The fourth edition of the annual G2 meeting is done and dusted. After a full day of panels from local and international diaspora business owners, members of the Chambers of Commerce in various states in Australia, America and Canada, along with a plethora of entrepreneurs who are looking to strengthen relationships between Croatians inside and outside the country, what have I learned as a 31 year old woman living in a country I often refer to as a circus? The theme of this year’s G2 is, ‘A look into the future‘ and if you follow what’s going in the news and the talk on the street, Croatia’s future can seem rather uncertain.
Many people, particularly from Slavonia Region, are leaving Croatia in hope of building a more prosperous future for themselves and their families. If everyone is leaving, why would you want to stay? Everyday national portals publish stories about ministers potentially making changes to legislations that are detrimental to economic and personal growth of the Croatian society. It’s all negative, fear mongering and almost makes you never want to leave your house again (and quit Facebook).
As diaspora, it’s not always easy to find your feet in Croatia, find work, find a decent place to live, sort out your health care, to open up a business, even the tax system can get complicated. The struggle is real and those on the inside have plenty of horror stories to share. But like most things in life, you’ve got to take the good with the bad. No where you live will ever be perfect but there are times where I ask myself, is Croatia really worth it?
Now, unless you live in Croatia that statement I just made may seem a little harsh for a country I claim gives me ‘inner peace and true love.‘ Croatia does give me inner peace and has brought me true love, yes even purpose to an extent. Croatia has given me everything I ever wanted in my life and more, I just had to be here to receive it. Fate, destiny, God, whatever you call it, my stars never aligned in Sydney the way they did here in Croatia. It was meant to be.
When I moved to Zagreb I was enthusiastic about lobbying for change in a more positive direction. However, when you are personally confronted with a system that is outdated and inefficient almost on a daily basis, you begin to stop focusing on changing the wider picture and begin to focus on helping yourself and those closest to you. And while there are so many things I could write on this blog about the realities of living in Croatia, I choose to keep it hush to protect myself and my family. I already reject interviews or any publicity surrounding my life and lifestyle in Croatia, I no longer want to talk about it and only people I know have access to my life, and that’s still a very tamed version of it. I am constantly culling the list of people on my social media. Why? It is very hard to trust people in Croatia and the better you do in life, the less you should show. This is why G2 is important, it is time the diaspora rekindled this trust for their ljepa nasa.
I am always interested to observe this optimism by people who have no first hand experience on what it’s really like to live in Croatia and almost “suffer the consequences” for choosing to live in the motherland. We all agree that it’s not easy. However, it is easy to fly into Zagreb, with a bank account filled with western money and talk about the changes that need to be made in the system for this country to function in a more positive direction, which is subjective by the way. But here’s the reality. Nothing’s going to change if you’re still living over there and expecting those who have made sacrifices in their life to live here to do half the work for you. The sacrifices in your salary, your sanity, an overall standard with interpersonal relationships between you and the “law.“
Why is it that as diaspora we all love Croatia, we all want to see it thrive in the future but then only a handful returning to try and make it great? Croatia doesn’t need to be promoted on instagram by you to encourage more tourists, tourists have nothing to do with the Croatian bureaucracy and cannot directly attribute to the changes that need to be made to make living and investing here a little less complicated and attractive for returnees.
We all must give up certain luxuries to call Croatia home. I do not know a single diaspora who has returned to Croatia who spends all day in cafes drinking coffee, living the “laganini” life. We’re all fighting for our survival here, often on salaries that we’d never tolerate on the outside. Why? If it’s so “shit” then why are we still here? Because we have inner peace in Croatia, Croatia is home. Croatia is home to every single Croat no matter where they are in the world, they feel it through their veins when they land in this land. Every single one of you reading this know exactly what I am talking about, you mention it everywhere online. You’re proud to be Croat and ever since the World Cup, it’s cool to be Croatian now more than ever.
Deep down, we hope things change for the better for future generations. We hope that there will be less negative feedback on what it’s like to really pave your way in this country, that the red tape will be eliminated. We hope it gets easier so that our children don’t have to leave in order to survive. There are people and state offices that are helping to make these positive changes happen but as we all know, nothing happens overnight and in Croatia, anything positive is often interrupted and/or intercepted. The general consensus of G2 was positive, a unity like none other before, particularly what I observed with the Australian diaspora, this is fantastic and makes me happy for the future of this country. However, I really hope that all initiatives spoken about and raised are actioned, otherwise these annual get togethers are pointless.
The President of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović opened G2 with a speech highlighting the fact that the diaspora are the greatest assets and commodities to Croatia’s success in the future. From the diaspora alone, Croatia receives $2billion annually. You’d think that with such a wealthy reputation, they’d be making your life a little easier to navigate in your domovina without having to know the right people. Because that’s what Croatia is, nepotism in it’s finest hour. I’ve written about this before (read here) and unless you know the right people, you’re going to have a rather difficult time getting things done.
During G2 there were several promises made by Government representatives that in the pipeline the digitalisation of the economy was on the way which will make Croatia more attractive to do business in and with. This is great and hopefully something that will also encourage the youth from the diaspora to give Croatia a chance. We’ve already heard that obtaining citizenship will be less difficult with changes and amendments being made to the Citizenships Act in the near future. G2 also emphasised that openness and transparency will help build relationships and trust to begin eliminating the coldness Croatians with dealing with fellow Croatians. There needs to be an open and honest dialogue between the diaspora, we need to begin working together and exploiting the strengths in our unity.
In the future, I’d love to see Croatia adopt something similar to Israel’s birthright program where people aged between 18-32 with Croatian descent are entitled to a free guided trip to the motherland. Not only will this expose future generations to the life, culture and history of Croatia but hopefully encourage them to return and build a life here. There needs to be an easier, incentivised and more supportive system to encourage the youth to return. The youth from the Croatian diaspora communities are the future of Croatia, let’s begin to nurture and groom them appropriately.
So, what does this mean for the average 20-something diaspora who wants to move to there motherland from Australia?
I don’t want to sound negative or pessimistic, I don’t want to discourage you from moving to Croatia because you should. It is the most difficult decision you’ll make. It will hurt you and confuse you, it will make you wonder why and if it’s really worth it. You’ll struggle and you’ll get through and on the other side you’ll realise, this is what you call true love for your country, Hrvatska. You’ll then understand the context of what I am saying when you meet a fellow Croat who loves Croatia, but will get on the next flight out of here.
We may be scattered all over the world but courtesy of organisations like G2 we’re a step closer in the right direction. This was truly beautiful to finally see in Croatia, a coming together of all the right people who want to help steer Croatia’s future in a more positive and prosperous light for future generations to come.0