CHF Director Marić was in Australia and New Zealand with a delegation from Bosnia-Herzegovina for a two-week visit to numerous emigrant representatives and associations to learn more about their work and activity.

CHF Director and Prsten association of Bosnian Croats president Mijo Marić was in Australia and New Zealand with a delegation from Bosnia-Herzegovina from the 27th of October to the 9th of November visiting numerous emigrant representatives and associations to learn more about their work and activity. In this interview he discusses the work of the CHF, the Prsten association and Croatians in the diaspora communities.

What is at the core of the work of the Croatian Heritage Foundation?
The Croatian Heritage Foundation has been active for 66 years and, as its name indicates, it is charged with the mission of networking emigrant Croatians, Croatians in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatians that have the status of minorities in other countries. This networking has its emotional aspect, but also a logical one, comprised in the fact that the effects of working together are much greater that the sum of the individual efforts of members of a group. As the popular saying goes – we are stronger together.

Why then is there so much antagonism?
Conflicts are natural and a part of human relationships. Conflicts also contain the potential for action and change. And our objective is to effect change to the current situation. What can be controversial in disputes is the method in which we resolve them. If disputes are overly emotionally coloured, which they often are, then we fall into the trap of seeking scapegoats and name-calling. This takes the facts out of the equation. What we want is a rational approach because it leads to problem solving activity.

Is there a difference in approach between Croatians in Croatia and Croatians in the diaspora communities?
Every migration is difficult and includes hardship, often even trauma. Massive migrations are often traumatic on a massive scale. This occurs in periods we often refer to as hard times. In these hard times every one of us bears his or her own torment, and his or her own hope. We nourish hope with the belief in a better tomorrow. This idea of a better tomorrow, among Croatians, was nurtured for hundreds of years with the aim of creating an independent Croatia. This generation had a window of opportunity to achieve this dream and succeeded in the mission. The dream was achieved! And this also required that we wake up and face the reality that involves leading, developing and appreciating our country. Our country! It was here that we were less than successful. Instead of addressing the problems that are an entirely natural part of the process, we simply let them accumulate, and the frustration grew alongside. The lack of activity saw us kick the can down the road. We sought out scapegoats and resorted to name-calling. It would be a great idea if we drew a line in the sand, forgave one another (we simply didn’t know better) and now look to identifying functional solutions. Homeland and emigrant Croatia have so much in common and unity is just good logic.

Your message at meetings with Croatians in New Zealand and Australia?
Our messages are largely reflections of our needs and in a way a form or asking the people they are directed at to satisfy them. My job is to listen to and to hear these people, individually and as a group and then, through the content that is the Croatian Heritage Foundation, and in collaboration with national institutions, to morph them into actionable objectives with clear operationalization and deadlines – so that they not devolve in nothing more than a wish list. This is a great and joint mission shared by Croatians here in the country and our communities abroad. I am also confident that this is a good time. We are faced once again with the large-scale emigration of Croatians from both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia and this is now an issue of the first order for both countries. This is why Croatian Prime Minister Plenković, President Grabar-Kitarović and the Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina Čović have afforded so much attention to this issue. On this visit to New Zealand and Australia Mr Čović and his aides, along with their meetings at the state level with top officials in New Zealand and Australia, took every opportunity to meet with our emigrant communities.

What did you hear from our emigrants?
These are people who moved to distant parts, taking with them their Croatian spirit, further enriched with the atmosphere and experience of life in New Zealand and Australia. To their courage, work ethic and experience they added the knowledge and wisdom of these developed nations. We met with groups and prominent citizens whose knowledge, experience and love of Croatia are precious. I hope and trust that we will know how to turn this into concrete content.

You also stand at the helm of Prsten, a major association of Bosnian Croats. What about its activities?
I believe that good ideas are self-sustaining ideas and that they find a way to live. We were motivated by good intentions in the idea to pool the effort of Croatians in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in all of the twelve years Prsten has existed we have gathered over three thousand people and over three hundred legal entities. In a broad range of content everyone has found their form of activity through social, cultural and sporting activity, providing scholarships to pupils and students and activity in the domains of science and the economy. Prsten is also home to some one hundred researchers whose knowledge and work are to the benefit of society as a whole. There is significant collaboration between them and the business people active in Prsten, who employ some fifty thousand people in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in their companies. It is our permanent mission to be a bridge of cooperation between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia and the Croatians living all around the world.

What impressed you most during your trip to New Zealand and Australia?
There is a lot to be impressed with in these two countries, but I would single out my meeting with Croatians that have seen great success in the private sector. I am fascinated by their straightforwardness and capacity for focused observation. In spite of the rationality that informs their activity as business people, my experience has been that their decisions are also informed by a Croatian sentiment – unencumbered, however, by the weaknesses of their native land. Then there was the visit to the Cardinal Stepinac Village retirement home and Catholic centre. The people there nurture memories of the old country. The cakes still have that aroma from childhood. Memories of meadows, glades and streams revive and complement an image of the homeland as it was or ought to be. Here the homeland is nurtured and defended, at times criticised, but always loved.

By: Jozo Pavković