I know quite a few foreigners living in Dubrovnik, some of which I consider my dear friends. Every once in a while I will joke about them being “immigrants stealing our jobs”. They don't like that. It's not because of the job stealing comment, that part is clearly a joke. The problem is in the word “immigrant”.
To many of our English speaking friends this word has inherently negative connotations even though it is defined as neutrally as: “A person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country” (en.oxforddictionaries.com). They are much more likely to choose the word “expat” to describe themselves. Of course, it all has to do with history and it is tied to roles individual countries played on the global scene during the past few hundred years.
In Croatia we have no pre-assigned notions about the word “immigrant” which we also use in our language. This is because many of our countrymen have found themselves over time travelling to foreign lands trying to create a better life, fleeing poverty or famine, political prosecution, or even mediocrity in their professional fields. Historically, we are the immigrants. While I am sometimes quick to criticise my British or American friends for their reservations about this term, the fact is, having such a light view of immigration might be one of the things dooming our country.
No, I’m not talking about preventing people from coming here in search of a better life (right-wingers can stop clapping). I am talking about the current problem of our people going abroad to live in greater numbers. You see, Croatians have an interesting position within the context of European Union. Generally speaking, we are educated and skilled at our jobs, most of us speak English or some other foreign language, but at the same time our average salaries are much lower than those in countries of Western Europe. Meaning, most of us can do our jobs just as well as our western counterparts, but are getting paid less for the same work. Our living costs on the other hand are not as low as they should be to counteract this disparity. So, the incentive to go abroad to work and live definitely exists, especially when you take into account how frustrating it can be trying to work or especially running your own business in Croatia.
Our economy is struggling and there have been plenty of news headlines recently about people leaving the country because each new government promises change only to end up achieving nothing except an increase in national debt. It’s sad. People shouldn’t be considering leaving their homes unless there is no other option.
We have fought hard to gain independence and now we are facing a threat of giving up and admitting defeat, not to a foreign army, but to domestic white collar criminals and corrupt politicians.
The decision on leaving Croatia shouldn’t be an easy one, because it makes us less likely to fight for change. Change we so desperately need. Imagine leaving a country with over a thousand islands, with an abundance of clean drinking water, a country of healthy people and untouched nature, beautiful and diverse…one you can call your own. To do so, one should have a very good reason. Much better than an inept government and slow economy.
These are things we can still turn around if we only believe we can do so. I’d like us to never change our stance on the word “immigrant”, I just hope we stop queuing up to become them, while there is so much to fight for at home.
Bozidar Jukic, AKA The Restless Native, is a Dubrovnik local with too many interests to name them all, with writing being at the very top of the list. He is a lover of good food, music and film, and a firm believer in the healing power of laughter. His professional orientation is towards tourism and travel so it comes as no surprise he spends most of his time alongside Mrs. Jukic running their own local tour company. Their goal is helping travellers from all over the world get a more intimate experience of Dubrovnik and what it has to offer. To find out more about their work, visit their website or Facebook page.