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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrej Plenkovic, Prime Minister of Croatia
Photo: Screenshot

And then came Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovi’c speech:

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

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

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

Canadian Croatians And Memorial To Victims Of Communist Crimes

Croatian Martyrs Church, Mississauga, Canada
7 January 2018
From Left:
Ivan Grbesic (TTL), Reverend Ivan Vuksic, Alide Forstmanis (TTL),
Reverend Tomislav Kasic, General Zeljko Glasnovic (MP),
Tanya Granic Allen (Director, Croatian Heritage Association), Ivana Mandac (Director, Croatian Heritage Association)

Communism is estimated to have killed at least 100 million people worldwide, yet its crimes have not been fully compiled and its ideology still persists. In Croatia, the number of communist crimes victims is astonishing, and, yet, still rising, as new mass graves are being discovered and existing ones researched. The enormity of communist crimes is astonishing, which means difficult to comprehend. Yet, the mixture of speculative communist teaching and its fanatic delirium that pervades all milestones to progress towards a functional democratic state of Croatia leaves the bitter impression that communist mindset evidently goes on like an endemic illness.

Were civil activities and organisations in Croatia as free and as enabled to address the problems communist heritage fuels for general progress, economic robustness and society’s well being as civil activities are in Western democracies then one would come across a similar picture to the one rendered via October 2017 results of the Survey conducted in the US under the auspices of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. 75% of those participating in the survey (of all generations) consider that “Communism was and is still a problem”. And yet, communism is not a current threat nor do its teachings or habits interfere with citizens’ daily lives the way they do in Croatia.

Survey results October 2017
Victims of Communism Foundation, Washington, USA

It is, therefore, of special significance to maintain awareness of the fact that Croatian communities living within the Western democracies have always and are active in preserving the memory of communist crimes in former Yugoslavia (particularly Croatia) and their victims.

During this past weekend the Croatian Catholic parishes in greater Toronto area, Canada, with their community have presented to the charitable organisation Tribute to Liberty (TTL), whose sole mission is to build the Memorial to the Victims of Communism (about which I have also written in previous articles), with a $40,000 donation towards the building of the Memorial and, hence, made a notable impact in being included in this paramount project for victims of communist terror and horror – prior to this date and via fundraising activities carried on by the Canadian Croatian Chamber of Commerce $25,000 towards the building of the Memorial had already been donated. The presentation of the donation on Sunday 7 January 2018, Mississauga, that occurred in a church full of parishioners was carried out by Reverend Tomislav Kasic (Croatian Martyrs Parish – Mississauga) and Reverend Ivan Vuksic (Holy Trinity Parish – Oakville and also a delegate for the Croatian Bishops’ Conference for Bosnia and Herzegovina in Canada) on behalf of the Croatian Catholic parishes in Canada.

General Zeljko Glasnovic, Member of Croatian Parliament representing the Croatian diaspora was also there, taking part in the donations cheque presentation and addressing those in attendance. Thus, his presence perhaps also signalling that although the battles and efforts to decommunise Croatia (including the implementation of lustration), to which he subscribes strongly as a matter of both political platform and concrete actions, may appear and be a far post to reach, it is not unreachable.

Mr Ivan Grbesic, a member of the board of directors of Tribute to Liberty organisation,  a member of the board of directors of the Canadian-Croatian Chamber of Commerce and a Canadian Croatian representative and president on the Advisory Committee to the Croatian government’s Office for Croats living abroad, who lives in Canada, was also present. Canadian Croatian Community, including Montreal, Ottawa, Windsor, Vancouver and Winnipeg, among others, continues fundraising towards the building of the Memorial to the Victims of Communist Crimes in Ottawa.

When asked why he got involved with Tribute To Liberty charitable organisation, Ivan Grbesic, replied:

My father fled Herzegovina in 1965 when he was called to serve in the Yugoslav Peoples Arny – he went first to Austria and then to Canada – with my mother following suit in 1974. My father did not formally return to Croatia until 1990.

Given the experience of Croatians with communism after World War II, including Tito’s dictatorship, the death marches in Bleiburg, the ‘death pits’ all across Slovenia and Croatia, the trial of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, the activities of the secret police (UDBA), the assassinations and liquidations of Croatian émigrés, the student uprising during Croatian Spring (Hrvatsko Proljeće) in the early 1970’s, and the images of Goli Otok (Barren Island – prison for political opponents to communism during former Yugoslavia times) not to mention the carnage caused by those wearing the ‘red star’ during the Croatian War of Independence, this project is of significant importance to me personally. I want to make sure that these aforementioned chapters in our history are memorialised and that when my four children walk by the Memorial, they recall, among other things, the suffering and struggle of those who came before them in order for them to be able to lead the life they live. While we need to look towards the future, it is important to know who you are and where you come from. Were it not for the communist regime in the former Yugoslavia, many of us would likely not be living outside of Croatia today.”

Indeed, a similar personal story would be found with each and every one of the more than 8 million Canadians whose family roots are set in communist regimes of the past and, perhaps, of the present. The similar story would be found in many democratic countries of today.

It is estimated that there are over 8 million people living in Canada whose roots are in countries that suffered under communist regimes and the Memorial is a result of joint efforts by volunteers from various ethno-cultural communities in Canada including the Croatian one.

Memorial to Victims of Communism, Ottawa, Canada
Tribute to Liberty Project

The Memorial to the Victims of Communism – Canada, a Land of Refuge will recognise Canada’s international role as a place of refuge for people fleeing injustice and persecution and honour the millions who suffered under communist regimes. The project has had a number of setbacks in the past few years particularly with the 2015 changes of government in Canada and community at large making it, through consultation processes, a most contentious new landmark. Immersed in politics from birth, it has provoked strong opposition to its size, design and prime location. The space had for decades been reserved for a new justice building; it wasn’t even on the feds’ list of possible sites for future monuments and memorials. But, 2017 proved to be the year of major positive turnaround and progress.

The design of the Memorial, titled the “Arc of Memory” (created by Team Raff, May 2017)) is a dynamic living calendar, designed to capture the many moments of suffering and injustice to be commemorated, in solace and in gratitude. It’s a sculptural array of over 4,000 bronze rods configured into a sweeping arc. Over 4000 bronze rods are arranged along 365 slender posts, each one pointing at a unique angle of the sun, for every hour of every day, across a year. The memorial is divided in the middle at the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, inviting visitors to step through in a metaphorical journey from darkness and oppression to lightness and liberty. At a distance, the sculptural array of bronze rods expresses the vastness of the suffering of individuals under communist regimes. Up close, the memorial invites visitors to reflect on their own experiences.

The construction of the Memorial is scheduled to commence in the spring of 2018. The unveiling of the memorial is expected in November 2018 or early 2019. Ina Vukic

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