British Ambassador to Croatia Andrew Dalgleish Talks Brexit, Rimac, Croatian Humour

Daniela Rogulj

Andrew FS

TCN met with Mr. Andrew Dalgleish LLB, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Republic of Croatia on January 24, 2018, in Split.

Let’s first get to know Andrew Dalgleish, the person. Will you tell us a bit about your life and what led up to you in Croatia today? 

I studied law, and that’s where I met my wife, who is a lawyer as well. When I was studying law I realized that I didn’t want to be a lawyer, but I liked the things that lawyers do, like advocacy – taking an argument and winning it. It’s not me that chooses which side to take, and that’s what diplomacy is as well. Your Government says “off you go, win this argument” or “build this relationship” or “persuade people to think differently”. What I particularly liked about diplomacy though is that it happens in an international context, and I have a real passion for engaging with different kinds of people, whether that’s internationally or just people from a different type of background. That’s the somewhat short description of how I ended up in diplomacy. 

How I ended up in Croatia…well, my last job was in South Korea, but before that most of my working life has been spent doing European Union type stuff, and commercial work – so, helping businesses succeed. When I came to apply for this job, and they asked, “Why do you think you’d be good for it?” I said, “Well, Croatia is in the European Union, it’s a NATO partner, it’s a close ally, and our trade relationship with Croatia is terrible! So I think I can bring to the job some experience and expertise.” In the past, we’ve had people who have been real experts in this region, and I am not an expert in Southeast Europe. But I am an expert in the European Union and commercial work. And I think that’s the kind of relationship we want to have with Croatia now – a bilateral, modern partnership, a business partnership, and that’s what I am trying to achieve while I am here. 

Where are you from originally?

I’m originally from Yorkshire, that’s why I have a slighty strange accent. Generally, in Yorkshire, you speak with really flat vowels – you catch the “boose,” and you put “booter” on your toast. I’ve had that accent all my life, but when I met my wife, my French wife, and she was starting to speak English with this terrible Yorkshire accent – on her it sounded even stranger. I thought “I have to soften my accent a little bit” and so I’ve got a southern version of a Yorkshire accent. 

What were your first impressions of Croatia? 

You know, I applied for the job having never been to Croatia. So, I was quite honest in my application in that there was no suspicion that I was applying here because I knew that it was a beautiful place with great food and lovely people – but I discovered that afterward, inevitably. So my first impression, having got the job, I was still in South Korea at the time – and we couldn’t come to visit for a long time – but we did come to look into schools for the boys, and other things. 

You’ve got to bear in mind the contrast between Seoul, which has 22 million people, and Zagreb, which has a million – but the warmth of the people in Croatia is just outstanding. My experience of it is that it’s not just that Croatians are nice (they are), but they will not be satisfied until you have learned to appreciate the best about Croatia. They go through incredible efforts to share stuff with you and take you to places and show you the secret little locations no one’s heard about because they want you to go “wow, this is brilliant!”. And I really love that, that attention – I think it’s what makes Brits feel so welcome in Croatia.

Andrew FS

How has your overall experience in Croatia been thus far, and how has it been learning the language?

Well, I spent some time learning Croatian, but I mean properly learning – I didn’t just take a tourist course. And, I passed my exam. So, in theory, I have C1 ‘Croatian’ – which is pretty advanced. I’ve gone through the agony of learning the grammar, which was agony. But once you’ve learned it, then, you’ve learned it. The problem that I have is that, because all you Croatians speak brilliant English, very fluent English, it usually goes something like, “Oh, you’re the British Ambassador, let me practice my English on you.” So it makes it quite difficult for me, regularly, to be speaking Croatian. And if you don’t use it, then you lose it. My vocabulary is getting smaller and smaller. I know how to use the genitive, and I understand how to construct my adjective so that it agrees with the noun – but the problem is that I can’t remember the noun. I have all of this theory floating around in my head, but the practice is different. 

I heard you spent some time in Samobor upon arriving in Croatia. How was that experience?

I actually spent time in Samobor to help me learn the language when I first moved here, and I was immersed and put in an environment where the strict rule was there was no English. If you want to survive, you have to speak Croatian. That was my first proper experience of living in Croatia rather than just visiting it. It was great, and that’s where I first learned about the Croatian ‘welcome’. My hosts took me to places and introduced me to their friends and people and I just had a very kind welcome that allowed me to begin discovering not just about the language, but about the country as well and what people think and care about – and what’s on their mind. Samobor is a really lovely place to live as well. 

And now that you’ve been here for a bit, what are some of the favorite places you’ve visited, foods you’ve tried?

There is quite a lot because Croatia is so diverse, and this is one of the pleasures of the country. The experience you will have in Slavonia will be different than the one in Istria, and even Dalmatia. The variety in Croatia is a treat – you feel spoiled. With my family, we’ve had a few breaks in Istria which we really like, but I haven’t yet brought them to Split, and that’s definitely part of the plan. 

Even just here in Split, walking around last night – it’s out of season, it’s quiet, and the streets are just magical. It’s such a pleasure to be here and to be in a country that is so new and so old, all at once. It has such a rich and proud culture, and that comes across in a way that people want to share it with you. There is so much to see that is so varied in this country that it is impossible for me to say “this is my favorite thing.”

How would you compare everyday life in Croatia to the U.K.?

There are similarities, and there are differences, and the most significant obvious difference is that London is so much bigger than Zagreb and so transport is so much more complicated and expensive. But, getting around town here in Croatia is a pleasure. It’s so easy – especially compared to Seoul where there are 22 million people and getting around the city is a nightmare. 

The ease of getting out and about – and because it is small, if you go out to Dolac on a Saturday morning you’re guaranteed to meet people you know, and you just kind of bump into them. There’s a sense of community I think which is difficult to reproduce in a city that is just so much bigger. There’s that sense of being part of a group in Croatia that’s really very welcome.

I’ve had to learn, and it has not been difficult at all I can tell you, that if I want to do effective business, I have to do it over a coffee. And, with that approach, if you want to be lazy, you can say “ah, this is just Croatians not doing any work.” And that’s just a misunderstanding. I’ve had to learn that by sitting down together, face to face, with the papers and the keyboard out the way, just talking things through, you can achieve so much more than by exchanging 40 emails trying to get to the same point. I’ve learned to say “can we go for coffee?” rather than say “can we have a meeting?”. It’s great. That’s something we don’t do in the U.K., and I guess because we don’t have so much sunshine. But it’s something I’d love to introduce as an idea, without people feeling guilty about it. 

We know that your mandate in Croatia has been marked by Brexit as the referendum happened just a few weeks before you assumed your role as Ambassador. Do you want to give us a general overview of the Brexit situation for our readers? Where does it stand today, and what are the following steps?

The result came through, and it took quite some time for people to digest it, whichever way you voted – because the implications are quite significant. And that’s why the time was taken before we formally started the process by saying, “Okay, this is going to be complicated because no one’s ever done this before. We don’t have a ‘user guide’ that tells us this is how you leave the EU.” The Prime Minister sent the letter under Article 50 that said “we intend to leave” and when that letter was sent and received, that’s when the clock started ticking for the time we have to negotiate. So that was sent at the end of March 2017, and by the end of March 2019, we will leave. 

I’m asked all the time “won’t they change their mind?” and “won’t there be a second referendum?” The great thing about a democracy is that you can always change your mind. In theory, could it happen? In theory, it could. In practice, there are no plans to have a second referendum. Therefore, we are working entirely on getting that new relationship in place with the European Union.

The first stage of the process has been to agree in principle to how we will leave, what we owe (the money we’ll need to pay our debts), and how it will look after citizens – this is the most important thing. What does it mean for people? For the normal people who might be married to a different EU national or living outside the U.K. or an EU national living in the U.K. – what’s going to happen to them? They’re understandably worried about this. Getting an agreement on how we will treat them is really important. 

A very complicated issue is our one land border – Northern Ireland – and what happens there. This is politically very sensitive and a situation that predates membership of the EU anyway. How do we make sure that nothing goes wrong? 

Last December, we got an agreement on those three areas – the three ‘big’ areas – about what, in principle, was going to happen when the U.K. leaves. That means that we are now in a place to do what we are doing now, with ongoing negotiations, to figure out how we want the future relationship to look. So, when we have left, how are we going to trade with the EU? How are people going to move between my country and the EU to work? That is going to be a difficult negotiation because we’ve made it very clear that our position here is quite unique and to say “oh well, we’ll have this Norway solution, or this Canada solution” – they’re good for Norway, and they’re good for Canada, but our starting point is that we are completely harmonized with the EU. Whereas its different for Canada and Norway. There are many areas where, through EU mechanisms, we have fantastic cooperation that’s got nothing to do with trade or movement of people. Like, for example, fighting crime or counterterrorism. All of these things to do with our national security, our collective national security, that are so important that we have to get them right in the future as well. There’s a lot more to it than it being just a trade deal. This process has begun and will be ongoing. 

I think it’s important to say that despite the shock and the disappointment of the decision, the attitude going into the negotiations is “we are here to serve our citizens” and that we have to get it right for them. Even if we are not celebrating the fact that the U.K. is leaving, we are going to engage positively and try to work out a solution that is good for Croatia, good for the U.K., and good for the EU. 

Your advice for British nationals in Croatia?

The critical thing is that they should feel they can talk to us, whether its here in Split at the Consulate or in Zagreb or through social media. It’s good to talk to each other and learn from each other, but sometimes what you do want to know is “what’s the official position?” If people don’t ask us, then it makes it difficult for us to tell them. What I would say to Brits who are living here, residents here, is please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and our social media channels because that’s where we are regularly putting stuff out. And if we don’t know who you are or where you are, then it becomes difficult for us to provide you with the information you might need. 

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Let’s talk a bit about innovation and entrepreneurship in Croatia. I heard that upon your arrival in Croatia, you spent some time at Rimac Automobili – want to tell us a bit about your experience there?

I did, and that was great. I might sound like I was there actually making electric cars, and I wasn’t at all. Rimac Automobili was kind enough to take me in a few hours, two or three days a week, just as part of my language training – so that it took me out of the classroom and into the world of work. I could participate in meetings and hear what was going on. The guy that looked after me, a super guy, he would insist that every meeting I ask a question in Croatian to make me speak. 

What was great, though, was just being in that company. As I said it was the first time that I was in Croatia, really – and you get to Croatia, you find the beauty of Samobor, and then you go down the road, and you are in something that is beyond cutting edge. The stuff that Mate Rimac and his team are doing is breathtaking. And to think that this is all happening in Sveta Nedelja – because Mate has got the energy and the drive and the vision to take this forward. For me, that was my first experience of Croatian creativity. For me to get that first hand, and to see the energy of that – what a great introduction to Croatia. And that stays with me. 

And it’s not just Mate; it’s not just Rimac – there are loads of these examples all around that make you think “yeah, there is something about Croatia that sets it apart.” Dare I say it, but I believe Croatians don’t always recognize that. And I wish they would as it gets me really excited about the potential this country has. It was a fantastic introduction. 

What would do you think Croatia needs to do to foster the talent we have? How do we continue to push these innovators and entrepreneurs? How can Croatia become a leader in this area?

Well, while it’s not my job really to tell Croatia what to do – actually, it’s not my job at all haha – but what I can do is look at this and think “what can we do as partners?” If you’ve got this incredible strength in Croatia, what strengths do we have that we can bring together? And on this front, what I’d say is that you see a lot of tech companies who have a brilliant idea but they don’t necessarily know how to commercialize it and how to get it going. What I’ve seen myself are companies that will go to London, not to learn how to do brilliant IT – they know how to do that, and they’re even teaching us how to do that – but how to raise capital, find investors, and run a business professionally. Because in London, we have loads of experience of helping startups do just that. 

There’s one company where I know the guys really well, Memgraph based in Zagreb, and this is what they did. They went to London to learn how to build their business, and what’s most important is that they’ve now come back. And they’re in Zagreb, and their business is growing. They’re small, but they’re employing more and more people. And they’re using the contacts that they made and the knowledge they acquired in the U.K., but they’re using it for Croatia and the Croatian economy. That’s something that we can do together. 

Another area, different but very relevant I think is regulation. Croatian businessmen tell me there’s too much red tape, too much bureaucracy, it changes all the time, and we never know what the rules are. That’s what British businesspeople complain about as well. But we took an initiative a few years ago to say “ministers are not allowed to introduce a new burden on business unless they remove an old burden.” In other words, we’re not going to allow the overall burden to get bigger. We started with what’s called “One In, One Out”, and it was so successful that we now have “One In, Two Out” – for every GBP burden you create, you have to remove two GBP of burden. And we’re even going to move to “One In, Three Out,” and estimates about how much this has saved the U.K. economy are in the billions. People are now freer, they have more predictability, and they can plan their business to work with the regulation rather than feel like they’re fighting against it. 

We’ve been talking to the Ministry of Economy here about how we did it, what went wrong, the experience we can share, and that I think could be so valuable in the business environment. 

Croatia’s Education Minister Blaženka Divjak was just in London for the Education World Forum – and was the first Croatian minister ever to attend this event. Croatia is progressing in education, but what steps do you think the country could take to be better? 

It was great to have Minister Divjak in the U.K., and it’s wonderful that she was the first one to attend the event. The interest that she’s showing to help form the education curriculum is terrific. Everyone says its needed, and I’ve not heard anyone saying “no, stop!” in regards to education. But it’s quite controversial, and there are areas where some people want to do it this way and others another, but I need to be really clear – we don’t have the answer in the U.K. 

We are very proud of our education system, and we’ve got some of the best universities in the world – four out of the top ten universities in the world are British – and considering we’re only a small country, that’s not too bad. We have a good experience, but we are never satisfied with our education system, and it’s a constant evolution of looking at our neighbors and what they’re doing to see what does and doesn’t work. Regularly reviewing the system is crucial – nothing can ever be set in stone. The emphasis that is put on STEM education is essential, and it’s an easy win if you like, and something that you can introduce quite cheaply. Nenad Bakić has shown this with his Croatian Makers. They are instantly engaging kids and teachers. You can take what is a relatively small step and achieve a big result. But of course, this is only a part of the education reform. It’s something that we’ve invested a lot of energy in the U.K. (STEM), but it’s not the whole story as that is much more complicated. 

I think that you need to take this bit by bit, and if you try to do everything at once something will probably go wrong. There are some areas, like with STEM, where we can say “we’ve had a good experience, do you want to talk?” While there are other areas where we’ll say, “you’re probably best talking to someone else.” The point of talking to each other I think is so important because if any country gets themselves into a place of saying “we think we’ve got the answer,” you can be pretty sure they haven’t. This is why it is great to have the Croatian Education Minister in London at the forum. We’ve got some work planned this year to provide a space where, internationally, we can share our best practice. Merely talking about it will provide ideas.

Because we are speaking in Split, Croatia’s tourism champion of 2017, and because it’s no surprise that tourism is a crucial part of Croatia’s offering, and GDP, let’s talk a bit about tourism. 

We’ve been cooperating quite actively with Gari Cappelli, the Minister of Tourism, and he’s been really interested in our experience because, in the U.K., we have seen exponential growth in tourists coming to the country. And that’s because we put a lot of effort into it. You don’t come to the U.K. typically to swim in the sea and enjoy the sunshine. So, why do people come? Well, for a whole load of different reasons, and again its that diversity and acknowledging and working with that diversity that I think has been so important. We’ve had our ‘GREAT’ campaign that has embraced and celebrated that diversity. Some things will speak very strongly to some people, and leave other people completely cold. For example, some people will be really excited to visit the place where Shakespeare was born, and other people will question why you did that. Speaking to those different audiences and packing things up for them to understand efficiently is important. 

For example, Scotland makes fantastic whisky. We all know that. Most people know that you can go and visit a distillery. But actually, what do you have to do to make that happen? That then becomes a bit more complicated. What we’ve been doing is saying: “Here’s a distillery tour. Your flight will bring you in here; there’s a transfer to the hotel, you’ll visit the distillery on this day, you’ll see the countryside then, etc.” When the attractions are packaged like that, people are coming. All they have to do then is just click “buy”. It’s all prepared for them. And because the material is already there, what you’re doing is adding a story to it and then making it easy for people to do. 

That’s what we’ve been talking about with Mr. Cappelli, what we call the Experience Economy. It’s not just about sitting on the beach and the sun. The diversity of Croatia – cultural, historical, gastronomical, architectural, archaeological even – all of these things can be offered, and there is so much to be done. Mr. Cappelli is now working with his team and with the Tourist Board, and we’re sharing our experience of doing that. I think the key, of course, is the problem with the tourist ‘season’. If you limit yourself to three months, what are you doing for the rest of the year? People don’t go to Britain for the weather. In other words, there are loads of opportunities if packaged right and presented well to make Croatia’s tourist season two to three times longer. Then, it becomes more of a sustainable part of the economy. 

British tourists in Croatia. The number is increasing every year. Do you envision that trend continuing? Are they visiting the same places in Croatia year after year?

I think British tourists have the same thing in mind when visiting Croatia as most tourists – the sun and the sea. But what’s interesting with British tourists is that the older they get, the more disposable income they tend to invest in tourism experience, and they are looking for experiences. Not all of them are looking to sit on the beach, but they’re looking to eat great food, drink delicious wine, and they’re looking to let their minds travel. This is what I mean about whether its the archaeology or the gastronomy. In Split, you’ve got the palace, which makes it a very obvious destination to visit. But there are so many other places where British tourists, amongst others, will be looking for improving their understanding of history, whatever it might be. I think that that presents an opportunity. 

You also have tourists you want to come and go hunting in Slavonia or do extreme sports – there’s a whole range, and that’s where I think Croatia does have so much to offer. If packaged properly, it can be a desirable destination for a vast range of people, not just in the peak season.

Music festivals in Croatia. We know that there are many organized by U.K. productions, and some have even resulted in the organizers finding permanent situations in Croatia (take Nick Colgan of the Garden Brewery for example). While it’s not hard to see why Brits are drawn to having music festivals in Croatia, how challenging do you think the process is for them in the end – with bureaucracy and the like? 

My understanding is that those who have organized music festivals in Croatia have worked very closely with the local authorities to plan them properly. This is to make sure that the festivals are going to be a positive experience, not just for the visitors, but for the locals as well. I’ve been talking to people in the time I’ve been here in Split, and they were pretty nervous when this idea came about; the town would suddenly be full of thousands and thousands of young people, doing who knows what – would we be getting any sleep at night? I think that they’ve said that it has been a lot better than they were fearing. Sure, there are going to be some problems, but we as an Embassy have worked very closely with the organizers of the festival as well to get the message out to the visitors of expected standards of behavior. And also, what they should expect if they break the law. If you break the law, then you pay the price. We’ve also done our part to make sure that the visitors are coming adequately insured, prepared, and wearing the right kinds of clothes – it sounds silly, but these are the things that make them relatively successful. If you think of how many hundreds of thousands of British tourists we have coming to Croatia every year, how many tens if not hundreds of thousands of young people coming to music festivals, and a small handful of problems – I think that’s a good sign that the embassy and the festival organizers and the local authorities are getting it right. 

Andrew in Cakovec

British humor v. Croatian humor – are they similar? 

It is so similar. One of my experiences in Samobor was thinking to myself “we’re laughing about the same things.” Obviously with my job you travel around a lot and you learn quite quickly that something you find hilariously funny is not at all funny in a different culture. But here in Croatia, it is! Both of our cultures, I don’t know the reasons, but they both have delight in the absurd. Monty Python, for example, I could think of some European countries who do not understand it at all. And you can’t explain that, of course you can’t! But it just seems to hit the spot in Croatia and the U.K. I think as well, we like to laugh at the downfall of authority – you know, people who are full of their own self-importance, we tend to want to prick them a little bit with humor. That we find quite funny. 

On the other hand, you have sympathy for the plight of the little man. Think of ‘Only Fools and Horses’, for example, you can’t help but like these helpless characters who are never going to achieve anything but they’re trying all the time – and we laugh with them as much as we laugh at them. That’s the key thing.

As soon as you say “we can laugh about the same things” then you can definitely talk things out. 

To finish things off, let’s talk about your time in Split. What have you done thus far, and what are your plans for the rest of your time here? 

I’ve had a great time, and I am going back to Zagreb on Friday, but I will definitely be back to Split, that’s for sure. I’ve been talking to the local authorities about opportunities for collaboration, I’ve talked to the Chamber of Commerce about how we can get Croatian and U.K. businesses working together on projects, but the most fun thing that I’ve done was visit the First Gymnasium where I had a terrific chat with the principal. I met some of the students who have performed in some of the shows and musicals the school has put on in English, one of whom is now applying to study drama and music in the U.K. They took me to one of the language classrooms and I was able to meet the students who competed against 17,000 other students in an English online competition in Europe who finished 4th and 13th. They are both from that school. How about that? So in the classroom, I had a chat with some of the students who were learning English and had a great time with them. They were such fun and were so engaging, and again, immediately we were laughing – because we were able to laugh at the same things. It was relaxed, it was fun, and I think they were quite grateful because it meant that they didn’t have to have a lesson. I love doing things like that – and this is something you don’t always get the chance to do when you’re stuck in formal meetings all day. Just to be able to chat with the kids was really special. 

I will also be visiting some local businesses in my time in Split and talk to them about why they should be selling to the U.K.! 

Thank you, Mr. Dalgleish, for taking the time to speak with Total Croatia News!

You can follow the British Ambassador’s personal account on Twitter, and follow the British Embassy on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  


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