Brian Gallagher is one of the most effective promoters of Croatia in the UK. He has written numerous letters (and some articles) to the British media, most published. We asked Brian a few questions to explain the position of Croatia in the UK, as well as his advice on how other people can help to promote the country. Here is the interview:
a) Why does Croatia not have a more positive image in the UK?
Decades of Yugo-propaganda, reinforced by the Serbian community in the UK. As is well known, the Serbs dominated the Yugoslav diplomatic corps. The London end was no exception, and they did their job well, being helpful and charming etc. All this came into sharp focus when the war started – journalists, diplomats turned to them for information and of course, they told them Croats are Ustashas and all the rest of it.
The large Serb community also weighed in. Lobbyists such as Ian Greer Associates were hired. Croatia, just starting out as an independent country, with few Croats in London could not compete. That said, I would say many people – journalists, Margaret Thatcher, Michael Foot etc did tell the truth. I believe this was instrumental in the UK – reluctantly – going along with German recognition of Croatia.
As you know, the Serb lobby are still going. They have successfully portrayed “Krajina” as some kind of historical Serbian province populated entirely by peace-loving, tax-paying Serbs ethnically cleansed by evil Croats in 1995. Blatant falsification – “Krajina” was built in 1991 on the mass slaughter of up to 20,000 Croats and the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands more.
This false image of “Krajina” could have an implication for Croatia’s future.
b) Is anyone responsible for this? The Serbs?
Yes, the Serb and their all too many fellow travellers and ‘useful idiots’.
But latterly the Croats as well. Croatia has existed as an independent state for ten years now. Yet still, Croats refuse to cultivate friends, invest in PR, articulate their grievances or refute slander. And then they wonder the War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague get away with blatantly ignoring massive Serb war crimes in Croatia in favour of investigating Croats for lesser crimes against Serbs!
No country can be successful economically, politically or diplomatically if it does not promote itself.
c) What can Croatia do to rectify this?
When prominent Croat politicians have a chance to make a stand in the UK, they should point out the double standards over the War Crimes Tribunal i.e. sanctions were threatened against Croatia, aid was conditional etc, when none of this applies to the Serbs. Many people would be horrified to hear about this and would be sympathetic to Croatia.
More generally, Croatia should fly journalists over to Croatia – expenses paid etc – to show them the truth of matters.
Croatian culture should be promoted via exhibitions aimed at the general public.
British politicians should be lobbied ruthlessly. Croatia could hire a lobbying firm to do this – but ensure it is hiring the best and that they are properly briefed on Croatia.
All this – and more – costs money. But the Serbs do this without thinking twice about it. As do most countries in fact. Silence has failed Croatia as a policy. Time for a change. Unfortunately, I see little sign of this.
However, I have good news. You may have seen a letter in the Independent (6th February) from the Croatian Information Office in London refuting some nonsense about Croatia. The CIO is a major new private initiative; more will be revealed in the coming few weeks.
d) Can some individuals have some effect?
Yes. The perfect example is your Visit Croatia site. It is the best source of information on tourism in Croatia on the Internet, and is aimed at a British audience. There is no doubt in my mind that people have visited Croatia solely on the strength of your site.
More generally, people can write letters to the press. Keep them short, to the point and sober. Don’t get disheartened if not published. Keep trying!
People can complain to MPs and MEPs. It’s important to ask them to do something – like write to a minister or ask a parliamentary question. They like to be told what to do.
e) There are some prominent Croatian/UK citizens living in this country (historians, journalists etc). It seems that they never write letters of complaint. Any reason for this IYO?
One or two do things, usually in a behind the scenes, but important, way. The others are too busy with their careers.
Croats should not hope that prominent Croats are going to promote Croatia out of the goodness of their hearts. Croats can do things themselves without relying on celebrities.
My theory is that we need a ‘critical mass’ of Croats in London before things change here. There are few Croats here and barely any Anglo-Croats. Activists in any field are usually a minority. How many people are involved in politics, for example? A small proportion of the populace. Few Croats and Anglo-Croats mean few activists – let alone organisations.
But we are approaching critical mass, largely due to the growing Croat student population. Witness the appearance of CSYPN and the Croats in the UK message board, for example.
So I’m reasonably optimistic about the future.
Here are a couple of Brian’s postings on the Croats in the UK message board:
1) ‘More explanation for my dear Croats’ posted 31/01/01 “Nobody is being patronising!
Just trying to show how Croats could get on better with the rest of the world. Croatia gets a very rough deal; it won’t get any better until thinking changes. Croats have legitimate grievances but do not articulate them to nyone. or cultivate friendships to that end. Croats complain amongst themselves but never dream of writing to the press or politicians (with exceptions, of course.) Others do though; as you can see in the letters page of The Independent 2 days running this week.
“We don’t hear enough from you” was a comment I heard from a Member of Parliament about Croats.
The Brits have some unfortunate characteristics
but a) Britain’s reputation as a whole is not completely negative – unlike Croats and b) Britain is powerful country – No-one in their right minds would treat us like they treat Croats. Croatia is a small country and must therefore relay on its wits more than more powerful countries.
Croatia has genuine human intellectual capital but misaplies it. We here much of “intellectuals” but in what areas? In Croatia now we hear much of how the country is not promoting itself as an investment opportunity. The impression given is one of surprise that promotion needs to be done!
If Croatia wants a respected place in the world community -which I think it deserves – then it must start to improve how it interacts with that community, from government all the way down to citizen level.
No-one else can do it for you” 2) ‘Let me explain everything, my poor, dear Croats :–)’ posted 30/01/01Ha Ha – I wasn’t the anonymous, but the ‘Why?’ thing is soooooooooooooo Croat!
I mean, only a Croat would ask that! That’s what makes Croats different I guess…
It is matter for celebration and pride that someone wishes to speak with Croats; that’s how others would view it. If someone wants to speak to me because I am British – than I’m pleased. It’s usually taken as a mark of respect and perhaps friendship. Only – only – the Croatian people seem to react otherwise.
We can talk about Croat history, politics, sport, whatever. Some people are interested, you know. Please believe me, its true. But if you react coldly (Miso didn’t, see below for why) then people will be think: “If he/she does not care about their culture, is it crap?”
The other thing is the ‘Why’. Again, sooooooooooooooo Croat. It comes across as brusque and rude. Yes, I know it was not intended that way, but that’s how citizens in English language nations would view it. It’s another subtlety that many Croats do not grasp, and again – to be serious – probably costs Croats dear in it’s dealing with British, Americans, Australians.. You all come over as rude, when really, you are not.
Have pride, have confidence in yourselves; and be careful how you phrase things!
Regard to all