The topic of demographics and the alarming rates of people, particularly the young, leaving Croatia in search of work and prosperity is, and has been for a few years now, on every government or opposition politician’s lips,  and the country’s president’s. But absolutely no national remedial strategies issued, absolutely nothing seems to have changed, except the political party or the government at which the blame-finger is pointed at any one particular time. The numbers of those leaving Croatia keep rising. Young people in particular appear to be resigned to the fact that there are no jobs or employment opportunities for them and this leads to personal frustration, resentment, despair … one loves ones country and yet survival in it is harsh and in many instances impossible if dignity is part of that survival. And – corrupt nepotism hasn’t moved down and out a single notch! And the Diaspora wants to contribute, it wants to help – but, hey – this notion doesn’t seem to have truly sunk into the Croatian governing echelons despite what looks more and more like a smokescreen of incessant lukewarm invitations to the diaspora to come and come and come.

During the past week in the Croatian city of Osijek, which lost so very much blood and so very many lives in defending itself from Serb aggression in the early 1990’s – brought, through a University students’ exhibition, to painful attention the wound that destruction and unemployment open and leave oozing into a bleak and alarming picture of the not so distant future.

The vision of empty streets of Osijek in photos almost freezes the blood in our veins. There are no movements on city squares in them, business premises – locked. ‘Lively’ though, is the map of the world. Strewn across it are the portraits of those that are born, that grew up there, even graduated from the university in Osijek and who then packed their suitcases and left ‘in search of bread’ abroad. It’s 2032, and the last of the inhabitants are leaving Osijek. This apocalyptic forecast is the theme of the exhibition called ‘Where did my city disappear to’ authored by 11 students of Cultural Management studies at Osijek University. Their final exam is actually in Museum and Exhibition Management. Everything occurs under the mentoring by Prof. Andjelko Mrkonjić and his assistant Tomislav Levak.

Symbolically the exhibition is held in the Bus terminal in Osijek, Croatia.

– We refer to the imagined year 2032, when, as we presume, the city will be empty. How realistic is that? Given the current situation – it’s very realistic. If the young people continue leaving intensively in such high numbers, it’s questionable who will remain, said Matea Milinkovic, a student.
The public does not know the exact number of those who had already left, even the authorities don’t know that number – neither the state or the local authorities. However, it is understood that some 22,000 people have left Slavonia and Baranje in the past six months.

One of the students, the exhibition co-organisers, Emily Dobutovic said: “ We don’t know the exact number of young people who have left Osijek, it’s known that some 82,000 young people have left Croatia during the past year…Moved by the constant increase in numbers of friends and acquaintances leaving we have decided we see that as much as everyone is aware of this situation nothing changes, nothing is being done. We have decided, therefore, to appeal to the citizens in order to warn them and perhaps move them into taking some concrete measures and do something…

Student and the exhibition co-organiser Ivan Tenko says: “Most likely every person between the age of 18 and 30 is thinking about leaving Osijek either to Zagreb or abroad. At this moment Dublin seems the most popular place to go, several thousand have already gone there – both younger and older, which has created a most interesting situation in that almost everybody knows someone who has left for Dublin, Some friend of your may have gone there, found a good job in Dublin, found a place to stay and has started living the ‘good’ life and so you get the motivation to leave your surroundings which provide none of that, and where there are no opportunities to realise these things for life. All in all, one needs a great deal of perseverance to remain in Osijek…we get by through short-term employment or seasonal work. Of course, it’s hard to predict the future but given the situation in the country and the absence of clear signs of change for the better we believe the emigration trend from Osijek will continue for a few years to come.

As soon as it was announced the exhibition has ‘stirred some spirits’. Both the professors and the students were aware that the exhibition would lead to reactions but they emphasise that their primary goal is to warn of what may be coming. After all, they themselves do not want to become a part of the statistics representing those that have left.

Everyone is turning their head, thinking that it’s not their problem, and we want to awake the public, not only those of our age but also older people and especially those who are planning to leave – the students said.

The students organising this exhibition do not want to spread a message of pessimism but want the exhibition to reflect their wish and their belief that the situation can be changed. They don’t want to be in a position of an immigrant and become ordinary foreigners in other people’s countries. Osijek is their city and they don’t want to leave it, and by remaining there, with their efforts and work they wish to stop the realisation of the sad destiny for the city predicted in this exhibition and by many leading minds of Croatia (Apokaliptično predviđanje – Osijek će 2032. biti potpuno prazan).

19 February 2017 marked two years in office for president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and considering that she from the start vowed to work on stopping or preventing the exodus of young people from Croatia, the opposite has occurred. The exodus has increased and bulked-up to alarming levels that threaten the survival of the Croatian nation on its own land. As president her role and ability to be the motor for change are practically non-existent but what does exist is her ability to keep pounding and banging her fist against the table – as she said in the beginning she would do, but hasn’t – seeking changes, seeking government’s accountability, seeking a show of strategies etc. She has had to deal with three governments during those past years but sadly she and most in Croatia seem to let go of pressing issues with every change of government or presidents. Issues such as the exodus of the young are a constant, sadly, and must be treated as such otherwise with every new government, new strategies will be offered for the resolution of the same issue and with that – new failures! Sad days ahead for Croatia unless some strong hands start banging against tables – on more issues than one that threaten the independence of a substantially whole nation paid for so dearly!

Ina Vukić –

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