Pittsburgh, PA -- The National Federation of Croatian Americans Cultural Foundation (NFCA), convened on Saturday, June 3rd for its 24th Annual Assembly of Delegates Assembly and held a very successful Wine Tasting Fundraiser on the Friday night. There were over 110 attendees for the fundraiser reception to benefit Croatia’s Special Olympics organization.
The TS Ponoc tamburitzan ensemble led by Peter Kosovec provided the wonderful entertainment. Biljana Lovrinovic and Peter Kosovec were both saluted at the Friday event for their “ 40 Under 40” selection as winners within the group of forty. The NFCA was pleased to have Croatian Ambassador Josko Paro and former US Ambassador to Croatia, Jim Foley who attended both days as special honored guests.
The Assembly officially opened up on Saturday morning, June 3rd, CFU National President Ed Pazo extended a warm CFU welcome to everyone and asking all delegates to make sure they take a tour of the museum-like CFU headquarters. President Pazo praised the NFCA for their 24 continuous years being a strong advocate for the Croatian American community in the nation’s capital and complimented the group for their very active previous year with a full political agenda and it’s commitment to Special Olympics in Croatia.
Next, NFCA President, Steve Rukavina addressed the NFCA delegates with the annual State of the Union address, detailing the accomplishments and priority activities from the past year. It was a very busy year with over 15 high level meetings with American and Croatian diplomats and more than twenty plus congressional meetings. The NFCA President shared highlights of his recent eight day whirlwind trip to Croatia and BiH. The Zagreb leg included meetings with Croatian Foreign Ministry diplomats including Gordan Bakota and with US Ambassador Julieta Valls Noyes. Mr. Rukavina spent two days in Banja Luka with Bishop Franjo Komarica and heard firsthand what human rights, hiring discrimination and property rights issues still are major obstacles facing the Croat community in the Republika of Srpska (R.S.) In Sarajevo, the NFCA President had high level meetings with Croat Member of the BiH Presidency Dragan Covic; Federation President Marinko Cavara; BiH Deputy Foreign Minister Josip Brkic; OSCE Ambassador Jonathan Moore; USAID Country Manager Peter Duffy; Monsignor Franjo Topic, President of Napredak; Monsignor Tomo Knezovic, Director of Caritas-BiH. The NFCA sent a three page letter to the Office of the High Representative in Sarajevo, Valentin Inzko detailing all the discriminatory electoral law and Federation election policies that are in violation of the intent of the Dayton Peace Accord. The NFCA remains steadfast in its efforts and advocacy to reform electoral laws that are discriminatory to Bosnian Croats and the NFCA BH Croat Task Force Committee has several projects in motion in dealing with these BiH election and constitutional issues.
The NFCA President outlined all the new initiatives including a quarterly MailChimp newsletter, enhanced NFCA Facebook and web page and his Twitter presence which has increased NFCA's visibility globally five-fold the past year. The article about the first time “”40 Under 40” program selecting forty rising stars and young Croatian American role models was a big success and even had 37,000 hits for the article in Total Croatia News. The NFCA President was proud to hand out 13 awards in Chicago to “40 under 40 "winners there at the Association of Croatian American Professionals (ACAP) conference. Also, the NFCA has created a Joint Task Force Committee with ACAP with the Double Taxation Treaty project.
The core of the Assembly’s agenda Saturday morning included discussions of all the plans to help Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina and with activities that range from the political and human rights arena to humanitarian activities to support Bishop Franjo Komarica. Gerald Skrlin form Buffalo, NY detailed his findings from his six day visit to Banja Luka in April. The NFCA has committed to research to write a “white paper” detailing human rights violations and discriminatory policies in the R.S. that affect the Croat population there. The NFCA has been diligently working for one year now to garner international support to change the electoral laws so non-Croats can not elect the Croat member of the BiH Presidency.
Joe Foley, NFCA’s Public Affairs Consultant presented his Washington Report both privately to the delegates and then to the afternoon public session. He detailed the activities and makeup of the Croatian Congressional Caucus and it’s balance between Democrats and Republicans and the new Democratic co-chair is Nanette Barragan (CA) and Cong. David Joyce (OH) remains as the Republican co-chair. Mr. Foley shared a few congressional activities and legislative successes including a key role in the recent House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe and their hearing on "Stability in Southeast Europe". The NFCA was able to submit a statement and three questions for the record for this hearing. The VISA waiver initiative and Double Taxation Treaty project both are complicated and stalled on Capitol Hill for different reasons. The NFCA is looking at submitting a congressional resolution to help Croats in BiH which seeks to appoint an American Special Envoy to be engaged and based in BiH.
The public session featured Croatian Ambasador to US, Josko Paro and he shared how US-Croatia Relations remains very positive especially with the overall NATO membership. The Ambassador stated for the record that they are still waiting to see what the new Trump Administration State Department will look like with new American diplomats with Europe and Southeast Europe responsibilities. He mentioned that the VISA waiver legislation is on hold and also, the Double Taxation Treaty stuck in the difficult slow track as two key issues
The former US Ambassador to Croatia, Jim Foley was a featured afternoon speaker and shared highlights from his three plus years as American’s key diplomat based in the Republic of Croatia. The former Ambassador saluted Croatia for all its progress over 25 years and especially it’s pivotal membership now in NATO and the European Union (EU). Ambassador Foley was very focused on the EU integration program and protocols when he was Ambassador to Croatia in the 2009 to 2012 time frame. John Kraljic, President of the Croatian Academy of America gave a presentation about Croatia’s Croats Abroad Council which he is a member. He shared details about this diaspora initiative looking at several programs including a possible “birthright program” for Croatians globally and soon another new term with 100 plus Croatians selected from the global diaspora will be announced.
The NFCA delegates re-elected Steve Rukavina as President and Zvonko Labas as Executive Vice President for the 2nd year in a row and the same three Vice Presidents: John Kraljic (NY), Mario Spalatin (FL) and Frank Jerbich (IL). Eric Gregrich (MD) was re-elected as the NFCA’s National Treasurer and also Vlatka Persin (MD) as the National Secretary. The four officers at large elected were: Bernadette Luketich-Sikaras (PA), Andrea Novak-Neumann (MN), Biljana Lovrinovic (OH) and Bill Vergot (PA). The remaining Board of Directors include: Vido Artukovich (CA), Ron Zivic (OH), Dr. Steve Pavletic (MD), Tom Steich (MD) and Gerald Skrlin (NY). Mijo Radocaj (OH), NFCA Past President and Jim Kresnik (NE) will remain on the Board of Directors and as representatives of their respective member organizations, too.
The NFCA Cultural Foundation is a non-partisan, national umbrella Croatian American organization based in Washington, DC and established in 1993 and with over 90,000 members and 12 major member groups including the Croatian Fraternal Union (CFU) and the Association of Croatian American Professionals (ACAP) and more information is available at the NFCA’s web page.