December 18, 2019 – Have you noticed that the default Croatian online reaction to good news from Croatia is usually negative? How to move that from negative to neutral.
Yesterday I decided to conduct a fun experiment.
Having heard recently that I never write anything positive about Croatia, ever, and that I am also a millionaire and run TCN as a hobby, I decided to write an article which has been in my head for a while called Why I Live in Croatia: 30 Incredible Discoveries in 2019 Alone.
In the article, I wanted to show what an incredible country Croatia is, Full of Experiences, and just what is possible to see and do in a 12-month period. But not from the point of view of a rich foreigner with money to burn, but through the perspective of someone living in Croatia, who had an idea and started a business here with 100 euro in his bank account. All this I explained in the article.
And the first reaction was not long in coming when I shared it on a Croatian Facebook group. A very predictable reaction and the default Croatian online reaction to anyone writing about positive experiences living in Croatia.
Zeljko stated that Croatia was a great place to live if you had lots of money, but all other people should leave as it is a terrible place to live unless you are rich.
I very rarely read comments on social media, partly due to time but also due to that default Croatian online reaction of negativity, and I almost never comment, but I decided to take young Zeljko to task just for fun, and I pointed out that he clearly had not read the article. He fired straight back, asserting his right to have his opinion, and that something along the lines that it was impossible to live well in Croatia without being very rich. While agreeing with young Zeljko’s right to an opinion, I respectfully disagreed and invited him to read the article for an example of someone who did not fit his argument. Zeljko went on to read the article, then commented that his opinion had been nothing personal. I was, in fact, according to Zeljko, doing a very good job.
And then he deleted the thread.
A little later, in the comments of the same group, Kaja came on bombastically to state that Croatia was an easy place to enjoy if you were a foreigner with lots of money to throw around, very hard to live for an ordinary person trying to make ends meet. I invited young Kaja to actually read the article.
She obviously did because she then deleted her comment.
The default Croatian online reaction had gone from negative to neutral. In both cases, pre-conceived ideas were challenged by some real experiences from the present, and those experiences did not fit their narrative. Bear with me, I am getting to my point.
Another comment elsewhere highlighted our old friend, Is a foreigner allowed to have an opinion in Croatia? This is one of my favourite aspects of the Croatian mentality. Foreigners simply cannot understand the complex realities of Croatia and its society. Their observations are almost always surface and superficial, usually formed in that honeymoon period when they are intoxicated by the lifestyle and natural beauty shortly after arrival. And I agree with this up to a point, one of the reasons I wrote The 3 Stages of Learning for a Foreigner in Croatia: Love, Hate & Nirvana.
The commentator above was being dismissive of the article (without reading, default negative) because it had been written by a foreigner who had only been here a short time (in his head, it turns out from a later comment, a tourist for a year), and so it would be interesting to see this Croatia through his rose-tinted glasses a decade later. When challenged, and he realised that the article was written by a foreigner living her for 17 years, the online sentiment went from negative to neutral.
Such negativity from Croatia’s army of keyboard warriors (probably a bigger number than today’s half a million veterans) is as much a part of Croatian society today as supporting the football team at the World Cup. I used to think that such comments – many of which come from the diaspora – were really ignorant. And I still do, but now in a different way.
I used to think that such comments were ignorant in the sense that they were uneducated, but the longer I live here, the more I realise that they are ignorant in the sense that many people making them actually have absolutely no idea of what real life is like in Croatia today. They have been brought up with one narrative, they maybe experience their homeland once a year with a couple of weeks on the beach in the summer, and that’s it. Their homeland is a corrupt country run by Communists where everything is shit, apart from the natural beauty and the country’s traditions.
But there is a good reason for this ignorance.
Nobody is telling them otherwise, certainly not in English.
The comments kept coming. Some sound advice in this comment above, but it also triggered another thought in my head, which I figured out a few months ago. Where do people interested in Croatia but do not speak the language go to get their information about what is happening here? There are some websites, a few blogs, but almost exclusively, they focus on happy tourism and sport stories and what to do here on holiday, which is fine. But for people trying to understand the realities of life? There is almost nothing. There are lots of bloggers passing through with their superficial observations, but people who have lived the daily grind for years and writing openly about the good, the bad and the ugly in Croatia? It almost does not exist.
And I think it is an essential ingredient to have in the mix if we are to bring the mindset of the diaspora closer to understanding the realities of Croatia today.
Is Croatia the most corrupt country in the EU? Almost certainly.
Is it the most heavily taxed? Almost certainly.
Is it impossible to get ahead in the system without a connection? Almost certainly.
Does it offer the best lifestyle in Europe? Absolutely.
Do you have to be very rich to enjoy a good life in Croatia? It certainly helps, but absolutely not.
I actually agree with Matija Babic, owner of Croatia’s largest news portal, that the best thing people can do for a better Croatia is leave and pay taxes elsewhere, so that they stop supporting the current system. Sadly, I think Croatia needs to fail to rise again. Some will say that should be achieved through lustration, so that Croatia can heal its wounds from the past, but just as I don’t think everyone will leave to make Croatia fail, so I think lustration is fairly unlikely. So we are more or less stuck with the current mess, and we may as well do the best we can.
A few years ago I received an email from California from a second-generation Croat who loved his country even though he had never been. He had been following our site for a few years and was a big fan, but observed that my writing about Croatia was different to what he had learned in his community back home. And having read many articles, he realised that his perception of Croatia – hitherto exclusively shaped by his disapora community – was changing.
There are SO many good stories, and they are not being told. But you know what happens when you start to tell them, and keep telling them? People start to listen. The narrative of the reality of people living the daily grind but actually surviving and enjoying life in Croatia needs to be told more often. This isn’t the story of a rich foreigner waking up and deciding what fun to have today. TCN is a Croatian business like many others, struggling to make the month VAT bill and salaries on time (doing my best guys, coming soon…).
A few years ago, a schoolfriend I had not seen for 25 years came on a sailing holiday on Hvar with his family. It was great to see him and the years rolled back, and his kids looked on in wonder as I told them about the day their dad ran away from boarding school. These days he is a partner in a major accountancy firm in the UK, has his own boat, a house with mortgage outside London, an annual train ticket into the city centre, and a salary I can only dream of. He leaves the house at 6am Monday to Friday, returning home 9 pm, and can afford fantastic holidays to places like Hvar.
A real-life parable of the billionaire and the fisherman. And, as I went to pick up my daughter from kindergarten the following week, before spending time with her on the main square over a late morning cold one, as I did every day, I realised who I would rather be.
If you are expecting to find New York salaries and Western efficiency with the idyllic Croatian lifestyle, you are going to be disappointed. Yes, Croatia does have huge problems and desperately needs a political and judicial system that works for the people of Croatia, not the people in the system. And it is easy to trash everything dismissively about life here from diaspora communities far away.
But they are totally disconnected from the realities of Croatia today. And nobody is to blame for this disconnect, because nobody is writing (certainly in English) about what is happening in Croatia today away from the traditional tourism stereotypes, so that default Croatian online negativity is understandable – the perceptions are shaped by diaspora communities.
One of the things I love about my ‘job’ is the access to incredible stories I get, which are untold by others (see the 30 highlights of 2019 for example). And because nobody else is writing them, I come across as a better writer than I am. I am also followed by thousands in the diaspora, some appreciative – many not so much – of my work. And although the number might be small, I know for a fact that we have changed some mindsets in the diaspora in a positive way. It doesn’t bring cash, but it does bring a certain satisfaction.
What if a lot more people were to tell their stories, to show the many upsides to living here? A gentle trickle of positive and honest reporting of the realities here. It can be bad in Croatia, for sure, but it is certainly not all bad as is often portrayed.
Rather than focus on the bigger picture, I personally prefer to focus on the smaller stories which are actually the biggest stories of all. I particularly enjoyed recently writing about my visit to Tokic Croatia, the car parts sales company in Sesvete. In an age where everyone is complaining about doing business in Croatia and the lack of qualified staff. here was a 100% Croatian family business which was not only at the cutting edge of technology and building up human capital, but also named by the London Stock Exchange as one of the top 50 most innovative companies in Europe. It is an incredible story – read it here.
It is also a story that few people outside Croatian business know about. And while Tokic is an exceptional story, it is far from unique. Last week I attended a business breakfast for a small consulting company called Venatus Jones, 4 returnees with vast business experience in Australia, Germany and Canada. They have a great programme to help Croatian SME businesses to adapt and compete in the modern world, the type of grassroots initiative which will not make the news headlines (at least not immediately) but will contribute to slow but permanent positive change. In fact, the consultancy company has already played a small part in a great Croatian success story, as its first-ever client, Bagatin Clinic, was named International Plastic Surgery Clinic of the Year 2019 at the International Medical Travel Journal awards in Berlin. Another great Croatian success on the global stage.
Is it possible to succeed doing business in Croatia? Default Croatian online reaction – negative. But the reality is that yes, it IS hard, but there are SO many success stories of businesses which are succeeding.
They are just not out there for the world to know in English. And once they are, and in greater number, there will be a very slow shift in that default Croatian online response from automatic negative to something towards neutral.
Rather than fighting the keyboard warrior battles in the comfort of your bedroom thousands of miles away from the Homeland, why not enjoy six months of reality in Croatia and learn to appreciate the good, the bad and the ugly of Croatia today?
We have all three in abundance, but I still wouldn’t live anywhere else.
Want to know what it is like living in Croatia? Check out the Total Croatia guide.