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Englishman in Dubrovnik Englishman in Dubrovnik

The ever decreasing circles of Croatia’s population crisis

By  Mark Thomas Sep 09, 2017

Will the last person to leave Croatia please turn the lights out! Croatia is getting smaller, and no I don’t mean physically, it population is shrinking faster than a man’s private regions in a cold Adriatic Sea.

The exodus that was forecast when Croatia became a full member of the European Union in July 2013 seems to be coming true. Droves and droves of people are leaving in search of a brighter future in richer EU members. Germany, Ireland and Sweden are the leading destinations for Croatian ex-pats. The devastating statistics show that since the last census in 2011, more than 200,000 people emigrated from Croatia, out of which 30 percent from Slavonia, or 70,000 people.

The black statistics of the country's foreign migrations show that around 57,000 people moved to Germany, whilst 80,000 people immigrated to Ireland.

And to make matters worse, as if the figures weren’t bad enough already, the majority of people that are leaving are young, well-educated professionals, exactly the kind of people that Croatia needs to help build a stronger and healthier future. Young doctors, young businesspeople, entrepreneurs, scientists, dentists, teachers, lawyers have all been attracted to the brighter lights of Berlin and Dublin.

This exodus of the talented youth, tomorrow’s backbone, is a clear picture that that something has to be done, as opposed to the current strategy of burying our heads in the sand collectively and hoping for the best. Even the Croatian President came out this week to criticize the government for not doing enough to protect our tomorrow and to create employment opportunities.

But it isn’t only the youth “escaping” that is putting pressure on the population. Year after year more people die in Croatia than they are born! Basically we aren’t producing enough babies. In 2015 almost 17,000 more people died than were born. In fact in the last five years, less than 232,000 people were born, and more than 300,000 died. The negative natural increase is around 71,000 people, which means that in this short period of time, in terms of demographic monitoring, a city of the size of Zadar has disappeared. Yes, that’s right in the last five years we lost Zadar! Or put another way almost two Dubrovnik’s has disappeared off the map.

Whichever way you look at it it’s not pleasant reading. Combine the exodus of the youth to the EU in search of jobs and the differential between the people born and dead and there is an acceleration on the depopulation of Croatia.

When tourists have asked me how many people live in Croatia I have generally answered 4.5 million, because I was using data that I learnt when I first arrived here 19 years ago. That figure is clearly not correct. Even though analyses and comparisons as well as unofficial and official data count 4 million or even 4,2 million people in Croatia, demographers are warning that the Croatian population has already fallen below this number and that today, considering the massive migratory wave, Croatia's population has shrunk to less than 4 million people. That’s right my figure was out by half a million. Shocking! And there doesn’t seem to be an easy fix to these challenges.

On a micro scale just look at the problems the Old City of Dubrovnik faced and still faces with depopulation. In 1961 around 5,500 people lived inside the city walls. Forty years later this number had halved to around 2,700 in 2001. I would agree that the main reasons for this halving are the Homeland War, the birth of new residential areas around in the city, in Lapad and Babin Kuk and so on. But then five years later and the Old City population halves again. So in 2006 around 1,200 people lived in the city. With no wars and very little new development the population halves again. Today the figure is probably less than 800 and maybe less than 700. This alarming situation is quite possibly a mini example of the situation on a country wide level. And just as nothing was really done by the local authorities in Dubrovnik to stop this negative trend, apart from the normal huffing and puffing, the same could be said today for the government, although they don’t even really seem to be huffing or puffing too much. Maybe they aren’t alarmed; maybe they want a smaller population. Until they realise that they are probably earning less money through taxes, but then they’ll dream up a new tax to raise money for the people left.

But the fact that young and well-educated people are leaving bothers me. I can understand why. Everyone has to do what they think is best to support their family, or future family. You can’t blame young people for leaving. Quite the opposite, the blame lies fairly and squarely at the door of the government who are seemingly clueless at finding a way to convince them their future is here. We, the tax payers, spend billions of putting these children and young adults through our education system and then Germany and Sweden reap the rewards and bolster their own GDPs. Now is the time to act!