Scholar, businessman, politician, diplomat, writer and honorary Croatian consul in Venezuela Zdravko Sančević passed away in Caracas in his ninetieth year. Sančević lived in Croatia from 1931 to 1945 and from 1991 to 1999. He spent most of his life, 68 years, abroad, active among our diaspora, and saw his dreams of an independent and free Croatia achieved.
Zdravko Sančević, an honorary consul of the Republic of Croatia in Venezuela, and a patriot, has passed away in his ninetieth year. He died in Caracas on 21 September of this year. A scholar, businessman, politician, diplomat and writer, Sančević was born in the village of Crkveno in Bosnia-Herzegovina on 20 January 1931. His father, Mirko Sančević, was a prominent businessman active in forestry and the lumber industry. Zdravko received his early education in Bosnia-Herzegovina, continuing with his higher education in Croatia, Italy, the United States of America, and Venezuela. His education saw him at leading secondary schools (gymnasiums) and universities in Zagreb, Rome, Pittsburgh and Caracas, eventually earning him a doctorate. His parents moved out of Croatia in 1945, when Zdravko was fourteen. He survived, but not unscathed, a two year long period as a refugee in camps set up in Austria and Italy. He arrived in Venezuela in 1947 and took up petroleum engineering studies in Caracas before moving on to study in Colorado in 1957. He earned a master’s degree in 1961 at the University of Pennsylvania, later earning his doctorate in 1976 at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas. He worked in the petroleum industry through to his retirement ( (1953 to 1990), earning promotions as a skilled engineer and able manager in this lucrative industry. As an erudite scholar Sančević was the founder of petroleum studies at the university in Caracas, teaching to a generation of students.
He always put family before career, however. He passed on to his daughters and sons an affection for the Croatian people that always respected their Venezuelan homeland. He was active and successful in creating Croatian diaspora organisations and institutions, and as an editor of Croatian language news (1970/73). He remains particularly remembered as the publisher for almost two decades of the Vjesnik Centro Croata-Venezolano (“Herald of the Croatian-Venezuelan Centre”, 1974–1991). In 1949 he was among the co-founders of the ethnic organisation Staro Društvo Hrvata u Venezueli (“The Old Society of Croatians in Venezuela”), where he served as secretary in 1951. He also served as president of the Hoger Croata C.A. company from 1969 to 1971 and again from 1988 to 1989. He led the Croatian Catholic Community association from 1970 to 1974. He served as the secretary of the Croatian-Venezuelan Centre (from 1975) and finally as the president of the Croatian Committee for Venezuela from 1990. He was among the founders of the Croatian National Council, a worldwide supra-party organisation gathering active members of our diaspora founded in the Canadian city of Toronto in 1974. He collaborated with the most influential diaspora journals, Studia Croatica and Hrvatska revija (“The Croatian Review”), making important contributions with his pragmatic articles concerning the “Croatian question” among organisations abroad active in the protection of human rights, including Amnesty International.
He moved back to Croatia in 1991 when the country faced armed aggression as a volunteer in the nascent national guard. He served honourably at a number of prominent advisory posts in Zagreb, including a stint as minister of information and minister for the diaspora (1991/92). He served as the Croatian ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995. He participated in the work of an honorary fraternity of petroleum engineering. He also served as the chairman of the coordinating committee of the Croatian Democratic Union party for Venezuela and for South America from 1990. He was promoted to the rank of colonel of the Croatian Army. He worked closely with former Croatian President Franjo Tuđman, who would later confer some of the nation’s top decorations on Sančević; the Order of Duke Branimir with Necklace and the Order of Ante Starčević. He was also a recipient of the Homeland War Memorial Medal. He also served as the chairman of the governing council of the University of Zagreb.
He moved back to Venezuela in 1999 where he served as a Croatian honorary consul. Over his lifetime he amassed one of the largest collections of Croatian-themed literature abroad, penned in over ten languages. He provided residence lodging in his home for visiting Croatian scholars. Readers of Croatian publications such as our own Matica magazine and the Croatian Emigrant Almanac will fondly remember his articles and books, including his memoirs covering the period of his ambassadorship in neighbouring Bosnia-Herzegovina, Pogled u Bosnu (“A View into Bosnia”, 1998), and his work covering just shy of 500 pages offering supplements to Croatian historiography, including a history of our diaspora in Central America (2015).
Sančević lived in Croatia from 1931 to 1945 and from 1991 to 1999. He spent most of his life, 68 years, abroad, active among our diaspora, and saw his dreams of an independent and free Croatia achieved. He was a man of faith, a caring husband, proud father to a large family, and a caring grandfather.
As a publicist Sančević, along with a series of engineering innovations, discovered in American archives first hand sources that point to Croatian settlers in the Caribbean some five hundred years ago. This discovery indicates the arrival of the first Croatians in the Americas by way of the Caribbean islands in 1502.
With the collapse of socialist Yugoslavia and the regained liberty of Croatia people of our background living from the Rio Grande in Mexico to Brazil had a solid bridge to the ancestral homeland in Sančević. During his life Sančević noted that one of the factors that makes collaboration among the people of Croatian ancestry difficult among all the countries of the Americas is the range of languages they now speak; including English, Spanish, French and Dutch. Sančević has earned our enduring gratitude in all these efforts, for all he has done as an honorary consul for people of good will.
The historical context of the emancipation of the modern Croatian nation in the international arena as it exists cannot adequately be assessed without considering the intellectual and philanthropic work of people like Sančević, closely linked with the activity of the Croatian National Council as a supra-party organisation that emerged during the Cold War among university educated people in our diaspora in the wake of the suppression of the Croatian Spring movement in Croatia, and that drew young intellectuals abroad of Croatian extraction. The Council emerged as the most representative political organisation among ethnic Croatians living abroad in the post-Second World War period, and Zdravko Sančević was among its architects.
During its sixteen years of activity the Council was a key lobby group, the work of which contributed to a chain of events that included the fall of the Berlin Wall, the international recognition of Croatian independence, and the successful defence of the country in the Homeland War of the 1990s. The core mission of the Croatian National Council was to counter the unitarian and totalitarian propaganda machine of the former Yugoslavia. After the Helsinki Accords of 1975, to which the former Yugoslavia was a signatory party, which guaranteed the inviolability of frontiers and moved forward the development of the European Community, Croatia and Croatians abroad focused on two core activities: human rights and the right to self-determination, clearly identified as effective prongs of action by our dissidents active in the West. The generation of activists that included Sančević made an inestimable contribution to regaining Croatian independence and the international recognition of Croatian statehood. Sančević was among the happy generation of Croatians abroad in the right place at the right time; a fortunate set of circumstances into which he imbued enthusiasm, humanity, philanthropy, and knowledge, to the benefit of his people and all people of good will.
By: Vesna Kukavica
Photography: CHF Archives