Thursday, 16 May 2019

Number of Rejected US Visa Applications Grows

Croatians will have to wait a bit longer for US visas to be abolished. According to the latest US data, the ratio of refused visa applications – which has to be less than three per cent for a country to enter the US visa exemption programme – grew compared to the previous year, reports Večernji List on May 16, 2019.

The increase from 5.1 per cent in 2017 to 5.92 per cent in 2018 is associated with a more significant number of visa applicants for whom there was strong indication that they really wanted to work in the US instead of visiting it as tourists, mainly because they claimed to have relatives in the United States having a business there.

On the other hand, there is good news that this year might bring a breakthrough, for two reasons. This year, a large number of existing visas should be renewed, which could affect the ratio of denied and approved visas. On the political side, there is another possibility, and that is for the American president to decide to include some states, primarily Croatia and Poland, in the visa exemption programme. The chances of this happening are not significant, but discussions are continuing.

This week, the US State Department will host a meeting between US officials and representatives of EU countries whose citizens still need visas, and these are Croatia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus. Croatia has long met one of the two conditions for entry into the visa exemption programme, the one that concerns political and security criteria, but the second condition – the refusal rate below three per cent – does not seem likely to be met anytime soon. Moreover, after several years of declining, the ratio rose slightly last year.

In the vast majority of rejected cases, the applicants could not prove that they had a secure source of funding and a permanent job in Croatia, which is a guarantee to American authorities that they will return to their homeland after the visit. It is interesting that many applicants for US visas have cited close links with families living in the United States who own businesses there, which was an additional indicator that these persons might stay in the United States and work with relatives.

Unlike Croatia, which has had between five and six per cent of rejected application for years, US data shows that one of the five European states that still need US visas made a significant step towards bringing the rejection rate below three per cent last year. It is Poland, which had a rate of 5.92 per cent in 2017, and last year brought it down to 3.99 per cent.

But this year could bring some more positive results for Croatia. The visas are usually issued for ten years, and this year they expire for a large number of people. If the people with visas ask for them to be reissued, there is no reason why Americans would refuse them because these people have already travelled to the USA and returned to Croatia. A large number of renewed visas could benefit Croatia.

At the political level, there is another option that is being discussed at the level of individual states, the EU and the US, and will continue at formal meetings, including during the Croatian presidency of the European Union. The American president can make a discretionary decision to “protect” some states and place them in a visa waiver programme. When discussing such a possibility, only two countries – Poland and Croatia – are being mentioned.

More news about relations between Croatia and the United States can be found in the Politics section.

Translated from Večernji List (reported by Sandra Veljković).

Monday, 29 April 2019

Miroslav Radman Introduced as Associate of US National Academy of Sciences

ZAGREB, April 29, 2019 - Croatian-French geneticist and molecular biologist Miroslav Radman was introduced as one of 17 newly-elected foreign associates of the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) at a ceremony on Sunday.

The new members were introduced to their colleagues in the Academy and signed the Register of Membership, which is "a widely accepted mark of excellence in science and is considered one of the highest honours that a scientist can receive," NAS said.

Current NAS membership totals approximately 2,300 members and 460 foreign associates, of whom approximately 190 have received Nobel prizes.

Radman's recent studies have changed the view of cell function, ageing and survival from DNA-centric to protein-centric, which is aimed at mitigating age-related diseases. He is recognised for his ground-breaking work on DNA repair, recombination and mutation and their impact on biological evolution and human health.

Radman is known for the discovery (together with Dr. Evelyn Witkin) of the SOS response to DNA damage, particularly in relation to the genesis of mutations;) the discovery of DNA mismatch repair (together with Drs. Matthew Meselson and Robert Wagner) – the key genetic editing system assuring the fidelity of DNA replication and recombination, that generates genetic barriers between closely related species; and more recently, for establishing the role of oxidative damage to proteins in cellular resistance to radiation and desiccation, as well as in ageing and age-related diseases.

Radman graduated biology from the University of Zagreb in 1966 and received a PhD in molecular biology from the University of Brussels in 1969.

He became a research director at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris in 1983 and a professor of cell biology at the Medical School of the University of Paris-5 in 1998. In 2013, he moved to his native Split where he founded the private not-for-profit Mediterranean Institute for Life Sciences (MedILS) in 2004 to study the biology of aging and age-related diseases.

Radman has been elected to the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, the French Academy of Science, the World Academy of Arts and Sciences, the European Academy of Science, the European Academy of Microbiology, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the US National Academy of Science.

More science news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

US State Department Lists Human Rights Problems in Croatia

ZAGREB, April 24, 2019 - Violence targeting migrants and journalists, threats towards ethnic minority groups, corruption, the issue of missing persons from the 1991-1995 war, and women's inequality remain a problem in Croatia, the US State Department says in its annual report on the state of human rights in Croatia in 2018.

The document says that significant numbers of high-profile corruption cases were underway last year and that officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

It says that the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality, adding that cases of intimidation of state prosecutors, judges, and defence lawyers were isolated.

"The overall judicial backlog decreased 37 percent from 2013-17. As of September 30, the judiciary as a whole had a backlog of 426,763 cases (down from 474,345 in 2017), with the highest percentage of unsolved cases pending before municipal courts," the report says.

"The backlog in domestic courts raised concerns regarding judicial effectiveness, efficiency, and the rule of law. NGOs reported that violation of the right to trial within reasonable time remained one of the fundamental problems of the judiciary. In some civil cases, especially with regard to property, proceedings lasted for more than a decade," it adds.

The document says that civilian authorities maintained effective oversight over police, the armed forces, and the intelligence services, and that the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse.

The State Department says that several prisons in Croatia remained overcrowded, such as the one in Osijek, and that there were reports of isolated and sporadic cases of physical and verbal mistreatment of prisoners and detainees by correctional officers.

"A significant number of cases of missing persons from the 1991-95 conflict remained unresolved. The government reported that as of October 18, more than 1,500 persons remained missing, and the government was searching for the remains of 414 individuals known to be deceased, for a total of 1,922 unsolved missing persons cases," the report says.

The document says that the government generally respected the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by the constitution and law. "An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined in most cases to promote freedom of expression, including for the press."

However, NGOs reported that the government did not adequately investigate or prosecute cases in which journalists or bloggers received threats. The enforcement of provisions on hate speech, including the use of Nazi- and Ustasha-era symbols and slogans, remained inadequate.

"Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction," the report says and adds: "Observers said, however, that information regarding actual ownership of some local radio and television channels was not always publicly available, raising concerns about bias, censorship, and the vulnerability of audiences in the country to malign influence."

The document notes that "members of the press reported practicing self-censorship for fear of receiving online harassment, upsetting politically connected individuals, or losing their jobs for covering certain topics."

The report says that the government in most cases cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organisations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

"In August, however, UNHCR criticized the government for violent pushbacks of illegal migrants; the government stated that approximately 2,500 refugees and migrants were turned back at the border during the first eight months of the year," the US State Department says.

International and domestic NGOs reported police violence against asylum seekers and migrants, particularly on Croatia’s border with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"UNHCR and several NGOs published reports alleging border police subjected migrants to degrading treatment, including verbal epithets and vulgarities, destruction of property, and beatings, including of vulnerable persons such as asylum seekers, minor children, persons with disabilities, and pregnant women. NGOs reported several migrants alleged border guards beat them while they were holding their infants or toddlers. One female migrant told NGOs male border police officers subjected her to a strip search in the forest in the presence of adult male migrants," according to the report.

Domestic NGOs working on migrants’ rights reported police pressure, such as extensive surveillance and questioning of employees’ close associates and family members. The Ministry of the Interior publicly denied all allegations of violence or inhuman treatment of migrants and all allegations of pressuring humanitarian workers.

NGOs reported good cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior in the two asylum reception centres, Porin and Kutina, and asserted quality of services was generally good, giving education and medical services as positive examples. They identified a need for increased psychiatric support.

The US State Department says that violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a problem in Croatia.

"Police and prosecutors were generally responsive to allegations of domestic violence and rape, but there were isolated reports that local police departments did not consistently adhere to national guidelines regarding the treatment of victims of sexual assault," the report says.

It mentions the trial of Požega-Slavonia County prefect Alojz Tomaševic on charges of domestic violence against his wife, who testified that he almost killed her. Tomašević was removed from his HDZ party but retained his position as prefect.

The report notes that the law on sexual harassment was not enforced effectively.

It says that women experienced discrimination in employment and occupation, and that representation of women in major political parties remained low.

"The law requires that the 'less represented gender' make up at least 40 percent of candidates on a party’s candidate list, with violations punishable by a fine. After the May 2017 elections, the Electoral Commission noted all major political parties fell short of this threshold, but there were no reports of fines imposed on political parties for this reason," the document says.

The 2017 report of the ombudsperson for gender equality noted women’s salaries averaged 88.7 percent of men’s salaries, and that the wage gap was higher in the public sector than the private sector.

Citing the ombudsperson for human rights, the US State Department says that ethnic discrimination was the most prevalent form of discrimination in Croatia, particularly against ethnic Serbs and Roma.

"Some Jewish community leaders continued to report anti-Semitic rhetoric online and in the media, and an increase in anti-Semitic and Ustasha graffiti in the streets. NGOs reported cases of violent reprisal against community members who attempted to paint over swastikas," the report says.

The Jewish community also stated government officials did not sufficiently condemn, prevent, or suppress Holocaust revisionism.

"In June, Jasenovac officials condemned a presentation on HRT by writer Igor Vukić in which Vukić denied that crimes were committed at Jasenovac. They expressed concern that state-owned television presented a Holocaust denier as an authority on the subject of the concentration camp at Jasenovac," the document says.

As for the Romani minority, the report says that the government allocated funds and created programs for development and integration of Romani communities, but discrimination and social exclusion of Roma remained problems.

Another problem is the restitution of property seized from Holocaust victims. The State Department says that the government lacks a legislative framework to resolve this issue, noting that "Croatia has never accepted restitution claims for property seized during the Holocaust period (1941-45) and has inconsistently permitted noncitizens to file claims."

Restitution of communal property also remained a problem for the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Coordination of Jewish Communities in Croatia. "There have been no restitutions of Jewish communal property since 2014, although several requests remained pending," the report says.

The State Department also quoted NGOs as reporting that investigations into hate speech against LGBTI persons remained unsatisfactory. "Police initiated court proceedings in only two of 19 cases in 2017," it said.

More news about human rights issues can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 19 April 2019

U.S. Holocaust Envoy: Issues in Jewish Property Restitution Remain

ZAGREB, April 19, 2019 - There are still outstanding issues in Croatia regarding the restitution of Jewish property, and the United States would like to see a solution which is "financially sustainable" for Croatia and which will redress the injustices inflicted on Holocaust victims, the U.S. Special Holocaust Envoy, Tom Yazdgerdi, said in Zagreb on Thursday.

Yazdgerdi, who arrived in Croatia this past Monday at the helm of a delegation that included representatives of the World Jewish Restitution Organisation (WJRO), met with Croatia's top officials this week, including President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković and Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić.

He is expected to brief the U.S. Congress in November about progress which countries have made in the restitution of Jewish property and in implementing the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and Related Issues, which deals with issues such as welfare of Holocaust (Shoah) survivors and other victims of Nazi persecution, the status of Holocaust-era confiscated communal and private immovable property by country and preservation of Jewish cultural property and archival materials, as well as education.

The legally non-binding document was approved by 46 countries at the conclusion of the Prague Conference in 2009, and Croatia was one of the signatories.

Although Yazdgerdi visited Croatia in the past, too, he told a press conference in Zagreb today that this year was special owing to the Just Act under which his office is supposed to submit a report on the state of affairs in the countries-signatories of the Terezin Declaration.

Ten years after the declaration was signed is a good period to inspect what has been done, the U.S. envoy said, adding that it is not a secret that there are outstanding issues regarding property restitution in Croatia as well as in other countries, particularly in central Europe.

Yazdgerdi said that Croatia had legislation regulating property restitution, but the shortcomings of that law lie in the fact that it focuses on the restitution of property confiscated since 1945 and fails to take into account the property confiscated before 1945, that is during the Holocaust.

The WJRO organisation, whose representatives were in the delegation led by Yazdgerdi, notes that the process of the restitution of private property in Croatia "suffers from a number of problems".

Apart from the fact that property confiscated prior to May 1945 is not covered by the law, "only partial compensation is provided (in inverse proportion to the value of the property) in 20-year government bonds and no payment provided for demolished buildings," the WJRO says on its website.

"Claimants are required to be Croatian citizens or citizens of a country with a bilateral treaty with Croatia, and Croatia has no law for the restitution of confiscated heirless property," the organisation says on its website.

The organisation also underscores that "the Jewish Communities in the Republic of Croatia submitted claims for 135 communal properties under the Act on Restitution/Compensation of Property Confiscated During the Yugoslav Communist Rule (1996, amended in 2002)."

Before the Holocaust, an estimated 40,000 Jews lived in Croatia, and today there are about 1,700 Jews in the country, and most of them live in Zagreb, the WJRO says.

Concerning the restitution of confiscated heirless property, Yazdgerdi told the press conference that many countries took over such property, but the WJRO does not think that this is a good idea.

He recalled that under the Terezin Declaration, "heirless property could serve as a basis for addressing the material necessities of needy Holocaust (Shoah) survivors." This means that the property formerly owned by such Jewish families should be used, in part, to meet the growing and urgent needs of the living victims of the Holocaust.

Yazdgerdi underscores that the U.S. wants property restitution to be financially sustainable for Croatia and to give Holocaust survivors a feeling of justice.

He went on to say that emphasis should be put on taking responsibility for what had happened in the past.

The WJRO does not want to do injustice out of injustice. If somebody bought property in good faith, being unaware that the former owners were Jews, there is no point in evicting new owners, the U.S. envoy said.

More news about the status of Jews in Croatia can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Visits Croatia

ZAGREB, April 17, 2019 - Croatian Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković on Tuesday received Thomas K. Yazdgerdi, the U.S. State Department's Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, and representatives of the World Jewish Restitution Organisation (WJRO), the parliament said in a press release.

Jandroković and Yazdgerdi held talks on Croatia's support to Jewish communities' efforts to preserve the Jewish heritage and observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day, an international memorial day on 27 January commemorating the victims of the Holocaust.

In this context they recalled that this year, the Archbishop of Zagreb, Cardinal Josip Bozanić, organised a prayer event in front of the cathedral to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On that occasion the dignitary paid tribute to victims of inhumane conduct in the past and condemned attempts aimed at annihilating the Jewish people, while representatives of the local Jewish community welcomed the cardinal's move as a historic event.

Jandroković and Yazdgerdi also discussed the activities within the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and Related Issues, which was approved by over 46 countries at the conclusion of the Prague Conference in 2009.

The declaration deals with issues such as welfare of Holocaust (Shoah) survivors and other victims of Nazi persecution, the status of Holocaust-era confiscated communal and private immovable property in individual countries and preservation of Jewish cultural property and archival materials, as well as education.

More news about the status of Jews in Croatia can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Mine Clearance Equipment Donated by US Shown at Lora

ZAGREB, April 11, 2019 - Croatian Navy mine clearance divers demonstrated at the Lora naval base in Split on Thursday the use of their equipment, donated by the US Navy. Croatian Navy commander Commodore Ivo Raffanelli told the press the equipment was worth more than 200,000 dollars and that the US Navy would make six more equipment donations by year's end.

He said the equipment was extremely important for the evaluation of Croatian mine clearance divers and expressed hope that after the evaluation, "we will be ready to offer them to NATO troops next year." He recalled that the Croatian and US navies have been cooperating more than 20 years.

US Ambassador Robert Kohorst said he was pleased to be at Lora and that one could see there that the cooperation between the two navies, with emphasis on humanitarian matters, was good. It's good that we can continue to support our good partner Croatia in this way too, he added.

Asked if Croatia might purchase US F-16 combat aircraft, Kohorst said he believed Croatia would decide which aircraft it wanted soon.

We hope it will be the F-16. It's an incredible plane and we hope Croatia will choose the F-16. Both new and used aircraft have very good possibilities, capabilities, so that, whatever Croatia decides, we will be pleased, he said.

More news about relations between Croatia and the United States can be found in the Politics section.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Croatian Pilots Fly with US F-16 Fighter Jets

ZAGREB, April 7, 2019 - As part of the visit by members of 148th Fighter Wing - Minnesota National Guard to the 91st Air Base of the Croatian Air Force, squadron pilots had joint flying with pilots of multi-purpose F-16 fighter jets of the Minnesota National Guard on Saturday, the Croatian Defence Ministry said in a press release.

Croatian Defence Minister Damir Krstičević, Croatian Armed Forces Chief of Staff Mirko Šundov, US Ambassador to Croatia Robert Kohorst and US military envoy to Croatia Robert Mathers visited the pilots before the flight, the press release said.

Minister Krstičević said this was a historic event and another confirmation of friendship and strategic partnership between Croatia and the United States.

Ambassador Kohorst expressed satisfaction with the visit of the Minnesota National Guard, the press release said.

More news about the military relations between Croatia and the United States can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

23rd Anniversary of US Commerce Secretary Ron Brown Plane Crash

ZAGREB, April 3, 2019 - A commemoration was held at the Ron Brown Memorial House in the coastal town of Dubrovnik on Wednesday to mark the 23nd anniversary of the death of U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ronald Brown and 34 other passengers aboard a U.S. plane that crashed on 3 April 1996 while en route from Tuzla to Dubrovnik.

Addressing the event, the first secretary for political and economic affairs at the US Embassy, Sarah L. Groen, underlined the importance of the tragic event for relations between the United States and Croatia, noting that over the years it had led to intensive cooperation and a number of important development projects.

We look forward to many more years of cooperation in business, enterprise and innovation as well as to friendship and partnership in general, the US official said, pointing to strong defence cooperation between the two countries and noting that the US embassy was recording great interest among US citizens in visiting Dubrovnik and Croatia.

Dubrovnik County deputy head Žaklina Marević said the visit by the US delegation in 1996 was to have served as a message of friendship and cooperation.

"Today Croatia is a member of the EU and NATO and cooperation with the U.S. is increasingly good. We are working on improving air connectivity and simplifying the process of obtaining a US visa," said Marević.

Dubrovnik deputy mayor Jelka Tepšić expressed respect for and gratitude to those killed in the plane crash as well as to the United States, which, she said, was a strong partner to Croatia during the Homeland War.

After the commemoration, Groen, Marević and Tepšić laid flowers and lit candles at the plane crash site near Dubrovnik.

More news about relations between Croatia and USA can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 1 April 2019

US Embassy: Croatia's NATO Membership Contributes to Regional Security

ZAGREB, April 1, 2019 - Croatia has emerged from its own difficult history in the 1990s to become a real contributor to regional stability and international security, the United States Embassy said in a statement on Monday marking the 10th anniversary since Croatia joined NATO.

Croatia joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation on April 1, 2009 together with Albania and has become one of the greatest advocates of the alliance's eastward expansion.

"Since that time, Croatia has unwaveringly undertaken the commitments and obligations of membership on multiple fronts. Our soldiers have served shoulder to shoulder in places like Afghanistan, Poland and Kosovo," the US Embassy said.

It noted that Croatia’s contributions to international security are not limited to NATO, citing its recent significant troop contribution to the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon.

"Croatia has emerged from its own difficult history in the 1990s to become a real contributor to regional stability and international security. Croatia’s commitment to the Alliance over the last ten years has significantly expanded peace and prosperity throughout the region, Europe and the world," the statement said.

"We will continue to partner together in NATO Missions such as Enhanced Forward Presence in the Baltics and Resolute Support in Afghanistan and we commend the Croatian government for our excellent military cooperation. NATO is strong today because of common values Croatia, the United States and its other members share," the US Embassy said.

NATO celebrates its 70th birthday on Thursday, April 4, and the foreign ministers of the 29 member states will gather in Washington on that occasion.

More news about NATO can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 15 March 2019

US Embassy in Zagreb to Be "Evacuated"

Two US helicopters and one plane will fly over Zagreb on Sunday and Monday. However, there is no reason for alarm among citizens because they will take part in an evacuation exercise conducted by the US Embassy in Zagreb, with the support of the Government of the Republic of Croatia and the United States Air Force units based at the Aviano Air Force in Italy, reports Večernji List on March 15, 2019.

The exercise scenario will be based on a possible catastrophic earthquake. As part of the exercise, the Embassy of the United States of America will simulate the evacuation of part of its employees with the help of the United States Air Force in order to train the logistics of the evacuation process. About 50 volunteers from the embassy will take part in the exercise and simulate evacuation.

Two HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters and one MC-130J Commando II aircraft will arrive from the Royal Air Force Mildenhall airfield, located in Suffolk, England, on Sunday morning and will fly over Zagreb during the afternoon. The exercise itself will be held at several locations in and around Zagreb on Monday between 8 am and 4 pm. The plane and helicopter will again fly during this period as well.

“Embassies and consulates of the United States around the world are required to conduct yearly emergency crisis management exercises to help employees prepare for natural disasters or other crisis situations. These exercises are usually conducted through smaller-scale exercises within embassies and consulates. However, strong bilateral relations and cooperation between the United States and the Government of the Republic of Croatia have created a unique opportunity to implement a joint, large simulation exercise in crisis management in Croatia,” said the US embassy.

According to the Embassy’s website, the official presence of the United States in Croatia began with the establishment of the U.S. Consulate in Zagreb in May 1946, in offices on Kumičićeva Street. In 1951, the U.S. Consulate moved to Hebrangova 2 and remained there for the next fifty years. The Consulate gained the status of Consulate General in 1958. On August 25, 1992, the Consulate General became an Embassy after the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States of America and the new Republic of Croatia. On June 2, 2003, the U.S. Embassy moved to its current location in Buzin.

Translated from Večernji List (reported by Sandra Veljković).

More news about relations between Croatia and the United States can be found in the Politics section.

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