Ina Vukić was in Croatia at the invitation of Dr Esther Gitman, herself visiting to receive the Friends of Croatia award. Ina has penned a number of books and countless articles for periodicals in Croatia and Australia and provided assistance to the homeland through her humanitarian work in the 1990s.

Ina Vukić is a prominent blogger and columnist in the Croatian emigrant community. Vukić has lived – as she says – parallel lives in Sydney for decades: one is her daily life in Australia and the other revolves around Croatia. In the 1990s she provided assistance to the homeland through her humanitarian work, collecting aid for those who suffered in the war waged against Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. She has penned a number of books on migration and “parallel” lives and countless articles for periodicals in Croatia and Australia. By profession a psychologist, she has for years used her blog to carefully dissect all matters related to Croatia, its political scene and society. We spoke with Ina during a visit to Zagreb.

What brings you to Croatia?

– A few months ago Dr Esther Gitman, an American researching Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac and his role in saving Jews during the Second World War, invited me to join her in Zagreb on the 8th of March and be her guest when she receives the Friends of Croatia award. I have been helping her in her work for many years and we met in Sydney some three years ago when I organised an event at the National Library of Australia gathering researchers and academicians at which she presented her research. Secondly, I have for several years now been concerned about the relatively inadequate efforts being invested in building ties between the homeland and the diaspora communities – that is, at least, the feeling I have. Irrespective of the establishment of the government’s office for Croats aboard a few years ago, drawing on the counsel of some fifty people from the Croatian diaspora communities, it seems to me that there has been no progress in collaboration on a broader basis. At the individual level – yes, there has been; but there is no sense of unity. That is to say: the diaspora continues to feel itself as not a part of Croatia. I am here to get a sense of the situation in person, to feel out opinions in Croatia as regards the diaspora and I am already sensing the contours of some interesting conclusions I have drawn during the ten or so days I have been here.

When were you last in Zagreb and what has changed since then?

– It has been five years – I was swamped with work and simply did not have the opportunity to come. My daughter did visit on three occasions, even spending six months in a spell at the Croaticum to further her Croatian language skills, which was an excellent experience. She works in Australia as a media advisor; she is a journalist and is currently working on her master’s degree in international relations.

As far as Zagreb itself is concerned, the first thing that struck me was the renovated and refurbished façades. I was really pleasantly surprised. The outward appearance is very important. There are fewer and fewer dilapidated façades in Zagreb, you can see that there is investment, that there is work and building going on. I was delighted by the friendliness and enthusiasm of many people I met, and by their welcoming attitude.
As a blogger and columnist, was has motivated you for so long to be so active and have an interest in Croatia from distant Australia?

– I think that the underlying motive is a love for the homeland. In spite of having lived abroad now for decades, I remain a Croatian. I can never be only Australian – I have been assimilated, have friends there, a responsible job, I have never wanted for anything. But I also bear a love of Croatia. That is why I am saddened and hurt by every untruth and unfair attack against Croatia – through my blog and articles in English I wish to offer a defence. I try to analyse how one might perhaps also help attract the second and third generation, which is not “joined” to Croatia, but still is Croatia. There are thousands of people who write e-mails about how their great-grandfathers and grandfathers were Croatians, who would love to learn more, are grateful…

I do, however, feel that Croatia lacks a national strategy for the democratisation of its society. The strategy, it seems to me, changes with every new government or minister. When you have a national strategy, you can change the nuances, but not the strategy. This is somehow missing, at least as far as I can see. And I follow the situation on a daily basis. I practically live Croatia from abroad; it is a parallel life one cannot avoid.

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Text and photography by: Zoran Stupar