Asylum: Voices from Croatia, the Diaspora and Beyonda

Are You One Of The 180 People Leaving Croatia Today?

By 18 June 2018

June 18, 2018 — Five years ago, I revealed my decision to leave New York City and move to Croatia. Now everyone's scrambling in the opposite direction.


Some trepidation surged through my fingers as they were typing. I suspected a slow-creeping madness consuming me as I hunched over my desk in a newspaper office in Queens, NY. Then I wrote:

The day I decided to commit myself to journalism, I had this distant and vague idea of being a roving Balkans reporter. I've spent the better part of five years ‘paying my dues’ and honing my skills. All the while, I've waited for circumstances to somehow justify the move, a sort of path to pave itself exclusively to me.
I'm done waiting.
I've decided to pursue that goal. I'm leaving NYC on July 5, with a one-way ticket to Croatia in my pocket. [...]
It's been a long and complicated process of figuratively biting my nails, drowning in self-doubt. Then, to hell with it. If I fail, let it be in a horrendous flameout doing what I've always wanted to do. Let's see what happens.
Queens, I love you to death [...] New York, you're a grueling bitch of a city that has thickened my skin. Thank you.
Ali jebeš sve to, idem doma.

That was posted June 18th, 2013; the day I let the modern definition of “everyone” know my plans to hightail out of the Big Apple and set up on a remote island in Dalmatia.

These Facebook "memories" pass without notice most of the time. Yet this one was met with an odd juxtaposition: new figures released the same day claim about 180 people leave Croatia every day, mostly bound for Germany, Austria and Ireland. About 66,000 left the country last year alone.

I still, after five years of living here and enduring many of the well-documented headaches, see tales of fed-up businessmen and hopeless students packing their bags. And I still ask the same question...


Is it the lack of economic opportunity, even though economic trends suggest “Millennials” worldwide will be the first generation to be less-wealthy than their parents?

Is it an alleged “uhljeb” patronage jobs system, where the public sector’s dominance as the employer of last resort trumps private sector jobs so desperately needing applicants, employers are improving overall benefits (a.k.a. a rare case of functioning economics)?

Have these desperate people cold-called and sent their CVs to private companies looking for employees, instead of relying upon the much-maligned HZZ? If so, how many CVs did they send before they gave up?

Did they, before buying that ticket, consider looking for a job outside their field of study? Was that even an option?

When these emigrants board buses in Osijek and Zagreb, are they motivated by sincere hope for a better future, or succumbing to a general malaise infecting most corners of this country?

Are they just tired of Zdravko Mamić and HNL?

Have they also been waiting for a "path to pave itself", exclusively for them?

Are they hoping for to be the exception to the rule in countries increasingly hostile to foreigners? Do they think their immigrant experience will be better because they’re not Muslim?

Does the political jabberwocky and double-speak coming out of Zagreb ring so false, they think public servants elsewhere hold themselves to a higher moral standard?

Are they tired of living in a nation with one of the highest rates of home ownership in Europe? Would they rather rent a slice of heaven in Cork, Stuttgart or Klagenfurt? And maybe — just maybe — they’ll earn enough to take out a mortgage so they can own a house — even if it's technically their second?

Is the decrepit infrastructure here frustrating their plans? Even if a fistful of airports were either renewed or opened around Croatia, all while Berlin's Bradenburg airport fiasco continued its long tale as one of Germany's greatest embarrassments?

Does Croatia's GDP growth forecast seem so good they’d rather live in countries that have one-third the predicted rate, according to The World Bank?

When they step aboard the bus and hand the driver their ticket, do they look at the rolling hills of the ever-fertile Pannonian Basin and curse Ivica Todorić, for allegedly usurping most of it? Would they — could they — have done a better job?

Is it because Prime Minister Andrej Plenković gained so much weight he resembles a bespectacled version of the Simpsons’ Mayor Quimby?

Do they take a final look at the unique limestone fortress that is Dalmatia, with its long history as a transom for nearly every major European empire, and think the rulers of past centuries were mad to invade this land?

Did they ask their grandmother how she ever survived without leaving?

Are they exhausted by talk of Ustaše and Partizani? Have they tried to change the subject?

What’s their rate of participation in local and parliamentary elections? Have they held their elected officials to account, or have they dismissed democracy by saying “Eh, they’re all the same”?

Do these lonely travelers hoping for a brighter future squint into the blazing sunshine and think, “Yes, it will be better. In Dublin,” then prepare their umbrellas?

Have they ever taken a second look at vocational schooling and considered the remedial courses necessary to become a plumber, electrician or bricklayer — or similar jobs that are always in demand during these building boom times?

Do they, in their wanton need to earn more, more and more, bother to glance at statistics that indicate life satifisfaction among the young is nearly identical to Croatia's in the countries they’re moving to?

Is it because they want a new iPhone without paying extortionist prices to Hrvatski Telekom? Is that it?

Should we blame the parade of garbage television, polluting the airwaves and dumbing down a populace?

Can one, as they take their seat on the bus, claim he or she tried? What if they were planning to leave before as soon as they graduated?

Have they (rightfully) grown tired of the 2Cellos, and the way Elton John is randomly wedged into ads for the duo's concerts?

Are these folks ditching Croatia the sort who meet a problem with cowardice and flee, betraying instincts which belonged to our hunter-gatherer forebears? Habits ditched long ago when humans decided it best to drop anchor and struggle through adversity in the hope — and knowledge — that a community allowed to evolve in a very Darwinian sense will eventually thrive? That only the toughest need to stay, while the laggards depart for easier terrain?

Do they, as they pull out their smartphones and post one last status update from Croatia, feel trepidation surge through their fingers and a slow-creeping madness consuming them?

Are they justifiably desperate?

Are they insane?

Or am I insane for seeing these same problems as curable; merely requiring tremendous effort — toil and failure and toil and failure — in an endless cycle that’s also its own reward?

And if things eventually get better and they change their minds… will we welcome them back as they step off the bus into Croatia? Or will we ask, “Where were you when we needed you the most?”