Communism is Dead, and Is It Time for a Croatian Ministry of Excellence?

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It is easy to find problems in the modern Croatia, but is it possible that we could bring out the very best of the country quite easily and cheaply with a new Ministry of Excellence?

I have been thinking a lot about Croatian innovative hero Mate Rimac and Communists recently – two completely different sets of thoughts in case people are going to brand him a Communist, as they have me.  I had to laugh recently at a message from a friend who is going to London and renting an apartment from a guy whose grandfather is from Jelsa. When my friend asked if he knew me, the reply was negative, but with a question:

“Isn’t he that Commie Brit?”


I don’t know Mate Rimac personally, although I was somewhat surprised when he commented on a TCN article on my Facebook wall yesterday, and – sorry to disappoint – I don’t know any Communists, but the two are becoming established in my mind as the Bright Future of Croatia versus This Country Will Never Move Forward. 

I will confess (but please don’t tell my liberal, left-wing friends – yes, I have some) that I once voted Tory many years ago, and so the labelling of a Communist is something I find highly amusing. I actually lived in the Soviet Union and a newly independent Russia (further proof), as well as travelling extensively in Eastern Europe before the Berlin Wall came down.  A certain Communist then. 

The Communist era ended 25 years ago, which is a whole generation ago. There are people aged 10 when the Berlin Wall came down, who are now 35 and approaching the peak of their careers, who will have little recollection of that bygone era. There are people like Mate Rimac, just 28, who grew up in the post-socialist modern Croatia, who have truly excelled and are a source of pride to the whole nation. 

But for the majority, it all comes back to the mud-slinging between left and right, harping on about the past, and one of the first things I liked about PowerPoint Tim was when he said that if his company had spent so much time talking about history, it would have gone bankrupt by now. 

And how right he is. 

Our story on the Jelsa star made national headlines just before Christmas, when a supposedly ‘Communist’ five-pointed star Christmas decoration was replaced by a more religious Star of Bethlehem, because ‘we don’t celebrate Communism here’. This provoked a national discussion, as well as no other conversation in Jelsa being possible for over a week, but the mentality of finding Communism in a Christmas decoration is one which is sadly pervasive throughout all Croatia, not just Jelsa. It was such a hot topic that there was only going to be one topic at this year’s Carnival, and it was a real honour (and I mean that sincerely) to find myself watching my (very convincing) double playing me in the ensuing political sketch. A sign of acceptance of sorts.

Croatia is the most politicised country I have ever spent time in, and the constant mud-slinging and negativity brings down the nation’s progress as a whole, but it fulfils a need for those who propagate it.

It has also had another effect, and this is where Mate Rimac comes in. It has forced many of the brightest of the next generation to switch off from the politics entirely, and to either emigrate in search of work or – as in Mate’s case – enter a parallel world of dedication to a dream, despite the surroundings. Most of my best Croatian friends have little or no politics – they have long ago tired of the system and freed themselves of the negativity to live in their own world. The result is much happier and more fulfilled people, living in a parallel Croatia.

Sadly, with little or no access to government funding or state jobs because they are not from the right party or the right family (that term ‘uhljeb’ again), more and more people take the emigration route, where their skills are better appreciated and better paid with a lot less politics than back at home. It is one of the reasons Ireland has become a new diaspora hotspot.

But then I come back to Mate Rimac, the darling of the global automotive industry and named as one of the 28 most influential people in the EU at just 28. While the world is marvelling at his Concept One launch in Geneva, the bigger story for me was that he did it on his own. In Croatia. Despite several temptations to relocate and little support, he was determined to make it in Croatia. And he did, and then some. If you haven’t read his detailed interview with TCN’s Sasa Cvetojevic, I really encourage you to do so – it is a fascinating read.  Here is what he said about his employment strategy:

“First of all, our philosophy is to employ people instead of experience, in other words, enthusiastic people who are willing to learn, because we are aware we are producing things no one’s ever worked on before no only in Croatia but on a global scale. We have mostly a young team with a great mindset but they never worked on this before and I am really happy with our team because we managed to gather an incredible group of people. But it seems more and more that we have drained the available pool so we already have foreigners from Germany, Spain and Austria working for us and this will become an increasing problem. I am just sorry our education system is what it is. All the people that work in our company, most of them worked on their own projects at home, they did not obtain their knowledge through formal education. Engineering work in our company is not necessarily done by engineers with a diploma but people who really want to do the job and who are self-taught. All the knowledge of the world is now just a few mouse clicks away so there are no excuses if you really want to learn something.”

And that is where I had the idea for the Croatian Ministry of Excellence.

Mate Rimac is unique and a genius, both for his technical accomplishments, but also for his determination to do everything in Croatia. There is almost certainly nobody like him, but maybe there are quite a few people out there who are almost as good, maybe some who emigrated who could be enticed to bring their expertise back if the environment was right. All those creative people operating in isolation in their parallel Croatia brought together to feed off other creative ideas.

The Croatian Ministry of Excellence would have two roles. Non-political and uhljeb-free, it would be tasked to seek out the quality innovators such as Rimac and those not at his level, but with similar potential. If he can find untried talent and mould it to make one of Croatia’s exciting companies excel at the world stage, what could be possible with the resources of a ministry actively looking for and attracting the very best in Croatian talent and ideas?

There is an amazing amount of Croatian talent and creativity which is working outside the system, because there is no trust in the system. Our recent criticism of the national tourist board’s Croatia 365 programme got very public when it was covered by almost all the Croatian media. What happened has been very interesting… and gives me a little hope.

Firstly, there have been meetings with HTZ (the national tourist board), with some very open suggestions, and I look forward to working with HTZ to move things forward in a positive way. The other positive that has happened is that SO many people contacted us with their projects, working totally independently. What if there was a way to harmonise official tourism promotion and services with all that talent and dedication, which are at the moment ships in the night?

My suggestion was to form a task force of some of the movers and shakers who are delivering Croatia 365 with their own businesses already, and we have highlighted some in out Heroes of Croatia 365 series. Discussions are ongoing, but one constant reaction from some of these people is reluctance, for while the idea is great, there is a skepticism that anything will happen, as they are not from the right party, family etc… That word ulhjeb again.

Demonstrate that the Ministry of Excellence is uhljeb-free, that it will support (with money) some pilot projects, and small positive change will come, and some of those brightest young minds might come out of their parallel Croatias and start to infiltrate their positivity into the mud-slinging norm and slowly dilute it. 

The second remit of the Ministry of Excellence should be to promote… excellence. People are being let down at every turn by state officials with no interest or pride in their work, for they are of the right party, and therefore their job is safe. Even though it is a private store, the photo above illustrates the point perfectly. The Best from Croatia – with a shop window stuffed with foreign goods. Only in Croatia. 

My experience of the best examples of this are with local tourist boards, as tourism is my biggest sector experience in Croatia, and this train arrivals page, from the Split Tourist Board, is my poster child. Not that Split is better or worse than many others, and I had a very pleasant lunch before Christmas with the tourist board director at Gastro Advent Split, see below, but it is a classic example of what is wrong about Croatia, what lets the country down, and what can easily be fixed to improve things very simply.

Arriving by train to Split only happens from Zagreb. And yet there are no train tables, no link to a website, just a list of train stations with phone numbers and fax numbers. These include stations such as Ploce and Metkovic, two stations which are not even connected to Split on the rail network, but only to each other. This remember is the official, well-funded website for one of Europe’s hottest destinations. The information is embarrassing. 

Will it change? Of course not. If there was any interest in serving the end user, the foreign tourist, it would have been changed the first time it was written about, and then the second when it appeared in the regional media. 

But if a department of the Ministry of Excellence were focused on these small, but very important, changes for the image of tourism in Croatia, how quickly could things improve. We are not talking large sums of money here. 

Communism is dead. Croatia has a generation of extremely talented entrepreneurs and workers, who are emigrating or living in parallel worlds. Embrace them, Croatia, before it is too late and they have long emigrated, and all that will be left will be insults about Communists. 

If Mate Rimac can do it solo, you can do it as a State. 


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