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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