Sovereignty paved the way for open and broad collaboration with our diaspora communities at all levels and in all areas of activity
The latest issue of Matica magazine appears as the Croatian Heritage Foundation celebrates its seventieth anniversary, on 12 February. The backdrop to the foundation of the CHF was the new policy of the Yugoslav regime towards the Croatian diaspora in the wake of the rift in 1948 between two strongmen, Yugoslav leader Tito and Soviet autocrat Stalin. Yugoslavia opened a period of improved relations with the western powers, and thus with countries having robust immigration (including the United States of America, Australia and Canada), which opened windows to collaboration with citizens of these countries that had roots in the countries that then formed the now defunct Yugoslav federation. An attempt in the period just after the Second World War to lure emigrants to repatriate in large numbers foundered in the late 1940s. Abandoning the mass repatriation scheme, the authorities then turned to institutionalised forms of collaboration with diaspora communities, which saw heritage institutions set up in the various member republics of the federation during the 1950s: besides the CHF in Zagreb, similar institutions were also set up in Slovenia, (North) Macedonia, Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Yugoslav regime treated all interactions with diaspora communities as particularly sensitive and possibly threatening, and all of these heritage institutions—the CHF in particular—were under constant surveillance from the intelligence community right up to the final dissolution of the Yugoslav federation.
The CHF was tasked with opening avenues of collaboration in culture and education with ethnic Croatian diaspora associations favourably inclined to the newly established socialist Yugoslavia and its communist regime. This policy precluded the institutionalisation of links with the homeland for a broad swath of the diaspora, routinely aligned with the Roman Catholic Church, not sharing a communist worldview, and frequently advocating full Croatian independence. This set the stage for a divisive view of the Croatian diaspora into those deemed favourable/friendly and those seen as out-of-favour/enemies, a division that dogged the policies and work of the CHF, with some shifts in course, right up to the final collapse of the socialist/communist regime. The regime was constantly finding more Croatians in the diaspora deemed to be unfavourably disposed towards the state; this was particularly the case in the 1950s and early 1960s with the significant hike in people illegally departing the country for western destinations; young people in particular who were willing to risk their lives rather than remain in Yugoslavia.
Zlatan Sremec, a native of the village of Gradište near Županja in eastern Croatia, was appointed as the first director of the CHF. During its first years of operation the institution, founded as an “association of culture and education with the mission of maintaining cultural and friendly relations between the diaspora and the homeland,” was focused largely on the organisation of tours by culture associations from Croatia abroad and visits by diaspora groups to the homeland, with some attention given to supporting the repatriation of Croatians from abroad. The CHF developed its publishing activity and by late 1951 it had launched Matica magazine as a monthly and in 1955 launched a yearbook, now the Croatian Emigrant Almanac. The socialist/communist regime of the time imposed a strict censorship policy on all these publications and they were geared to promote the Yugoslav regime under Josip Broz Tito among the diaspora.
The CHF was most successful in establishing collaboration with organisations gathering the older (i.e. established) segments of the diaspora population—notably second and third generation descendants of Croatian immigrants—in the countries that saw military victory in the Second World War and that had supported the allied Partisan forces in Croatia. In this respect the Croatian Fraternal Union (CFU), the most numerous Croatian heritage organisation in the United States of America, presented itself as the leading channel for CHF collaboration with Croatians that had settled in the USA. The CFU membership, natives of the USA descended from immigrant Croats, whose ability to speak Croatian had already significantly deteriorated, sought collaboration with their ancestral homeland as an expression of nostalgia for the “old country” associated primarily with folklore—notably tamburitza music, as tourists in the ancestral country, and through concert tours, always consciously giving ideology and politics a wide berth. This form of collaboration—beneficial to both sides—burgeoned. For its part the CHF could point to its excellent collaboration with “the largest Croatian diaspora organisation in the world.”
The CFU and a range of other diaspora heritage organisations—largely denominated under the novel and primarily political Yugoslav concoction, or gathering in particular ethnic Croatians from one of the country’s regions (Dalmatia, Istria County and so forth)—in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and other lands that had adopted a policy of collaboration with the Yugoslavia of strongman Josip Broz Tito, constituted the foundation upon which the CHF of the time developed its activities. In the 1950s the CHF organised language instruction, tamburitza playing, folklore courses, and week-long annual diaspora festivals. The monthly Matica magazine significantly contributed to the popularisation of CHF activities in the homeland and abroad, exploiting the narrow channels of collaboration permissible under the Yugoslav regime. In 1962 then CHF director Vicko Krstulović told a press conference staged on the occasion of a diaspora week that “CHF diaspora tours had become a new form of tourism in Yugoslavia.”
The CHF also set up regional offices in Croatia, opening county offices among which the most active were in the coastal cities of Pula, Split, Rijeka and Makarska. 1961 saw a shift to regional organisation at the level of municipal committees as a more suitable channel for activities.
In the mid-1950s, along with its collaboration with classic overseas diaspora communities, the CHF established its first ties with a historical Croatian minority enclave in nearby European countries: the Gradišće Croat enclave in modern Austria. This was made possible by the adoption in 1955 of the Austrian State Treaty (Austrian Independence Treaty), which re-established Austria as a sovereign state and in which Austria committed itself to respect the rights of Gradišće Croats and Carinthian Slovenes after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from eastern Austria. The CHF organised workshops in Croatia for groups of teachers, culture professionals and students from the Gradišće Croatian community aimed at upgrading their linguistic skills. Collaboration with the ethnic Croatian enclaves in Hungary, Romania and the former Czechoslovakia was significantly hampered by the political tensions between the countries of the Eastern Bloc and Yugoslavia under Tito’s leadership.
In the early 1960s the CHF saw a partial loosening of its policies aimed at broadening its reach among the diaspora communities, to encourage interest for visits to the “old country”, and to counter the negative propaganda of political émigrés, guided by the notion that “when our people abroad get a first-hand look at the situation here [in Yugoslavia] they will be the best disseminators of the truth and, upon returning to their homes abroad, the best interpreters of the Yugoslav reality.” The new broadened concept of CHF activities included, as the programme explicitly states, the “amnestied diaspora”.
The high-water mark of CHF activities in this period was the opening in March of 1964 of a new “diaspora centre” in Zagreb; an attractive and spacious building the erection of which was financed in part by donations from people in the diaspora communities. This period also saw the appointment of the very popular politician and former Zagreb mayor Većeslav Holjevac to the post of CHF director. On the occasion of the opening of the CHF’s administrative headquarters Matica magazine ran an article in which it noted that this “Diaspora centre in Zagreb is an expression of our love, feelings and gratitude to those who have in foreign lands shown and proven, and continue to demonstrate today, that they belong to a courageous and virtuous nation.” The construction of the new CHF building, which serves as the institution’s headquarters to this day, provided technical and spatial conditions that allowed for the expansion and improvement of its activities. The CHF staff was increased to twenty-five full time employees.
Prominent intellectuals were appointed to the CHF management board, including historian [and later Croatian president] Franjo Tuđman, whose first visits to prominent people in the diaspora were made to the United States of America in 1966. Matica magazine saw its most fruitful period up to that point, in both appearance and content, under chief editor Danilo Čović. The history department of the CHF developed into the Institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies. In 1967 CHF director Većeslav Holjevac published his seminal book Hrvati izvan domovine (“Croats Outside the Homeland”) which set the stage for the CHF’s work in promoting a scholarly approach to the issue of the Croatian diaspora and our historical enclaves in neighbouring European countries.
The second half of the 1960s saw growing criticism from the ranks of the communist regime aimed at “nationalist incidents” at the CHF. His prolific and “overly patriotic” work saw Većeslav Holjevac pushed out of the CHF in 1968. The ultimate suppression of the Croatian Spring movement in 1971 and the ensuing repressive measures aimed against leaders of this Croatian national movement produced apathy, fear and the already symptomatic “Croatian silence” across society, including the CHF. Many of the movement’s leaders sought refuge abroad.
The 1970s and 80s saw a number of directors appointed to the helm of the institution: Oleg Mandić (1970–1978), Vanja Vranjican (1978–1985) and Stjepan Blažeković (1985–1990). The Croatian Heritage Foundation continued its fruitful collaboration with the Croatian Fraternal Union and its venerable president Bernard Luketich. The crowning moments in this collaboration were the CFU tamburitza festivals staged in Zagreb in 1976, 1981 and 1986, which saw the participation of thousands of CFU members from the USA and Canada. This was also the period in which contacts were established with other Croatian minority enclaves in neighbouring European countries: the enclave in the Molise region of Italy and those in what was then the Eastern Bloc (Hungary, the former Czechoslovakia and Romania).
The CHF was by no means oblivious to the fact that hundreds of thousands of Croatians had moved abroad in search of work from the mid-1960s, a phenomenon that the official narrative euphemistically referred to as “temporary work abroad”. The CHF joined the Yugoslav diplomatic and consular services and Yugoslav oriented clubs abroad in organising tours by popular folk and pop music performers targeted at these people. This new segment of the Croatian diaspora, broadly referred to as gastarbajteri (from the German gastarbeiter, literally meaning “guest worker”), were, however, primarily drawn to Catholic missions, established by the Catholic Church pastoral directorate in Croatia for the congregation abroad wherever there was a large Croatian community. And while these missions became a hub of culture and education for Croatians abroad the CHF was compelled by political considerations to avoid working with them. It should, however, be emphasised that there were numerous employees of the CHF that even in these very restricted and controlled conditions always found ways to work, patriotically and with dedication, to the benefit of Croatians abroad.
The long economic crisis that followed the death of Josip Broz Tito and the loosing of political blinders in the second half of the 1980s opened new windows of opportunity for the CHF. There was a growing body of publicly voiced opinion, in print and in speech, to the effect that the diaspora and the homeland populations shared common scholarly and artistic interests, that literature was being produced outside the homeland, and so forth in this vein. It was in the final years of the Socialist Republic of Croatia that we saw the merger of the Centre for the Study of Migration and Ethnic Studies of 1984 and the migration and ethnic studies institute that operated under the umbrella of the CHF forming a new Institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies in 1987.
A clear parliamentary majority secured at the elections of 1990, the first with multiple competing parties since the introduction of the communist/socialist regime, by the largely pro-independence HDZ party saw the resignation of Stjepan Blažeković, the CHF’s director at the time. Boris Maruna was appointed to the post as the first director in the now democratic Republic of Croatia. Maruna had up to that point lived in the United States of America for many years as an émigré poet. The democratic policies that ushered him in also saw the entire CHF staff held over at their posts. Croatia’s secession from the Yugoslav federation, and concomitant declaration of full independence, saw the institution’s name slightly altered (it had been founded as the “Heritage Foundation of Croatia” and was now recast as the “Croatian Heritage Foundation”, a differentiation with political connotations in the Croatian Yugoslav-period context). Independence also meant an open window to all aspects of collaboration with the whole of the Croatian diaspora, our minority enclaves in nearby European countries, and the Croatian component of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This was also the period of the Homeland War in defence of Croatia’s independence and never before seen activity and unity with the diaspora communities, including political activity aimed at stopping the military actions waged against Croatia, achieving international recognition of our independence, humanitarian and volunteer campaigns to collect and deliver aid to a wounded land, when many young Croatians born abroad joined the struggle to liberate parts of Croatia occupied by Serbian military and para-military forces. The CHF was active, directly and indirectly, in all the efforts initiated among the diaspora communities.
In an act of political opposition to the policies of the incumbent HDZ party Boris Maruna stepped down from the post of director in 1993. Vinko Nikolić, a respected Croatian émigré writer and publicist from Argentina, was appointed to the post for a brief stint, followed in mid-1993 by Ante Beljo, previously an émigré activist in Canada and the founder and director upon his return to Croatia of the Croatian Information Centre (HIC), an organisation created to provide information to the foreign media concerning the war waged against Croatia and neighbouring Bosnia-Herzegovina. His seven-year term at the post was marked by an effort to harmonise and integrate the work of the CHF and HIC, which at the time had its offices in the CHF headquarters. The parliamentary election victory in 2000 of a coalition of parties led by the SDP party, the successor to the communist/socialist party of pre-independence Croatia, saw the ouster of Beljo and the appointment of Boris Maruna to a second term at the helm of the institution.
In the new millennium the CHF was led by Nikola Jelinčić (2003–2006), Katarina Fuček (2006–2008 and 2009–2012), Danira Bilić (2008–2009), Marin Knezović (2012–2016), acting director Mirjana Ana-Maria Piskulić (2016–2017), and Mijo Marić (2017 to the present). The post of CHF director is filled by appointment by the Board of Directors following the proposal of the government. The board of directors supervises the operations of the CHF and is composed of five members appointed by the government.
The operations of the CHF are systematised by function and related areas into departments and branch offices: it has departments covering the areas of culture; Croatian ethnic minority enclaves; education, science and sports; publishing; diaspora/emigrant information; marketing; legal and general affairs; and accounting and finance. The CHF has branch offices in Pula, Rijeka, Split, Dubrovnik and Vukovar.
Prominent among the CHF’s range of regular programmes and events are the University School of Croatian Language and Culture (founded in 1991), the Little School of Croatian Language and Culture (founded in 1993), the ecologically and reconstruction inspired Eco-Heritage Task Force (founded in 1993), the Summer and Winter Schools of Croatian Folklore (founded in 1994), the Croatian Minorities Forum (founded in 1994), the Days of Croatian Folk Theatre (founded in 1995), the Days of Croatian Film (founded in 1995), the Croatian Ethno Treasury workshop for the production and reconstruction of folk costumes and traditional textile skills (founded in 2002), the Goldfish literature and journalism competition for pupils of Croatian language supplemental instruction abroad (founded in 2003), the Croatian Diaspora Klapa Singing Festival (founded in 2006), the exhibition of publishing activity in the diaspora, staged since 2006 at Zagreb’s annual Interliber international book fair, and the Folk Costume Review and Miss Croatian Folk Costume Pageant for Croatians Abroad (founded in 2014). The CHF also organises diaspora tours of Croatia. The CHF publishes periodicals and books and a number of serial publications that cover our programmes and events. The CHF has had an Internet presence since 1998 at www.matis.hr. In 2005 this site developed into an electronic daily, providing information to ethnic Croatian communities in thirty countries around the world. Keeping abreast of trends, the CHF has opened a profile with Facebook, one of the leading social networking platforms.
By: Hrvoje Salopek