Saturday, 19 December 2020

2020 Bittersweet for Croatian Diplomats

ZAGREB, Dec 19, 2020 - Croatian diplomats have mixed feelings about 2020, which began with the ambitious EU presidency becoming virtual due to the pandemic, but by the end conditions had been met for waiving U.S. visas, the two most important foreign ministers visited, and an exclusive economic zone was declared in the Adriatic.

Croatia spent a large part of 2019 preparing for taking over the rotating six-month EU presidency six and a half years after joining and at the start of the Ursula von der Leyen-led European Commission.

The presidency began dynamically, with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic going to Paris for consultations with French President Emmanuel Macron. Two days later, the new European Council President, Charles Michel, arrived in Zagreb, followed by the entire Commission for a meeting in the refurbished National University Library.

At the beginning of the year, the EU's agenda included negotiations on the next seven-year budget and an agreement on future relations with the UK. Croatia had announced that during its presidency it wanted to restore the focus on the European perspective of the Western Balkans, the culmination of which would be the Zagreb Summit, an informal meeting of the EU and the membership candidates.

A total of 161 events were to have taken place in Croatia, two thirds of them in Zagreb, but only a few were eventually held before the European lockdown.

Croatia's motto for its EU presidency was "A Strong Europe in a World of Challenges", which turned out to be prophetic as in January news started arriving from China about a new pneumonia, a virus that would soon infect the whole world.

The focus of the EU and its Croatian presidency soon shifted to the fight against the novel coronavirus, which arrived in Europe in February.

Croatia's political leadership said later that the presidency did not go as planned but that everything that could be, was accomplished in those circumstances.

EU enlargement

Croatia achieved one of the priorities of its presidency in March, when EU accession negotiations were opened with North Macedonia and Albania after a compromise was reached with the countries which had objected to it.

The Zagreb Summit, taking place 20 years after the first one which opened Croatia's European perspective, was held via video link due to the pandemic.

EU member states confirmed in the Zagreb Declaration their clear support for the European perspective of Western Balkan states, but some politicians were disappointed after the summit because the final statement made no mention of EU enlargement.

"I would be happier if we were stronger and clearer, all of us," Plenkovic said then.

The Croatian EU presidency was also marked by a magnitude 5.5 earthquake which struck Zagreb in March, but it ended with another success, the opening of the last chapter in the accession negotiations with Montenegro.

A month later, Croatia entered the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, a key step towards entering the euro area.

Exclusive economic zone

At the end of the year, Croatia decided to declare an exclusive economic zone in the Adriatic, 17 years after declaring the compromised-baed Ecological and Fisheries Protection Zone.

During a visit by Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, his Croatian counterpart Gordan Grlic Radman said the two countries would declare their exclusive economic zones together.

Pompeo and Lavrov

After several years, Croatia was visited by the U.S. and Russian foreign ministers.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed in Dubrovnik in October that Croats would soon be able to travel to the U.S. without visas. He also said that a decision on the purchase of fighter jets was Croatia's sovereign decision and, lobbying against Huawei, called on Zagreb not to give strategic projects to the Chinese.

Several weeks later, U.S. Ambassador Robert Kohorst said that officially less than 3% of Croatia's visa applications were rejected, a key requirement for visa-free travel.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in Zagreb after two postponed visits. He said that Russia had good relations with Croatia despite the EU's unwillingness to have good relations with Russia.

New president

This year Croatia also has a new president. Zoran Milanovic defeated then president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic in a runoff, taking office in mid-February and becoming co-creator of the foreign policy.

"The wars are over", he said at a modest inauguration which, for the first time, did not take place in St. Mark's Square. Milanovic announced that he would cooperate with everyone on the foreign policy front.

He chose Slovenia for his first official visit and has also visited Austria, Montenegro and Germany. He also made a private visit to Albania over which he quarreled with the prime minister.

Thursday, 29 October 2020

Croatia to Establish Diplomatic Relations With Five More Countries

ZAGREB, October 29, 2020 - Croatia is establishing diplomatic relations with South Sudan, Somalia, the Central African Republic, Tonga and Bhutan, Croatian Foreign Affairs Minister Gordan Grlic Radman said on Thursday, noting that this will contribute to "the realisation of Croatia's foreign policy goals".

Grlic Radman said after a government session that the goal of establishing those relations was "mutual strengthening of bilateral relations in the economic field and in all aspects of mutual interest".

Diplomatic relations with those countries will be established through a permanent mission to the United Nations (UN) in New York.

Grlic Radman said that Croatia thus "completes the process of establishing diplomatic relations with all modern and internationally recognised countries in the world", of which there are 194.

The foreign minister also announced that he would take part in the annual ministerial conference of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Croatia has been invited for the first time to actively take part in that conference, and topics to be discussed include the coronavirus pandemic and the countries' recovery, Grlic Radman said. The minister will report on the measures Croatia has been taking to fight the virus.

He reiterated that Croatia joining the OECD was one of its most important remaining foreign policy goals.

Croatia applied for membership in early 2017, and the minister hopes that this will be realised in the future.

Monday, 9 December 2019

Croatia Joins Literature Nobel Prize Boycott in Protest over Handke

Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided on Monday that the Croatian Ambassador in Sweden will not participate at the Literature Nobel Prize ceremony in protest against 2019 laureate Peter Handke, who is best-known in Croatia for backing late Serbian President Slobodan Milošević and his genocidal policies.

Croatia thus joined a group of countries who have decided to boycott the event. The group, at the moment this article is being written, consists of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Albania, Northern Macedonia, and Turkey.

In 2019, the Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to Peter Handke, explained by the Academy that it was awarded “for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience”. The Swedish Academy’s choice of the Austrian writer for the award this year has been widely criticized, not because of his writing, but because of his support for Slobodan Milošević, former Serbian president who was instrumental in many wars in former Yugoslavia in the '90s. Handke has often spoken out in defense of Milošević, including stringent denials of concentration camps and war crimes in Bosnia, including Srebrenica. He was at Milošević's funeral in Belgrade as well, where he spoke kindly of the late tyrant - in Serbian! A defiant Handke refused to answer any questions regarding his support for Milošević during a news conference held on Friday in Stockholm.

Handke will be formally handed the 9 million crown ($935,000) award on Tuesday, before attending the traditional Nobel banquet later the same day. He will not be the only winner of the Literature Nobel Prize, as this year Poland's Olga Tokarczuk will also receive the award given to her for 2018 (which is also not without its own, completely different controversies). All ambassadors to Sweden are invited to the ceremony and the banquet.


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