Croatia has one of the largest diasporas in the world relative to the country’s population size with Croatian communities all over the world.
To find out how many people of Croatian descent live abroad, where they are mostly located and what might help bring them back to Croatia, we spoke to a demographer Monika Balija, who works at the Department of Croatian Demography and Emigration, Faculty of Croatian Studies, University of Zagreb.
Hello Monika, do you know how many Croatians actually live abroad?
The recent wave of emigration and the number of Croatian emigrants in recent years, after Croatia joined the European Union, clearly indicate that a large number of Croats live outside the borders of the Republic of Croatia.
If we remember that emigration from Croatia, accompanied by several large waves of emigrants, has been going on for several centuries, it is clear that Croatian emigrants in the world number in the millions and for the homeland marked by a natural decline, a negative external migratory balance, total depopulation, aging of the population and doubtful sustainability of all the public systems which depend on the demographic characteristics of the population, it represents a great demographic and economic potential.
Intensive emigration, especially during periods of individual emigration waves, has contributed to the fact that Croatian emigrants today can be found on almost all continents.
Among European countries, most Croats live in Germany, South American countries live in Argentina, and a large number of Croats live in the United States, Canada, and Australia. The countries mentioned, as well as Austria, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, New Zealand, etc., are classic Croatian emigration countries in which about 3.4 million Croats and their descendants live.
The second group of Croats abroad is represented by the Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina who, at the time of the 1991 census, numbered around 760,000, whereas today it could be estimated at around 350 000.
In addition to them, we should add Croatian minority communities in neighboring European countries to the total number of Croats abroad, where about 200,000 people live.
If we recall that the first results of the census carried out in 2021 showed that 3.88 million people lived in the Republic of Croatia, we come to the conclusion that Croatia has more Croats and their descendants outside its borders than in interior of them.
Where have the majority of Croats moved since Croatia joined the EU?
Croatia’s entry into the European Union, in addition to intensifying previous emigration trends, also conditioned the evolution of the number and share of emigrants by country of destination.
For example, before Croatia joined the European Union in 2012, according to the Central Statistical Office, out of the total number of emigrants (12,877), most people emigrated to Serbia (31.0% ) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (25.0%), while 30.1% of the total number of emigrants emigrated to European Union countries, of which almost half (1,883) emigrated to Germany.
Similar shares are visible in the year of joining the European Union, 2013, when the total number of emigrants (15,262) emigrated to Bosnia and Herzegovina (26.8%) and Serbia (26.2 %), while 31.2% of the total number of emigrants emigrated to European Union countries.
The flows mentioned mainly referred to return migration and political and ethnic motives of a regional nature. After Croatia’s accession to the European Union and the opening of the labor market of EU member states to Croatian citizens, Germany, Austria and Ireland can be named as the most attractive to Croatian emigrants.
Data from the Central Statistical Office shows that between Croatia’s accession to the European Union and 2020, around 260,000 people emigrated from Croatia and around 150,000 emigrated to Germany, Austria and Germany. Ireland.
As the most popular destination for Croatian emigrants, one could distinguish Germany, to which around 120,000 people emigrated from 2013 to 2020. Due to the intensive emigration of the Croatian population to Germany, in the 31 December 2020, there were 426,000 Croats living in this country, almost twice as many as in 2012 (DESTATIS).
What drives emigration today?
If we look at the period of the 21st century and the data of the Central Statistical Office, the Republic of Croatia has recorded a negative migration balance since 2009.
The impetus for emigration in the period mentioned was mainly of an economic nature; unfavorable economic conditions, lower standard of living, lower general employment rate, inability to find permanent employment in the profession, etc. With the accession of Croatia to the European Union and the opening of the labor markets of the Member States, the flow of emigration has increased considerably. intensified and in some years after joining the EU, such as in 2017, Croatia recorded nearly 50,000 emigrants.
The intensity of emigration from the Republic of Croatia in the period following the accession to the European Union has encouraged a large number of scientists and experts to study the extent, direction and characteristics of the recent wave of emigration. The results of the aforementioned research have largely confirmed that the recent wave of emigration is not motivated solely by economic reasons.
It could therefore be said that dissatisfaction with the general situation in the country, the uncertain future in Croatia and the (lack of) socio-political opportunities are the driving factors for emigration from Croatia in the post-colonial period. accession to the European Union.
Recent emigration was only briefly slowed down by the still ongoing pandemic, but it is to be expected that in the future a large number of Croats will decide to move abroad again, mainly due to the consequences of the entire pandemic period on the Croatian economy. . The pandemic has of course affected the economies of all countries of the world, but it is to be expected that the economic systems of developed countries and Western Europe, which attract the Croatian population, will recover much faster from the pandemic. and the problems that result from it.
In addition, throughout the pandemic period, the reasons that led people to emigrate in the pre-pandemic period are still largely present, while the destabilization of the economy will further contribute to emigration.
What can help bring Croats from abroad back to Croatia?
If we consider the models of revitalization of the population of the Republic of Croatia from the point of view of the profession, in addition to the population-oriented model of the country, i.e. the classic demographic policy aimed at encouraging the birth rate, the second model is aimed at the population outside the country and refers to selective immigration.
In this last model, given the great wealth of emigrants, we should certainly take advantage of the fact that outside the country we have several million inhabitants of Croatian identity.
If we take into account the data from the Central Bureau of Statistics and that some surveys show that the young, able-bodied, potentially reproductive and to a large extent educated population emigrate the most, it is clear what the potential is.
However, the answer to the question “What can bring the Croats back?” is not simple, nor a sufficient measure to obtain a more serious result.
Since Croatia has experienced intensive emigration since its accession to the European Union, and for several decades a continuous natural decrease of the population, Croatia needs correlated economic and demographic policies, that is to say measures which will offer young people still in Croatia secure employment and housing.
An increase in the quality of life in the homeland will in itself encourage a number of emigrants to return, and if we add direct measures for them, which have already been confirmed as successful models in other countries such as Ireland and Israel, we come to the answer that a solution certainly exists.
However, it is not as simple as recently presented financial motivationsbecause large numbers of emigrants living in countries much more organized than Croatia cannot be expected to return to a country whose population is migrating rapidly.
Models and designs from other countries are not easily replicated given Croatia’s different circumstances, however, they should be observed and introduced due to future aspirations and potential opportunities. Croatia needs a comprehensive set of measures in the sphere of all public policies aimed at increasing the birth rate, slowing down emigration, attracting returning emigrants and new residents to Croatia.
As the most direct system to deal with this issue, we could distinguish the tax system, which must necessarily be in line with the objectives of demographic revitalization and desirable regional development of the country.
First, it is necessary to raise awareness of the importance of human resources for the overall development of the country, and then to adopt strategic measures aimed at the population inside and outside the country.
As regards the direct measures intended for the population abroad, one could cite the encouragement of the development of activities in Croatia which Croatian emigrants exercise abroad or the exemption from income tax for a certain period for all Croats who register in Croatia and employ a certain number of people.
These measures should be harmonized with the encouragement of foreign investment, the orientation of production towards the fastest growing economic sectors, the reform of the educational system, etc., since the potential economic recovery and the shortage of labor could encourage a number of emigrants to return to Croatia.
One of Monika’s colleagues at the Department of Demography and Croatian Emigration at the Faculty of Croatian Studies at the University of Zagreb, Professor Wollfy Krasicrecently shared his thoughts on why Croatia neglects its emigrants. You can read his text HERE.