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.
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 through the 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.
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?