Today slightly less than 4.5 million people live in the Republic of Croatia. However, figures suggest that around 3 million Croatian people live in communities that spread all over the world. These communities are called diaspora, and for the largest part they can be found in Western countries.
The first wave of emigration commenced in the 16th century when much of Croatian territory was invaded by the Ottoman Empire, forcing Croatian people to move to the nearby European countries such as Austria, Hungary, Italy and Slovakia. At the turn of the 20th century, Croats migrated to Western Europe, North and South America, Australia and New Zealand.
When Croats arrived to a new country, they would usually take labouring jobs and often send financial assistance to their families who remained in Croatia. Many of young men who emigrated would sometimes move back home to Croatia after they had saved enough money. However, most of them would stay and their families would eventually follow them.
Croatian diaspora was formed during the past several centuries in the midst of economic and political difficulties when many Croatian people had to flee their country in search of a better life. They served as a way of offering support to Croats during their adaption to the new surroundings, as well as to conserve familiar customs and traditions in a new, unfamiliar society. Croatian people would easily adapt to their new countries, and many prominent politicians, scientists and business people in Western World can in fact trace their origin to Croatia!
Today the largest community of Croatian people outside Croatia lives in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where with 650,000 people they form one of the constituting nations of the country. In Western Europe the largest number of Croatian people can be found in Germany, Switzerland, France and Austria. Croatian people in Austria mostly live in the Burgenland area and constitute one of the strongest communities of Croatian people abroad.
In the United States slightly less than 400,000 people found their home throughout the centuries. After firstly settling in Georgia, New Orleans and Alabama, the largest settlements soon became the ones in Chicago and Pittsburgh. In Pittsburgh are the headquarters of the Croatian Fraternal Union, the oldest and the largest Croatian organization in the United States.
In Canada a large number of Croatian people can be found in the Greater Toronto Area, Hamilton, Ottawa, Vancouver, Calgary, Windsor and Montreal, whilst the most popular event held in the country is the Croatian-North American Soccer Tournament that has been taking place each year on the Labour Day weekend from the 1960s.
Over 400,000 Croatian people live in South America. They can mostly be found in Chile in the regions of Antofagasta, the Atacama Desert and Punta Arenas. Australia and New Zealand also have significantly large Croatian communities.
A remarkable number of Croatian people living in Diaspora still maintain their links with Croatia, and many of them try to return back to their homeland as they get older. They have an important role in the political life of Croatia and the skills and the knowledge they attain during their life abroad can often be immensely important to their country.
Photo Credit: (1) Ivo Pervan, Croatia Tourist Board, (2) & (3) Pixabay