish people on St Patrick’s Day, not the Irish diaspora! I am for a “Croatians Day” and not for “Croatians Outside the Republic of Croatia Day”! Ina Vukic

Croatian Diaspora – The Magic Bullet

Croatian Diaspora Congress, June/July 2018

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

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

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

Croatian Diaspora Congress, June/July 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Croatian Diaspora Congress, June/July 2018

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

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

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

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