Whilst emigration from Croatia has always hugely outweighed Croatian diaspora immigration, there has been a steady stream over the last two decades. In this series, we meet some people who have made the move ‘to the motherland’.
Today we meet Branka Cubelic. Branka was born in Drenje near Dakovo and when she was 6 years old, migrated to Australia with her family where she spent over 50 years before returning to Croatia 5 years ago.
Was Croatia a big part of your life when you were living in Australia?
Very much so. I was a Croatian folk dance teacher for 40 years, I was fortunate to teach over 2000 kids. Through Croatian folklore I helped preserve the culture and language, preserving the Croatian identity in Australia if you will.
My love for folklore and my love for the country was instilled in me from an early age. Croatian was also spoken at home, my grandmother lived with us, so my Croatian today is what was spoken at home.
What made you decide to move and live in Croatia?
I visited Croatia 27 times before I made the choice. The final decision was made after I sadly lost my husband to cancer 6 years ago. As difficult as it was, I made the choice to close that chapter of my life and begin a new one in Croatia. Croatia is a country where my soul has peace and I love the lifestyle here.
What was the reaction from family and friends?
I think it was a very big surprise because I left everybody in Australia, two daughters, three granddaughters and many close friends.
“Why would you go to a country that’s struggling and leave a country where the milk and honey is flowing, as a figure of speech,” is what they would all say.
Even though Australia gave me everything I have today, I am grateful to the opportunities that not only myself but other migrant families have to give us a better life. However, at the end of the day you have to listen to your heart. Your heart is always right, I always wanted to find my roots so I had a better understanding of who I am which made my decision to return easier.
Where are you living and what are you doing for a living?
I chose to live in Split because of its location and mediterranean climate.
I became a small property investor but after about a year of sitting on the Riva having my daily coffee indulging in the infectious state of mind commonly referred to as “Fjaka”, I became restless and bored. Being a workaholic, I decided that I needed to do something productive and get back in the workforce. I figured that two things Croatia is good at is agriculture and tourism.
I couldn’t see myself working on the land but I felt you must think outside the square in Croatia when opening up a business, you must ask yourself, what product or service can I provide this country that it does not already have? I followed my heart and felt that what I was doing in Australia was promoting Croatia, how can I promote Croatia within Croatia?
In the end I decided to open an agency, Dreamtime Events Croatia, we specialise in destination weddings and corporate events. I wanted to bring a little bit of ‘Australiana’ with me and dreamtime being an Aboriginal word and belief that the ancestors have created everything. It’s about storytelling. My Dreamtime is finding my ancestry and a new story started in Croatia. My couples, who come from all over the world are in a way, starting their own “dreamtime” in Croatia. So I’d like to say that we have beautiful synergy.
Dreamtime recently had the opportunity to represent Croatia at it’s best in front members of the Royal families, Ambassadors and other distinguished guests from around the world. The event was held in London. It also gave an opportunity for the couples who are getting married to meet couples who have already been married through the services of Dreamtime.
Who could possibly be a better ambassador than a non-Croat than my lovely couples who get married in Croatia?
The event was a huge success and one of my proudest achievements to date.
What do you like about the lifestyle in Croatia?
I love the cafe scene, the easy going lifestyle. I don’t find anything attractive about the hustle and the bustle you encounter in big cities. In Croatia, everyday is like a Sunday. There’s always time to catch up with close friends and family, and that is something a value dearly these days.
How do you like to relax?
I chill out with my friends over a cup of coffee, going for a walk on the beach or by a lake. There’s so much to choose from in the vicinity of 100km in Croatia, such a diverse mixture of scenery, culture and food. It’s easy to chill out anywhere you like.
What 3 things do you miss about Australia?
1. My family and friends.
I struggle to give you another two because I enjoy my life so much in Croatia. They say home is where your heart is my heart is at home here.
What bit of ‘local’ advice would you give to someone visiting Croatia for the first time – what ‘gem’ should they see?
It is very hard to pick a gem when I consider my whole country a gem. There is something here for everyone from the mountains to the sea, to the lakes, the rivers. You could be skiing in the mountains and an hour away swimming in the sea. A country with over 1,000 islands, what better gem can you ask for than this beautiful God given land?!
I’d love the people to see Slavonia, it’s very specific and close to my heart. The vineyards of Slavonia region, especially Ilok and Vukovar. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will be drinking wine from ilocki Podrumi on their wedding day in May, if it’s good enough for the Royal family then it’s good enough for the commoner.
Are you happy you moved? Do you plan to stay?
Definitely. For the moment, while I am not only content but delighted about living in Croatia and while my soul is at peace I will stay put.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of moving to Croatia to live?
Be prepared to put up with the bureaucracy, the unjustifiable high taxes, and the notorious Croatian mentality. These are minor obstacles that you need to overcome daily. At first, it will be a shock to the system but the longer you live in Croatia, you do as the Croatians do… polako polako and you begin to adapt naturally.
I have found that there is very little incentive for entrepreneurship. If you are prepared to be diligent and persistent, you have every chance to succeed here. Don’t rely on the governing bodies to help you though. For example, The Chamber of Commerce, I still don’t know why it’s compulsory for me pay this Government body a fee and to receive basically nothing in return.
Ever since I opened my business (and began paying these fees), I haven’t received a letter from them introducing themselves and advising how they can help me. In the real world, you would receive some level of gratitude as an investor in a small business and be provided with a list of opportunities on how they can assist you and what the chamber is offering.
Maybe if you’ve lived here all your life, you’d settle for this kind of frustrating silent treatment. As an outsider who comes from a country that functions, I feel the Croatian Government should provide incentives for businesses to startup and encourage the much-needed investment today which will support the jobs needed for our youth tomorrow. I would recommend the Croatian Government offer every company and investor that is prepared to sink money in Croatia a tax-free rebate. Considering it will take at least 5 years before you start making serious money.
I feel that the diaspora is the trump card (pun intended) for Croatia and Croatia’s survival. If Croatia was prepared to follow suit of Ireland, Poland, and Israel to bring back the diaspora who have the heart and love for the country, the money, and the knowledge and also professional ethics, this country would be better than Switzerland.
This is why I would encourage young people to come and find their roots if they are here in Croatia to bring their knowledge and their work ethic to rebuild this beautiful country.
If you have a story about moving to ‘back to the motherland’ which you would like to share then please get in touch by email: [email protected]