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Croats: A Book Review in The Age Newspaper

John Lack, in Melbourne's The Age (24 Sep.05) reviewed three books about Italians, Greeks, and Croats, including Ilija Sutalo's book, "Croatians in Australia: Pioneers, Settlers and Their Descendants". Appropriate credit is given to Sutalo's book because it has, as Lack says, "filled in an important blank, and further refined the figures given in Charles Price's seminal study " about Southern Europeans in Australia. The major problem I have with Lack's review is his inaccurate comparison with Greeks and Italians, in stating that Croatian 'migration' to Australia has also ceased. Secondly, the review is problematic because Croats in Australia often filled 'refugee' or 'humanitarian' categories, and not just migration categories.
Lack, (a history lecturer who co-authored "Sources of Australian Immigration History 1901 to 1945") incorrectly asserts in his review that, "Tamis and Sutalo face this issue: . . . What in the long term happens to ethnic identity when immigration ceases, as it has with each of these three groups, and is even replaced by return migration? (and that) . . . Viewed in this light, these celebratory volumes are as much memorials to the dear departing cultures as they are to living ones".
References to Croatian settlers over the years has been problematic because sometimes they have been classed as 'Southern Europeans' and sometimes as 'others' and sometimes as 'former Yugoslavs', etc.. For example, this ambiguity resulted in Croats being included inaccurately in a media report on the health and diet of "southern Europeans" although taken from a study from Greece and Italy. It has often resulted in Croats being eliminated in census publications. And recently such generalizations have resulted in the following inaccurate statement by John Lack, that like Italians or Greeks, Croats no longer come to Australia .
John Lack has clearly not carefully read all of Sutalo's book on Croatian settlement, or he would not be able to claim that, like Greek or Italian, Croatian immigration to Australia has now ceased. What are Lack's sources for this assumption? Many sources are available to illustrate how Greek or Italian immigration to Australia has been replaced by return migration, but this is NOT the case with Croats. Recent Immigration Bureau statistics show settlement from the former Yugoslavia in the top ten, whilst Greeks or Italians are not mentioned at all. The 'Italian Australian Records Project' on the internet states that 93% of Italians came before 1981. In addition the ABS statistics for Italian and Greek arrivals confirm that there is no current strong immigration from there.
Sutalo clearly states on page 223 in his chapter on "Post-Second World War Settlement" that Croatian arrivals to Australia " rose again in the 1990s (due to the war against Croatia ), with the arrival of Croatian refugees from Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina". In the introduction of his book the Australian/Croatian 1996 and 2001 census figures are qualified with statements that Croats born in other countries of the former Yugoslavia are not included. So, has Lack conveniently taken at face value the text on page 237-8 of Sutalo's book and used it out of context? " Since independence a number of Australian Croatians have returned to Croatia to help rebuild the country . . . " . It is probable that only a small number of Croats have permanently returned to Croatia, but in contrast at least 25,000 Croats have arrived in Australia from countries of the former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 2005.
In a popular definition, refugees are those people who flee their homes seeking refuge from various types of harm. President Bush clearly stated that the millions who were displaced from recent hurricanes were not refugees. In fact, the UN Refugee Convention only recognises people as refugees if they are displaced from their home country because of persecution on the basis of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Thus officially a refugee is someone who has crossed an international border and has been assessed by the UNHCR. In contrast to refugees, migrants choose when to leave their country, where they go and when they return.
There have been at least four waves of Croatian settlement to Australia during the last century. Croatian people have experienced the life of a refugee, as defined by the UNHCR twice during the 20th century officially, and three times unofficially if the post 1971 'Croatian Spring' exodus was acknowledged. After WWII, most people from 'Southern Europe' who came to Australia were classified as migrants; and those from Eastern Europe and the former Yugoslavia came as refugees, and were usually classed as 'displaced persons'. According to the book 'Australia's Immigrants' by Sherington, from 1947 until 1971 over 150,000 people came to Australia from Yugoslavia, the majority of whom were Croats.
After 1991, a large annual intake of refugees came to Australia from the former Yugoslavia and the majority of those refugees were Croats (DIMA). This refugee intake has been followed by yet another family reunion wave, and this new wave from the former Yugoslavia has been referred to in a DIMA Fact Sheet by former Immigration Minister Ruddock (see also my article, "Ethnic Balance in Croatian Region is a Priority for Peace", which was published in the Australian/Croatian media in July 98).
In my article entitled, Croatian Demographic Decline, (published in Feb. 05) I documented how the Croatian communities abroad are being rejuvenated because of the mass exodus of Croats between 1991 and 2001. Croatian communities are not in the top "ageing" bracket, like Greeks and Italians, and the next census will put that on the record, if combined with statistics of Croats from Bosnia-Herzegovina. Statistics point to the estimated exodus of over a quarter of a million Croats from the former Yugoslavia in a ten year period. In the following I have only referred to the relevant nations from the UNHCR 'top ten refugee destinations', and based on statistics from those countries an estimated minimum of 20,000 Croats had come to Australia between 1991 and 2001. To the USA roughly 70,000 went; to Canada 35,000; to Sweden 70,000; to New Zealand 10,000; and to Europe 50,000. Since then, arrivals of more Croats can be confirmed from various data in Australia, Canada, and elsewhere.
In conclusion, it is incorrect for John Lack to state that because some people returned to Croatia since its independence, that all settlement from Croatia to Australia has now ceased. The author Sutalo refers to the ongoing arrivals of Croats to Australia in his book, "Croatians in Australia: Pioneers, Settlers and Their Descendants". Therefore Croats in Australia are NOT yet a "dear departing culture" as Lack suggests.
Jean Lunt Marinovic
September 2005
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