Marin Sopta Interview: The Need to Involve Croatian Diaspora in Croatian Social, Political and Economic Life

Total Croatia News

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May 25, 2018 – Osijek will host the third Croatian Diaspora Conference next month. TCN learns more about the initiative, and efforts to improve relations and opportunities between the diaspora and the homeland in an interview with Marin Sopta, the President of the Research Center for the Croatian Diaspora, the organisers of the conference.

  1. The relationship between Croatia and its diaspora has always been complicated. Tell us a little about the origins and thinking behind this congress. 

The 3rd Croatian Diaspora Congress, which will be held in Osijek in late June and early July this year, represents the continuity of the 1st held in 2014. in Zagreb and the 2nd held in 2016. in Šibenik. The initiative was created due to the fact that the relations between the homeland and emigration have deteriorated, especially after the year 2000. An additional reason for organizing the 1st Congress was Croatia’s full membership of the EU, which automatically opened up new possibilities for designing the program and establishing more efficient cooperation between the homeland and emigration. At the end of the 1st Congress, the participants adopted the Resolution, which among other points suggested the following: Firstly, the Ministry of Emigration should be renewed. Second, a network of centers in Croatian emigrant communities for learning Croatian language and culture should be established. Thirdly, it is necessary to allow cultural, scientific and university institutions in Croatia to develop cooperation with Croatian emigrants. Fourthly, Croatian diplomatic services should employ experts, capable and willing to cooperate with Croatian emigrants. In addition to these points, there was also a need to introduce electronic voting and, above all, to involve as many members of the second and third generation of Croatian emigrants in the process of building modern Croatia. After the first two Congresses we have come to some conclusions and given the current political and economic crisis, we decided that the main theme for the 3rd Croatian Diaspora Congress should be DEPARTURE – STAY – RETURN.

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  1. The location of Osijek is an interesting choice. Why Osijek?

For the simple reason that in the last few years, most of the Croats have emigrated from this town and the rest of Slavonia. We are convinced and we hope that the main theme of this Congress will evoke enough attention from the media and from our politicians and their parties, encouraging them to deal with this painful subject in a serious and professional manner.

  1. This is now the third Croatian Diaspora Congress. How successful were the first two so far, and what concrete results are there to show?

I think the first two congresses have succeeded in several things. Meetings held during these events led to discussions on a high intellectual, scientific and professional level within 12 thematic frameworks. These are: Croatian Emigration in the global context; Entrepreneurship and Investment in the Croatian Economy, Croatian Emigration Policy; Migration of women and the identities of emigrant communities; Pastoral care in Croatian emigration, Emigration and return: difficulties and perspectives, etc. Furthermore, I also believe that it is a great success that 140 papers signed by 162 authors and associates were presented at the First Congress. At the Second Congress, the number of papers was 84 and the number of authors was also smaller, 124. At the Third Congress we will have over 100 lecturers and over 150 participants. Unfortunately, we have to be honest with ourselves and admit that we have not been able to make enough pressure to the political parties and the government to adopt some of the key points of our Resolution.

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  1. What, in your opinion, are the biggest obstacles to the diaspora returning to live or investing in the homeland?

First of all, Croatia needs drastic changes if we want to move forward and if we want to return Croatian emigrants to their homeland and encourage their investments. In order to restore the lost trust of Croatian emigrants, the government, i.e. its political and economic elite, must clearly communicate the strategy and concrete programs to their emigrants together with the message that they are a necessity for building modern Croatia. I think the establishment of the Croatian Emigrant Fund similar to the one in Ireland would attract more investment of Croatian emigrants. I’m convinced that the involvement of emigrants who have the knowledge, work discipline and legal experience into the developmental strategy of the Republic of Croatia could contribute to the return of Croatian emigrants and their capital. In order to make this happen, the government must create an investment climate and we must try to eradicate or to minimize the nepotism and clientelism that have become the wound of our society, the phenomena that prevents the development of a modern society.

  1. Croatia sadly has a long history of emigration, mostly due to political and economic reasons. It is a trend which is happening once more, with Ireland, Germany and other EU countries proving popular destinations for the younger generation. How can this trend be stopped and reversed?

In the first place, it is necessary to change the climate in the country, that is, from a state of pessimism and conviction that prevails in the country, especially among the young generations, that there is no future for them. In particular, the media must speak, propagate and spread a positive atmosphere in the public. It is inconceivable for me that a newspaper would publish an article about Croats in Ireland without any comments. In the aforementioned article, our emigrants are complaining about the food, climate, high rents, different lifestyle, not to mention other things, but the article ends with the message “I follow the news from Croatia and I always come to the same conclusion – it’s good that I’m in Ireland “. By reading this article, I had an impression that it was a paid advertisement that encourages further emigration from Croatia. As I have already mentioned, in Croatia, there is a need for great spiritual change. The knowledge, the profession and the excellence of the acquired experience should be appreciated much more. The society cannot treat ignorant and mediocre experts the same as excellent and proven experts. We also have to make sure to encourage a small economy because in all developed democratic states, medium and small entrepreneurship is a very important factor of the economy of each country.

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  1. Tell us a little about this year’s congress and what you are hoping to achieve. What are the key events, and who will the congress be directed at?

We hope to point out this huge trend of mass emigration where complete young families together with their children leave the homeland. It is time that the state and all its scientific and other institutions seek to find solutions to halt this emigration trend. We also hope that this Congress will serve to inform the general public about the facts and information regarding the negative effects of this trend. This could also be a trigger that could or should motivate our politicians and parties to dedicate at least one parliamentary session to this topic. We will have excellent panels with different themed frameworks.

  1. How would you describe the relationship between Croatia and its diaspora, and what can be done to improve it?

At this moment the relationship between the homeland and its emigrants is not at a level that would respond to a large number of emigrant population nor at a level of the scientific, cultural, political, economic, religious potentials of our emigrants. Therefore, there is a great potential to make these relationships more efficient. I think in the previous answers I have given some examples and suggestions how these relationships can be improved.

  1. Disapora have a tendency to subsidise families in the homeland, and remittances from the Croatian diaspora are an important source of revenue for many. What can Croatia offer its diaspora community in return, apart, of course, from those fantastic beaches on holiday?

It has to regain the trust they have lost, convince them by using concrete programs and strategies, make them feel welcome and include them to participate in Croatia’s development. And finally, what I constantly point out is that the CROATIAN EMIGRANTS ARE CROATIA’S BEST FRIENDS.

The 3rd Croatian Diaspora Conference will take place in Osijek from June 29 – July 1. To learn more about it, visit the conference website.


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