Andrew Dalgleish is the British Ambassador to Croatia, based in Zagreb. His role as Ambassador is to represent Her Majesty’s Government in Croatia and to direct the work of the Embassy and its Consulates, including in politics, trade and investment, press and cultural relations, and consular services.
Following roles at the Department of Social Security, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the UK Representation to the European Union (UKREP), Andrew was appointed Head of the European Union Strategy Department at the FCO in London, leading a group providing strategic advice to the Foreign Secretary and Europe Minister on EU-internal policy issues. Immediately prior to taking up his appointment as Ambassador in Croatia he was Minister-Counsellor, Deputy Head of Mission and Director of UKTI in Seoul.
He is married to Aline and has two sons.
1. I would imagine you have probably learnt one or two other languages during your career, or for personal reasons. How did learning Croatian compare with other linguistic challenges and has your family grappled with the language too?
My French wife has helped me improve my French language to a very high standard over the years – I can often pass as a native speaker until some lack of vocabulary shows me up. This has been a long, slow process which has been essential for improving my accent and building my vocabulary. Learning Croatian was a very different experience because it happened so intensively – too intensively. It was a full time work commitment. I had three hours of classes, one-on-one with my teacher, and four hours of homework, five days a week for eight months. Learning the declensions was a challenge but something that could be done quite mechanically and I pretty much got there. Discovering that I would have to learn to conjugate two different roots for the same verb (perfective and imperfective) was a terrible shock and doubled the difficulty. The thing that didn’t work well was trying to cram so much vocabulary into my head over such a short space of time – so much went into short-term memory and was lost again before I could retain it. The things I can remember now (did you know the Croatian for ostrich is noj?) aren’t necessarily very useful, although I have found myself talking more o mojoj punici than I initially expected I would. My sons have learnt some Croatian at school but my wife hasn’t had the chance. Either you have to be totally immersed in it or, because of the different cases, spend quite some time studying it.
2. Croatia seems to have coped very well with the Corona Virus pandemic and you published some very entertaining posts on your Twitter feed during lockdown. How has the situation affected both your work and your personal life?
Like everyone else, my work and personal life has been dramatically affected by the Corona pandemic. My colleagues in the Embassy followed the Croatian authorities’ advice and worked from home during the lockdown, but we were able to keep the Embassy ‘open’ by continuing to provide consular services to British Nationals in need, providing political analysis on the local situation to London etc. Now we are operating a shift system to allow colleagues back to work at the Embassy whilst maintaining physical distancing. Personally I’ve been able to see more of my wife and sons, which has been great. But the challenge of being locked down and without normal social contact has been tough – it’s what inspired me to make those videos, to provide myself and anyone watching with a bit of light relief and a distraction, and as a gentle reminder that we need to look after each other even if we’re not in the same room. That’s why I used the hashtags #StayingAtHome #IsolatedNotLonely
3. Is the British expat community in Croatia still increasing, do you find they integrate well into their adopted environment and culture and have there been any additional major demands from them as a result of the pandemic?
Brits love Croatia as a destination but the resident community is quite limited – some 650 people, many of whom have been here many years and are well integrated. It’s not difficult to enjoy and adapt to the Croatian environment and culture! The measures taken by the Croatian government to deal with the pandemic have been clear and well-explained in English, requiring us to do little more than point our Nationals to the right place to find the advice of the local health authorities.
4. The impact of the earthquake in Zagreb must have been much more severe given its timing during the lockdown process. What was it like when it struck and has the city recovered from its effects?
On the contrary, the timing of the earthquake was certainly responsible for the fact that there was only one tragic fatality. Happening at 6.23 am on a Sunday morning during lockdown meant that very few people were out on the streets. It could have been so much worse. Even so, the damage to buildings and infrastructure was significant and will take time and an awful lot of money to recover from. Prince Charles, when he heard what had happened to this city he admires so much, was moved to make a personal donation to the Zagreb recovery fund. What was the earthquake like when it struck? I’ve discovered that, until you’ve experienced an earthquake personally, it’s impossible to imagine. One feels utterly helpless – there is nothing at all you can do to stop or lessen the chaos that is unfolding around you. There have been over 1,000 aftershocks – the more significant ones are an immediate reminder of that feeling of fear and helplessness. Zagreb is such a beautiful city; it’s so painful to see the destruction.
5. In your earlier career, you had major roles advising on European Union matters. How do you see Brexit affecting the United Kingdom’s relationships with Croatia?
The UK’s departure from the European Union has changed the mechanics of our relationship, naturally. The way we trade and invest will be done differently, for example. Nor do we now see each other over the table at Council meetings in Brussels. But I don’t believe that it changes the affection we have for each other. Brits will still come to enjoy the stunning Adriatic coast. Croatians will still enjoy watching the Premier League. We’ll still have the same sense of humour and both still laugh at Only Fools and Horses. We both shared membership of the EU for less than six years; our excellent bilateral relationship, with one of us outside the EU for longer than we have both been in it together, has endured and will continue to endure far longer.
6. I understand you are a fan of the Museum of Arts and Crafts in Zagreb. Can you tell us a little bit about this museum and why it’s a favourite of yours?
I love the Muzej za umjetnost I obrt because its collection is so eclectic, holding items from the 4th to the 20th century. It also executes some quite outstanding temporary exhibitions. One of my early duties (and pleasures) when I began as Ambassador to Croatia was to help open an exhibition of photos of David Bowie by the brilliant Brian Rasić. Imagine that! A museum that does Bowie, Art Deco, clocks, textiles… It was very upsetting to see how much damage the earthquake did to the beautiful Bolle-designed building. One other great thing about the MUO is the super restaurant and café in its basement!
7. Are there any other aspects of Croatian culture that you particularly enjoy?
In terms of ‘high’ culture, the opera, ballet and classical music scene is amazing in Croatia. My wife and I really enjoy going to performances at the National Theatre and the Lisinski Concert Hall, but also to listen to the Zagrebački Solisti, a talented and charismatic ensemble. But if by culture you mean ‘way of life’ then who could resist Croatian café culture? I confess that, in perhaps a rather Northern European way when I first got here, I asked myself what all these people were doing sitting around drinking coffee instead of working? Then I realised that they often are working – holding meetings, striking deals, doing business but over a cup of coffee rather than at a desk. I’m happy to sign up to that way of working. Of course, not everyone is there sweating away over their coffee but this too is something I admire – Croatians know how to enjoy life.
8. Have you had a chance to explore Croatia much and do you have a favourite “getaway spot”?
I’ve been lucky enough to travel pretty much all over Croatia. What’s great is that its infinite variety provides favourite getaway spots for whatever mood you’re in, all in the same country. Whether it’s the castles of Zagorje, the wetlands of Kopački rit, the hilltop cities and gastronomy of Istria, the ancient architecture of Split, the beauty and variety of the islands, the delights of Dubrovnik… and all of that on top of living in one of the most charming capital cities in Europe.