How Election Voting Patterns Highlight Diversity of Croatian Diaspora

Total Croatia News


December 28, 2019 – The Croatian diaspora is diverse and complex – a look at voting patterns in Croatian elections and referenda. 

There are an estimated 4 million Croatians living abroad, a diaspora numerically as large as those living in the homeland itself. They are located literally all over the world, with the latest official estimates a few years ago claiming the largest group (1.2 million) are in the USA, followed by Germany (350,000), Argentina, Australia (250,000) and Chile (200,000). 

EU entry has increased the number of those living in Germany considerably, and new diaspora centres, such as Ireland, have emerged since 2013. This highlights one of the realities of the Croatian diaspora – far from being one cohesive group, their emigration has taken at different times, and for different reasons – sometimes economic and sometimes political – and Croatia today is experiencing its fourth significant wave of emigration. 

As someone who had no concept of the subtle differences between sections of the diaspora, it was fascinating to talk to a Kiwi returnee, whose family emigrated for economic reasons in 1916, before the establishment of any Yugoslav state. His parents and grandparents considered themselves to be Dalmatian first and foremost, rather than Croatian. Just a little further north, by contrast, the majority of the Croatian diaspora emigrated from Tito’s Yugoslavia, many for political rather than economic reasons. The difference is important, as it affects the relationship with the homeland. Parts of the Australian diaspora are among the most vocal and patriotic on social media. 

A further complexity in the relationship between the diaspora and the homeland lies in the sense of disappointment at the lack of gratitude and blatant fraud that occurred with the billions that were sent from the diaspora to aid the war effort and to invest in the newly independent country. What could and should have been the start of a beautiful relationship ended up being one shrouded in recrimination and suspicion, and many in the diaspora felt trapped – in love with their country and wanting to play their part, but vehemently opposed to those who ran it. 

And yet the money keeps coming. Around two billion euro a year is sent to Croatia each year from the diaspora in remittances etc, more than the entire amount of foreign investment, a huge sum without which the economy would struggle. 

The diaspora has the vote, and yet does not pay tax, something which irks those living in the country. Historically, the diaspora has overwhelmingly voted for the right and HDZ, and the three MPs which represent them in the Parliament are usually from that party. 

A complex situation, with many more layers than those outlined above. 

This year’s Presidential election had a rather interesting addition in that there was a credible challenge to the two strongest candidates, former SDP Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic and the official HDZ candidate, current President, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic. Kolinda, who ordinarily would have picked up most fo the diaspora votes (and those on the right) found a challenger from the right – populist singer Miroslav Skoro. Skoro came within 50,000 votes of beating her in the first round of the election, winning big in eastern Croatia, including symbolic Vukovar. I was curious to see how the diaspora voted with this additional dynamic. 

And so began rather an interesting afternoon of research of official statistics, which took me far beyond who voted for who in 2019, and gave a little more colour to the diversity of the Croatian diaspora. Let’s begin… 


The first major surprise was the number of people from the diaspora who voted. While the majority of the estimated 4 million all over the world will not have Croatian citizenship and thus the entitlement to vote, even if they were sufficiently interested, I was expecting a much higher number of voters from the diaspora – just 40,782 cast their votes in the first round of the 2019 presidential election. And if you exclude neighbouring Bosnia and Hercegovina where Kolinda won big, the number of Croatian diaspora voters worldwide was just 16,136. Kolinda got just a third of those votes, as Skoro was the main victor, as you can see from the table above. 

In only 5 countries outside Croatia did more than 1,000 people vote, and it was a big surprise to find more people in Switzerland voting than in Canada or those vocal social media types in Australia. The United States, with its estimated 1.2 million mustered just 443 votes. 

There are, I am sure, many reasons for this. Not all Croatians abroad have passports of course, and Croatia certainly doesn’t make it easy for those who want to get citizenship. Polling stations are thin on the ground (there were just 4 in Australia for the EU referendum, for example – I don’t have details for this election), and for those who left for political reasons, I am sure there is a fear and suspicion with engaging with the Croatian State before the required lustration. 

But 40,782 voters represent about 1% of Croatians outside the Homeland. Not quite the level of engagement I was expecting compared to the mountains of abuse that appear daily in my inbox from Sydney and beyond. 

The official elections website had an archive section with details on previous elections and referenda. Curious, I decided to check out how the diaspora voted in two major referenda in Croatia’s recent past, whether or not to join the European Union in 2012, and the 2013 referendum on changes to the constitution defining marriage, often referred to as a referendum on gay marriage. 

The diversity of voting all over the Croatian diaspora world reflected its many faces. 

Two-thirds of voters backed the motion to join the EU in the 2012 referendum (66.27%), but opinions were much more polarised in the diaspora. In Venezuela, some 94% were for, followed by BiH (87%), Ireland (86), UK (85), Holland, Austria and Germany (84). Interestingly, although showing majority support, that support was significantly lower in Australia (51%), Canada (56) and the USA (65). Diaspora in three countries voted against EU entry – Argentina, Syria and South Africa. Voter turnout was much lower, just 14,494.

And while the vote on the 2013 referendum on amending the constitution got a similar final result (65.87%), the vote was a lot more polarised in the diaspora, ranging from 96% in BiH to just 8% in Ireland. The question again:

Are you in favor of the constitution of the Republic of Croatia being amended with a provision stating that marriage is matrimony between a woman and a man?

Canada (92%), Argentina (91) and Switzerland (86) were among those who voted for the motion, but there were many countries where Croatians voted against – Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechia, Chile, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Qatar, China, Hungary, Holland, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Russia, USA, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine,  and UK. Voter turnout was similar to the EU, a little under 14,000 overall. 

And so life goes on, and the complex relationship between the Croatian diaspora continues. They have the vote but don’t use the vote. I have heard both sides complain about the diaspora having the vote. People within Croatia resent being lectured at by the diaspora who do not pay taxes (although there is always a convenient omission of the huge sums of money being poured in from abroad), while some in the diaspora moan about their lack of representation with just 3 seats in Parliament representing 4 million people outside Croatia. 

As with most things in this beautiful country, nothing is simple. 

For more on the Croatian diaspora, check out the dedicated TCN section


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