The Croatian demographic crisis is something that is making all the headlines for all the wrong reasons of late, but just how ”new” is this negative and concerning trend? It would appear that the tap has been trickling for a great number of years. The popular historic Dalmatian city of Šibenik is an unlikely but excellent example of this.
As SibenikIN writes on the 8th of January, 2019, in the face of the Croatian demographic crisis, in his latest blog post, Ivo Jakovljević has written about the gradual reduction of the Šibenik population since the beginning of the Homeland War, the largest reduction caused by the plague back in 1649. All this, as Jakovljević writes in his blog post, has influenced Šibenik’s age and education composition with long-term consequences, even in terms of the local surname composition.
The largest demographic changes in 300 years occurred in the area of Šibenik-Knin County during the Homeland War between the years 1991-1995 this was highlighted by the population census taken in 1991, and then again in 2001. Not only did the total number of inhabitants decrease significantly (in part due to deaths on both the Croatian and the Serbian side, and mainly in the face of forced migration), but there were also changes in many other areas, too.
As opposed to the economy being the main driving force for the negative trends the country is experiencing today, war migrations played a huge role in the Croatian demographic crisis back then. During the Homeland War, from the summer of 1991 onwards, a lot of movement could be witnessed. These displaced people were predominantly Croats, and also some Serbs who didn’t agree with Greater Serbian politics. Individuals and families were expelled from their places of residence in many cases during the war, and many of these people moved to Šibenik and the unoccupied areas of Šibenik-Knin County, while a smaller number went abroad.
As of mid-1992, amid the continual spread of the war in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, many refugees, made up mainly of Croats and Bosnians, also arrived in the wider Šibenik area. At the beginning of August 1995, a significant number of Serbs left not only Šibenik-Knin County but Croatia as a whole, heading generally in the direction of the Banja Luka area and towards Belgrade, and from those areas they were displaced in all directions, with some even heading towards the north of Kosovo.
Hundreds of them (mostly younger, more mobile and better educated people) then continued moving onwards to Central Europe, with some of them even heading much further afield, outside of Europe to Canada and Australia. During the time of the pre-war crisis in Kosovo, after 1995, many people from Janjevo arrived in the village of Kistanje, and later settled and declared themselves as Catholics.
At the end of this pattern of deep demographic shock, the total number of inhabitants in Šibenik-Knin County during the period between 1991 to 2001 decreased from 152,125 to just 109,799. According to the latest estimates by the Central Bureau of Statistics (due to the chronic low birth rate and the somewhat new trend of economic emigration – predominantly to Zagreb, Germany, and Ireland) in 2019, there may be less than 100,000 in total.
Thus, from 1991 to 2001 the total number of inhabitants in the aforementioned county decreased by 42,326 persons – almost one third! Then, from 2001 to 2019, by about ten thousand. Among the emigrants from 1991 to 2001, almost three quarters (or 74 percent of them) were Serbs.
In Šibenik-Knin County, Serbs once made up as much as 40.7 percent of the population. Just ten years later, Serbs were no longer a majority in any one of the counties. This trend continued, and in 2011, the number of Serbs in the county decreased from 60,800 in 1991 to 11,518 in 2011, and in Šibenik, there were 1,434 Serbs recorded in 2011. On the other side of that same medal, the number of Croats in the total composition the population in the county increased from 58.42 percent in 1991, to 83.80 percent in 2001, and then to 85 percent in 2011.
The same trend changed the confessional composition of Šibenik-Knin County. The number of Catholics increased from 54.9 percent in 1991 to 82.8 percent in 2001, while the share of those of the Orthodox faith decreased from 38.02 to 7.31 percent.
The long-term consequences of war victims, forced and voluntary emigrations, and war and transitional economic damage in the broader Šibenik hinterland, right up to Drniš and Knin, have resulted in some significant changes in the area’s surname structure, which – judging from both from the 2001 census and from the much later 2011 census, has seen the apparent disappearance of a subset of traditional Croatian and Serbian surnames from the Šibenik hinterland.