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Croats abroad

Emigration, mainly for economic reasons, seems to be a Croatian fate. Comparable to the failure of the potato crop in Ireland were the consequences of the attack of the root louse phylloxera and also peronospora, which practically wiped out entire vineyards and forced the population to emigrate.

To make matters worse, the “wine clause” of the Austro-Hungarian trade agreement with Italy from 1891, three years before the arrival of phylloxera to Dalmatia, had exposed the local wine market to cheap wines imports from Italy.

In a few waves, many villages, particularly in the south and on the islands, were virtually abandoned. Today, more people originating from the island of Susak live in New York than in the country of their ancestors. So you won’t be too surprised to find that the main currency of the islands of Susak and Olib is the US dollar.Croats abroad - Susak

Under communist Yugoslavia in the 1960s, the rapid deterioration of economic conditions meant a new wave of economic emigration, mostly into Germany but also to Austria, France and Sweden. Officially they were called “workers on temporary work abroad”, but most of them, and as a rule their children, remained there forever. The most recent wave of emigration was the consequence of the collapse of Yugoslavia.

Communities trying to preserve something of their Croatian roots (often nothing more than traditional dances and singing) can be found from Australia to Canada, from Tierra del Fuego to Pennsylvania and California, from the Republic of South Africa to New Zealand, making Croats a people with one of the proportionally largest diasporas in the world i.e. close to the level of the Irish and the Armenians.

In terms of their position on the social ladder, Croatian immigrants have possibly been most successful in Chile, where they were involved not only in their traditional trades such as wine growing and fishing, but also in setting up the first breweries and shoe factories, as well as being involved in academia and state administration.

Croatian communities in countries neighbouring Croatia, mostly resulting from migrations at the time of the Ottoman conquest, are a special case. There are still some 30,000 people in Vienna and the province of Burgenland in Austria, who still retain something of their Croatian identity after nearly five centuries of being surrounded by German-speakers. There is a similar, substantial Croatian agglomeration in Hungary. The tiny pockets of Croats in Slovakia (near Bratislava) and Romania are now only of symbolic significance.

A considerable Croatian minority live in Srijem and Bačka as well as in the Bay of Boka Kotorska (Serbia and Montenegro). Three enclaves in Kosovo, left over from the trade caravans from the time of Dubrovačka Republika, were abandoned during the last decade.

Politics apart, for many centuries the Croatian population in Bosnia and Herzegovina provided the main replenishment for population losses in Croatia, especially in Slavonia and inland Dalmatia. The latest war has put an end to that: the Croatian population in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been halved!

Interestingly, variations of the last name Horvat (meaning a Croat), are among the most frequent last names in Croatia, Hungary, Slovenia and Burgenland, Austria!

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How to survive in and even enjoy Croatia - a guide for smart foreigners © Jakov Buljan, 2006
Illustrations: Dubravko Mataković     Language editor: Francesca Brizi