The Congress gathered just under 250 participants from eleven countries, from America and Europe to Australia and featured 164 different thematic presentations.
The 2nd Croatian Diaspora Congress, and international academic gathering, was successfully staged in the Croatian coastal town of Šibenik from the 30th of June to the 3rd of July 2016. Croatia is now numbered among the EU countries with the relatively largest share of native migrants, and the congress drew just under 250 participants from eleven countries from America and Europe to Australia.
The Croatian Diaspora Congress aims to strengthen national unity and to create a space at which academic citizens from the homeland and abroad can critically debate new opportunities for the progress of our entire society, from policy making to the economy. There is a sense of a loss of trust between the emigrant communities abroad and homeland Croatia in recent times, trust that certainly needs to be restored. The homeland was forged in a titanic struggle and we must not allow everything good that has been built over the past twenty-five years to be undermined. These were the sentiments expressed at the gala opening of the event, held in the grand hall of the Croatian National Theatre house in Šibenik on the 1st of July by the head of the Croatian Government’s State Office for Croats Abroad Zvonko Milas, addressing the many gathered participants, the hosts and dignitaries as the special representative of Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, under whose auspices this significant international academic gathering is being held.
The congress pooled just under 250 participants from eleven countries in the Americas, European capitals to Australia, and offered presentations on 164 topics.
Željko Burić, the mayor of Šibenik, known also as Krešimir’s city in memory of the medieval Croatian king Petar Krešimir IV the Great, addressed the gathered on behalf of the host city, celebrating the 950th anniversary of its founding, and wished the event participants fruitful discussion.
Šibenik bishop emeritus Ante Ivas had encouraging words for the participants in his inspired speech, reminding the gathered of the literary classics that have sung the intimate hardships suffered by separated Croatian migrant worker families that encouraged them in a very particular manner to nurture family bonds in their (e)migrant lives in the course of the twentieth century, people such as poet Vinko Nikolić and Mladen Bjažić.
Croatian Democratic Union Member of Parliament Margareta Mađerić was also on hand on behalf of the speaker of Croatian Parliament Željko Reiner. She spoke before the congress participants, highlighting the challenges of modern mobility and the ongoing exodus of young Croatian citizens as one of the country’s burning problems. She also pointed to the difficulties faced by returnees in achieving their rights in the face of bureaucratic obstacles, including double taxation. Emigrants that moved from Croatia, of which there are over three million scattered across all the continents, are also one of the most robust promoters of Croatia in the world, applying their own academic, cultural, business sector and athletic achievements in presenting Croatia in the best possible light, Mađerić noted.
Also on hand to address the gathered congress participants was Luka Burilović, the president of the Croatian Chamber of Economy. Along with Croatian Parliament deputy speaker Ivan Tepeš, a significant contribution was made to the work of the congress by Member of Parliament Božo Ljubić, the president of the parliamentary committee on Croats abroad, and MP Željko Glasnović, a former general and a returnee from Canada.
Croatian Member of European Parliament Davor Ivo Stier was also there to greet the participants. He noted that they were a reflection of all the potential of the Croatian communities abroad, rejecting any stereotypes. “These stereotypes persist. They are a derivative of sorts, a derivative of past and defunct policies that regarded the Croatian communities abroad as an enemy. These stereotypes are today used as a means of limiting the role of the Croatian emigrant communities. They no longer refer to it as an enemy, but Croatian emigrants continue to be frequently depicted in the Croatian public space as radicals, extremists or, in a milder variant, there is an effort to reduce their role simply to the preservation of culture, folklore or, possibly, to some financial contribution, rather than accepting the fact that the Croatian emigrant communities are an integral component of the Croatian nation,” Stier said, arguing that the congress participants should be active partners in creating our new developmental paradigms. Following the state-building and Euro-Atlantic paradigms, Steir says, the greatest challenge to capable Croatian citizens today, from the country and abroad, is to throw open the doors to political and economic institutions, and not to quietly observe the outflow to foreign markets of the most vital sector of the labour force. Stier is the European People’s Party’s chief negotiator in the European Parliament’s committee on development in the area of European Union development policy.
On behalf of the congress organisers Marin Sopta, the president of the programme and organisation committee of the Croatian Diaspora Congress and one of the initiators of its mission in the frame of the academic community, thanked the hosts, all co-organisers, the press and dignitaries on their wholehearted support. He underlined that the objective of the work of the Croatian Diaspora Congress was to systematically analyse the developmental contributions of the Croatian emigrant communities to the modernisation of Croatian society, especially in recent periods. Sopta noted that it was particularly important to offer a more complete insight and description of the overall contribution of the Croatian communities abroad to the establishment of Croatian national independence and development at the transition from the twentieth to twenty-first century. “Our shared objective in an intensive three days of work at four locations in the city of Šibenik,” Sopta said, “is to shed a critical light on the new political, societal and existential reasons for the current exodus from Croatia and to analyse the chief changes in the practice and positions of emigrant Croatian communities formed after Croatia won her independence and the dominant changes and difficulties in preserving and strengthening the Croatian ethnic and cultural identity.”
Following the gala opening ceremony of the Croatian Diaspora Congress – the innovative introductory Documentary Evening – the congress’ plenary discussion and economic forum saw three days of panel discussions in the course of which just under 250 participants from Croatian and foreign universities, institutes, Croatian Catholic Missions in the communities abroad and other centres of excellence delved into the phenomenology of the Croatian diaspora communities and the topic of former emigrants/returnees. The panel discussions focused on the following topics, achieving 165 individual presentations: entrepreneurship and investment in the Croatian economy; Croatian emigrant policies; portraits; the migration of women and the identity of emigrant communities; social networks; the Croatian emigrant communities and the public at large; pastoral guidance in the emigrant communities; emigration and repatriation: challenges and perspectives; Croatians as a national minority; language & culture & literature; the role of institutions in the Croatian communities abroad.
Among the participants of the 2nd Croatian Diaspora Congress was the very active pastoral director for Croatians abroad and Catholic priest Tomislav Markić. During the three-day event he on multiple occasions noted that the Catholic church has been involved in the work of the Croatian Diaspora Congress from day one in the organisational and expertise aspects and that a significant contribution has been made by nuns and priests from Šibenik and by numerous eminent lecturers active in our Catholic mission in the Americas, Europe and Australia. “In an era of global mobility our emigrants have remained bound to the regions from which they came from distant meridians,” says director Markić, “which is contributed to not only by the fact that members of their families live at two locations, on two continents, two countries, but also by the understanding of Croatian people on the move that double affiliation can be an advantage and a source of security in the current world of growing inequality.”
The culture and entertainment programme accompanying the congress, along with the beauty of the cathedral in Šibenik and the other points of interest in the city, featured a performance of Jakov Gotovac’s opera Ero the Joker, brilliantly interpreted by the Croatian National Theatre troupe of Split and the dancers of the Jedinstvo Culture & Arts Society and directed by Krešimir Dolenčić on the fascinating new stage at Sveti Mihovil fortress (Sveti Mihovil/Saint Michael is the patron saint of the city of Šibenik). On the closing day of the congress the participants visited Krka National Park and the Franciscan church and monastery on the islet of Visovac, followed by socialising at the eco oasis of Pakovo Selo featuring the ethno-culinary delicacies of the region.
We wish to congratulate all the members of the programme and organisation committee, above all secretary Tanja Trošelj, student Mihovil Rora and Frane and Jakov Bilić and the team of president Marin Sopta for the excellent organisation of the Croatian Diaspora Congress. We also wish to offer our sincere gratitude to the hosts from Šibenik, mayor Željko Burić in particular, the Šibenik diocese, retired bishop Ante Ivas and the priests and nuns (convent of the Franciscan nuns of the Immaculate Mother, the Croatian national shrine of St Nikola Tavelić, St Francis monastery) in particular for their perfect organisation and great information and communication support, from the church halls to the Croatian National Theatre house and the Juraj Šižgorić municipal library and all its staff. Mayor Burić has proven to be an excellent partner to this international academic gathering, noting that Šibenik welcomes all forms of congress tourism.
There was not a speaker at the congress that did not request an extra minute for their presentation. All of the presentations were excellent and with attractive computer presentations, and it is hard to pick out anyone in particular. Due to the limited space available to us, however, we have opted to turn the reader’s attention to the young researchers that all brought a fresh new perspective in terms of method and style to the emigrant narrative, in spite of this selection being, of course, unfair to the renowned academic citizens that have for years contemplated the issue of our diaspora. In brief, in the course of the intensive three-day programme we heard content ranging from inventive documentary introductions to the outcome of the recent research effort of a team from the University of Zagreb’s Faculty of Economics and Business Anđelko Akrap PhD, Marin Strmota PhD and Krešimir Ivanda M.Econ, whose presentation was on Emigration from Croatia from the Start of the 21st Century: Causes and Consequences. The team of demographers led by Akrap has long warned that Croatia has been a theatre of depopulation from the 1990s to the present day, with more deaths recorded than births. The overall population is ageing and the number of retired persons is quickly growing equal to the size of the labour force. With the ongoing issue of unemployment in Croatia since it gained independence to the present day, there is an evident process of increasing emigration. For Croatia even a small number of people emigrating – highly educated in the fields of electrical engineering, computer sciences, mechanical engineering, medicine, mathematics, physics, chemistry and the like – constitutes a significant loss, one that will be hard to compensate for. There has always been the issue of the interrelation of the less developed with the developed nations: the less developed educate people for the developed countries. Croatia has for some time now faced the issue of a relatively high number of unemployed persons – an issue that for the present time seems unlikely to be resolved. A continuation of the economic trends in place means that the pension and healthcare system is unsustainable on the middle term without major disruptions. Theory shows that in normal developmental conditions, i.e. without major economic and political crises, the young and educated are more likely to emigrate.
A documentary evening at Šibenik’s Juraj Šižgorić municipal library on the 30th of June proved to be an inventive introduction. Speaking at the event were experts from two renowned research institutions – the Croatian Institute of History and the Croatian State Archives.
The researchers from the Croatian Institute of History spoke of Croatian Emigrant Collections as a Part of European Cultural Heritage, an area they are researching in the frame of a EU project aptly titled Courage / Cultural Opposition – Understanding the Cultural Heritage of Dissent in the Former Socialist Countries. This is a fascinating project focused on Central and Southeast Europe that delves into the issues of methods and styles in the activity of the cultural opposition that without a doubt contributed to the fall of communist regimes in Europe. The objective of this project is a systematic identification of public and private collections related to movements and activities among the cultural opposition in the former socialist regimes, including Yugoslavia of which the Republic of Croatia was then a federal member, and their academic treatment in the frame of the Horizon 2020 programme. The database from the Courage project will serve as a tool for sharing information with the broader public. The project team is focusing on the issue of how the cultural opposition contributed to the formation of modern democratic societies, including Croatian society. The topic was presented by a team consisting of Teodora Shek Brnardić PhD, Josip Mihaljević PhD, Lidija Bencetić PhD, Albert Bing PhD and Stipe Kljaić PhD, who focused on the discovery and interpretation of collections created in the Croatian cultural emigration from 1945 to 1990.
In the second half of the documentary evening we learned about complex projects undertaken by the Croatian State Archives in Zagreb under the shared title: Croatian State Archives: Archival Sources on the Emigrant Communities, Culture and Education Activities and a Three-Year project on Emigration as an Example of Good Practices. The team of archivists from our central archival institution consists of Domagoj Menđušić, Mirjana Jurić MA, Vlatka Lemić PhD and others. A capital work of our emigrant archival sciences, The Emigrant Communities: A Guide Through the Holdings and Collections of the Croatian State Archives (2015), was presented by Rajka Bućin PhD. This guide is a multifaceted and to date the largest volume of its kind on the diaspora from Croatia covering the period from the seventeenth century to the present day, edited by researchers Vlatka Lemić and Rajka Bućin. Participating in its creation was a team of self-effacing experts at the Croatian State Archives. The crown of the documentary evening was an exhibition on The Croatian Emigrant Communities in the Holdings and Collections of the Croatian State Archives from the 19th Century to the Second World War – Selected Themes, created by Rajka Bućin PhD, Marijana Jukić MA and Tatjana Šarić PhD of the Croatian State Archives. Speaking on behalf of the trio of authors of the exhibition, senior archivist Marijana Jukić spoke of sources between the two world wars, with an emphasis on the role of the Federation of Emigrant Organisations (Savez organizacija iseljenika, SORIS), as the most influential Zagreb-based association at the time, which coordinated the work of emigrant community associations in the first Yugoslavia from the year 1928 on. The exhibitors and exhibition authors succeeded in creating an attractive reconstruction of what was in the focus of the interest of some fifty associations of emigrants and returnees at whose initiative SORIS developed its network at the sources of migration in Dalmatia, the islands, Istria County ands the Slavonia and Baranja regions. We heard details regarding a congress of emigrants staged at the time, an emigrant week event, the emigrant museum and the New Emigrant (Novi iseljenik) magazine – a reflection of sorts of mobility in the period between the two world wars in the first half of the twentieth century – added to these factors of instability in the labour market was the first world wide economic crisis of the 1930s – a major cause of waves of migration. Between the two world wars SORIS gathered fifty-four organisations in the homeland and abroad.
The team of exhibition authors from the Croatian State Archives (Rajka Bućin PhD, Marijana Jukić MA and Tatjana Šarić PhD) really made their mark with the documentary exhibition on The Croatian Emigrant Communities in the Holdings and Collections of the Croatian State Archives from the 19th Century to the Second World War – Selected Themes. This exhibition focused on the easily forgotten lives of many migrants. This documentary exhibition is methodologically divided into seven significant sections: Emigrant Service; Emigrant Organisations & Institutions in the Homeland: Prominent Figures in Emigrant Services and Organisations; To New Lands; The Organisation of Emigrants Abroad and the Nurturing of the National Identity; The Emigrant Print Media. The seventh section offers a museological and fascinating look at prominent figures in the emigrant communities. The archival material included in the museological interpretation of these three authors bears impressive witness to the challenges faced by Croatian migrants in the past century.
The exhibition was declared open by Mijo Korade PhD of the Croatian Studies department of the University of Zagreb and the authors from the Croatian State Archives.
The history of the Croatian Diaspora Congress and the announced collection of papers from the 2nd Croatian Diaspora Congress
The first Croatian Diaspora Congress was staged in Zagreb from the 23rd to 26th of June 2014 thanks to the enthusiasm of the people working with Marin Sopta PhD. The organisers of the first congress were the Croatian Heritage Foundation, the Croatian Studies department of the University of Zagreb, the office of the Croatian Bishops’ Conference for the faithful abroad, many Croatian academic and culture institutions and groups abroad, such as the AHD Geelong in Australia, the AHD Croatia Club of Melbourne, Australia, departments of Croatian language and culture studies at universities in Australia and Canada and others. An outcome of lasting value is a collection of papers penned by participants of the Croatian Diaspora Congress titled Croatia Abroad, released in 2015 by three Zagreb-based publishers, Golden marketing – Tehničke knjige, the Maksimir Centre for Culture & Information and the Croatian Heritage Foundation. The collection of papers was edited by Marin Sopta, Frano Maletić and Catholic friar Josip Bebić.
The academic community gathered around this congress has worked to encourage a more effective framing of quality public policy towards the emigrant communities. As president of the working committee of the Croatian Diaspora Congress Marin Sopta has said that the collection of papers from the second congress held in Šibenik will be even more interesting and thematically diverse, thanks to the methodical innovations of our younger generation of researchers from the homeland and the emigrant communities abroad.
The Croatian Fraternal Union represented at the Congress
Ivan Čizmić PhD and Vesna Kukavica spoke at the Second Croatian Diaspora Congress on the topic of The Junior Cultural Federation of the Croatian Fraternal Union of America: A Promoter of Croatian Cultural Identity. The CFU Junior Cultural Federation of America and Canada, founded in 1966, gathers some thirty tamburitza ensembles from across the North American continent. The members of the instrumental ensembles, orchestras and dance ensembles involved also second as the CFU youth organisation and these ensembles share a common name – Junior Tamburitzans. The Annual CFU Junior Tamburitza Festival is the key and most inspiring project of this youth organisation, staged in America for the past fifty years. The artistic content of the festival has been enriched over the past five decades with a diversity of intercultural phenomenon that symbolises today’s multicultural American society.
Croatian traditional culture enthusiasts born and educated in the USA and Canada are children of the information-communication era and logically direct their free time to nurturing traditional culture in the new homeland in a manner that breaks out of the frameworks of the enlightenment ideas of their ancestors, burdened by a reconstruction of ossified heritage forms and the identity ghettoization of what it means to be a Croatian. It is an indubitable fact that the festival has over the past five decades developed with a view to integrating young American Croatians, contrary to the insistence on the paradigm of the melting pot – becoming a visible cultural stakeholder in contemporary American society. This fact is evident in the practice of the American quotidian, visible on the global Internet network. Today all CFU Cultural Federation ensembles are linked by way of Internet-based social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. Thanks to the new media the intercommunication of the ensembles is frequent and takes place in virtual space and can flow in all directions, including towards Croatian digitalised heritage with rich audio libraries of original ethnic music material and musical notation from the greatest composers of tamburitza music and video spots featuring amateur performers of Croatian national melodies available via YouTube. Čizmić and Kukavica analyse the creative energy of young American Croatians of the third and fourth generation gathered around the festival and the CFU youth organisation – every festival season in July they showcase the magic of the ethnic heritage of their families to audiences in multi-ethnic metropolises across the USA and Canada as a specific cultural distinctness worthy of particular respect.
Text by: Vesna Kukavica