We are so excited to have the opportunity to interview one of the success stories from the diaspora, Mate Paskanovic Pavkovic. Originally hailing from Mississauga Canada, Mate returned in 2017 and has called Croatia home ever since.
I am a Croatian-Canadian-American. My mother is an American from Lewiston, New York (close to Niagara Falls, New York) and my father is a Croatian Immigrant from Izbično, a small village near Široki Brijeg Hercegovina. My father came to Canada when he was 13 to live with his uncle. My great uncle wanted to adopt someone from my father’s family to give him a better life in Canada and to feel as though he had a child of his own. Although I am a proud Croatian, my mother is actually of Italian and Irish decent.
I would call my mother an honorary Croatian as when my parents married, my mother put in a lot of effort to learn about my father’s culture, learning how to cook Croatian food, learning the language, and even visited my father’s family during the war in 1994 with my brother Krešo, as a humble gesture to show my father's family how much she cares for them. My family grew up in the Croatian community in Norval and Missisauga. We played soccer, danced kolo, played tamburica and went to church. We grew up basically as any other Croatian Canadian child.
There are a lot of parallels between the values I grew up with and the values of Uppermoda. Meagan and Michael have gone above and beyond by making a business and making clothing here in Croatia.
I was completing my music degree in Canada and I began asking myself the notorious question that every college student asks themselves towards the end of their studies: What am I going to do with my life? I was struggling getting music gigs and working in construction over the summer, but I also, like many other Croats, had a dream of moving back to Croatia. A large number of people I knew dreamed about doing it, although few people actually move back. I was discouraged at first but I also thought about what my father had to do to come to Canada. He used to send most of his money back to Hercegovina so that my family could have a better life. When he came to Canada he made a sacrifice and I realized, after visiting Croatia many times, that it is not a huge sacrifice to live here in the country that I love. At times there can be a lot of negativity, but I see this as an opportunity to make an impact.
I thought the safest way to move back to Croatia was to come back through education. In Canada I found that through higher education you learn about how the system works, you interact with peers your own age, while you gain knowledge from a higher education institution. I also thought that by taking advantage of Croatia being in the EU, I could go on exchange and continue my education elsewhere. I went to the Zagreb School of Economics and Management where I completed my MBA and I went to France where I completed my Master’s in Management. While I went to school, I met people that had a similar outlook on life, and also loved this country as I did.
The situation is constantly evolving for me. I worked in multiple roles, from the public to private sector, from being an employee to now starting my own business. I am enjoying discovering what it is to live in the country that my family once left. Some days it is tough to live here, but I know that living here is something that many people have said that they wanted to do and are still not able to do because of their obligations in other countries. I feel blessed to be able to live here and help the country that I love more than anything else in the world.
I was an active member in the Croatian Canadian Community, I used to dance Kolo, play Tamburica, play soccer and go to church. I felt like I was lucky that I grew up in a community like the one in the Greater Toronto Area because it is well organized. There are a great number of Canadian returnees in Croatia. These returnees have been successful both in the Public and Private sectors. Some of the more prominent Croatian Politicians in both the Croatian and European parliaments are from Canada. The Canadian Croatian community’s infrastructure and connection to Croatia enabled my move and helped me to have an easy transition to life in Croatia.
In Zagreb, there is a group of Croatian returnees that organize small get togethers, soccer games and we even make rakija together. The Diaspora non-profit, run by Kris Krmpotich, Michael Murgić and other great returnees have helped create a sense of community amongst all of us who have returned. If you are planning on returning to Croatia, be sure to get in touch with Michael Murgić or Kris Krmpotich.
Stablo znanja is going really well, almost every student organization at every Zagreb post-secondary institution uses Stablo znanja for events and meetings . Students in general come in droves each day. At Stablo znanja, we have held many successful events, some of which have brought in over 300 students at a time. At the moment due to COVID-19, we haven't been able to use Stablo znanja but we hope that we can continue these events in the new academic year.
The conference initially began discussing tourism, but it morphed into something that was on everybody’s mind: how to integrate all Croatians around the world to develop a better plan for the country. The overarching goal and the scope of the conference was to find ways to integrate Croatians as one nation regardless of their location, and to forge the future of the Croatian identity both in Croatia and abroad through social, economic and political solutions. As was exemplified by the many amazing discussions and similar themes that were repeated, the conference brought to the forefront many issues and concerns of returnees and showcased their successes in the homeland.
Some of the highlights were Marion Dužić talking about his struggles in building his resort in Supetar, Joe Bašić talking about building South-Eastern Europe’s biggest Marketing firm and organizing Ultra Europe, as well Ivica Zdunić’s surprise visit from Canada.
We had some great panel discussion such as: Successful stories of Croatian Returnees who have invested in Tourism, The Croatian Dream, The Past and Future of Croatian Returnees, Diaspora Tourism and Investment- the Opportunities and Perspectives, Health and Wellness tourism, Croatia as a Brand, Culture Shock, Integration into Croatian Businesses, Tourism Start-ups, and we ended the conference with a pitch session.
Marin Sopta has done a lot for Croatia but, after the conference we decided to part ways and we founded Crodiaspora. We are looking forward to what Crodiaspora will bring us and hopefully we can start helping people do more business and ultimately return to Croatia.
That love is like the love you have for your mother, it is unconditional. That love is something that when you have a bad day, when you face adversity, it keeps you going. That love that Croats share for this country is ineffable and even though we may have differing opinions, that love can bring us all together during our toughest hour.
The conference was originally scheduled for 22-24 May, but due to travel restrictions and the evolving epidemiological situation around the world, we decided to postpone the conference until 29-31 of October. As many business owners were faced with the challenges brought on by COVID-19, there is a point where you say to yourself that there is nothing to lose if you decide to shift your business model. Like many, we also asked existential questions about Crodiaspora’s core purpose and what was the goal of the summit.
Our purpose can be boiled down to one premise: Crodiaspora wants to help connect all Croatians in the diaspora with one another to create solutions to challenges faced by the homeland and the diaspora. We then asked ourselves how we could do that immediately. So, we decided to use everyone’s favourite online tool, ’Zoom’, to start knowledge-sharing and helping people with their long-standing problems when interacting with their ancestral homeland.
Our first webinar was about the post-corona business reality as it pertained to Croatia. Our guests were Stjepo Bartulica, President of COK and now newly elected Croatian parliamentarian. Also, we hosted John Gašparac, country managing partner at PwC Croatia. John really went into detail as to what will change in a post-Corona world, and what were the trends for Croatia. We were completely surprised as over 3.9K people watched our webinar in a week and we saw that people were genuinely interested in the economic trends in Croatia since Croatia is still emerging as a new EU country.
We then decided to experiment and see if people wanted to learn about the Croatian judicial system and to answer their questions about their land, their wills, and other legal questions concerning dual citizens. We advertised on our social media to send in questions and we received over 50 emails for our webinar. We then invited Don Markušić, the only common law lawyer in Croatia, and Monika Maretić, Don’s legal partner, to come on and he did a fantastic job explaining the legal system. In addition to the legal questions we received, we also received tax questions, financial questions, and just in general about how to do more business and move to Croatia. I guess the coronavirus helped to make people think of what they have and the benefits of being in a country like Croatia.
More recently Crodiaspora has been playing a role in fighting for the right of Croatians abroad to vote. Due to the Coronavirus and the restrictions placed on Canadian society, Canada said that they would not allow voting to happen in Croatian diplomatic missions in Canada. Crodiaspora immediately drafted a letter for Croatian Canadians to stand up for their rights and we gave a list of emails of those MPs who were paramount to change the decision. We have some fantastic Croatian Canadians who helped lead the charge. Ana Katalinić, George Kovačić and Peter Bury are all immensely proud Croatian-Canadians and without their help I am sure the decision to lax restrictions for the parliamentary elections would have taken much longer. Because of the work of Ana, George and Peter as well as dozens of emails that poured into politicians’ emails across Canada, 5 Conservative MPs and one Liberal MP stood up for our right to vote in the Croatian parliamentarian election. The ruling in Canada set a precedent for other countries to follow such as the UK and Ireland who also decided to allow voting.
Originally we saw the summit as the springboard into the things we are doing now, but it ended up that we are doing what we wanted to do after the conference now and the conference will be the consequence of what we do now with Crodiaspora. Crodiaspora is a story that is evolving every day and we have a team who are open minded, creative and have Croatia’s best interest at heart. We have recently become a non-profit and we have more exciting news to be announced in the upcoming weeks.
Food - raštika if it is a cold day, but Uštipci during the summer
Drink - Žlahtina, It's a fantastic white wine from Novi Vinodolski/Krk which also has a fascinating history.
Region or City - I love Hercegovina, but specifically I love my home town of Široki Brijeg.
Song - Geni Geni Kameni by Thompson. The one part of the song that get’s me is “a sad nova loza raste, vratile se kuci laste” which loosely translate to: a new vine is growing, and the swallows (a historically symbolic bird for strength) are returning home.
Memory from any of your trips to Croatia - too many to remember, but I will never forget getting off the plane 3 years ago when I decided to permanently return to the country.
Tradition - Božična pšenica, the grass that you grow from St. Lucia’s day until Christmas. My father, even though he claims to be a farmer, never could grow it properly. It always gave us a laugh.
Hidden gem - Sv. Jana. A lot of people drink Jana water and Jamnica, but very few actually know the where the source of the water is. Sveta Jana is an array of hamlets 30 minutes’ drive from Zagreb.
Thank you for being part of this spotlight series and telling our readers more about you and about your love and passion for Croatia.
♡ Meagan & Michael
We hope you enjoyed our Croatian Diaspora interview in our Spotlight Series! If you would like to be interviewed or would like to recommend someone let us know at email@example.com
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Mirjana Cestar is the President of Croatia House - a cultural association established to promote Croatian performing and visual Arts in Australia. Continue reading to find out how Mirjana has been connecting Australia & Croatia and to find out more about the films Croatia House is featuring at the Croatian Film Festival