Foto: Ivan Ojdanić // Z. Ancić čita Deklaraciju VI. hrvatskoga socijalnoga tjedna
The Sixth Croatian Social Week organized by the Center for the Promotion of Catholic Social Teaching, which took place at the headquarters of the Croatian Conference of Bishops in Zagreb on October 22 and 23, concluded with the adoption of a declaration, which we hereby present in its entirety:
At the behest of the Croatian Conference of Bishops, representatives of the (arch)dioceses in Croatia assembled on October 22 and 23, 2021, at the Sixth Croatian Social Week, organized by the Center for the Promotion of Catholic Social Teaching, which, due to the epidemiological situation, was simultaneously held in physical form in Zagreb and in individual metropolitan and (arch)diocesan sees in Croatia, where a large number of participants actively participated in the two-day meeting, either in person or remotely.
Prompted by the historical responsibility for the biological survival of the Croatian nation, the state of Croatia and all its citizens, and on the basis of Catholic social teachings, the Catholic Church in Croatia assembled relevant professionals at the headquarters of the Croatian Conference of Bishops in Zagreb in order to demand that the relevant authorities and all the important factors in the Croatian society take concrete steps to resolve the demographic crisis and the related issues of emigration, immigration and contemporary migration.
Since this concerns the future of the Croatian nation, all citizens and the very existence of the state of Croatia, the Church wants to contribute to finding a solution.
Approximately 200 participants, including 34 lecturers from throughout Croatia, discussed various aspects of an extremely important and current topic, Demography—Emigration—Migration. The participants in the Sixth Croatian Social Week hereby address the following to the Croatian public as a whole, individuals, institutions, government representatives and public officials:
Croatia is in a profound demographic crisis and has already entered into a demographic breakdown, owing to the sharp decline in the number of live births, decline in the number of inhabitants and disturbance in the age structure of the population.
For half a century, especially during the last 30 or so years, Croatia has had declining demographic trends: the long-term activity of various destabilizing factors, strong demographic discharge at the national and regional levels; the lack of a clear, long-term or comprehensive strategy and the lack of a cross-party policy of demographic revitalization.
The appropriate population policy should include a pro-natal and lenient migration policy, which would be accepted by national consensus and oblige the holders of political and economic authority in Croatia over the long term, so that every government would not create a new population policy or have to start from the beginning.
Croatia has traditionally been an emigrant country. Emigration has increased with the accession of Croatia into the European Union and the global economic crisis of 2008.
In the past two and a half decades, Croatia has been confronting the new phenomena of immigration and return, which primarily concern the relatively large number of Croats who moved to Croatia from Bosnia and Herzegovina or from Serbia following the warfare in the 1990s.
A second group of immigrants consists of Croats born in various countries of the world, of whom there are relatively few.
In the future, Croatia will have to confront the issue of immigrants from various countries to a greater extent and more thoroughly.
Since Croatia is an EU border country through which a large number of migrants want to cross into the wealthier EU countries, the position that Croatia takes toward contemporary migration is of exceptional importance.
Since the end of the nineteenth century, the Catholic Church has provided organized care for people, especially Catholics, who leave their homelands for various reasons and go to other countries for a better life. Pope Francis, with significant gestures and persuasive messages, has actualized this care and advocated for all, refugees and migrants, and thus demonstrates the fundamental principle of the social teaching of the Church, which is the safeguarding of the dignity of every person.
In the wake of the social teaching of the Church and on the basis of analysis and discussion at the Sixth Croatian Social Week of the exceptionally grave and alarming situation in the Croatian society regarding the demographic situation and the related issues of immigration, emigration and contemporary migration, we seek the following:
1. A slowing of the negative demographic trends as a prerequisite for mitigating population polarization and economic imbalance in the regional context.
2. Demographic development as a high priority Croatian national and strategic issue, which presupposes a long-term strategy for economic development to provide the basis for demographic revitalization.
3. We expect comprehensive and effective public policies involving formal/state and informal/civil actors in their creation. Their formation should include the interpenetration and harmonization of various spheres: family, population, housing, migration and others, with the goal of adopting policies capable of producing results in mitigating the negative population and migration trends.
4. We seek the full implementation of existing and future strategic documents with the introduction of transparent control mechanisms that will ensure the practical application of measures for maintaining the current population and attracting new inhabitants, returnees and immigrants.
5. With varying intensity, negative demographic processes have affected nearly the entire territory of Croatia, so it is not advisable to divide it into categorized areas according to indicators of the demographic situation. Population policy measures should be implemented throughout Croatia and coordinated at three administrative levels: state, county and city/municipal. This would enhance the synergistic impact of the measures and improve the monitoring of the impact of the measures at all three territorial levels. In addition to the administrative level, it is equally important to include the local population in the activities and measures, from planning to implementation, through various models of participatory management.
6. Slowing the negative demographic trends in Croatia cannot be accomplished without raising the birth rate. In this direction, it would certainly be necessary to question the effectiveness of the current housing policy toward young families, based on the subsidizing of housing loans. We believe that this measure would be more effective if families could use it not only at the beginning of their family life but also later, according to increases in the number of children. Thus, a combined model (purchasing/renting an apartment) would initially provide young families with affordable rental housing supported by units of local self-management, and after their formation they could be offered subsidized housing loans.
7. At the Sixth Croatian Social Week, particular emphasis was placed on the family as the basic unit of society, which needs to be restored to the center of national interests and priorities. We seek greater investment in family policy and children in Croatia, without which it would be illusory to expect the demographic revitalization of Croatia.
8. The indifference with which recent emigration is regarded in Croatia is intolerable. Data show that in the past ten years, between 2011 and 2020, approximately three hundred thousand people have emigrated. Mutual accusations and seeking culprits for such a situation will not solve the problem but a pan-Croatian cross-party consensus on this issue is needed.
9. In Croatia, it is necessary to establish the practice of competition in problem solving, as opposed to describing problems as well as possible and finding culprits for individual problems. In Croatia, we have one of the lowest confidence levels in institutions and a perception of increased authoritarianism, especially among the young. Croatian institutions must do everything to restore citizens’ confidence in their activities. This would be possible by consolidating good practices and focusing institutions on the solving of citizens’ problems. This requires the reform of public administration, which would allow for greater accountability and, thereby, efficiency in the pursuit of the common good.
10. It is necessary to take the issue of immigration to Croatia seriously, in all the positive and negative aspects of this process.
11. In attracting inhabitants, an active approach is needed in order to avoid partial and disorganized models, which would eventually only satisfy individual segments of the labor market. In other words, it is necessary to adopt clear immigration policies. The promotion of the country, its advantages, quality of life and safety requires the involvement of all the interested actors in the design of a program to attract population. Immigration and integration programs must clearly define the rights and obligations of immigrants. In their creation, it is possible to use successful examples of countries with extensive experience in immigration and integrational policies, while respecting the Croatian language, culture and tradition.
12. It is necessary to devote particular attention to returning migration. In this regard, returnees need as painless a return as possible, in terms of minimizing difficulties and/or removing administrative or legal hurdles for individuals and entire families.
13. Contemporary migration flows are global phenomena but there are differences between current and previous migrations. Recent history shows that migration processes are inevitable. It is only a question of how they will proceed in the future.
14. It is necessary to differentiate the status of refugees from the status of migrants. Refugees are in mortal danger and modern states are obliged to find ways to help them and ensure their safety in the countries that have received them. As a rule, migrants are seeking a better life. Solidarity is needed here. In both situations, it is certainly necessary to respect law and order because it is no help to a drowning man if the rescuer and the rescuee drown together. Assistance should be organized and oriented to resolving the factors that generate problems, taking into account, on the one hand, the safeguarding of the domestic population in order to avoid violations of the law, violence and possible chaos. On the other hand, the centuries-old tradition of the Church among the Croatian nation and the traditional hospitality of the Croatian people require us to provide everyone of good will, under the given circumstances, with a life worthy of a person.