The first part of the interview with H.E. Ms Andrea Gustović-Ercegovac
Ambassador of the Republic of Croatia in The Hague about Croatian-Dutch relations.
Beata Bruggeman-Sękowska: Croatia celebrates this year the 24th anniversary of international recognition, remembering 15 January 1992, when all 12 member states of the then-European Community recognized Croatia as an independent country. Croatia became a NATO member on 1 April 2009 and the 28th EU member state on 1 July 2013. What were the main changes that the government had to introduce 24 years ago to achieve so much and that you are proud of?
In a short period of creation of the state and the simultaneous accession to Euro-Atlantic integrations major social and political changes were carried out. Transition to democracy included the political transition from an authoritarian to a democratic society, from a planned to a market economy and the transition of the society as a whole. Full social and economic democracy and modernization of society was established. Accession negotiations may be considered as one of the most complicated and challenging tasks that Croatia has ever managed. They will acquire their complete meaning in the years ahead, through the enjoyment of the all the advantages gained by the EU membership. During the process of accession negotiations, we built many modern state services and proved not only to our EU partners, but primarily to ourselves, that we can meet the highest challenges. The improvement achieved is a result of the immense and exceptional work, political courage and well organized administration.
The Netherlands supported Croatian membership in the European Union. What is the current state of bilateral relationships between Croatia and the Kingdom of the Netherlands?
The bilateral relationship between our countries reached in a short period of time very good level. Relations were established in numerous fields from politics, culture, and tourism to education, sport and science. The biggest opportunities lie in business: mainly in agriculture, food production, transportation and logistics. Croatia has a lot of underused potential. Both countries have a long maritime tradition and we already use this sector as driving factor but there lies great potential for future cooperation as well. Creative industries are also one of the interesting fields. Many start-ups already work together. Main business sectors in which both countries cooperate are food industry, pharmaceutics and shipbuilding.
Our cooperation is not only focused on a narrow perspective, but we also undertake expertize on interesting developments in wider regions and Europe, of course. Since we share common foreign policy opportunities and challenges we exchange experiences of best policies and practices.
What has the Croatian Government been doing since 1992 to intensify the business oportunities for foreign investors and what Croatia has to offer in this field?
Croatian Government has been continuously working on increasing incentives for investors, implementing new and improved legislation and regulation to encourage investors to expand their business operations to Croatia. In general, Croatia offers well-educated and highly skilled workforce, excellent road infrastructure, an easy access to the neighboring markets. With Croatia as your central point, you can also be anywhere in Europe in 3 hours, quickly reaching a market of 500 million consumers. In addition to the above, Croatia’s position as a coastal country allows for shortest transit time from the Far-East via its sea ports.
What kind of Dutch companies operate in Croatia and Croatian companies in the Netherlands?
The Netherlands is the first largest foreign investor in Croatia, which indicates increased interest among Dutch companies and stronger perception of Croatia as a reliable business partner. Also, trade exchange between our two countries is growing, amounted to more than 928 million EUR. Main Croatian export products are pharmaceutical products, boats and ships, electrical machinery and equipment, as well as mineral fuels and oils. At the same time, we import from the Netherlands pharmaceutical products, footwear, meat, live animals and vegetables. There are a lot of possibilities for further improvement, for instance in the IT sector where we can learn from each other or agriculture and water management in which there are possibilities for transfer of Dutch know how.
Croatian citizens in the Netherlands. What were the main immigration waves and how big is the Croatian population in the Netherlands?
There are about 10 000 Croats and their descendants from Croatia in Netherlands, and abouth the same amount of Croats from Bosnia and Herzegovina. First wave of immigrants came during ‘60 and ’70. They were mainly working for large Croatian companies. Second wave immigrated during and after Croatian War of Independence, especially from Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 20th century people came mainly because of political disagreements with the regime and came to live in the west. Later mostly educated people come: scientists, artists, doctors. Croats are highly appreciated Netherlands citizens. Large number of Croats setlled in industrial cities like Rotterdam or Amsterdam.
Due to the outbreak of war in Croatia and later in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the basis of the Croatian organization in the Netherlands among others focused their activities on the organization of humanitarian actions for refugees and victims of war in Croatia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Earlier the Dutch Government supported Croatian supplementary school, but 10 years ago subventions stopped. That has led to significant difficulties in the organization of the education of the native language of young Croats in the Netherlands.
How big is the Dutch community in Croatia?
Exact number is not known, but according to Dutch Embassy in Zagreb, there are approximately 250 – 300 Dutch citizens in Croatia. Most of them are in Croatia because of business and some because they married Croatian citizens. It is interesting to note that most of them (Dutch citizens married to Croatian citizens) live on islands.
How does the cultural cooperation look like? I know that at the University in Zagreb students can study Dutch language and this project is supported by the University of Amsterdam. Can you also elaborate on this cooperation?
Cultural cooperation between Croatia and Netherlands is based mainly on initiatives of musicians, visual and film artists. For example, last year in Utrecht on the start of the Tour de France cyclists sculptures “Cyclus” of artist Vasko Lipovac were successfully presented. Also there were several concerts of classical and pop music. Moreover, choir “Carmina Inglés” which repertoire includes traditional church music and Croatian folk songs is the part of the Croatian Catholic church in Rotterdam. This year will be held a large joint exhibition of Croatian and Dutch artists “(In) stability space” in Amsterdam from 26 August to 2 October. The best projects of Croatian artists abroad are supported by Foundation “House of Croatia”, which was established to promote Croatian culture, history, Croatian language and cultural heritage abroad. Croatia has, in recent years become a very attractive country for the film industry. Dutch director David Verbeek was filming his latest movie “Full Contact” on the island of Pag. Croatian feature, documentary and animated films are shown each year at film festivals in the Netherlands. Last year at the Eastern Neighbours Film Festival (ENFF) in The Hague, Croatia presented six films.
On Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences University of Zagreb one can study Dutch Language and Literature (double major). Croatian language is taught in the Slavic studies at the University in Amsterdam (Slavic Studies encompass the languages and cultures of Russia, Poland, Croatia, Serbia and the Czech Republic, and is transnationally orientated). Language and literature are not only examined from a historical, cultural and social perspective, but also analysed within a trans-European and global context. A broad array of methods and theories facilitate the researching of the languages, histories, literatures and (media) cultures of the four most prominent Slavic language areas. After several years of work, Professor Radovan Lučić from the University of Amsterdam in 2013 issued Croatian – Dutch dictionary with over 36,000 entries. Intensification of the exchange of students generally occurred after Croatia joined the European Union.
Within the project WEDGE – Croatian Literatuur In Nederland (Amsterdam) literary works of Croatian writers were translated into the Dutch language (Goran Tribuson, Miro Gavran, Julijana Matanović, Marinko Koščeca, Ludwig Bauer, Ratko Cvetinić and others).
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