Interview With Zvonko Milas – Government Office For Croats Outside The Republic Of Croatia

 

Zvonko Milas

Zvonko Milas, State Secretary,                                                                          Government office for Croats outside the Republic of Croatia                           Photo: fenix-magazin.de

 

According to the assessment of many in the diaspora the Government Office for Croats outside the Republic of Croatia, which you have been leading for several months now as State Secretary, has not proven very effective under the former Social Democrat led government. Indeed, it has remained a certain enigma when it comes to the set of factors influencing advancement in the relations between the diaspora and the homeland. Your government is relatively new and your Christmas messages suggested possibilities of new directions, that is, new paths of cooperation and collaboration. Could you please tell us briefly what are those possible directions, that is, what are those new ways of working on drawing the diaspora and the homeland closer together?    

– The Croatian emigrants have in a relatively short time recognised the values they mutually share with this government: dynamic, courageous, contemporary, systematic approach to work, investment of exceptional personal professional efforts, reliable in guarding the Croatian national values. The recognition of that and such work is in the building of trust and cooperation with our emigration, which has a long tradition in that approach to work. Our work is exactly directed at the strengthening of the partnership with the emigrated Croatia.

Examples that reflect such a new, systematic approach by the Central government office for Croats outside the Republic of Croatia in the implementation of public policy towards Croats living outside the homeland include the forming of the Coucil for the learning and the teaching of the Croatian language as a second language, as a foreign language and as an inherited language, and this represents a significant step in the direction of a professional approach to the fundamental question of keeping the Croatian identity among the emigrated Croats – the learning of the Croatian language. I also need to emphasise that we have the signing of the Agreement between this Office and the University of Zagreb regarding the development of study programs and the integration and the strengthening of Croatian togetherness. Of course other Croatian universities are invited to the cooperation. Also, our Office has initiated the question of the double-taxation of foreign pensions included in the complete Taxation reform the Ministry of Finance is responsible for.

We need to keep in mind that the relations between Croatia and emigrated Croats have for years been on an unsatisfactory level. This government is changing that. Of course, much work still remains to be done. Personally, I consider the gaining of the Croatian citizenship a priority; this process is unnecessarily taking too long. It’s noticeable from our everyday communications with our emigrés, who are intensively contacting our office, that our office is indeed recognised as a government body towards which Croats from outside our country are feeling a new kind of trust. I consider the work with the often far-away communities and people a big success of this government as well as of the people that cooperate with us.

 

Could you please explain to our readers what are the main roles entailed in the work of the Government Office for Croats outside the Republic of Croatia?

– One of the fundamental tasks of this Office is in the protection of the rights and the interests of emigrated Croats, the preservation and the strengthening of their identity, the strengthening of cooperation and the promotion and the nurturing of good partnership relations. Having this in mind, it’s important to emphasise that the needs and the position of Croatian communities in the world differ, and the task of this Office is to listen to them, follow and adapt its work in accordance with the arising specificities.

The Office’s role is undergoing modernisation, just as the emigration is being modernised. The modern emigrant is no longer a synonym for permanent absence, nostalgia and an unrealised yearning for the homeland. Today, the use of the advantage of mobility and the digital era, the emigrant becomes a partner. It’s a matter of lasting two-way partnership cooperation. The emigrant is a partner whose real needs are addressed by the Office. The Office’s proactive role in that partnership needs to be maintained in both the diaspora and the homeland.

 DSC_0493

Are you personally satisfied with the work and the contribution to the Office’s work brought by the representatives, that is, by the special advisers from the diaspora? If yes, what is it that fills you with satisfaction, if not, where and how could that contribution be improved?

This government has adopted a clear, open responsible attitude towards all Croats who live outside Croatia’s borders. Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic’s support, which he clearly expressed at the Vukovar meeting of the Advisory Committee for the Government of the Republic of Croatia for the Croats living outside the Republic of Croatia, speaks in favour of that. I have high expectations from our emigrés, as well as from this government, from all collaborators, but also from myself. The contribution by the Croatian emigrés in the creation of Croatia is immeasurable. Primarily, when we speak of the time when the mere thought of the independent state was suffocated by totalitarianism. Our emigration was the one that kept it alive. Since the togetherness between the homeland and the emigrated Croatia resulted in the creation of the state, I am justified in considering that today we are obliged to continue that collaboration and continue with the joint building of Croatian institutions, Croatian economy, Croatian science and education, Croatian culture and tourism. One must never cease being proud about the fascinating success of the togetherness between the emigrated and the homeland Croatia, my message and the message of this government is unambiguous: let’s build the state into which your children will want to return through joint cooperation.

karaševo

Do you think there is room for further spreading of cooperation with the diaspora when it comes to the type of activities and issues? What areas of activity would these cover? Has the diaspora via its representatives in the Office you lead perhaps shown a need to widen cooperation? 

The adoption of legislative regulations, care for Croats outside Croatia, the development of our mutual cooperation and the strengthening of relations have been placed at an institutional platform. Which is good. But in addition to that, it’s important to act and work with planning, but also with a heart. I’m glad my collaborators share my views. That is, people who have once been a part of the emigration also work in the Office. The selection of such collaborators represents a certain added value that is essential in the building of understanding and trust, but also an indication that the state bodies do indeed have a need for their emigrants. I admit, the connecting of Croats from outside the Republic of Croatia with the appropriate institutions, the channeling of such cooperation, fills me with optimism, because possibilities are already palpable, so are ideas, projects that can be realised through togetherness between the homeland and the emigrated Croatia.

 

The Second and Third generations of Croats in the diaspora represent an important part of the Croatian corpus, are there in Croatian interests any specific programs or initiatives in your Office designed to work with these generations?  

– Of course, we are especially happy when members of the Second and Third generations respond to our programs and projects, such as the popular Croatian language course organised by this Office and implemented at the Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb, Split and Rijeka. It’s amazing seeing the Croatian heart beat in the Croatian descendants, who are often even the Fourth or Fifth generation. Their love towards Croatia is irrefutably ingrained deeply.

Descendants of Croatian emigrants are one of the most important but also one of the most demanding areas of work this Office is directed at.

An interesting thing I have recognised through my work at this Office is that the youth in diaspora, pressured by the new business culture in the West, are more and more considering returning to Croatia. The initiatives they are turning to this Office with are no longer exclusively associated with their work within the Croatian communities in the diaspora, but have more to do with the activities with which they connect their professional experience in the diaspora as well as with the economic opportunities they recognise in the homeland.

Croatia is becoming a country they’re proud of, our tourism, science and sports successes are globally recognised, and besides love and passion towards Croatia they acquired through nurture within their families, their churches, their Croatian clubs across the world, there’s something new emerging – they personally want to be a part of Croatia. That generation is conscious of the fact that it is possible to live and do business in more locations than one, even on different continents. Besides, if foreigners recognise Croatia as a desirable place to live in, it’s logical to concude that such a trend has caught onto our young emigrés.

Zvonko Milas with youth
We can often hear in the diaspora that, given the size of Croats to the Third generation that live in the diaspora, some 3.5 million, the same population is almost insignificantly represented in the Croatian Parliament and, hence, that same fact leaves the impression that the diaspora is not as important to the homeland Croatia as are, for instance, the ethnic minorities in Croatia that are represented in the Parliament at a much better or higher level. Do you have any comment on such opinions from the diaspora? Do you personally consider that the diaspora could be represented in the Parliament by a higher number of seats, and if yes, how do you think that could be achieved?

– The Office continually points out to the relevant political factors the question of the representation in the Croatian Parliament of Croats living outside Croatia. Although the solving of that question is not within the jurisdiction of this Office, I believe that, based on the possible, it is necessary to do the best. If they act wisely and in good faith utilise that which is available to them Croats have the tradition of achieving more than others who have more resources and capacity.

 

Problems in obtaining Croatian citizenship by people of Croatian roots born in the diaspora are constantly mounting and the difficulties many experience in that path are discouraging. Problems of access, that is, the receiving of information to the ways of proving ones Croatian origins quite often lead to people having to wait up to three years for their citizenship applications to be processed, and faced with these difficulties many give up or withdraw their applications. Do you believe your Office could serve the function of assisting Croats living abroad with these problems, if it already isn’t doing it as a part of its regular business?  

– As I have already emphasised, I consider the procedure of gaining Croatian citizenship a priority issue, which we must deal with in faster and more efficient ways. Our Central Office, in cooperation with the responsible government department – the Ministry of Internal Affairs, are already actively working on that. Our joint view is that changes to and amendments of the relevant legislation on Croatian citizenship are needed. This Office has initiated them and I believe that an optimal solution will be found. Receiving Croats, their descendants and spouses into the Croatian citizenship within an appropriate time-frame is essential. Your question doesn’t only represent the removal of administrative barriers but it also represents a strategic goal of this government.

 

švicarska 101

What kind of information do you think your Office mostly needs from the diaspora?

– Without communication good results from work are not possible. Recognising a good project, a good idea, recognising the moment in which to act, passing on the message in a qualitative manner to those at whom the message is directed, are invaluable. The Office remains at disposal to all: every communication is important to us. The communication platform that includes the Croatian Catholic missions and the diplomatic-consular posts, as the first links between the emigrés and the homeland, is definitely a foundation. In their work the Croatian Catholic missions have a tradition, the knowledge and are truly shaped in line with the needs of our emigrés. The diplomatic-consular missions also represent an important partner for us. The creation of such foundations that will encourage closer and faster cooperation with the many Croatian associations and organisations, as well as with individals is needed the most.

 

The advisers’ mandate is drawing to an end for the current diaspora representatives or advisers with whom your Office is working, are you planning to retain the existing process of candidate nominations and selection (via clubs and organisations) or are you planning to change that process and criteria for the next generation of special advisers from the diaspora?  

– The selection process and the number of members of the Advisory body are regulated by legislation on the Republic of Croatia Relations with Croats outside the Republic of Croatia. There have been no problems so far that would indicate that the manner of candidate selection or their number need changing. But as far as the way the Advisory body is working, the sittings and the mutual coordination are concerned, I believe that certain changes will occur. Members of the Advisory body will initiate such changes in accordance with the existing operational Rules. The Office is prepared and open to their suggestions. As I have emphasised a few times, we need to keep in mind that problems and challenges vary within the communities in Europe, withinn those abroad, among Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina or within ethnic minorities in Croatia. I believe that members of the Advisory will suggest certain initiatives in that direction.

 

Do you have any message for the diaspora that may not have been covered in the questions of this interview, if yes, please pass it on here.

 

– My wishes and everything that I would like to say to the Croats outside the Republic of Croatia cannot be fitted into few sentences. Nevertheless, that which I always emphasise is that Croatia cannot be complete without its diaspora, without Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina and without the Croatian minorities. We are as strong as we are united, and our weakness is only defined by our disunity or disconnection. Accordingly, the Office has taken upon itself the responsibility of encouraging and assisting the projects and activities that strengthen Croatian togetherness. The reality of the Croatian people as a global family with roots in the homeland and blooming branches across the world is becoming increasingly clearer.

 

Written and prepared by Ina Vukic

 

Quick – Croats Living Abroad Get Your Submission In For Government Grants

croatia-office-for-croats-abroad

 

Once again, I’m peeved off  at the Central Government Office For Croats Outside the Republic of Croatia as well as with the Croatian consular/diplomatic services around the world for failing miserably at properly informing those they are paid to serve (all the Croats living abroad) of important opportunities to be taken for the promotion and nurturing of Croatian identity and culture. Publishing information on a website that’s not accessed by many due to relative lack of knowledge about it, is not good enough and they – the Office – know it. Is it truly, here also, still like it was under the communist Yugoslavia regime: government/party officials keeping information to the general public about accessing government grants to a minimum so that family and friends can have a better chance at receiving the grant – and forget the public and its right to full access – full access includes thorough or accessible information (?). How hard is it to write a Press Release and send it off to the world – after all this government office for Croats living outside the Republic of Croatia has some 50 individuals representing Croatian clubs or associations – the so-called government advisors – from all over the world serving as its link to the diaspora, as well, and I’m pretty sure they would pass on the message to the people if given a chance by the Government Office.

It’s been a whole week since that office announced February 15th on its website some very important news regarding the opening of applications for government grants for “special needs and projects of interest for Croats outside the Republic of Croatia” and there’s nothing about it that I have come across in the diaspora media or Croatian Embassies/Consulates. On the Office’s website there’s a page for information in the English language but last time anything of news seems to have been posted there in English was May 2015! Go figure! Why have that Page on the website at all? It’s like pulling someone’s leg!
And so, the Croatian Government Office for Croats Outside Croatia has published the news and provided links to necessary grant application forms and guidelines etc. on 15 February 2017 and I translate into English here for your benefit:
With the aim to promote links and strengthen the cooperation between the Republic of Croatia and Croatians outside the Republic of Croatia, to preserve the Croatian identity, promote the Croatian language, culture and traditions and to strengthen the position of the Croatian people outside the Republic of Croatia, as well as to help endangered individuals – members of the Croatian nation outside the Republic of Croatia, the Central government office for Croats outside the Republic of Croatia has released its Public invitation for the registration of special needs and projects that are of interest to Croats outside the Republic of Croatia with view to realising financial support for 2017.

The Public invitation is open to the following categories of applicants:

1) non-profit organisations outside the Republic of Croatia and within the Republic of Croatia (citizens’ organisations, foundations, institutions and other organisations that are not-for-profit), as well as Croatian communities outside the Republic of Croatia whose work involves the protection of rights and interests of Croatians outside the Republic of Croatia

2) physical persons whose projects include attending to the preservation and the strengthening of the identity of Croatians outside the Republic of Croatia
3) endangered individuals – members of the Croatian nation who reside outside the Republic of Croatia and are in social and financial hardships.

The above categories of applicants may submit their applications for financial support with view to addressing the realisation of their special needs and the implementation of their projects that include the following areas:

a) projects and activities in culture, education, science, sport and other areas with the aim of protecting the rights and interests of Croatians outside the Republic of Croatia, as well as the advancement of all kinds of cooperation between the Republic of Croatia and Croatians outside the Republic of Croatia

b) assistance for endangered individuals – members of the Croatian nation outside the Republic of Croatia.

The period within which applications may be sent begins on the third day of the publication of the Public invitation on the Central government office for Croats outside Croatia website and applications close on 17 March 2017.’

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic (C) Zvonko Milas (to PM's right), State Secretary of Government Office for Croats Outside Croatia with members of its advisory from Diaspora December 2016, Zagreb Photo: http://www.hrvatiizvanrh.hr

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic (C)
Zvonko Milas (to PM’s right), State Secretary of
Government Office for Croats
Outside Croatia
with members of its advisory from Diaspora
December 2016, Zagreb
Photo: http://www.hrvatiizvanrh.hr

Applications must be sent by post to the Central government office for Croats outside the Republic of Croatia (Središnji državni ured za Hrvate izvan Republike Hrvatske) at the address: Trg hrvatskih velikana 6, 10 000 Zagreb, marked „za Javni poziv“ (for the Public invitation).

Requests for additional information may be directed to the email address as follows: programi-projekti@hrvatiizvanrh.hr

The highest amount of the financial grant that may be received in all categories is 80,000 kunas and the application results will, according to the published guidelines (CLICK HERE FOR PDF VERSION IN CROATIAN LANGUAGE), be within 60 days of applications closing dates.

On the Government Office for Croats outside the Republic of Croatia with the following link: http://www.hrvatiizvanrh.hr/hr/natjecaj/149/objavljen-javni-poziv-za-prijavu-posebnih-potreba-i-projekata-od-interesa-za-hrvate-izvan-republike-hrvatske
There are links to required documents and forms such as
JAVNI POZIV/ PUBLIC INVITATION
Obrazac proračuna/Budget form
Obrazac prijave A/ Application Form A
Obrazac prijave B/Application Form B
Obrazac prijave C/Application Form C
Obrazac životopisa Biography Form

I now turn to what the State Secretary for this Government office for Croats living outside Croatia, Zvonko Milas, said in his Christmas message to the public last year: “… but above all I believe that we can be satisfied with the togetherness that’s been born again. Let this holiday time, Christmas, which by the nature of its meaning calls for optimism, truly comes as holiday of hope and faith. Faith that through work, advocacy and responsible behaviour we set in motion changes that will in the coming 2017 also promote more significantly the relations between the Republic of Croatia and all Croats living outside its borders…”

Well now – it’s almost March 2017 and if this case of public invitations for applications for grants open to Croats living abroad is anything to go by (and I’m certain it is) then that “togetherness being born again” Milas spoke of has some mighty harsh labour pains and complications. How can togetherness thrive when information flow and opportunities are blocked or simply weak and, hence, disrespectful of the diaspora or the Croats outside Croatia for whom that same information and those same opportunities are meant in the first place?

So, if you have a project that fits the criteria for the government grant make sure you apply by 17 March 2017. Good luck! Ina Vukic

Croatia: Teasers, Tinsel and Tassels For Christmas

President of Croatia Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic Photo: www.predsjednica.hr

President of Croatia
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
Photo: http://www.predsjednica.hr

Were I to put together Christmas messages and wishes from Croatia’s President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, from Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and from State Secretary head of government’s office for Croats living abroad Zvonko Milas, I would end up with a mangled and aloof heap of teasers, tinsels and tassels I couldn’t possibly reuse on next year’s Christmas tree. However, not all Christmas public mood was lost on teasers, tinsel and tassels – General Zeljko Glasnovic, Member of Croatian Parliament representing the diaspora or Croats living abroad did pass on a sobering, sensible and solemn Christmas message that suggests that he, at least, has ditched (or has not owned a pair ever) the rose-coloured glasses one often finds on Croatian politicians these days and replaced them with 20/20 vision.

 

The Year of Mercy that has recently ended gave us an incentive to provide lasting assistance to our neighbours and the most vulnerable in our society, to spread solidarity, cooperation and unity. Christmas is coming giving us yet another strong impetus to do good. More important than giving material gifts is to give one’s attention to others, offer consolation and understanding, spread joy, peace, the unity of the family and the faithful. I wish all Croatian citizens at home and abroad a merry Christmas and an abundance of good in the New Year 2017!” Said the president in her Christmas message that has no passion to enlighten or encourage. Then in her Christmas interview with Vecernji List she blew out of the water anything good and solid she may have said in it, especially with regards to Croatia’s positioning the new geostrategies within the region, by announcing a big rotation of Croatia’s diplomatic staff across the world, where she said she suspects there are Ambassadors who do not represent Croatia’s interests. “The need to make changes in Croatian diplomacy in many countries is urgent because I myself have been convinced that there are Ambassadors who not only don’t work in the interests of Croatian state, but work against the state politics,” she said in the interview.

 

Now, I cry in despair for Croatia at this: for goodness sake, what are Croatia’s Ambassadors suspected of or known to not be representing Croatia’s interests and known to be working against Croatia still doing in those positions? How long has this been going on – one wonders? One wonders, also, whether such a statement by the president was intended as a teaser – to keep Croatians believing that a keen eye is kept from the President’s Office on safeguarding all that is Croatian, when it clearly appears it’s not.

 

Well, if the president is seriously considering mopping up Croatia’s diplomatic and consular staff, culling and weeding for Croatia’s interests, I hope she does a thorough job – quickly, thank you – for there certainly have been alarmingly too few in positions during the past 25 years who had actually looked after Croatia’s interests abroad. Now this is a perfect opportunity to make progress in lustration – get rid of some former Yugoslav communist waste that hung around these important positions during the past 25 years. Get rid of those former communist operatives or their heirs in diplomatic and consular nests who have done nothing or very little to affirm in the world the values and strengths of independent Croatia created on the backs of her veterans and Homeland War. And if they are no longer in these positions and now hold other high or key positions in Croatia – stretch the culling arms, pluck them out and give them a job elsewhere, not where they can do more damage to Croatia by simply not doing anything for her interests or neglecting on purpose to do anything positive.

Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic Photo:www,andrejplenkovic.hr

Croatia’s Prime Minister
Andrej Plenkovic
Photo:www,andrejplenkovic.hr

If one were looking for a more distant, cliché and aloof message about togetherness that Christmas brings with a torch-light one could not find a better sample than the one dispatched to Croats by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic. His message is one of cold and measured words that remind one of someone waving above a Christmas tree a perfectly manufactured by someone else string of multi-tailed monotonous tinsel. “Christmas is the most joyous of Christian holidays, time for togetherness and understanding, family and friendly closeness. In the spirit of Christmas message, which teaches us humbleness and solidarity, this time is a special opportunity for us to remember those who need our help and attention. Christmas days of optimism and hope invite us to promote Christian and Universal human values and effective efforts for common good. Let this holiday of peace and joy be an additional incentive for mutual consideration and respect so that we may, though quality cooperation, continue building a modern and orderly society…” Plenkovic said in his Christmas greeting to the nation. No tributes to anyone or anything, no clear directions, no reference to successes or achievements, no hopes for the nation’s immediate future … just plain old shimmery and cold string of tinsel dangling away before our eyes and ears; it’s almost as if it had arrived from the quarters of former communist obscuring of Christian practices where children were told chicken lay coloured eggs at Easter because chicken sometimes lay coloured eggs or that Father Christmas was Father Frost (given the bearded man in a red suit appeared in winter, God forbid mentioning presents because of the birth of Jesus Christ) or that people celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ were fools and beneath those who didn’t etc.

Zvonko Milas State Secretary Office for Croats living abroad Photo: Hina/ Vecernji List

Zvonko Milas
State Secretary
Office for Croats living abroad
Photo: Hina/ Vecernji List

 

Zvonko Milas, State Secretary head of the government’s office for Croats living abroad, had a wilted tassel for a Christmas message. Trying hard to inspire by waffling on of what had and had not transpired during the year, what will be, what is yet to come, he couldn’t make the golden tassel – the message – firm up to deliver some real firm groove no matter how many times he repeated or rubbed in the “hope” or the “faith” words. “… but above all I believe that we can be satisfied with the togetherness that’s been born again. Let this holiday time, Christmas, which by the nature of its meaning calls for optimism, truly comes as holiday of hope and faith. Faith that through work, advocacy and responsible behaviour we set in motion changes that will in the coming 2017 also promote more significantly the relations between the Republic of Croatia and all Croats living outside its borders…”  he says. All in all, not much said, really. I have been listening to similar spin from the same government office, under different heads, for a few years now and am not impressed. Am not impressed as that government office continues to gather a limited profile of people from the diaspora seemingly without any efforts to capture most on its horizon and without making the relationship a two-way street outside the twice-a-year-expensive-ministerial-photo-opportunities in Zagreb. Well, given that Milas is relatively new at his job I do like to think: let’s wait and see even if the Christmas message was like a wilted tassel that would look real kitsch tying ones living room curtains .

General Zeljko Glasnovic, Member of Croatian Parliament for Croats Living Abroad/ Diaspora Photo: Goran Mehkek/Cropix

General Zeljko Glasnovic,
Member of Croatian Parliament
for Croats Living Abroad/ Diaspora
Photo: Goran Mehkek/Cropix

General Zeljko Glasnovic’s, Member of Parliament for the diaspora or Croats living abroad, sobering, sensible and solemn Christmas message did not escape my attention – as rightly it should not, for who do Croats living abroad look up to if not their MP in Croatia. Glasnovic’s Christmas message had all the hallmarks of what a Christmas message from the Parliament or from the Government or from the Presidency to the people should be: it pointed into relevant aspect/s of state of the nation using real people examples of hopelessness expressed in correspondence or pleas, extrapolating from the individual example a significance for the nation and honing into alternatives facing the future with view to achieving positive changes. “So that we do not end in the tone of complete pessimism let’s remember St John Paul II message, in which he sought from every Catholic to become actively included in the political and social life of their country. We must not permit apathy and moral relativism become a cancerous wound of the Croatian society,” Glasnovic said. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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