Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, the new president of the Republic of Croatia, took an oath yesterday, with a special, not quite the usual protocol.
The presidents of the European countries usually do not take the oath on Sunday, on the city’s main squares. The President had decided otherwise.
Many years ago, right after the independence, I was a guest of the president Dr. Franjo Tuđman by some probably only then understandable coincidence. However, we were not met by him, in the delegation of then the strongest group of the European Parliament, the socialists, but by the then secretary general of the winning and quite prevailing party, HDZ, Stipe Mesićc. We were in one of the palaces, most likely in one that was the first choice of the new President Grabar Kitarović for moving of the presidential office from Pantovčak. The content of the conversation was less interesting for the present time, as we talked and proposed a European pre-accession cooperation with the Višegrad Group, to the countries of Central Europe. There were two authors of the proposal, first the late Rudi Šeligo, and the programme-precise professor Braco Rotar. But the conversation was somehow doomed to failure, despite Mesić’s concern, and he was the prime minister of the first government, who met in his premises individual ministers to explain them the proposal. I must add here a more interesting thing, which somehow does not fit into today’s standards. Mesić was a smoker, and he smoked cigarettes wrapped in a gold wrapper, Filter 160, and the rest of us smoked in these premises during the dialogue, until we got the message that the President Tuđman is coming. Then, with all that quick airing of the premises, I realized their relationship with the president. He was unequivocal and complete state authority. Therefore, the ceremonial of the enthronement of the president was the way it was, often less understandable to others, and therefore the right of Dr. Tuđman, during the first inauguration in 1992, to simply change the text that he was supposed to repeat during taking the oath after the former president of the Constitutional Court, Jadranko Crnić. There were two changes in the meaning of the content. Instead of governing on behalf of all citizens of Croatia, he repeated – on behalf of the Croatian people and citizens, and finally added, with God’s help.
The new president has renewed a protocol with the enthronement with cannons and the presidential sash. This decision has to be understood as well. Also when she said, in memory of the first Croatian president.
Precisely because of this memory and her present political messages, yesterday’s presidential speech should have been listened to thoroughly. Old Zagreb square was full, full of people I know, with whom I worked or cooperated and those I respect. Even those who I do not know and those for whom I believe should be there for the memory of the various Balkan sufferings.
The president’s speech had at least two politically interesting accents. First, that she wants to look to the future and to be elected sovereign of all Croatian citizens and, second, that she intends to form the policy of involvement of all the countries of South-eastern Europe, that is, neighbours in the European integration. Yes, she did not mention the term region anymore, but she spoke particularly about relations with neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia.
Relations that caused bloody wars in the past. Therefore, this part was the most listened one. Grabar Kitarović spoke of cooperation and coexistence.
Her messages would be, in substance, the same, of course, but completely different without the participation of the state which cancelled its participation and then confirmed it a few days ago. Without the presence of the Serbian Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vučić, all the assurances of the new Croatian president would have had a different response. It is not the same to talk about the importance of good neighbourly relations in the absence of exactly the same neighbours. It should be also added that all attempts by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, first with the last year’s meeting in Dubrovnik, and later the Berlin initiative, meeting and plans of heads of governments of the region, the Balkans, would lose much of its vigour.
Vučić came to Zagreb. It was a good decision. When they asked me why I expected such a decision, I repeated the experience of our meeting, actually cooperation, in one of the dialogues about the conditions in this part of Europe, organized by the German government in Berlin. Vučić spoke then for the first time about the fact that the neighbouring Croatia, a new member of the European Union, is still primarily their neighbour, and that they need the best possible relationships because of this. And that the determination of everything that is subject of disputes and differences is the requirement for this, as this is to be expected from a rational government policy. All participants listened carefully exactly on this part on a rational policy.
Right on the eve of yesterday’s departure, as the Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanović would said, on the 400 km long trip in one direction, Vučić repeated and added in an interview for the Zagreb “Jutarnji list”, that he does not want to go back, not even in twenty, sixty or seventy years, but that he is interested in cooperation with the Croatia in future, during the next four, ten or next twenty years. Also, that it would be hard to understand that they can talk with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama about new relations and joint ventures, with European money, in a new highway and a new railway line between Belgrade and Tirana, with simultaneous cooling of relations with Zagreb.
A similar opinion was repeated by the Croatian president in her yesterday’s speech. She spoke about the future of that Europe and the highest importance of good neighbourly relations, the constituency of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the importance of good relations with Serbia.
A regional initiative of Angela Merkel has got its confirmation.
There is at least one person that cannot be overlooked in this case, and I am talking about the former Croatian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister, Mate Granić. During election time, he worked with new president, and he was a close associate of Tuđman in the years prior to that. It’s not certain, but he probably transferred to Grabar Kitarović Tuđman’s key doctrine about the region from exactly that time. the fact is, the first Croatian president was convinced that a precondition for peace, as he used to say, was the resolution of Croatian-Serbian relations. Granić says that it was his obsession that followed him for life and he illustrates it with Tuđman’s thesis that it is irrelevant who governs Serbia, whether it was the king or Slobodan Milošević, as it is crucial only to solve Croatian-Serbian relations.
Granić was present at the last meeting of the then presidents, Tuđman and Milošević, the first week of August 1996 in Athens. The host of the meeting was the Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis. That meeting was followed by the signing of the Agreement on Normalization of Relations between the Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia at the end of the same month. That signature ended the war. However, a new one could actually start here. This is why I carefully followed Granić’s current relationship with Kolinda Grabar Kitarović.
Specifically, the Agreement on Normalization of Relations between the Croatia and FRY was officially signed on 23 August 1996. The agreement provided, first of all, the process of peaceful reintegration of Podunavlje within the borders of Croatia. And yet they were persuading Tuđman precisely then, despite the signed agreement, to liberate Vukovar and the region with a fast military action. They assured him that it was only a day or two of quick military expedition and great success and triumphant raising of the Croatian flag in the suffering Vukovar. Tuđman even appointed General Ivan Kapular as a ceremonial flag-bearer. The general back then was Jacques Paul Klein, the international civilian administrator of the Podunavlje, but he seemed to carry a little bit too small glasses for his corpulent and benign appearance. However, they managed to convince Tuđman, together with Granić, at the time not inclined to such assurances, that such military action would destabilize again and practically eliminated any international appearance of Croatia.
Granić has a historical memory, and this is why his opinion on what the absence of the president or prime minister of Serbia at yesterday’s inauguration would mean was important.
The only thing done was that after the presidential party, both of them, the new Croatian president and the president of the Serbian government, re-determined the list of outstanding issues between the countries, primarily a sensitive human issue of killed and missing persons, the question of the right of return and the related question of restitution and of course, quite unresolved border issues.
These can be now a rational politics matters, as they both say.
With Vučić’s yesterday’s absence, it would be new and, above all, the question of prejudice and contempt of others.