October the 4th, 2023 – The Land of Rising Optimism was the motto of the 9th G2 Meeting – a gathering of more than 200 participants from around the globe in Sisak.
Sisak is the capital of what is colloquially known as “Banovina” or “Banija” in Sisak-Moslavina County, a region less than 50 kilometres from Zagreb. It takes less than 30 minutes to make the journey along the modern motorway, and a bit longer if you decide to travel by train. If you own a boat, you can travel along the river, too. It goes without saying that you’re surrounded with proverbially beautiful landscapes wherever you look.
From wars to optimism
As in most of the regions of this part of the world, its history has been heavily marked by various wars. Banovina suffered from the onslaught of the Turks (Ottomans), then in the WW1 and WW2 when it was not only devastated, but its population was decimated by the slaughter carried out the “liberating” partisan forces. Even more war crimes were committed by the Serbs and the JNA (Yugoslav Army) much more recently in 1990’s. Those conflicts left the area destroyed, depopulated and bereft for many years to come. It took about a decade of consistent public effort and international aid to result in the restoration of local housing and the kick-starting of at least some industry in the area. Investments in business, alas, have been few and far between. People have a place to stay, but stable jobs are very difficult to come by.
As if all of the above wasn’t enough, on December the 29th, 2020, an earthquake rocked Banovina and the area had to start all over again.
The 9th G2 Meeting in Sisak
That brings us to the 9th G2 Meeting in Sisak. It is a conference organised by the MeetingG2 Association, founded a decade ago in Zagreb with the main purpose of creating business links and opportunities for Croats living abroad with their ancestral homeland.
President Antun Krešimir Buterin stated the following: “The very first conferences sounded promising and yielded a huge interest across (almost) all continents. It grew from one year to the next, until the two years dominated by the global coronavirus pandemic forced us to organise a form of hybrid event. Even in those circumstances, we didn’t lose spirit. Even when Sisak-Moslavina County was seriously damaged by the earthquake in December 2020, it took us literally two days to start humanitarian fundraising with an overnight participation of some 30 Croatian associations from all over. Our active participation in that terrible crisis made us even more aware of the situation surrounding not only the economic side of things, but of everyday life in Banovina. To have our next conference in Sisak was the easiest imaginable choice.”
The conference took place in the surprisingly spacious and up-to-date seat of the Sisak Business Incubator (‘PISAK’), another building which once required extensive restoration. Surrounded by a centuries-old oak forest, the incubator is a private entity established by Matt Sertić who decided to move his successful business from Silicon Valley to his homeland. His company Applied Ceramics has continued doing successful business, expanded to international markets and, what’s most important, has provided employment to several hundred of the Sisak area’s residents.
Europe’s largely unfair east-west divide…
Many useful hints and facts were heard during some 50 panels. Of the most important facts, let’s note that according to Eurostat, a hectare of arable land in the Netherlands costs some 77.000,00 euros, while the same land which is just as fertile in Banovina, sells for about 3.400 euros – an astonishing twenty times less.
In addition, whatever is produced in this area has a conglomerate market of Zagreb, which has an approximate population of 1.800.000, and which is reachable by car in 30 minutes. Sisak, also as a river port and possible distribution centre area, is only 210 kilometres from Rijeka (when using the motorway). It doesn’t need to be mentioned that Rijeka is Croatia’s biggest sea port. And yes, an investor can count on highly qualified labour. The history of Banovina also encompasses the history of a truly gigantic steel factory, a petrol refinery, technical schools and knowledge that can facilitate any kind of production and adapt to any of the current needs of the labour market.
Is it time to finally give The Land of Rising Optimism a genuine chance?
Words by Miso Mihocevic and all images by UNIMEDIA/G2