Nearly 3.88 million inhabitants against 4.28 million in 2011. The first data from the census which took place at the end of 2021 in Croatia, published on Friday January 14 by the Zagreb Statistics Office, are clear: in In the space of ten years, the young former Yugoslav republic, independent since 1991, has lost 400,000 citizens, or 9.25% of its population.
→ REPORT. In Croatia, a very political population census
The demographic collapse is even more pronounced in the rural regions of Slavonia, in the east of the country, or in the mountainous areas of Lika and Gorski Kotar (in the center): here, almost one inhabitant is missing out of five compared to 2011. “It’s a disaster”, commented the Croatian demographer Stjepan Sterc, according to whom the country could lose another 500,000 inhabitants in the next ten years.
Corruption and clientelism among the causes of emigration
The causes of the population decline in Croatia are numerous, but experts point to the low birth rate, the lack of immigration and above all the very high rate of emigration, which has skyrocketed since the country joined the European Union in 2013. Each year, thousands, even tens of thousands of Croats leave to settle elsewhere in the EU and in particular in Germany, Austria or Ireland.
→ THE FACTS. The Balkans are victims of the brain drain
Several surveys carried out among emigrants show that the main reasons for leaving are not economic, but political. “Corruption”, “clientelism” and “lack of prospects” are among the most frequent motivations.
The results therefore provoke a bitter debate in Croatia, where the opposition accuses the HDZ, the nationalist party in power almost continuously since independence, of being the main responsible for the debacle. “We have 400,000 reasons to change the government,” said Ivica Puljak, the centrist mayor of Split, the country’s second largest city, while, according to leftist MP Katarina Peovic, “it must be said openly that people have been expelled from this country “.
Financial incentives for returning home
On the government side, the tone is measured. “I would not say that the situation is catastrophic,” said Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic Radman, before pleading: “In Croatia, we live well”. At the end of 2021, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic’s executive introduced new measures to convince Croats who had gone abroad to return. From now on, these citizens can benefit from an envelope of approximately €27,000 to start an entrepreneurial activity in Croatia.
The initiative drew mixed reactions in the country, where some accused the government of not focusing enough on those who remained, while others saw it as another attempt to uberise society. Either way, demographers predict that without a policy dedicated to population growth, Croatia’s pension, education and health systems will soon be under threat.