The forum, organised by the Croatian National Council and the CHF, pooled the participation of some twenty participants from the Hungarian part of the Gradišće community, the Hungarian part of Baranja, the Bokelj Croats in Montenegro, the Molise Croats in Italy, the Karaševo Croats of Romania and the Croatians in Serbia (the Srijem, Šokac and Bunjevac communities).

The First Croatian Indigenous Minority Communities Youth Forum was held in Tavankut from the 13th to 16th of October. The event was organised by the Croatian National Council and the Croatian Heritage Foundation. The gathering of young ethnic Croatians from European countries aims to make an effective and comprehensive contribution to forging links among the youth of Croatian communities in the countries of southeastern, central and eastern Europe. Although we have no exact figures of the size of the indigenous Croatian communities, there are estimates that place the number around four hundred thousand. The status of the indigenous Croatian minority communities differs from country to country and is regulated in different ways. Although one might assume that the statuses of these communities ought to be the same, given that they rest on the same set of European standards covering the protection of ethic minorities, in practice this is often not the case. The actual and de facto status of indigenous Croatian minority communities are also impacted by historical, demographic, policy-related and other factors.
In many countries in which Croatians enjoy the status of a national minority group the European integration process played a critical role in improving their lot. A significant role in recent years has also been played by the policies enacted by the country of origin which, in light of international and regional standards, has regulated the status of minority groups on its own territory and has dedicated significant attention to ethnic Croatians in other countries. These are only a few of the reasons that make a forum of this kind essential, with the aim of bolstering collaboration between members of ethnic Croatian indigenous minority groups as a way of providing an integral overview of some of the issues that impact the status of Croatians outside the homeland.
The first day of the forum offered participants an opportunity to hear presentations from the host lecturers. Historian Vladimir Nimčević offered an overview of the history of Croatians in Vojvodina. Tomislav Žigmanov, the president of the Democratic Alliance of Croatians in Vojvodina and a Member of Parliament in the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia spoke of Croatians in Serbia Post-2000 – Current Status, Issues and Perspectives, Jasminka Dulić PhD, the chief editor of Hrvatska Riječ, spoke on the topic of Minority Information in the Croatian Language – Challenges and Perspectives, Darko Baštovanović MA, the international secretary of the Croatian National Council lectured on EU Integration, Minorities and the Policies of the Country of Origin, Ladislav Suknović, president of the Matija Gubec Croatian Culture & Education Society of Tavankut spoke on the topic of The Experience of Working with Youth in the Function of Preserving Identity, Mladen Petreš, president of the youth wing of the Democratic Alliance of Croatians in Vojvodina discussed Political Activism and Youth, and Željko Šeremešić, president of the Hrvata Bodrog Culture & Arts Society of Bački Monoštor lectured on the Significance of Tradition and the Contemporary in the Function of Preserving Identity.
On day two of the event the guests of the forum presented their activities and exchanged experiences in their respective countries. Szabolcs Szöllősy and Fanni Sárközi, representatives of the Croatian community in Hungary, spoke of that country’s minority rights protection scheme and the manner in which Croatians achieve the rights guaranteed to them. Szöllősy discussed the minority self-government system in Hungary, while Sárközi spoke of the significance of cultural practices among the Gradišće Croats in Hungary and their cross-border cooperation with the Gradišće Croats of Austria. Francesca Sammartino, a representative of the Croatians in Italy’s Molise region, spoke of the work of non-governmental associations in the Molise Croat community, noting the prominent role of the Agostina Piccoli Foundation, which has taken a leading role in promoting the culture of the Molise Croatian community. Sammartino pointed to the fact that Italy’s constitution does not specifically recognise minorities as such and that Croatians do not received any form of institutional aid from the Italian state, and rely on other sources of financing for their cultural activities. Anca Svetlana Facraci, a representative of the Croatians of Carașova (Karaševo), a commune in Romania’s Caraș-Severin County, spoke of the Croatian community in Romania and the mechanisms in place providing Croatians minority rights. She noted that one of the most positive aspects of the Romanian situation is the fact that the local Croatian community has a minority MP with full voting rights in the country’s parliament. Ljubomir Grzetić, a representative of the Croatian indigenous minority community in Montenegro, spoke of that country’s national minority protection scheme, noting that Croatians were well integrated in Montenegrin society and that they possess the appropriate mechanisms for the protection of their identity. Grzetić noted that the Croatian minority now has a minister in the country’s government, an assistant minister, a guaranteed seat in the Montenegrin parliament, and two deputies in Kotor and Tivat.
Speaking to a Hrvatska Riječ reporter CHF minorities coordinator Marin Knezović (head of the department for Croatian indigenous minorities) noted that, “This meeting is the result of the Youth Forum organised last year by the Croatian Heritage Foundation that discussed the status of youth in the Croatian communities. The conclusion then was that particular attention had to be directed at youth and the proposal was that this Croatian youth forum be held, which I feel is being staged in the best place where a Croatian minority community now lives, in Tavankut. The objective of this forum is to create links between young Croatians and to provide a venue for young Croatians across European countries to become better acquainted with one another, so that they do not work in isolation, that they not feel alone, that one gets the sense that there are people around the world that share your lot, with whom you have a lot in common and some different experiences you can share.”
Knezović noted that youth today is not geared as much towards traditional culture and that projects associated with traditional culture need to be more in tune with contemporary reality.
“The programmes in which we wish to involve youth need to acquire something new, something special, and we will discuss that at this year’s Minorities Forum to be held in Zagreb on the 24th of November, where we will talk about our relationship with traditional culture and in what measure traditional culture can remain at the foundation of the identity of Croatian minority communities, that is to say: how we need to reshape it to preserve it as a foundational element,” Knezović said.
Darko Baštovanović, the forum coordinator on behalf of the Croatian National Council, noted that, “The idea of organising a forum of this nature grew out of the 22nd Croatian Minorities Forum held at the Croatian Heritage Foundation. The delegation of the Vojvodina Croatian community I was a part of along with Mato Groznica and Darko Sarić Lukendić, proposed that the first such meeting be in Vojvodina, something the coordinators at the CHF agreed with given that the Croatian indigenous minority in Serbia is one of the most numerous and largest in the world. We felt that it was essential that fellow Croatians from countries in which the Croatian minority has the status of a traditional [indigenous] minority got to know each other better, to create links and that – through formal settings like this one – we develop and improve future collaboration. We gathered some twenty participants – we have been joined by our compatriots from the Hungarian part of the Gradišće community, the Hungarian part of Baranja, the representatives of Bokelj Croats in Montenegro, the representatives of the Molise Croats in Italy, of the Karaševo Croats of Romania and of Croatians in Serbia, more precisely from the Srijem, Šokac and Bunjevac communities.” (Hrvatska riječ)

By: Ivica Dulić