The day ‘wogball’ died and ‘football’ arrived
The 2006 World Cup was a significant moment in the history of Australian multiculturalism, particularly in terms of how it affected the Australian-Croatian community.
As Australia and Croatia lined up in the last group stage match, never before had the question been put so viscerally: are you going to barrack for Australia or Croatia?
Of course questions of identity and choice of home are complex. Lifestyle, relative affluence, human freedoms, and family are all factors. But still, the passions of sport emanate from the heart and have a fair bit to do with identity as well.
If there was any confusion in the hearts and minds of the Croatian-Australian community going into the match, the players on both sides appeared to resolve the issue by playing out a draw. Australia advanced to the knockout stage of the competition and names like Viduka, and Horvath were being celebrated, not simply by the Croatian community, but by the entire Australian community. In this moment “wogball” died and “football” arrived. At the same time the result did not ask anyone to choose one country above the other.
Mixed feelings usually accompany drawn matches in any sport, yet on this day, for the Croation-Australian community, the reaction was joyous.
The Croatian Diaspora in Australia is estimated to be 120,000. They make an enormous contribution to Australian society. They also have a hugely positive impact on our foreign relations.
In 1991, as Croatia left the former Yugoslavia and sought to declare its independence, the Croatian Diaspora played a critical role around the world in encouraging their new countries to recognise the homeland. In the case of Australia, we were the first non-European country to recognise Croatia.
Last week I had the honour to lead the first ever Australian government level visit to Croatia. And the role Australia played in the recognition of Croatia was not lost on the current Croatian government.
Today, the Diaspora is the bedrock of our bilateral relationship with Croatia. As Croatian-Australians seek to live and move more easily between Croatia and Australia they provide and agenda of interactions between the two governments. A reciprocal pensions agreement has been negotiated. A reciprocal health agreement is in the pipeline.
But the real contribution that the Diaspora has made is by introducing to each other two countries who in the community of nations have much in common.
Next year Croatia will become a member of the European Union (EU). To have met all the requirements of accession to the EU in just twenty years since independence is a remarkable achievement. Add to this NATO membership in 2009, and Croatia is a country firmly in the category of close ally.
Croatia is making an important contribution to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan, as well as to nine UN-led missions and two EU-led missions. Like Australia it is combining its military engagement in Afghanistan with a development assistance agenda. And just like Australia a strong focus of that development assistance is in improving the health and education of women.
The international reflexes of Croatia and Australia are very much the same.
While being of the ‘Old World’ in many ways, Croatia is a young country like Australia, willing to take a fresh look at world affairs and contemplate new ideas.
As two middle powers located in strategic and complementary parts of the world there is much that we can do together.
The Croatian Diaspora is just one Diaspora in Australia that has a wonderful impact on our foreign affairs. These are impacts we must value and use more.
An exchange of gifts is an almost universal feature in the relations between two countries.
Its principal sponsor is the Geelong Croatian Community, the fact of which is emblazoned on their jersey along with the Croatian national crest. While the club plays in the Victorian State League second tier it nevertheless has the honour of having produced four Socceroos: Steve Horvath, Josip Skoko, Matthew Spiranovic and Francis Awaritefe. Horvath and Skoko played in that World Cup match back in 2006. In the Croatian squad for the same game was Joey Didaluca, himself a product of North Geelong, and a capped Croatian player.
The red and white North Geelong jersey is a symbol of the unique bond between Croatia and Australia. One such jersey now rests proudly in the office of the Croatian Deputy Prime Minister.
For all the work that was done in our bilateral meetings, it was the story of North Geelong that mattered most. It was a reminder that because of the Diaspora, Croatia and Australia are not just good friends – we are family.
The benefit of that in our international relations is immeasurable.
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