One of the things I like to do when I have time is to talk to the young people of Croatia to see how they see their country and their future, particularly in eastern Croatia, which is a magical land which is so misrepresented in Zagreb and treated almost like a handicapped cousin, one whose existence is acknowledged but kept firmly out of the public eye.
From the moment I first visited Slavonia back in 2014, I sensed that there was something wrong with this narrative. Yes, the emigration was significant, but so too was the desire to stay and build a better future, as well as infinite pride and hospitality. Slavonians really are a breed apart, in a good way. Lack of investment, lack of interest, and a public perception of war and hopelessness has come to characterise how people in the rest of Croatia see the region.
And yet, having travelled extensively in the region, my experience has been exactly the opposite. My tour of eastern Croatia in November, 2021, remains the best trip I have done in my 20 years in Croatia – read about it in Time to Tell the Truth about Slavonia Full of Life.
When I came back to Zagreb with wild tales of the east, what became immediately clear was the level of ignorance about eastern Croatia. As I explain in the video tour video above, I asked thee simple questions to 70 people in Zagreb about eastern Croatia – just one got all three correct, with 69 out of 70 unable to do so. Do you think you can answer the three relatively simple questions? Check them out in the video above after the video tour of the region.
But not only had I found a magical and relatively undiscovered tourism region, but the people I was meeting were all saying the same thing. The pace of emigration was halting, even reversing, and the number of opportunities I was coming across were growing by the day.
A year ago, I was surprised to meet a British businessman in my hotel, the excellent Maskimilien, in Tvrdja in Osijek. He explained that he had a Swiss drone company and was working with Orqa, the Osijek-based FPV drone company, which is leading the world in this emerging technology. A year later, I met him again. Orqa had since acquired his company, and he had bought a house and moved to Osijek to work within Orqa to put develop Orqa and its drone technology. It may be hard to believe for some, but Osijek is now home to the leading drone technology company in the world, and there are some VERY interesting visitors to Slavonia these days, given the events in Ukraine.
And Orqa is not alone – the IT sector in particular, is very vibrant. But I was more interested on this trip to get the views of the younger generation, and I am very grateful to Marija Lozancic for organising a seminar for me at the University of Osijek Faculty of Education on the subject How Travelling the World and Experiencing Cultures Helps Build a Media Career in Croatia.
The last time I spoke at a university, in Zagreb, just 9 students turned up. In Osijek, there were almost 50. Curious about their future plans, I asked how many planned to emigate on graduation – just 2. And how many were definitely staying? An impressive 25. Yes, the emigration had been terrible, but times are a changing. I asked for some volunteers to do a video interview after the seminar, and I am very grateful to the three young ladies in the video below, who were happy to share their views on life in Slavonia and their plans for the future, which include developing their new English-language blog, www.englishing.eu
And wherever I went on my 3-day trip to the east this week, I was met with the traditional warmth and hospitality, but also a lot more positivity and feeling that things are changing regarding emigration. Turnout for our book promotion of Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners was bigger in both Osijek and Vukovar than it was in Zagreb, Split or Zadar.
(Presentation of Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners at Knjizara Nova in Osijek on December 6, 2022)
Eastern Croatia is a fantastic place which has been kept down for too long. If you have never been, I encourage you to visit. And if you think that it is a place purely of emigration and economic decline, you are in for a major surprise.
(Presentation of Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners at Vukovar City Library on December 7, 2022)
Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners is now available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.