Thursday, 2 March 2023

2022 Marks Croatian Company Span's Most Successful Business Year

March the 2nd, 2023 - The Croatian company Span has marked the year 2022 as its most successful business year to date, with the most growth for the company seen right here in Croatia and across the pond in the United States of America.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, the Croatian company Span came out with its unaudited financial results for 2022 recently, and despite the current (and ongoing) challenging geopolitical and market circumstances, the year ended with growth across all key business indicators.

Span's revenues in 2022 amounted to an impressive 829.7 million kuna, which represents an increase of 8 percent when compared to pandemic-dominated 2021. EBITDA also increased by 48 percent and amounted to 72 million kuna at the end of 2022. EBITDA after non-recurring items increased in the observed period by 65 percent and amounted to 70.1 million kuna. The Croatian Span company's net profit at the end of 2022 therefore stood at a 50.7 million kuna, which is a very encouraging increase of 113 percent compared to 2021.

The highest growth in revenue within the Croatian company Span was achieved by services with high added value - mostly from the business area Software development and business solutions, which grew by 62 percent, and the area of Infrastructure services, Cloud and Cyber security, which achieved growth of 49 percent respectively in the observed period. The decrease in revenue in the Software Asset Management and Licensing segment results from a decrease in revenue over on the Ukraine market, where Microsoft provided Span's customers with free use of its products and services until the end of 2022. The decrease in revenue in that market was fully offset by revenue growth in other markets and in other segments business.

The share of revenues that the Croatian company Span achieved in foreign markets in 2022 amounted to 68 percent, with the markets of both Croatia and the USA recording the most significant growth of all.

"The circumstances that followed us in 2022 posed numerous challenges, but also created new business opportunities for us. It was a year in which we did everything to help our Ukrainian colleagues, but also a year in which we carried out some of the biggest projects in Span's history. The increased market demand presented us with the challenge of finding new experts, so during 2022, we hired as many as 228 new colleagues at Span and entered the new year as a team of more than 800 employees. Strategically, we remain focused on the growth of services with high added value with a focus on the areas of cloud and cyber security,'' emphasised Nikola Dujmovic, the company's founder and president of Span's Management Board.

Among the special events that marked the last quarter of 2022, the launch of the digital platform span.zone, which enables business users to manage existing licenses and cloud services, is worth noting. This was a tick in the box of achieving yet another of the company's strategic goals. The excellent business results achieved by the Croatian company Span after the IPO were also recognised by the European investment community. Span was included among the three best European small and medium-sized companies that entered the capital market, for which it was awarded the Rising Star award. For the second year in a row, Span also received HR Cloud's "Excellence in employee experience" award.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated business section.

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

Dinamo, Hajduk, Šibenik, Slaven Belupo Advance to SuperSport Croatian Cup Semi-finals

March 1, 2023 - The teams in the SuperSport Croatian Cup semi-finals have been decided, with Slaven Belupo, Šibenik, Dinamo, and Hajduk as the final four left in the competition.

Slaven Belupo was the first to advance to the SuperSport Croatian Cup semi-finals. The first semi-final was played on Tuesday at the "Ivan Kušek Apaš" stadium in Koprivnica. Slaven Belupo beat the best second-division team, Rudeš 2:0. Belupo scored its first goal in the 88th minute after Benedik Mioč's shot bounced off the visiting defender Luka Pavković and into the net. Filip Hlevnjak scored for the final 2:0 in the first minute of stoppage time.

On Wednesday, the remaining three Croatian Cup quarter-final matches were played.

Šibenik reached the Croatian Cup semi-finals for the second time in the club's history, winning 2:0 away to the second league team NK BSK Bijelo Brdo. Knežević scored for Šibenik in the 20th minute and Arai in the 88th minute for the victory. 

In the next Cup quarter-final, Dinamo beat Lokomotiva after extra time 3:1 (1:1, 0:1) and qualified for the SuperSport Croatian Cup semi-finals. 

Lokomotiva took the lead with a goal by Silvio Goričan in the 37th minute, but Dario Špikić leveled the score at 1:1 in the second half, taking the game to extra time. Josip Drmić scored for Dinamo in the 47th second of extra time. Robert Ljubičić set the final result in the 117th minute. 

Hajduk was the last semi-finalist to qualify, beating Osijek 2:1 (1:0). Last season's Cup winner dominated most of the match. In the 21st minute, 16-year-old Luka Vušković scored for 1:0. In the 77th, Filip Krovinović scored for 2:0. Osijek's only goal was scored by 16-year-old Filip Živković, who made it 1:2 in the 84th minute. Interestingly, the young Hajduk player wrote the history of Hajduk and Croatian football in this quarter-final match. At 16 years and five days, Luka Vušković became the youngest scorer in the history of Hajduk's first team.

The draw for the semi-final meetings will take place next Monday.

To follow the latest sports news in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

From Syrian Student to €250m Company, 829 Croat Jobs

March 1, 2023 - Who is the most impressive foreigner you have met in Croatia? For me, none I have met comes close to this Syrian student-turned-entrepreneur. 

Due to study in Italy, he pass through Zagreb and stayed, a decision which led to more than 50 years in Croatia during which he achieved so much. This despite having his business plans ruined twice, on two different continents.

The amazing story of Mohamed Radwan Joukhadar - born in Aleppo, found love in Vukovar - where the tragedy of war in his two cities did not dampen his determination to build a hugely successful business employing over 800 Croats and turning over more than 250 million euro a year, making it one of the top 40 companies in Croatia. Learn more on this story in the latest from the Fat Vlogger on YouTube.

Do you have a story of a foreigner doing incredible things in Croatia?

Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject Foreigner.  

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You can subscribe to the Paul Bradbury Croatia Expert YouTube channel here.

What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning - Business and Dalmatia.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.

Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners is now available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

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Wednesday, 1 March 2023

PetNula.hr - Innovative Digital E-Learning Platform Launched in Ogulin

March the 1st, 2023 - PetNula (petnula.hr), an innovative e-learning platform for the repeating of elementary school educational material, has been created and successfully launched in Ogulin.

As Lider writes, PetNula is the very first Croatian digital platform designed for the repeating of the material learning between the fifth to the eighth grade of primary school. It has been created from the desire to systematise the complete material of the upper grades of primary school in one place for children and enable them to test out their own skills and knowledge, and it has been available to users since back in mid-February.

With technology based on successful experiences from Poland, PetNula's methodology is fully adapted to the curriculum of the Croatian education system.

One of the initiators of the project, Natalia Zielinska, gathered a large number of teachers and educational experts together for the project, including the authors of textbooks, mentors at competitions, advisers and native speakers of foreign languages who developed the platform according to the structure and type of tasks from the NCVVO National Examination Guide.

''I've always been focused on education and the dissemination of knowledge, and these activities, due to or thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, began to flow into the digital world as well. I've been cooperating with the Polish e-Learning company GroMar for a long time now, and just as an example, GroMar created an official digital platform for the Polish education system from kindergarten to college, and as it has been operating in Croatia for three years, we recognised that there was space to offer users a new educational platform.

In Poland, there are already two such solutions; even high school students created one for their future colleagues, and such a process of practicing with mistakes and testing turned out to be a very effective way of learning, because learning is a process in itself that needs to be trained and improved,'' explained Zielinska.

GroMar is a Polish company for modern e-learning solutions that supports global companies such as PEPCO, DPD or SUZUKI in lifelong education and competence development, and their Croatian team initiated the development of an educational platform for primary school age.

''A large number of global studies show that children respond positively to e-learning platforms and learn more easily in such an environment, while exercises, quizzes and tests are among the formats recognised as the favourite options, which is why they've also been implemented into PetNula. The web application currently offers more than 1,400 tasks and materials for repetition in both Croatian and English languages, and enables users to efficiently systematise the learned content through infographics, tables for repetition and questions for self-assessment, providing them with feedback and the possibility to restart the tests,'' explained Rutva Primorac from GroMara.

You can learn more on the official PetNula website.

For more, check out our news section.

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

Croatian Company Infobip Presents New Call Link Tech at MWC Barcelona

March the 1st, 2023 - The Croatian company Infobip has been presenting its brand new technological solution, Call Link, at the largest technology fair - MWC Barcelona.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, the remarkable Croatian company Infobip, the world's most well-connected cloud communication platform, has launched a new and innovative video calling customer support technology to enable businesses to resolve their queries faster and reduce waiting times. This brand new solution, called Call Link, was presented at the largest mobile technology fair MWC in Barcelona.

Infobip's Call Link is designed for the needs of companies with a large number of customer inquiries, such as telecommunications and utility companies, as well as electronic equipment manufacturers, and is the simplest way for agents to establish live voice or video calls with their customers.

When customer experience is critical to business success, companies need to quickly and efficiently resolve their customers' queries. According to the results of a survey conducted by CRM platform HubSpot, 90 percent of users believe that a response time of 10 minutes or less is extremely important when they have an inquiry. However, companies often fail to meet customer expectations and multiply their calls to several different agents, which increases the waiting time. Call Link eliminates all of these problems.

Using a simple web link, customer service or technical service agents can automatically transfer written chat inquiries to voice or video calls. The Call Link solution generates a unique link, thanks to which the user doesn't have to install additional applications, which then improves their overall experience.

Call Link, which is already available to interested companies, removes the need for lengthy interactions between agents and customers, allowing companies to connect with their customers anywhere, anytime. Agents can share the link through any available channel, including WhatsApp, SMS and email, either via computer or mobile. With users increasingly using apps like WhatsApp, this new solution reflects the Croatian company Infobip's broader strategy to help businesses connect with their customers through the channels they want, at the time(s) they want.

Infobip's new tech offers several applications for businesses that want to improve their overall customer experience, increase retention and reduce their operating costs. In addition, it enables real-time status determination, where users can explain their queries via video call and customer support agents can fix those highlighted problems instantly. Such remote support reduces overall costs and the environmental impact of in-person visits to the user.

"Thanks to the Call Link solution, agents of companies that want to improve the experience of their users can very quickly and efficiently eliminate difficulties and solve problems, and at the same time shorten waiting times, reduce costs and increase customer satisfaction. In addition, since with the aforementioned solution they can generate as many video links as necessary, companies can smoothly increase their capacities and meet customer demand even during the busiest hours without difficulty. Based on information from clients who already use our product, we know that such synchronised communication helps them to process more user inquiries in a shorter time and thus not only increase productivity, but also achieve close communication with their end users, during which they will satisfy their needs in a practical and unobtrusive way,'' said Adrian Benic, Infobip's Chief Product Officer.

“Furthermore, Call Link provides businesses of various industries and sizes with affordable voice and video support that they wouldn't otherwise be able to use given the infrastructure requirements. This product is a testament to the Croatian company Infobip's unwavering commitment to being a complete multi-channel communication platform for everyone,'' concluded Benic.

For more, check out our dedicated news section.

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

New City Island Zagreb Complex Destination for First Pullman Hotel

March the 1st, 2023 - According to Accor's website, the new City Island Zagreb complex will be the home of the very first Pullman brand hotel, boasting 200 rooms in total.

As Marija Crnjak/Poslovni Dnevnik writes, after the Mövenpick Hotel, the second hotel of the world-famous operator Accor is set to open its doors here in Zagreb at the end of this year or the beginning of next year, and it is set to become the very first hotel in Croatia that will operate under their premium Pullman brand.

The 200-room Pullman Zagreb hotel is being built in the new City Island Zagreb complex and is already being mentioned as one of Accor's new projects on their website, where other information about the Pullman brand can also be found. That confirms that the management contract has already been signed with the investor, but Accor's official announcement is still expected. On the ground, it has since been found out that the training of the future staff, who should be sufficiently professional to work for this kind of premium hotel, will begin soon.

The first Croatian Pullman is othewise going to be one of 53 hotels under development that will operate under this brand, along with 146 already opened Pullman hotels across 41 countries. The brand has the highest penetration in China and South Asia, and in Southern Europe only 8 percent of the buildings bear the Pullman hotel name. According to Accor's website, Pullman is a premium international brand mainly intended for international travellers who enjoy a combination of work and pleasure.

Pullman hotels are located in the busiest global cities and the most sought-after tourist destinations and have 4 and 5 stars. In addition to the one set to open in the new City Island Zagreb complex, Pullman Hotel Doha, Indonesia, Singapore, China are all being developed in parallel, and this year, Pullman will debut in Bulgaria as well.

This Accor brand has the most pronounced artistic and design features compared to all Accor brands and has facilities intended for both business and leisure guests, with an emphasis primarily placed on the congress section and high quality fitness facilities, which is also expected from the Zagreb Pullman hotel.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated news section.

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

Once I Have Croatian Residence, How Long Can I be Absent for?

March the 1st, 2023 - Once you've been approved for Croatian residence, the main bulk of your administrative woes will be over. No more standing in lines, stamps, and being frowned at by ill-informed clerks at MUP. No more limbo. But there are still rules to follow when it comes to how long you can be absent from the country for.

Citizens of the European Union/European Economic Area with temporary Croatian residence

If you're an EEA/EU citizen and you've been approved for temporary Croatian residence (this is typically approved for a period of five years, but it can be less), you're free to be absent from Croatian territory for no more than six calendar months per year. 

This means that as long as you're present in Croatia for six months every year, your temporary Croatian residence remains valid.

If you've sought specific permission from the Ministry of the Interior (MUP) to be gone for longer without endangering the validity of your residence permit, then you can be. It's worth noting that if you're gone longer than six months, or longer than one year (without permission in the case of the latter), your temporary residence permit and those tied to you, such as for your family members, can end up being terminated.

At the end of your five years of temporary Croatian residence, you're entitled to permanent residence in Croatia by way of EU law. In your case (unlike in the case of third country nationals), you are entitled to permanent residence after five years and one day of holding temporary Croatian residence (uinterrupted). You still need to get the green light from MUP and obtain your new permanent residence card, but once you have it, the rules change slightly, and I'll outline them below.

Citizens of the European Union/European Economic Area with permanent Croatian residence

If you're an EEA/EU citizen and you've been approved for permanent Croatian residence (this means you are free to live in Croatia without needing to adhere to any particular rules for as long as you want), you're free to be absent from Croatian territory for no more than two consecutive years at a time. 

This means that as long as you don't spend two entire years on the trot outside of Croatia, your permanent Croatian residence remains valid.

British nationals who are protected by the Withdrawal Agreement and have temporary residence

Citizens of Great Britain and Northern Ireland who exercised their rights to freedom of movement within the EU back when they were EU citizens (pre-Brexit) are protected by something called the Withdrawal Agreement. This gives them acquired rights and separates them both from British tourists and British citizens who applied for Croatian residence after Brexit was concluded (more precisely after the UK's transition period out of the EU ended on the 31st of December, 2020).

British nationals who are protected under the Withdrawal Agreement have residence cards which prove that, setting them apart from their post-Brexit counterparts and affording them more generous rules. 

If you're a pre-Brexit Brit (and you can prove it with the aforementioned residence card) with temporary residence, you're treated as if you were an EU/EEA citizen, meaning that you're free to be absent from Croatia for up to six months per calendar year without a problem.

British nationals who are protected by the Withdrawal Agreement and have permanent residence

Citizens of Great Britain and Northern Ireland who exercised their rights to freedom of movement within the EU back when they were EU citizens (pre-Brexit) are protected by something called the Withdrawal Agreement. This gives them acquired rights and separates them both from British tourists and British citizens who applied for Croatian residence after Brexit was concluded (more precisely after the UK's transition period out of the EU ended on the 31st of December, 2020).

British nationals who are protected under the Withdrawal Agreement have residence cards which prove that, setting them apart from their post-Brexit counterparts and affording them more generous rules. 

If you're a pre-Brexit Brit (and you can prove it with the aforementioned residence card) with permanent residence, you're free to be absent from Croatia for up to five consecutive years without endangering the validity of your permit.

Third country nationals with temporary Croatian residence

Third country nationals are citizens of countries which aren't member states of the EEA or the EU, or they're British citizens not covered by the Withdrawal Agreement. 

While holding temporary Croatian residence, third country nationals shouldn't be outside of Croatia for more than thirty days in one go, or for more than ninety days in total, if their temporary Croatian residence permit has been approved a period of one year.

If their temporary Croatian residence has been approved for two years, then they risk their permits being cancelled if they spend more than sixty days in one go, or 180 days in total outside of Croatia.

If you have justified reasons for being outside for longer periods, then you can let MUP know and see if you can get permission.

Third country nationals with permanent Croatian residence

Much like pre-Brexit Brits, third country nationals who hold permanent Croatian residence are free to be absent from Croatia for a decent chunk of time. If you've resided outside of Croatian territory for longer than six years, your permit can be terminated. It can also be terminated if you've resided outside of the EEA for longer than one year consecutively.

 

For more on moving to and living in Croatia, make sure to follow our dedicated lifestyle section. An article exploring everything to do with How to Croatia is published each Wednesday.

Tuesday, 28 February 2023

Hajduk Juniors Top Manchester City for UEFA Youth League Quarterfinals!

February 28, 2023 - Hajduk Juniors brilliantly knock out Manchester City and advance to the UEFA Youth League quarterfinals!

The Hajduk juniors side met the powerful Manchester City in the UEFA Youth League round of 16 at Poljud. Recall, Hajduk reached the round of 16 after beating Shakhtar.

Coach Marijan Budimir's team was without its standard stopper Luka Vušković and captain Marko Capan, but welcomed the return of Roko Brajković from the first team.

More than 3,000 tickets were sold for this match until yesterday evening, and many of the Hajduk season ticket holders made their way to Poljud today. Torcida was also in full force. 

Lineups

Hajduk: Buljan - Đolonga, Jurić-Petrašilo, Arković, Hrgović - Kavelj, Reić - Brajković, Skoko, Vrcić - Antunović

Manchester City: Murray-Jones - Samuel, Burns, Katongo, Galvez - Adam, Charles, Bobb - Mebude, Dickson, Borges

To no one's surprise, the favorites were City in this match, but Hajduk came out to prove they are a force to be reckoned with. 

A great opportunity for Hajduk came already in the 6th minute. Reić found Vrcić through the middle in front of City goalkeeper Murray-Jones, but the shot was saved. 

The first half was even and Hajduk showed that it was a good match for City. In the 15th minute, Mebude broke through the right side and shot, but luckily the ball went over Hajduk's goal. City threatened again a few minutes later, but it was Hajduk to take the lead first.

After Murray-Jones intercepted a long pass about 20 meters from his own goal, Brajković ran onto the rebound and sent it into an empty net from the first touch. Hajduk was up 1-0 in the 24th minute! 

And just when Poljud got done celebrating the first goal - their second found the back of the net! Antunovic found space in the defense to score near post for 2-0! 

Hajduk's defense did well to keep any danger away from their goal, but the 19-year-old wonderkid Oscar Bobb was left alone in the penalty area to score for 2-1 at the half. 

City tried hard to equalize in the second half, with several opportunities saved by Hajduk's solid defense. Hajduk had a good chance in the 49th minute. Hrgović passed on the left side and found Antunović in the penalty area, but he shot wide of the goal. 

Hajduk made their first substitutions in the 59th minute - Reić and Skoko went out for Čalušić and Nazor. City made their first subs in the 63rd minute - Oboavwoduo came on for Adam.

Hajduk didn't really have a chance at goal in the second half apart from Antunović's in the 49th minute. City had some good chances from dangerous free kicks, but nothing found the back of the net. 

And then a spurt of chaos in the 84th minute - Finley Burns was sent off with a red card. City was playing with a man down for the remainder of the match. 

A dangerous free kick for City in the 86th minute finished without success. Four minutes of stoppage time were added, and Hajduk held their own for the 2-1 victory! 

Hajduk will play in the quarter-finals against the winner of Borussia Dortmund and PSG. If Hajduk advances, they will play away in the quarter-final. 

To follow the latest sports news in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Tuesday, 28 February 2023

Festival of Lights Zagreb Announcing a Colourful, Magical Intro to Spring

March 1, 2023 – Though the weather doesn’t look that promising these days, the hope is that spring is just around the corner in Croatia. It is March, after all; the days are a little longer and somewhat brighter (not just because of the snow), and we’re growing impatient with the desire to go back out and explore the streets of the capital some more. And what better way to do just that than the Festival of Lights Zagreb.

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Zagreb Tourist Board (Festival of Lights Zagreb website)

And the arrival of spring and the notion of light have always been associated with each other. Full of joy, we return to the streets of our city and absorb the new energy illuminated by the brilliant art, proving that spring really is the renaissance within us and around us. For the festival's fifth year in the Croatian capital, a combination of art, design, spectacle, entertainment, and architecture will once again enliven the popular locations of the Upper and Lower Town Zagreb.

Festival of Lights Zagreb, according to the organisers, is not only a place of magical light installations, impressive projection mapping, playful animations and colourful objects, but also a place of good emotions, positive energy, and a perfect spot to welcome the spring that we’re all eagerly anticipating. During the five days of the festival, we will hand over the streets, parks, squares, promenades and buildings to local and foreign artists who will transform the city into their own canvas and a playful backdrop for numerous forms of innovative art.

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Zagreb Tourist Board (Festival of Lights Zagreb website)

With the beginning of the Festival of Lights Zagreb, everyone is invited to come to the city and welcome the arrival of longer and warmer days in this spectacular way. This year's program combines the best of visual and performing arts and modern technology. “Indulge yourself in the emotions that the light awakens in us as we welcome a new beginning and new hope - spring!” Just as much as the official website inspires a feeling of excitement, we’re ready to witness the magic once more.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated Travel section.

Tuesday, 28 February 2023

The Croatian Healthcare System - Notes from a "Professional Patient"

February the 28th, 2023 - The Croatian healthcare system saved my life. This isn't an understatement. 

Back in 2006 when I went into anaphylactic shock in Zagreb due to allergies I was unaware I had, hitna pomoć (the emergency services) arriving when they did and not a minute later meant that I could keep breathing and can now sit and write about it. I depend on HZZO (the Croatian Health Insurance Fund) for access to my medication, I’ve had four surgeries, and countless tests and consultations have taken place in between. I joke that having to juggle several chronic conditions has turned me into a professional patient. 

Over the past 18 months, besides my GP and dentist, I needed to see a gynaecologist, a urologist, a gastroenterologist, a pulmonologist, an otorhinolaryngologist, a psychiatrist, a neurologist and an anaesthesiologist.  It was a particularly tough time in which my body decided to just go into self-destruct mode. I got through it, but came out with my eyes more open than ever before having witnessed how devastating relying on a system that is so wrongly neglected can be.

General practitioners - a journey that began 19 years ago

I took my first GP for granted. I remember how my allergies were the first thing listed on my “karton” (medical file) in capital letters and highlighted so that nobody could get it wrong. She was considerate and noticed symptoms I didn’t even complain about. I was safe with her. Later she retired and I moved away from Zagreb.

My second GP was a different story. She’d prescribe me medication during consultations and then pause to ask me, “What are you allergic to again?” This made me worry enough to check the ingredients on all prescribed medication before taking anything. Once she prescribed a pill which those suffering from asthma were (strongly) advised not to take. The second time she gave me a tablet which she reassured me didn't contain any ingredients I was allergic to. I went home, I took it, then minutes later my eyes started burning and my airways tightened up. It wasn't bad enough to go to make me go to the emergency room, but I did make a firm decision to change my GP after that. My criterion wasn’t to find a doctor who cares, only one who wouldn't accidentally kill me.

Good GPs are hard to come by. If you're lucky enough to land one, you should expect that you'll end up needing to wait a while for consultations and they will be hard to get a hold of via phone. If you have time, it’s okay. Otherwise, people save themselves the frustration by opting for ''okay enough'' doctors or simply paying out of pocket.

The deeper you dive, the murkier the water gets...

It may all look great if you’re generally healthy and only need a doctor for the occasional infection or unfortunate accident. I’ve read accounts from foreigners needing to go to the emergency services at the hospital and coming out praising the treatment they receive. Yeah, but… Go there three or four times, hand the technicians at the porta a local name, then sit and wait, and boy will you wait.

I once sat at the ER for hours whilst an older woman kept screaming in complete anguish on the other side of the door. “Ajmeeeee! Ajmeeee! Ajmeee!” (“Ajme!” means “Oh my!”) I couldn’t see her nor in any way know what the problem was, but her pain reverberated through all of us sitting there in the waiting room. We could hear and occasionally see medical personal shuffling around her but clearly nobody was offering this woman comfort. Instead, business went on as usual. After a day spent at the hospital, doing a run around and some tests, I got up and left before I saw a doctor. The psychological strain of hearing that poor woman scream for hours on end was more painful than the physical pain and distress I was feeling. “I’d rather die at home than be here,” I thought. 

I’ve had a dental technician dig in my mouth without gloves for an x-ray. A filling gone wrong resulted in the loss of a tooth...

Last year I went to see a specialist, the head of his department. I entered while he was on his mobile phone in a private conversation. I sat in front of him for fifteen minutes, without him even acknowledging my presence with so much as a gesture for me to wait, before he decided to start the consultation.

A routine gynaecological exam

Gynaecological exams are uncomfortable at best. You just want it over with. I once arrived for an appointment to find that my regular doctor wasn't there and the nurse proceeded to tell me that she was not returning. There was a substitute doctor in her place (most of my unexpected bad visits happened with subs I didn’t plan to see).

I went into my usual routine of undressing, getting into position, closing my eyes and waiting for it to be over. I noticed that it was strangely painful for a routine check-up (the most painful thus far) so I looked down. I was horrified that this man was “down there” and not wearing a mask. This was in the middle of the pandemic when we were still wearing masks everywhere and not just at the clinic. He didn’t give me any feedback so I waited and then asked him if everything was okay. Affirmative. We spoke about medications and I explained my allergies to him. This part was the cherry on top: He prescribed a medication with an ingredient I am allergic to.

I hear more and more women say they go to private gynaecologists following bad experiences in the system.

The coronavirus crisis

Both my husband and I are asthmatic. When asthmatics were included on the government list of high risk patients to be among the first to receive COVID-19 vaccines, I called to place us on the list.

“Where do you live?” The operator asked.

“Janjina.”

“Okay. We’ll notify you when the vaccine becomes available to you.”

Weeks passed and I heard about other chronically unwell patients already receiving their booster shots in other parts of the country. Could it be where we live?

As it turned out, yes. We were listed in the system as residents of our village and would therefore be notified when the vaccines would become available here. Before that happened we contracted COVID-19 and developed a more severe clinical picture which almost landed me in the hospital and took months for both of us to recover from. Had somebody told me to ask to be listed under ''Dubrovnik'' and we would have made it onto the list and simply taken a 1.5 hour drive for our vaccines. I don’t blame the operator. I blame an ineffective system.

Finding a good doctor

Najdoktor.com features doctors with ratings and reviews by patients. It has become my first step in finding new doctors. I won’t accept a rating of less than four stars, and only due to waiting times and personnel, otherwise I want five stars. Anything below that and you’re taking a risk. Unfortunately not all doctors are listed, especially those in rural areas and smaller towns and cities.

The current situation is an unfortunate side effect of Croatia’s brain drain. When I'm lucky enough to get to a very good doctor and they’re still young, panic sets in as I wonder if they’ll decide to go work abroad at some point. If they’re reaching retirement age I panic because I know how difficult they'll be to replace. Our choice, especially in rural areas, is not between good, okay and bad doctors; it is sometimes only between bad doctors who will mostly make okay decisions and no doctor at all. The reality is that okay decisions still save lives (let’s not talk about the bad ones).

Money keeps you alive and where you live matters

I used to be able to depend on the Croatian healthcare system for all my healthcare needs. This has become impossible, so now I’ve switched to a system of prioritising. If it’s high on the priority list, I'll pay. If it’s not so urgent then I'll wait my turn in the system. It’s a juggle in which every element is crucial because I couldn’t possibly pay for everything out of pocket.

I was extremely reluctant to start paying for anything because I was unwilling to let go of the ideal that healthcare is a human right afforded to all citizens. For years I believed that ideal to be a reality in Croatia because I lived it. In most cases I’m paying for speed and not better care. Many of the doctors who work privately come from the public sector so you won’t be seeing a better doctor; just you’ll get to see them sooner.

Your options if you require a brain MRI, for example, are to either wait ten months (or four months if your doctor says it’s urgent) or get it done the next day if you’re willing to pay 240 euros privately. It could be devastating if you don’t have the months or the euros at hand.

I also find that people are making more and more trips to Zagreb. There is a bigger pool of doctors and hospitals, making it much easier to get what you need. The other thing that helps, as with all things in this place, is “veze”, otherwise known as connections. If you know the right person you can get to what you need sooner without paying.

In an ideal world

I’d like doctors to look me in the eyes when they meet and examine me, not stare straight at the screen and start typing as I speak. I’d like more authentic listening and practical solutions and fewer prescriptions. I’d like to leave the hospital feeling like a recognised human being and not one of thousands that nobody noticed. Unrealistic? I don’t think so. But it may be a thing of the past.

I get that doctors have to switch off to stay sane. If they were to invest emotions into every patient they wouldn’t make it or be able to work. It makes sense. However, I feel that a system that is increasingly forcing people to switch off is a clear sign that it is broken for them too.

Where are we headed?

The Croatian healthcare system as it is creates an unhealthy environment for patients, doctors and all personnel.  Healthcare workers are primarily accountable to the system that employs them, leaving us all to have to navigate through its obscure web to get anything done. We need healthcare practitioners to be accountable to us first, the patients whose wellbeing is in their hands.

The problem has been present in the media for years. I’ve been following it in the Dubrovnik region in particular. I always find it funny that reporters mostly interview senior citizens when they pose questions to the public about healthcare. Baka or djed (grandmother or grandfather) will tell you that doctors are not as good today as they used to be and we have a big problem. We nod our heads and perhaps even roll our eyes because they say that about everything. For as long as you're healthy, this is probably a normal reaction. As a “young” person struggling through this system I want to point out that they are not exaggerating and the stories I hear from other chronically ill patients confirm my worries.

I don’t know if it’s going to get better. The way I see it is that if you want the equivalent quality of care compared to what you could get in this country ten to fifteen years ago through state-funded health insurance, then you'll have to pay for it today. Medical tourism will likely fuel this as more foreigners will be willing to pay what for them is a low rate and good doctors will be incentivised to leave the public sector.

Nevertheless, having the good doctors remain in Croatia although in the private sector is better than losing them altogether to emigration. I hope we can save this system and fix the cracks; otherwise Croatia will increasingly become a place where a person’s paycheque dictates their access to healthcare.

 

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