More and more young and talented Croatians are leaving these shores in search for a brighter future. Since Croatia became a full member of the European Union in 2013 a world of possibilities have suddenly emerged, no more fighting for visas and work permits, now the horizon is open. The Dubrovnik Times caught up with one such fresh Croatian ex-pat, Dejan Hajdukovic, who has recently made the plunge to set up a new life in Scotland. This isn't a decision he made overnight.
Hajdukovic has had a long-term love affair with the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. “The love continued to grow with every single word of Burns I read, every note on the pipes I heard and with all the mystical stories of the ancient Caledonians,” he adds. Born in 1982 in the Croatian capital Zagreb in his own words he had been employed, unemployed, self-employed, basically he had been down every employment street and kept finding a dead end. He was even one of the leading founders of United Kingdom Friendship Society in Croatia. Yes, we told you he has a love affair with Scotland, and after proposing to his wife at a Scotland vs. Croatia football match at Hamden Park his fate (and future) was pretty much sealed.
Scotland has always been close to his heart
You decided in 2016 to pack up your home and start a new life in Scotland. What were the main motivations behind that move?
The main motivation was a better life for myself and my family. I have been employed, unemployed, self-employed, getting cash under the table … I’ve tried all variations of financial sustainability in Croatia and each one brought absolutely no support from the political sphere. I am not a person who thinks the government should supply everything to me, far from it, but the fact the government is completely out of touch with the reality of life for the able working sector is something I could not cope with any more. In addition, with the right-wing option in power and with an almost non-existent alternative, I was left with no reasons to “fight” and stay to build a better Croatia. I’ve done that in the past for so many reasons and missed opportunities I now regret.
It was just one of those moments where everything has fallen into its place and the time was right to move.
Why has Scotland always been so close to your heart?
I think it should be close to everyone’s heart. It is Voltaire that said: “We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilization”. I think we should all look to Scotland for far more than just that. I first fell in love with Scotland due to family connections to Ayr (Robert Burns country) through aunt Mandy. The love continued to grow with every single word of Burns I read, every note on the pipes I heard and with all the mystical stories of the ancient Caledonians. And as a teenager, once I’ve learned TV was invented in Scotland – I ask you who could not love the country? But above all, it’s the people you fall in love the most. Their openness, banter, acceptance … the pure feeling of friendship for friendship sake. That is what tied me to Scotland for life.
Dejan swapped the Croatian capital for the Scottish highlands
How difficult have you found it to settle down in Scotland?
Not so much to be honest. We have our landlords (they are going to hate this word as we became friends now) to thank and the fact we had huge support from our friends (I should really use the word family here. Much better fit.) in Scotland. Basic getting around our town in Fife and getting to know how things work (utilities, tax, public transport, etc.) was our first obstacle. That and my darling wife’s issues with Fife accent and the infamous “ken” in every sentence. Once we mastered all of it, it was easy and quite frankly liberating. Change from a world of foreclosures for missed payment (in addition to obscene lawyers’ fees on top) to the world where the system is trying to help you make the payment is a breath of fresh air. We made one mistake in calculating our tax payment and the local council tried everything to help us and not punish us for not having the money. Not to mention, the country is not bombarded with the news from 1945 (unless it’s an interesting historical discovery) and is trying to promote progress, equality, education, and all normal 21st-century attitudes for which I think we should all follow. Sure, it has its issues as every country in the world, however, the motivation is there to change them and find solutions to help the people prosper in all aspects of life.
Have there been any culture shocks that you still can’t get used to?
I did expect a few shocks here and there, but to my surprise, there was not so many. One that sticks out to me is smoking. I'm a non-smoker and at some points, it seems like Scotland found out about cigarettes (especially e-cigarettes) some 6 months ago and are trying to catch up with the rest of the world. Another thing I find interesting is the number of mobility scooters. I agree they do help older people and those with difficulty to walk for various reasons, however, I find it unlikely to see it in such numbers in Croatia. Not sure does it have to do with different lifestyles between the two countries or is it just sheer accessibility of them on the market and thus taking the easier route. There might be few more oddities to mention, but nothing that would scare people away. Apart from being hit by a car as pedestrians don't necessarily have a right of way as they do in Croatia. Even if you are on the right side of the road.
We believe that Scotland has a special place in your heart after you proposed to your wife at Hamden Park?
It does. It had that very special place for a long time before the shock I prepared for my better half. She is still scared to go to football matches with me to this day. I can’t really explain it. I have always felt at home in Scotland. Every time we traveled to, it was as though I’m coming home. I remember, one of my friends made a comment that I must have been born in Scotland in some previous life.
The Hamden Park proposal
What do you miss from Croatia? Are there any certain foods that you can’t find in Scotland?
I think it is only natural for everyone who decided to relocate, that this comes as the hardest thing - friends and family. Everything else you can compensate, but those you can’t. I think that’s why we constantly invite them to come over here as we have a spare bedroom. As for food, as a continental child, I do miss a good sarma or dolma if you will. Luckily, Scotland has a large Polish community that is very accommodating in acquiring the cabbage I need. Other than that, I am quite happy to live of haggis, pies and all the curries one can muster. Much to the disappointment of my cholesterol levels and the round shape, my body is going towards.
How difficult was it to find employment in Scotland?
How big you want this interview to be? Joking aside, it’s an interesting question considering Croatians are the only EU nation to which the UK has employment restrictions imposed. That and all this Brexit nonsense makes job hunting in all of UK (not just Scotland) an interesting endeavor. Once you go through all the paperwork (and it is somewhat like trying to understand Sir Humphrey) it is easier. There are plenty of job opportunities, but again with Brexit, one might (and will) come across a bit of unwillingness from employers to hire an EU citizen. Something my wife experienced personally. As my wish was to finish college education, I enrolled a local college in Fife and it made things easier (up to an extent) regarding employment. I needed flexible hours due to college and I was lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time to start working for a friend. Admittedly, as I might not be a good example when it comes to job hunting, it is not the easiest thing to do.
If Scotland played Croatia at football who would you support?
Scotland. No questions asked. Remember, you are talking to a guy who proposed at Hampden Park during Scotland vs Croatia match in 2015 sitting at a Scottish end in a full kilt and a Scotland home top on.
With more and more young Croatians deciding to emigrate to EU countries in search of a better future what would be your advice to them?
Read all the rules and don’t be afraid to want something better for yourself. We live in a globalized world and each of us deserves to find a place under the sun. It doesn’t have to be under your grandfather’s fig tree. It can be where ever you want it to be. It’s hard. There will be crying, and doubts, and regrets along the process … but if you believe in yourself and have done everything by the book – you’ll be fine.
Dejan has found his future in the Scottish sunshine