Would the last person to leave Croatia please turn the lights off!
Over two decades ago when I arrived here I remember doing some research about my new home, you know just to get a feel for the society I was becoming part of. One of the facts that stuck in my head was the population, or around 4.2 million.
A few months before emigrating to Dubrovnik I had been on a trip to Ireland. And my first impressions of Croatia were its similarity with the Emerald Isle, it just had the same feeling. Apart from the religious question, the friendliness of the people and the relaxed way of life, both of the countries populations were similar in size.
Both countries had had a turbulent past and both were looking forward to a brighter future. Both were trying to attract fresh investment and looking to foreign companies to bolster their economies. A few years later and Croatia joined Ireland in the EU family. The injection of EU funds has come at a huge cost. Yes, we might have a shining new bridge at Pelješac but will we have anyone left to use it.
It was destined to be a wake-up call but the new census seems more depressing than we all believed. No official data has yet to be released, but if we are to believe the leaked reports then the population has dropped below, well below 4 million.
Early figures indicate, and the official census results will be published in mid-January, that Croatia now has 3.88 million inhabitants. Just before the Homeland War that figure was closer to 4.7 million, and yes the war of course took its toll on the population. However, 30 years later and the number is dropping as fast as a pebble in the Adriatic. Since 2011 roughly the population has shrunk by 300,000.
Croatia suffers from a combination of factors: it has more deaths than births, a negative migration balance, meaning an overall population decline. And with such an aging population the future is looking less bright. Without doubt one of the reasons for the collapse in the population is the “free market” for workers. And here Ireland comes back into our story.
Don't blame workers for wanting to support their families
When I was on my Ireland trip there were virtually no Croatians on the island, today it is estimated that 20,000 Croatians call Dublin, Cork and Galway home. Of course Ireland wasn’t the first destination, Germany took that role, probably followed by Sweden and Italy. You can’t blame these migrant workers for wanting to earn money to support their families, its human nature to want to improve your situation.
If the blame is to be laid at anyone’s door, then it should be laid at the doors of the country’s “so called” leaders. Whereas one country has been successful in attracting huge amounts of foreign investment, the other one hasn’t. Croatia’s closed and complicated investment policy, or as I often hear from business people ABC – Anything But Croatia, has forced the younger, educated population to look elsewhere.
Whilst Ireland were attracting Google to open their main European office in the country we are still unable to rebuild Dubrovnik hotels that have remained as a monument to the war, and indeed our incompetence.
Croatian tourism can't operate without Ex-Yugoslavia
We have even managed to get ourselves in the situation that our tourism industry, the main feeder to the GDP, can’t function without workers from the former Yugoslavia. Without seasonal workers from these neighbouring countries we simply don’t have enough people to fill the positions in hotels, restaurants, cafés, etc. The number of foreign workers is rising year on year and Ex-Yugoslavians are leading the way.
If you were wondering about the differences today in population between Ireland and Croatia, two countries that two decades ago were similar in size, then you’re in for an unpleasant surprise. Whilst Croatia has an estimated 3.8 million people, Ireland has 4.9 million, that’s quite a swing in 20 years. And all we here from our leaders is that they are doing their best. As the great Winston Churchill once said “It’s not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required.”
Read more Englishman in Dubrovnik…well, if you really want to