Croatia is generally seen as a small country, with a population of around 4.3 million, but did you know that there are almost as many Croats – around 4 million – living outside of Croatia?
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Croats have been leaving Croatian territory since the 15th century when the Ottoman Empire started to expand. They strongly disagreed with the politics in the country at that time and left for Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Italy, among other countries.
Over the last century they have been several distinct waves of emigration, motivated in turn by the economic situation, opportunity abroad and conflict within Croatia.
Which countries do Croatian emigrants live in today?
The top ten countries by population (estimated figures), according to Wikipedia:
United States – 420,000
Chile – 380,000
Argentina – 250,000
Germany – 225,000
Canada – 115,000
Austria – 150,000
Bolivia – 50,000
Brazil – 45,000
Switzerland – 41,000
Slovenia – 35,000
Emigration waves in the 19th and 20th century
In the 19th and 20th centuries many Croats left for the North and South America, Australia and New Zealand in search of a better economic stability and a more prosperous future. They went on to work in the growing industries of the United States, mines in Australia, or agriculture and trade in South America.
As a result, the largest Croatian expatriate communities today are in Canada, United States, Chile and Argentina. Croatian migration in this case followed a larger wave of European emigration.
Emigration in the 1960s and 1970s
In the 1960's and 1970's another wave of mass emigration began, and the countries of destination were the same as before: Germany, the United Stated, Canada and the countries of South America.
Drawn by the economic growth of these countries and the possibilities they offered to the newcomers, large numbers of Croats set off on the long journey to seek their fortune abroad. Most of these never returned, but typically maintain a strong bond with Croatia.
Emigration after the Croatian War for Independence
After the 1990s and during the War for Independence in Croatia, Croats left mostly for Western Europe, as well as Canada, United Stated, Australia and New Zealand. Many of those that left Croatia during this period returned to live in Croatia following the end of the war.
Croatian emigration today
When Croatia entered the European Union and gained the right to free movement, Croats started to move to other European countries. The greatest percentage of them left for Germany to study or to work.
Besides all the countries already mentioned, around 500,000 Croats live in Bosnia and Herzegovina where they represent one of the three constitutive nations and maintain their strong bond with Croatia through the Croatian language and culture.