Wednesday, 22 February 2023

Experiencing the Changing Demographics of Croatia as a “Black Croat”

February 22, 2023 - We are delighted to welcome Maja Dezulovic to TCN, and she begins with a somewhat different perspective - life as a black Croat in Croatia. Welcome Number 185! If you would like to write about Croatia from your perspective, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject Writing.

When I was a high school student in Zagreb from 2005 to 2007 I could go months without seeing people of African descent anywhere. For the entire first year I was the only student of African origins in the school. I remember how seeing an African in the street was memorable because it felt like a rare snippet of home. Nowadays that is no longer the case.

I can’t say that I really experienced racism or hate in Croatia. The closest thing to prejudice I experienced was on a walk on Jarun as a teenager. My friend and I were about to pass a man walking towards us with a little girl, possibly his daughter. As they got closer he glared at me with disgust and grabbed his daughter closer. “Ciganka!” He exclaimed. That’s the Croatian word for gypsy woman. I was saddened by his reaction but also not offended because I felt it came more from a place of ignorance rather than hatred. That was one of two occasions on which I was mistaken for a gypsy.

Most Croats who don’t know me mistakenly assume that I don’t understand Croatian and proceed to gossip about me in front of my face. However, rarely is it insulting or malicious. Most commonly they comment about my hair. I’m okay with comments, even those directed at me. I’ll even answer questions sometimes. The thing I don’t like is when people assume it’s just okay to touch my hair without asking. There are four words that Africans with natural hair often want to say to the ill-informed Croat who encroaches on personal space. Solange captured them in the title of her song “Don’t touch my hair”.


As the demographics of this country inevitably shift, some of the challenges faced globally by non-white minorities will begin to surface here too. The biggest issue, I believe, is ignorance within the majority population. Croatia has been almost completely white for a very long time. People are open, they want to interact, the thing is that they don’t know how to because they haven’t had to before.

As with most things the solution here is to educate people and one of the best ways of it happening organically is through exposure. The more we welcome people of colour here the more effortless integration will become for all.

It also helps to remember that people’s reactions come from a place of innocence. People are in awe when they see people who look nothing like those who they encounter in their daily lives. If you look different you’re on display. You get used to it and while the population of non-whites remains so small it comes with a responsibility too – you represent your race with your behavior and responses.


It is my hope that the description of “that Black woman who speaks Croatian”, often used to refer to me, will become less surprising as more Black men and women learn the language and themselves become a part of the Croatian community.

My only fear is that many non-whites are coming here as migrant workers to fill in the labour shortages, which may skew perceptions of them. They’re entering a social class that is looked down upon no matter what race you are. I hope Croatia becomes home to a good number of African doctors, engineers and people in places of leadership to combat the stereotype of the Black labourer and serve as hope to a demographic of people who may mainly be confined to the working class in Europe.

On my last extended trip to Zagreb in January not a day went by without my spotting a person of colour in the streets around the main square. It’s refreshing. I hope that locals will recognise the wealth that diversity has to offer a nation and embrace it.

Read more... What is It Like for Black People Living in Croatia?


Sunday, 15 September 2019

What is It Like for Black People Living in Croatia?

September 15, 2019 - Croatia is one of the whitest countries in the world. What is it like for black people living here? Some interesting feedback from various black residents.

When I was 19, I bought a one-way ticket to Caracas and went off to explore the world. My first stop was two months in Guyana staying with a Guyanese schoolfriend, a wonderful country of great diversity. There were not many white folk around, and I remember walking past the market at dusk, when I attracted the attention of a group of local male youths who were loitering. 

“Hey, White Boy, come on over here.” I felt a little initial fear, but as I had no cash or valuables, it would not be a very successful mugging. I sauntered over. 

“Give me your arm,” said one. “I gotta touch that white skin to see if it is real.” And my arm was passed around. There was no threat, just a lot of curiosity. 

My white (and increasingly pink) skin aroused plenty of interest in the remote parts of eastern Somalia and the hillsides of Rwanda during my aid worker years. I learned the Kinyarwanda translation of 'black boy', which I would bellow out when the kids called me 'mzungu' as I passed. They fled every time, then turned to laugh. 
It was the same curiosity about another person's skin colour that my mother experienced on the streets of Dublin as a 17-year-old in 1960. Born in rural Ireland, she had never seen a black person before and recalled how she just stared when she finally saw one walking down a Dublin street. And everyone else stared. 

I had that same feeling when I brought a black real estate client to Jelsa in 2004. I could feel the eyes of every person on the square upon us. Was it a racist feeling or just curiosity? Looking back with hindsight, I think now it was probably the latter. 

But I fondly remember my introduction to Jelsa society one late coffee morning. 


(Life before TCN - food and seed distribution to returning refugees in post-genocidal Rwanda in 1994)

Having just arrived from life in Kenya and Somalia, where I had a Kikuyu girlfriend who wanted to visit Croatia, a new Jelsa friend decided to take me from cafe to cafe to introduce me. And so I was paraded in front of the locals of each cafe as it was explained in Croatian:

“This is my new friend Paul.  He is British and has bought a house in the old town. He will live here all year. He came from Africa where he had an African girlfriend. She is black and she is coming here.”

As a conversation killer, it was hard to beat. At least three people from that introduction have never spoken to me ever since and ignore me completely if I happen to be in the same space. Racist? I don't think so. Not sure how to react to an unusual situation thrust upon them? Perhaps.  
Croatia is the whitest country in the world and a country which has just 0.7% of foreigners living in it, according to official statistics. I am not saying that is a good thing or a bad thing, it is just a thing. So what is it like to be a black person living in Croatia? 

It is an article I have wanted to research and write for a long time. Apart from being a topic that is not written about much, I was certain it would bring up a few surprises. 

And so it proved. I have spoken to several African people living in Croatia in the last few months. Their words are below, starting with the perspective of the black African woman. 

Ever wondered what a black person goes through in the streets of Zagreb or even worse in the interior villages around Croatia? Would you say Croatians are generally racist towards Africans or no?

Most Croatians are actually very welcoming and very nice towards black people. Mainly because they are very few and are rarely seen in the streets.  Living here for more than three years now I can confidently say that the majority of Croatians are NOT RACIST. However, there is the one per cent of the population that gets really excited when they see a black person in the streets, and they don't know how to react or how to behave. I will cite a few examples of my encounters with the few ignorant people. Of course, as a black woman, my experiences are very different to those experienced by black men.

The biggest excitement comes from the Hair. Every time I have my natural hair I always end up in an argument.  Mainly because people want to touch. The problem is that while some people are kind enough to request if they can dig their fingers into my scalp which depending with the situation I will say yes or no, and while I cannot say no to kids, some people don’t have the courtesy to ask. Once I was in the tram and I felt a hand inside my hair, I turned around and people behind me pretended they didn't know what happened. In this case, all I can do is move to an empty chair far from anyone.

Another irritating habit is the requests or lack of requests for photos/selfies. Some people will approach and request for a selfie saying that they have never seen a black person, and this is an opportunity of a lifetime. However, some people are so ignorant that they don’t ask, they just come close and take a photo ignoring the fact that am not interested in the photo. Once I was at the main square and this woman comes with a big camera and zooms in front of my face without asking despite the fact that her friends forbid her and all she said was “What can she do". Sadly enough I couldn't do anything as I was out of time.

The most common and irritating incidents are always with stalkers. Yes, Stalkers, so common especially in Zagreb. And most of them are actually average looking normal people or you may think so. It mostly happens or starts at the tram stop. Once I was standing at Frankopanska waiting for a tram, I noticed a man three meters from me who was behaving oddly and looking at me strangely. So to be on the safe side, I took the tram which came soonest even though it wasn't headed my direction. The man in question took it too, I moved to the front to ditch him but he kept moving. I got off at the next stop and he too got off. This happened with 2 trams more before I decided to take the tram home, went down to the nearest cafe bar and he kept walking outside until he gave up. This incident took around two hours of my life. 

A similar incident happened to me twice in Zagreb and once more in Samobor. Of course, the safest reaction is to walk into a police station in which case the disappears at the speed of light. The worst effect of these incidents is the mental trauma, or stress that can make someone withdraw and refuse to go outside. These stories are common with most black women. Most incidences happen around tram stops, other public areas and inside public transportation. Black people living in Dubrava mostly experience worse stories on a regular basis.

The most vulnerable I ever felt was when a policewoman, off duty, asked me if she could touch my backside and I was in a dilemma.

Black men on the other hand always experience a different form of attention.  Of course, no one will stalk them around but in the night clubs some young college girls always ask them some very specific and stereotypical questions. E.g. “Is it true that black men have large private parts" in a vulgar language of course. Then the girls go ahead to ask if they can see and touch.

Most black men say they mostly experience racism at the hands of police or immigration officers. At the airport despite having proper Croatian documents, the immigration officers always spend a lot of time just trying to intimidate them.  When a Croatian woman marries a black man, the society is not so welcoming of the man as opposed to when a Croatian man marries a black woman. Black men are always and constantly reminded that they are “stealing our women."

One of my friends lives in Zagorje and every time he tells people that's where he lives, then they burst out laughing and he doesn't know why. All they say is “imagine a black man in Zagorje.“

In conclusion, few people around Croatia are very ignorant and their actions cannot be used to judge if Croatians are racist or no. Most Croatians appreciate it when a black person speaks to them in Croatian and automatically the barrier is broken.

This article first appeared in Croatian on