A (Vaccine) Remedy against the Default Negativity Virus in Croatia

Total Croatia News

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All photos by Rene Pronk
All photos by Rene Pronk

It all started 6 days ago when I was looking around for a happy story to balance the misery of protests, corona and economic gloom. I chanced upon an article by one of the happiest people I know in Croatia, Dutchman Rene Pronk, who has been living in rural Croatia for 8 years. He had written a really nice piece called 20 Reasons Why Croatia is the Best Place for Living. A nice, positive story which was quick and easy for me to write, would generate traffic for sure, but mostly would sprinkle some specks of happiness in these less than happy times. 


At least that was the plan… 

The negative voices were first out of the blocks as usual, so much so that it all merited a follow-up article – What Happens When a Foreigner Writes Positively about Living in Croatia?

This merited yet more dismissive remarks, including an interesting discussion on how there were no foreigners moving to Croatia to work in roles other than top management in Croatian companies. The foreign writers writing for TCN didn’t qualify for some reason, as the owner is a foreigner, at which point young Rimac popped into the comments to mention that he employs more than 100 foreigners in his Croatian company, for example. 


The point of the second article was to highlight a beautiful response from Rene when I asked him about what he was running from in his home country, how many millions he had, and which secret service he was working for (all labels and assumptions foreigners are subjected to here). His lovely response can be read in the link above, but as part of it, he mentioned that he had developed a vaccine against default negativity in Croatia. 

There were several comments asking to know more about the vaccine against default negativity, including this message all the way from Australia:


Hi Paul,

I just want to check if you’re the guy living in Croatia. If so, I read your article – What Happens When a Foreigner Writes Positively about Living in Croatia. You made me realise something about myself. I’m an Australian Croatian, meaning I’m first generation Australian born of both parents being born in Croatia and as far as I know 100% Croatian ancestory.   What I realised about myself is that I too have developed the negativity curse. I’ll call it a curse. If the positivity vaccine is able to be sent to me I would be eternally grateful. Ok, I know it’s not real, but I wish it was that easy. My father is negative and so was his mother yet his father, my Dida, was the most beautiful man I’ve ever known. Do you know much more about the negativity in Croatians that you can write about? I have a new interest in this subject now that I’m aware that is not just me. To be honest, it sucks. 

Take care. 

Glass half empty ?. 


So I asked Rene if he would send me some of the vaccine against default negativity. This is what came back:

When we settled in Croatia in the Summer of 2013 I quickly noticed that it wasn’t all about beautiful beaches, great waterfalls, friendly people and clean air. Something was obviously disturbing me but I could not instantly figure out what it was. My wife and I have lived in many different countries all over the planet so it wasn’t really the difficulty of adjusting to a new home; neither were we homesick. 

I thought it would pass. After all, Croatia was still coping with a big financial crisis that hit so many other countries all over the world as well. But soon I learned that the air that I was breathing had a  stubbornly thick substance that was all around; a virus that affected many; negativity. 


I am not trying to appear here as some positivity guru. Just for your information, I suffered from severe depression for more than seven years in my life. I overcame it and decided that I did not want to get depressed again in Croatia, but neither do I want to fake some optimism that I do not really possess. 

I am very serious when I say that Croatia is among one of the best places to live on this planet. Making a living here is of course of a different nature and a quite more complex story for most Croats that do not have access to the right connections. Can life be happy and good in beautiful Croatia? 

Is there something we can do to get rid of the default negativity virus? Is there a vaccine? Yes and no. No, there is not a simple and easy way one-time injection. But yes, we can really boost our immune system with some of the ingredients I have written here. And if more people try to practice them Croatia will one day be freed of a virus worse than what we are facing now.  


1. Be a fountain, not a sponge
There is a daily decision that we all have to make: Do I want to copy-paste my environment and absorb all the negativity of the media and bad news? Do I want to join the daily number of thousands of government cursors in the coffee bars? Do all my negative and cynical comments on social media contribute to my happiness and that of somebody else? Do I really feel better by judging other people? Frequently expressing ourselves in a negative way about circumstances and others means that we have no connection with the persons we really are. We then choose to be sponges instead of fountains.   I realize that the word fountain may cause some question marks for those familiar with the hobbies of Zagreb’s mayor. But what I mean is that we need to choose daily either to influence our outside world positively by what we have stored up inside of us or otherwise absorbing all the negativity that goes on around us. Never let circumstances dictate the dreams in our hearts. 

2. Exchange fatalism for opportunities
Part of the negativity default in Croatia is the fatalism that unfortunately is deeply rooted in many of the religious mindsets of the people here. Maybe even dating back to the days when parts of Croatia were for centuries under Islamic rule. When something bad happened, it was Gods/Allah’s will and there is nothing we can do about it. Well, I see things rather from a different angle. What if we try to make our last failure a diving board for our next success, learn from our mistakes and purify our dreams and plans? If there is a God, wouldn’t he be willing to bless instead of making life miserable for us (just suggesting)? Change your parameters on religion and this unproductive fatalism and become an opportunity seeker. What worked against Croatia for so many years can be a huge opportunity to work for Croatia in the years to come. 


3. Happiness makes us rich
The overall thinking in Croatia is that the foreigner has big bags of money and must, by definition, be extremely happy. Well, I have met some extremely rich Croats with boats in several ports and houses on pretty mouthwatering locations and yet they are not particularly appealing as happy and joyful people to me. In fact, they are pretty unhappy and perhaps they think that their next purchase or career move will bring the joy they so much long for.

I spend much of my time among the “poor” and lonely in some of the most depressing and deserted places of rural Croatia. I drink terrible Turkish coffee in their houses and try to survive some of the most mortal homemade “rakijas”.  I listen over and over to their stories. These people share their struggles, their hugs and give me some of their eggs and veggies. Rich, very rich people mostly do not have such a habit. In the best case, they support as distant philanthropists. Now, consider, who is really happier?

Those who want to add and gain more and more to their short-lived lives? Or those who can easily let go of things and have time to share and care? Who is really rich in this world? 


4. I want my neighbor to succeed
One of the worst things in especially rural Croatia is the overall attitude followed by many ‘I don’t want my neighbor to succeed’. It is deeply rooted in this country and it found its way all the way to the parliament. One particular political party was even selling t-shirts that some other political party is nothing but a bunch of thieves. Not really a very constructive way of expressing your positive plans for a better Croatia.  Networking and co-working are subjects best to be avoided, it seems. 

We came across that attitude in a very unpleasant way when we started our rural tourism projects in 2004. We learned the hard way what “blufiranje” really means and when personal threats become very serious.  It is time for the tide to turn and learn that if we start blessing (speaking positively) our neighbor, countless blessings (positive things) will come to us. That is an unwritten law in the universe really worth trying. When we are convinced of your own positive dreams and plans there is no need to blame and curse neighbors anymore. Working together makes 1 + 1 = 3


5. There is beauty in everything 
Everything waits to be noticed. The biggest problem we are facing in the world right now is not that we are in lockdowns but that the biggest part of humanity is locked up within themselves. Most of the things we do as people we do it with unawareness. If we are not aware we are not present in the “now”. And “now”, today is the right time to change our life.

As a photographer, I am an opportunity seeker. Even in sometimes seemingly ugly situations, a wonderful picture can be born if the right light falls on it. Just be present and accept difficult and unpleasant situations. Wait a little for the right light and we will see things differently.  Create a mental picture and begin to believe in it. This is for instance how I look at Karlovac. It was once one of the most beautiful cities in Croatia. Now it is in a very deplorable state. But the eyes of a believer still see the beauty that once was and hopefully will be again. 


6. Try to smile in Karlovac
Ever tried doing your shopping in the city where nobody smiles??? I like to give compliments to those who think their jobs suck and their payment is an understatement for just “surviving” money. I smile at the lady behind the cash register in Konzum.  I do give a compliment to that lady who is cleaning the public toilet and leave her some money for a free coffee. Remember, people will soon forget what you have said but your attitude towards them can make a lasting impression. Drop many moments of friendliness in your everyday life in Croatia (especially in Karlovac)  and you will be happier too!

7. Find the gold in the rock
I met Milena 8 years ago in a remote village between Karlovac and Slunj. She is of Serb origin and a minority in Croatia. That is also how she felt, how she was treated and how she behaved. Her parents were very poor and she left school without any papers. When I first met her she said that life just did not work out for her and that she was living on the devil’s bud. At that moment a beautiful rainbow appeared in the sky. I told her that even the devil’s bud had some surprise in store. From that day on things slowly started changing. 


It is extremely hard to try to get people out of poverty. It is not just the circumstances that need a reset but also the mindset of those in poverty and the problem of the absence of friends and coaches. I offered Milena a job as a volunteer in our foundation. She did many of our translations and later on, she ran a small souvenir shop that we started in Slunj. She passed her driver’s licence and we were able through the help of people in the Netherlands to improve her living conditions and get her a small car. I told her that I believed in her and so many coaching and buddy conversations were shared between us. Nowadays she is the manager of several stores as she works for a foreign investor. She runs five of his businesses and she does it well.

The point is… If you feel down because of your circumstances start to dig for gold in the rocks. Be a buddy and coach for someone else who is in much worse circumstances than you are in. It is so easy to hit ourselves against the rocks and even stumble or call the rocks impossible to surrender. But there is gold in many people. There is gold in many Croats. It takes a man or woman of good faith and perseverance to bring the gold to the surface. 

8. There is still something good about all the bureaucracy
Now we are getting curious…. Is there anything possibly positive about the paper monster in Croatia? Yes, there is. Thinking back on my life in the Netherlands going to a tax office and trying to meet a real person in that office was a mission impossible. Everything was digitalized. One could only reach them by phone or by mail. There was no such thing as personal contact or making reference to one of the workers that dealt with my case. Not so in Croatia. You can just walk into their offices and if you are lucky and curious even get to know how much tax your next-door neighbor needs to pay this year as papers are always all over the place. My point is very simple. “For every disadvantage, there is an advantage” (Johan Cruijff) 


9. Start a garden
One of the greatest things in Croatia is the “domaci” mentality. Croats like homemade and homegrown stuff. So why not indulge ourselves and join that mentality. It is a great antidote for dark and doomy days in Croatia. For seeing our own flowers and veggies growing makes us thankful and patient. It teaches us to adjust to the rhythms of the season. I start my daily routine in my garden every morning when I wake up. Just see what is growing and take on that grateful attitude. Never take it for granted.

10. Positivity attracts the right people and the right opportunities. 
Do not try to convince people whose mindset is set to misunderstanding you. Do not try too hard to let the “die-hard negativist” think differently. Better ignore them or make them smile.  If people think Croatia sucks, just let them think and talk that way. They are probably looking for an excuse for their lack of creativity and their own personal failure. The more positive we will speak, think and act the more positive people and circumstances we will attract. In the end, the wrong people will leave our lives as they cannot stand the atmosphere around us. Eventually, we will find ourselves surrounded by the right and positive people who can really contribute to our goals and dreams and to a better and more positive Croatia. 


Now enjoy another positive experience – Rene’s wonderful photography documenting the beauty of rural Croatia



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