Addressing Croatia's Population Problem: The New Ministry of Balls

By 7 January 2016

Croatia's new proposed Ministry of Demagraphic Revival has attracted the attention of Croatian satirists in recent days, all the more so when the initial acronym was a word for male genitalia. Lee Murphy, a Zagreb-based Irishman from Cork, looks beyond the jokes at the broader issues surrounding the new ministry, and the new government's history in dealing with them.  

An opening paragraph has never come harder than this... The words are simply not there. How does one describe the current situation between HDZ and Most and keep either calm, or a straight face? Like the incoming government, I suppose all that can be done is to try.

It’s all over every news outlet, so it must be true! Croatians are dying out and nobody wants to have sex ever again… At least that seems to be position that the fledgling HDZ / Most confederacy are occupying.

It is no secret that the Croatian population is in decline. Every year fewer people are born than die, and every year thousands of educated adults leave their home in search of a better life elsewhere. But it’s ok really, because so long as you’ve had some Croatian blood in you at some point in your genetic past, and can prove it, you’ll get a passport and citizenship, and surely the ‘muggle’ Diaspora population is growing naturally in addition to the 15,000 additional ‘purebloods’ who leave these shores each year? Right?

Mathematics is the purest science there is, and numbers can’t lie…can they?

They can if you’re Branko Hrg, leader of the Croatian Peasant’s Party (HSS), who loudly announced that Croatia would see its 20 Ministries reduced to a number more in keeping with Japan’s 6. Japan, a country with a population of over 120 million, and no small level of industry, has in fact 19, which should come as no surprise when looking at the numbers on offer; Japan has a per capita GDP approximately 3 times that of Croatia, a lower unemployment rate, a lower poverty rate, and it goes on like that for quite a while.

But back in Zagreb, there’s no sign yet as to which Ministries might find their portfolios on the chopping block, and all the while we’re hearing that one new portfolio will be created – that of the Ministry of Immigration and Democratic Renewal (which abbreviates to MUDO, a colloquial term for balls, nuts, what have you). Just what HDZ and Most hope to do in terms of boosting the population is unclear – both parties and their good friends in the church have hardly expressed a healthy attitude towards the old slap and tickle, a bit of how’s your father, the beast with two backs, and so on. I mean, they peddled almost exclusively lies during the referendum on same sex marriage in Croatia, and the church in this country actively tells people that paedophile priests are actually homosexual – a line that is, to put it bluntly, utter b*******. Perhaps USKOK would investigate some of these learned holy men’s academic credentials since they’re already doing the same for ZET and other bodies.

HDZ’s candidate for the Ministry of Health is Ante Ćorušić, a doctor himself, has some intriguing ideas as to how he’s going to resolve the birth rate issues. He wants sex education to be the domain of the parents, not the schools. I could see how that might work, in a way. If children are misinformed to a large degree, then perhaps that will see a spike in teenage pregnancies, which in turn would leader to a faster replenishment of the population. At least it might if weren’t for the fact that a large majority of the parents who blindly follow whatever HDZ, Kaptol, and the Vatican say are the sort who tend to be rather dictatorial about pre-marital sex. Perhaps we might see a growth in middle-aged pregnancies instead?

But the birth rate is not the only concern. Yes, 30,000 fewer Croatians each year, but there’s the matter of drawing back the Diaspora, in order to have their expertise and wealth make Croatia great again. HDZ, ironically via their own politically aligned Diaspora who are doing exactly nothing for their own country, decried the lack of action from the outgoing SDP led government, and have said that bringing people home will be one of their priorities; and yet Croatia is far from equipped for that. During the recent (and indeed ongoing) refugee crisis the world saw the absolute best from the people of Slavonia, themselves recent victims of war and conflict, and if I’m honest we saw Zoran Milanović finally become a statesman after a largely quiet mandate as Prime Minister. Social media was awash with the usual guff and hokum about jihadist infiltrators, terrorists, rapists, murderers, etc., etc. Paraphrasing, people claimed that the refugees (broadly obliged by the Dublin Regulation to seek asylum in the country of landing – which is why Italy has been so aggressive in sinking and ignoring boats and rafts coming from North Africa) did not want to stay in Croatia because they were after higher welfare payments elsewhere.

Well, sure, Croatia is one of more recent additions to the EU, and is far from being the richest (Ireland, Germany, and Sweden all have purchasing power parity GDP more than double that of Croatia, and are all preferred destinations for refugees). But it’s not for welfare payments these people stop. They need jobs. Germany has filled close to one million vacant low end jobs and apprenticeships on the back of this massive influx. People need infrastructure. The Irish Development Agency ensures that industrial parks and commercial centres are spread across the country so that new businesses can avail of great facilities, as well as an available workforce. Croatia is a country unable to resolve its own internally displaced refugee issue (although I’m sure the comments and emails will provide some hilarity and bon mots on that particular sentence).

But that’s the underlying issue at play here – Croatia does not have the infrastructure, physical or legislative, to accommodate a significant influx of permanent settlers. The red tape infuriates life-long residents of any town, so how would we expect to navigate even a plane full of 2nd or 3rd generation Croatians coming from Ontario or Toronto? Property prices are a thing of fantasy in Croatia, with the country being, relatively speaking, more expensive when it comes to buying a family home than Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, Ireland, Belgium, and Luxembourg. We’ll not delve into the world of planning permission though… words that don’t exist in the vernacular around these parts. Are there schools enough in the Croatian hinterland? Would we expect every member of the Diaspora to settle in Zagreb, Split, Osijek? There are so many questions and issues to be dealt with before anyone can talk of coming ‘home’, surely.

Where are the jobs that these returning Croatians might take up? Are HDZ expecting every Babich and Grgich coming back from the Antipodes to have a multi-million Euro start-up in their back pocket? More likely that the ongoing lack of investment (and the antipathy towards foreign resident investment) is going to open the doors to giant hedge funds based elsewhere, picking off the islands one by one until Croatia’s tourist season might as well be in a different country. The majority of expats (people coming from wealthier nations get this lofty title, while the rest are migrants) have their own businesses, and are then told to sod off (but in legal language, naturally) if they want to buy personal property.

And what of those returnees who are already here? How are they faring? Croatian governments have been promising the world and more to the Diaspora since the formation of the modern state. Zoran Vojković, writer for Index, talked of one family on January 5, 2016, a family known personally to us as it happens, so there’s no question of the veracity of the situation. Croatian born, and working outside of the country when the war broke out, they returned under the government of Zlatko Mateša, with all the promises HDZ offered at the time. Well known and well liked, they now find themselves the victim of an unscrupulous landlord, who hid facts about the property from his tenants, such as that he hadn’t paid the electricity or gas bills prior to them moving in. And what recourse is available to them? Not much really… There’s no small claims court in Croatia, no protection for young families in that regard… And we wonder why people leave.

Total Croatia News will be supporting a fundraising night, in Zagreb, for the family mentioned above. Sunday January 17 at the Sheridan Pub at Savska 36. HDZ would want to see you there. After all, it’s the Christian thing to do.