Croatian Viewpoint
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A condensed version of article entitled
A Criticism of the 'Emigration Tradition'
In Croatia , the population is ageing, in contrast to the perpetual rejuvenation of overseas Croatian communities.
From 1947 until 1971 over 150,000 came to Australia from Yugoslavia, the majority of whom were Croats (Sherington, "Australia's Immigrants"). During the 1970s until the late 1980s the exodus continued with between 2000 and 5000 arrivals annually from Yugoslavia, the majority of whom were Croats (L.Paric 'The Australian People', 2001). Since 1990 approximately a quarter of a million Croats have left their homeland. Estimates included from the top ten UNHCR refugee destinations only:
Australia:   20,000 Canada:   35,000 New Zealand:   10,000
USA:   70,000 Sweden:   70,000 Europe:   50,000

Instead of interpreting Croatian emigration in 'waves', I am analyzing it within the context of the 'theory of migration'. From a theoretical perspective, the analysis of Croatian overseas emigration illustrates the inconsistent application of immigration and multicultural law. In effect, over a period of a few decades, the responsibility for the depopulation of Croatia has been shifted from organizations and 'ethnic cleansers' to Croatian-born relatives who live overseas.

The Theory of Migration

Theoretically, migration is the interplay of 'push' factors from a source nation and 'pull' factors from absorber or sink regions. Theoretically, emigrants only travel short distances unless obstacles are removed such as borders, quotas, financial barriers, or racial restrictions. Personal decisions about emigration usually occur in 'stages', and decisions are regulated by one's 'perceptions'. Emigration is usually a one-way journey because of economic or class perceptions. Rural people emigrate more often than urban people. Industrialization has encouraged emigration, and is the cause of increased female emigration. One's perception about economics is the main driving force behind emigration.

Stage One: Europe

The story of mass Croatian emigration to Australia begins with the hundreds of thousands of Croats who left their homeland from the end of WWII to the mid 1960s where they ended up as so-called 'displaced persons' in European camps. From these 'stage one' locations, then they were sought-after by various overseas immigration agents. Propaganda films and posters were shown in European migrant camps about 'eternal sunshine and a house by the sea for everyone' in Australia . Migrants were then given assistance for their journey to Australia ('stage two'), but most didn't realize that this one-way passage would be remembered later by them as 'the point of no return'.
Several post WWII policies in Australia acted as 'pull factors' including 'Populate or Perish'; 'White Australia Policy'; and rapid post war industrialization. New Australian policy changes coincided with the political crackdown in the early 1970s known as the 'Croatian Spring' when tens of thousands of the Croatian intellectuals were sacked for political reasons. In addition, the Yugoslav decision to open its borders and issue passports coincided with the phasing out of the 'White Australia policy.

Stage Two: Overseas

An important 'pull' factor which cannot be ignored is the collaborative role of industry, government, other NGOs and the unions. The role of industry in immigration to Australia, and the link to Croatian "ethnic chains" already in Australia, is analyzed in depth in the book, 'A Divided Working Class'. However, ethnic chain migration and the pull of industry must also be seen within the context of early 'White Australia' politics, and the absence of a census profile for Croats.
According to the above-mentioned book, the high turnover rate of migrant labour, due to inferior working conditions, could always be compensated for with more foreign immigrants. Croat workers were considered ideal for Australian projects, so much so, that during the 1950s and 1960s talks at meetings resulted in the projection of large-scale immigration from Yugoslavia and Turkey in particular (through special agreements). Mass emigration obviously affects Croatia , per capita, more than Turkey , and Croatian demographic decline was escalating.
Through such meetings, for example, BHP steel wanted to ensure that "replacements were readily available" because Southern Europeans were "eager to migrate, less reluctant to do hazardous, dirty and enervating jobs". The British weren't wanted so much because they required expensive passage assistance and accommodation as enticements. 'Yugoslavs' on the other hand were a cheaper proposition because their "ethnic chains" took care of expenses instead of the company! Ultimately therefore it is the Croatian 'relatives' that are the necessary link in the process. In order to come to Australia , emigrants had to be white, naive, young, fit, healthy, and sane, with skills an unimportant last criterion. Yugoslavs (of which Croats were the acknowledged majority) would "scarcely be visually distinguishable from Australians of British origin". 'Yugoslavs' were also popular for their South-Eastern European "anti-union mentality". Medical examiners in European camps ran stringent tests in order to provide Australia with a "consistent supply of foreign labour". ('A Divided Working Class', Constance Lever- Tracy & Michael Quinlan, 1988)
Interestingly also, the British government was becoming alarmed that the large numbers leaving for Australia may become "inimical to Britain's own policy of reconstruction" ... "the British authorities sometimes displayed a stubborn proclivity to declare a closed season on Australian trawling for migrants" (see, 'Old Worlds and New Australia', Janis Wilton and Richard Bosworth, pg.12 & 19). Compare the British government concern with that of the Yugoslav government which was happy to "get rid of its surplus rural labour" (A New History of Australia, Crowley ).
Croatian emigration to Australia continued into the 1970s and 1980s, as Caritas agents and priests visited European work barracks. In Australia the Catholic Immigration Office took over sponsorship of 'displaced persons' and later on prospective Croatian migrants. The Croatian Catholic Centers and their migrant chaplains were an integral part of the chain migration process. The sponsorship fee for this could be paid off later.
In Australia , mass post-world war immigration legislation was introduced by Arthur Calwell, Minister for Immigration from 1945. In the 1990s Dr Andrew Theophanous, a former Australian MP from the new electorate of 'Calwell', and head of the parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Migration, quickly focused on the refugee problem at the outbreak of Serbian aggression in 1991. A special assistance humanitarian category was created whereby if a person had a relative in Australia , they could enter as a refugee (as identified by UNHCR). In this way the majority of places in this refugee program was filled by Croatian refugees. Also, during the early 1990s, permanent places were offered to up to 40,000 people, including Croats, already in Australia from former Yugoslavia, whose temporary visas were about to run out. My article entitled, "Ethnic Balance In Croatian Region Is a Priority for Peace" (1998) analyses a comment by the Australian Immigration Minister, who claims that the 'Family Reunion Policy' won't be dominated by Asian migrants due to the large numbers which will come from relatives of those from the former Yugoslavia!
When Andrew Theophanous was later asked by the editor of Melbourne's Croatian Herald (H.V. 11 Sept 1992 pg16) whether he thought his campaign played into the hands of the Serbian Chetnik 'ethnic cleansing' of Croats, he answered that countries should relieve the pressure by accepting some. (see also S. H.T., 18 Aug 92 p.3, or B-H Ogledalo 5 Mar 93 p.14). A stark contrast was offered in the case of Kosovo, when thousands of Kosovar Albanian refugees were forced to leave Australia after a temporary respite.
Croats need to ask themselves why the policies for Croats don't apply for Kosovar Albanians, Palestinians, black South Africans, Rwandans, or the homeless from the recent tsunami wave, all of whom, it has been alleged, need to stay in their homelands to pressure for political change. Doesn't Croatia or the Croatian population in Bosnia Hercegovina need people to pressure for political change?
Andrew Theophanous, years later lobbied for the Croatian government to build houses for the return of Serbians to Croatia , but not for the return of Croats to Bosnia & Hercegovina, who he had already organized to bring to Australia .
The custom of 'chain migration' was eventually translated into legislation. But doesn't the so-called 'family reunion policy' ('ujedinjenje s obitelji') need to be seen as a family 'disunion' policy? Croatia is not like Sri Lanka or Fiji because it is far away from Australia and families remain split. For the rest of their life the 'tyranny of distance', political oppression and discrimination combined to cause further trauma to Croatian refugees and their relatives. No discussion of 'pull' factors for Croatian emigration would be complete without mention of the so-called 'visa case' - those who overstay their tourist visa or end their illegal status through marriage, thus also avoiding 'stage one' and immigration queues for entry into Australia (Hrvatski Vjesnik, Melbourne, 12 Sept. '86, pg 11).


Censorship of Croatian immigration to Australia is still the rule rather than the exception. The Croatian profile has gone from being non-existent to being vastly under-stated. Although Croats are now coded separately since the 1996 census, their number is listed separately to Croats from Bosnia & Hercegovina, who are now coded as 'Bosnians', instead of 'Yugoslavs' (note: many Croats in Australia are also coded as Italian-born due to occupation of Dalmatia by Italy before WWII). As long as Croatian emigration is portrayed incorrectly or not at all to the mainstream 'public', not even Croats are aware of the size of their own presence. In this way the Croatian demographic decline continues.
Censorship has taken many forms such as omission, incorrect coding, division of information, or misinformation. Omission of the word Yugoslavia or more recently the word Croatia from mainstream public analyses continues today, too common to begin to cite here.
However a special mention needs to be made about Melbourne 's new Immigration Museum which does not display Croats in its mainstream permanent exhibit, even though their exhibit was constructed after the 1996 census and a reciprocal cultural treaty between the two nations. It is simply not good enough to dismiss the Croatian contribution to Australia with a temporary three-month exhibit. Even that temporary Croatian profile would not have existed if not for the initiative of a couple of leaders of the Victorian Branch of the Croatian World Congress.

Personal Perceptions

Perception is a key word in any discussion on the theory of migration. Today for example, why do Croats choose to leave 'stage one' (usually Europe) where they often fled to from current Serbian aggression, and Moslems from Bosnia do not? Why did tens of thousands of Moslems choose Croatia as refugees, but Croatian refugees rush onwards to 'stage two' (overseas)? After reading the above analysis the answer should be obvious. There is a common denominator in any discussion of 'migration theory' and that is the link to 'family reunion' in Australia . In contrast, Moslem authorities in Bosnia publicly state that they want their people to stay where they are (see B-H Ogledalo, 5 March 93 , p.12.)
Since 1990 every extended Croatian-born family I know in Australia has helped to bring a relative away from Croatia . One grandmother in Croatia recently complained to me that she had lost more sons to Australia than in all wars put together in the 20th century. According to Dr. Jakov Gelo, Zagreb, Croatia 's growth rate (population) is the lowest in Europe, yet the 'perception' of Croats overseas abroad is that demographic decline has nothing to do with them.
In the context of perception, the comparison between Puerto Rican and Croatian emigration in the 1994 video 'This is Croatia ' is invalid. Croatia (excluding B-H) is six times larger than the island of Puerto Rico but Croatia 's population density is fifteen times less. (The Zadar region for example has a population density of only 43 inhabitants per sq. km., 1991 census) One must imagine that one-half of the total population of Croatia was in the Zadar region only, in order to make a fair comparison with Puerto Rican emigration. Puerto Ricans go to nearby America , of which it is a political part, but Croats migrate to foreign cultures across the seas. Puerto Rico, in spite of its emigration, has doubled its population in the last two decades, but Croatia has taken nine centuries to do this and now it is leading Europe in its demographic decline.


To answer the question of why Croats emigrate more per capita and father away than other national groups in the world 'pull' factors must be acknowledged as well as 'push' factors. Put more simply, 'how' people are able to gain legal access to immigration queues, is more relevant than 'why' they emigrate. The Croatian demographic decline will not stop as long as legislation is inconsistently applied, and this may be out of our control. Therefore only Croatian people can put their destiny into their own hands. It is up to Croatian interest groups to address this issue at forums and in their media.
Jean Lunt Marinovic
January 2005
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