Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Friends of Croatia: UNICEF - Croatia an Example to the World When it Comes to Breastfeeding

May 27, 2021 - The sixth article in the "Friends of Croatia: UNICEF" series explores the work of the UNICEF Office for Croatia. What is done regarding children's rights in Croatia, positives, and negatives, and how can you help if you want to?

To ensure that our world even stays the same, let alone improves, new generations are essential. But, before they grow old enough to participate in society, society must first take care of the youngest ones to grow and develop. Society must ensure for kids that they grow up in families filled with love, make sure that kids can go to school, that they are healthy, safe from violence, that they are not hungry or thirsty, and give them overall opportunity to make it in the world. 

Basically, children have rights, and they are in more detail elaborated in 54 articles. For more details, have a look at the Convention on the Rights of the Child that came to power on September 2, 1990, by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly.

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Regina M. Castillo, UNICEF office for Croatia representative with children with disabilities in Centre Tomislav Špoljar in Varaždin © Marin Ilej/UNICEF

The UN is dedicated to seeing this Convention is being respected, and United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, commonly known as UNICEF, specializes in the issues of children's rights. Established in the aftermath of World War II, UNICEF has been at the frontlines of humanitarian crises, armed conflict, and natural disasters.

„Undeterred by the scale of the crises, we rise to the challenge, reimagine what is possible and respond by helping millions of children survive and thrive. Our on-the-ground expertise has reached more than 191 countries and territories, through committed partnerships and a passion for innovation“, says UNICEF on its official website.

Croatia signed and agreed with the Convention, and UNICEF today has its own office in Zagreb. Furthermore, it's worth noting that UNICEF has existed for 75 years, and despite firstly coming to Croatian territory while the country was part of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, UNICEF has been with Croatia since the organization was established.

„Many people do not know that UNICEF helped to eradicate malaria in Croatia and that UNICEF played a key role in the development of modern dairy. Dairies were built in Zagreb, Rijeka, and Split, and factories for the production of powder milk in Osijek and Županja. Milk was distributed in schools, and for many children, it was their only meal during the day“, says Regina M. Castillo, UNICEF Office for Croatia representative.

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Regina M. Castillo, UNICEF office for Croatia representative © Marin Ilej/UNICEF

The UNICEF representative is elected for a five-year mandate, and Regina M. Castillo came to her function in Croatia in 2019. Her career in the UN started in 2001 and was in charge of economic and social questions in the Executive Office of the UN chief secretary Kofi Annan in New York. This was followed by Castilla moving to work in the mutual program for HIV/AIDS, known as UNAIDS. She was first the director of private sector partnerships in Geneva (2006-2012) and then moved to be the director for Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru (2012-2015). She majored in International relations and public politics.

Born in Nicaragua, she first started her career in the 1990s as a diplomat, and she was also the headmistress for international trade in the Nicaraguan Trading Ministry.  

Helping Croatia before it was cool (or an independent country)

Castillo went on to continue that after World War 2, UNICEF fed six million children every day, which included many children in Croatia.

„One of those children was our dear colleague, prof. Josip Grgurić, who is still working tirelessly for the youngest. He still remembers the yellow cheese that was part of UNICEF's humanitarian package for families, as well as the chocolate that he then tasted for the first time. He later worked at the children's hospital in Klaićeva, which UNICEF helped found, and he still works hard on UNICEF’s Child-Friendly Hospital Initiative“, says Castillo indicating how valuable but also inspiring UNICEF can be to children. Castillo added that in the Homeland War, UNICEF was the first organization on the ground, making sure that children and families received the necessary psychosocial support and humanitarian packages. After the war, they educated children on how to protect themselves from landmines. 

Today Croatia developed, joined NATO and EU, and is a modern European country. With such progress, there have been many improvements in respect to children and their rights.

„Croatia has a low mortality rate of children under the age of five, extremely low stunted growth rate due to inadequate nutrition in the first years of life and the enrolment rate of children in primary school is almost 100 per cent“, pointed out Castillo.

„Croatia is an example in the world when it comes to the promotion of breastfeeding. It is rare that all public maternity wards in a country have the status of 'Child-Friendly Hospital'. With the support of UNICEF, partners have organized a network of breastfeeding support groups, and now we have more than 200 support groups in Croatia“, added Castillo on what the world can look up to this small South-Eastern European country.

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Regina M. Castillo at Human milk bank © Marin Ilej/UNICEF 

Still, there are some issues Croatia needs to address and are far from ideal at the moment.

„There are still differences when it comes to access to services for children, depending on where they live and the conditions in which they grow up. Children with disabilities, as well as children from the poorest families, especially in rural areas, often do not have the opportunity to attend kindergarten and do not have the same access to specialized health services and therapies as children in urban areas. The focus of UNICEF in Croatia is on the most marginalized children: children with disabilities or developmental delays, children growing up without adequate parental care, children from minority groups, children at the risk of poverty and exclusion. UNICEF’s programs are focused on the well-being and protection of every child, with a special focus on the most vulnerable children“, pointed out Castillo.

Campaigns and programmes such as “Every child needs a family”, “The first three are the most important”, and “Stop violence among children” are perhaps the most known public action by UNICEF in Croatia, but returning to the good practices of breastfeeding, Castillo emphasizes the establishment of the Human Milk Bank in her current mandate.

„Thanks to the Human Milk Bank, prematurely born and seriously ill newborns (who do not have access to their own mother's milk) can receive milk donated by other mothers. We continually work on reducing the risk of disasters, support the development of quality foster care and provide support to parents in the upbringing and care of children through workshops and we work a lot with young people“, said Castillo.

In general, UNICEF has different types of offices in countries, and regarding the Croatian office, it’s a Country Office. In other words, most of the resources (human and financial) are invested in programs in Croatia. Castillo says that the five-year mandates have priorities that are determined in cooperation with partners. And while 80 percent of the funds raised are invested in programs for girls and boys in Croatia, there are funds and support programs for children outside of the country.

“For example, in 2018, UNICEF supported child health care in parts of Ukraine affected by the conflict and helped the building of five inclusive children's playgrounds in two refugee camps in Jordan in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs in 2019. Through the ‘Schools for Africa’ program ​​, which includes many kindergartens and schools throughout Croatia, UNICEF supports the education of girls and boys in Madagascar", Castillo listed several examples. 

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Regina M. Castillo, UNICEF office for Croatia representative with children on Media Literacy days press conference with Radovan Fuchs Minister of Science and Education, Krešimir Partl, State Secretary at Ministry of culture and media and Robert Tomljenović, Deputy Director of the Council for Electronic Media © Marin Ilej/UNICEF 

Overall, the UNICEF Office for Croatia works closely with the Croatian Government, and most notably, with the Ministries of Social Welfare, Education, Health, and the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs. Other partners also include experts (Croatian experts, but also building on expertise and good practice from all over the world), professional associations, academia, services providers, and NGOs.

“UNICEF’s goal is to connect all stakeholders and to advocate and support systemic change for the well-being of all children. System change is a gradual process, and it can be challenging, but when it comes to children’s rights, every step forward is well worth the effort”, explained Castillo.

Croatian citizens showing support for UNICEF

On one hand, Croatia is a good country with low mortality rates of kids and a role model for breastfeeding promotions. On the other hand, however, peer to peer violence (on whose suppression the aforementioned “Stop violence among children“ campaign works heavily on), and unequal approach to education between rural and urban areas show Croatia has both its ups and downs. Unfortunately. The downside sometimes overshadows all the positive things.

One such instance was the tragic death of a two-year-old girl from Nova Gradiška on Easter Sunday. The death of a severely injured girl, who was brought to Zagreb's children's hospital after suffering abuse and heavy beating from her biological parents (and from whom the girl was taken and given to a foster family but was then returned back to biological parents), sparked controversy and citizens outrage, culminating in changes in social welfare law, as well as sacks and investigations in the welfare center in Nova Gradiška.  

„We are deeply saddened by the tragic death of two-and-a-half-year-old Nikoll on Easter Sunday. There are no words to express the pain of such a terrible event. Unfortunately, there are no simple and quick solutions to prevent violence against children. For years, UNICEF in Croatia has been continuously and persistently working in the field of child protection, educating experts from the social welfare system, but also other experts who work with children and families, such as experts from the health care, education, and justice systems. UNICEF implements various support programs for parents, and it is fully committed to the development of foster care and the improvement of the legislative framework. However, UNICEF is also aware that society as a whole, has a long way to go to achieve the goal that every girl and every boy is guaranteed the best possible care and protection. UNICEF will continue to work actively, persistently, and dedicatedly with all partners to achieve it”, commented Castillo.

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Regina M. Castillo talking on Media Literacy days press conference © Marin Ilej/UNICEF 

However, Croatians recognize the importance of the UNICEF mission. Before Covid, UNICEF annually collaborated with the Museum of Illusions on the Museum of Reality exhibition which displayed the problems children faced worldwide, but which also showed what changes and solutions UNICEF brought to those areas. 

“Experience tells us that citizens are ready to support the youngest, in Croatia and beyond. Implementation of our programs would not be possible without the support from citizens and companies that placed the focus of their CSR activities precisely on children. We especially value the support from our Childhood Guardians, donors who support our work with regular monthly donations and allow us to regularly conduct our programs for boys and girls, as well as react quickly with much-needed assistance in crisis situations like the earthquakes in Croatia and the COVID-19 pandemic that affected all families. UNICEF is always in the field with the most vulnerable children and their families”, notes Castillo.

In the end is important to note, that while children are recognised as a particularly vulnerable group, all human rights apply equally to children. 

“All the rights enshrined in the Convention apply to every child, regardless of a child’s country of origin, gender, religion, and nationality. Every child, by birth, has all his/her rights, the right to grow up in a safe environment, to have a family, to have access to health care and education, to be able to play and develop his/her interests and reach his/her full potential”, concludes Castillo.

The five-year mandate is an agreement that sets priorities in advance, so Castillo warned that there is no opportunity for making donations outside of that framework. UNICEF office occasionally does get messages from citizens who need advice or help on issues outside of that frame, but nevertheless, UNICEF can offer them help by referring them to institutions and addresses that can offer citizens the necessary support, financial support, or information. 

With expertise mentioned several times throughout this story as the insurance of delivering the best solutions to issues children face, UNICEF is always on the lookout for new people. If you want to make a change in the world while earning a fair wage yourself, check out what expertise UNICEF is looking for right now.

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Regina M. Castillo on a foster family gathering © Marin Ilej/UNICEF 

UNICEF Croatian Office is situated on Radnička cesta 41/7. To inform the public of their work, they built a considerable presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, and Linkedin. You can also find all UNICEF-related info for Croatia on their official website, and contact them via mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or on phone numbers: +385 1 2442 660 and +385 1 2442 661. You can use the website to donate to a cause in Croatia too. Additionally, there are numbers: +385 1 4095 855, +385 99 2692 196, and +385 91 621 1039 for more details on donating to Croatia as well as e-mail address This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. You can also leave a donation to UNICEF in your will, and a phone number +385 1 3031 640 specializes for the issue in Croatia. If you find yourself in Croatia and you want to volunteer for UNICEF, more info can be found by sending a mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and on phone number +385 1 3031 646.

And of course, you can donate for a good cause to UNICEF for any action the fund is internationally involved in. 

To read more from the series "Friends of Croatia", follow TCN's dedicated page.

For more about UNICEF in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Remaining Mine-Infested Areas to be Cleared of Mines By Mid-2026

ZAGREB, 25 May, 2021 - Interior Minister Davor Božinović said on Tuesday that until the spring of 2026 the remaining 250 square kilometres of land believed to be infested with landmines left over from the 1991-1995 Homeland War would be cleared of those explosive devices.

Božinović commented on the plan for a mine-free Croatia at a ceremony in the town of Josipdol, where he presented a HRK 241 million project, Karlovac KARST, for the removal of mines from forests in the areas of Karlovac and Josipdol.

The implementation of the project will create prospects for job creation in the region, he added.

Karlovac County Prefect Martina Furdek Hajdin said that HRK 188 million had been absorbed from the European Union for the Karlovac KARST project.

In the next few years, 17.1 square metres of forest land in Tounj, Josipdol, Plaški, Saborsko and Rakovica will be cleared of landmines, she added.

The county prefect added that Karlovac County had already tapped HRK 29 million from the EU funds to remove landmines from 3.8 square-metre-large farmland.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page

Friday, 21 May 2021

Remains of Five Victims Who Went Missing in War Identified in Osijek

ZAGREB, 21 May 2021 - Five people, whose remains were unearthed in Croatia's Danube region after they had gone missing in the 1991-1995 Homeland War, were identified in an Osijek hospital's forensic department on Friday.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, accompanied by War Veterans' Affairs Minister Tomo Medved, attended the final identification and after that he told the press the government was committed to shedding light on the fate of all the war victims.

Plenković said that the issue of missing victims was raised on every occasion and at every formal and informal meeting with Serbia's representatives.

Minister Medved said that Serbia still made no contribution to efforts to find the victims who went missing in the war.

After today' identification, the number on the list of missing people has fallen to 1,864. Of them, 401 are presumed to be dead and the fate of the remaining 1,463 victims is still unknown.

For more news in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page

Sunday, 2 May 2021

30th Anniversary of Death of 12 Special Policemen Commemorated in Borovo

ZAGREB, 2 May 2021 - Commemorative events were held in the village of Borovo on Sunday in tribute to 12 special policemen killed there by Serb paramilitaries in an ambush on 2 May 1991.

The 12 Croatian policemen were killed in an ambush in the night between May 1 and 2, 1991 after coming to Borovo in an attempt to rescue two of their colleagues who were captured the night before by Serb paramilitaries.

After negotiations on their release failed, a group of members of special police forces from Vinkovci were sent to Borovo on May 2. In a conflict with Serb paramilitaries that followed, 12 of them were killed and another 21 were wounded.

The policemen who were killed were Stjepan Bošnjak (born in 1955), Antun Grbavac (1961), Josip Culej (1966), Mladen Šaric (1965), Zdenko Perica (1965), Zoran Grašic (1969), Ivica Vučić (1961), Luka Crnković (1970), Marinko Petrušić (1966), Janko Čović (1965), Zeljko Hrala (1968) and Mladen Čatić (1971).

For more about the homeland war in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Sunday, 2 May 2021

Zagreb and Other Nearby Cities Remember Victims of May 1995 Shelling

ZAGREB, 2 May 2021 - Seven civilians were killed and more than 200 were wounded in Zagreb during the missile attacks launched by rebel Serb forces on 2 and 3 May 1995, and Zagreb and the nearby cities, which were also shelled in those retaliatory attacks, marked the 26th anniversary of those tragic events on Sunday.

No fatalities were in Karlovac, Sisak, Jastrebarsko, however, considerable material damage was caused to them when Serb paramilitaries shelled them and Zagreb's centre with cluster bombs in retaliation for the defeat suffered in Operation Flash in western Slavonia the day before.

The retaliation was publicly admitted to by the then leader of rebel ethnic Serbs, Milan Martic. Seven people were killed, 39 seriously injured and another 136 sustained lesser injuries.

The first explosions were heard around 10.23 a.m. on 2 May when several shells were fired on downtown Zagreb.

The shelling a day later was directed at a children's hospital, a retirement home, and the national theatre building.

The UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague (ICTY) found Martic guilty of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war committed against Croats and other non-Serbs in Croatia in the early 1990s, sentencing him to 35 years in prison. It also found him guilty of ordering missile attacks on Zagreb in May 1995.

In October 2008, the ICTY Appeals Chamber confirmed the 35-year prison sentence for that former Croatian Serb political leader, for crimes committed against Croats and other non-Serbs in Croatia between 1991 and 1995.

The initial indictment against Martic was issued on 25 July 1995. After several years on the run, he surrendered to the Tribunal on 15 May 2002. The trial started on 13 December 2005 and concluded on 12 January 2007.

In May 2020, Croatia's judicial authorities also sentenced Serb rebel general Milan Čeleketić for those missile attacks to 20 years after he was tried in absentia. Čeleketić is beyond the reach of Croatia's authorities. He lives in the northern Vojvodina city of Subotica, and Serbia's authorities.

For more about the homeland war in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Saturday, 1 May 2021

Milanović: Eternal Praises to Croatian Heroes!

ZAGREB, 1 May 2021 - President Zoran Milanović laid a wreath in the eastern town of Okučani on Saturday in tribute to Croatian soldiers and police officers killed in Operation Flash during the Homeland War 26 years ago.

On this day in 1995, "with their knowledge, patience and courage, Croatian heroes liberated this part of Croatia," Milanović said, adding that Operation Flash, and 1993's Operation Maslenica, had paved the way for Operation Storm in August 1995 that ended the four-year Serb armed insurgency in the country.

"While we others were in Zagreb, Geneva, in administrative services, a small number of men fought here. Eternal praises and glory to the Croatian heroes!" the president said.

Milanović's delegation included the Chief of the General Staff of the Croatian Armed Forces, Admiral Robert Hranj, presidential adviser on defence and national security Dragan Lozančić, presidential adviser on Homeland War veterans Marijan Mareković and high-level military commanders.

For more about the homeland war in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Saturday, 1 May 2021

Croatia Commemorates 26th Anniversary of Operation Flash

ZAGREB, 1 May 2021 - Croatia today commemorates a combined military and police operation, dubbed Operation Flash, by which it regained control of the Serb-occupied Western Slavonia region during the Homeland War 26 years ago.

In a lightning offensive launched on 1 May 1995, in less than 32 hours about 7,200 Croatian soldiers and police officers liberated about 600 square kilometers of the Croatian territory that had been under occupation for four years.

The commemoration began in the morning at the monument in Okučani, about 130 kilometers southeast of Zagreb, with the reading of the names of those killed in the operation.

Wreaths were laid by President Zoran Milanović, Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, and their delegations as well as by delegations of veterans' associations and families of those killed.

For more about the homeland war in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Croatia Seeks Two Suspects Involved in 1991 Killings of Civilians

ZAGREB, 28 April, 2021 - An international arrest warrant has been issued for a 78-year old Croatian citizen Dragan Bešir and 79-year old Serbian national Slobodan Đorđević for murders committed in 1991 and shelling a refugee camp in Grabovac where a three-month old baby was killed.

The charges have been forwarded to the County State Attorney in Rijeka after Lika-Senj and Karlovac county police authorities in cooperation with prosecutorial authorities completed the criminal investigation, the police has reported without revealing the identity of the two suspects.

The suspects are out of reach of Croatian judicial authorities. They are charged with failing to prevent the murder of civilians between 8 October and 10 November 1991 and in that way violated international laws during war conflicts.

Both Bešir and Đorđević were commanders of the then Yugoslav People's Army (JNA), and they did not do anything to prevent the murder of 35 civilians.

In addition, Đorđević is charged with not preventing a mortar attack on a refugee camp at Grabovac which resulted in the killing of three civilians including a three-month old baby, who was the youngest victim during the Homeland War.

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Friends of Croatia: New TCN Series On All Things Diplomatic

April 20, 2021 - Check out the newest TCN series "Friends of Croatia", dealing with all things diplomatic, by TCN reporter Ivor Kruljac

December 22, 1990, the Croatian parliament known as Sabor brought its first independent constitution, known as „The Christmas Constitution“. After that, the same parliament officially declared Croatia as an independent country and no longer part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on June 25, 1991. Then followed the Ex-Yu War known in Croatia as a Homeland War, which lasted until 1995.

While this war is one of the foundations of Croatian independence, noted by the modern constitution as well as on other grounds of historic events, the dedication of soldiers, tactics, weapons, force and combat skills weren't the only cards Croatia had to achieve its sovereignty. It was also the communication with the international community and international recognition. This allowed Croatian citizens to not end up in the trap of Transnistria, a sovereign state officially recognized as part of Moldova, where Moldova does not rule due to the army and force monopoly by the Transnistrian government, but whose passports have no benefit for its citizens and despite being a state, in official maps does not exist.

Iceland was the first sovereign country to recognize Croatia as a sovereign state on December 19, 1991, followed by Germany in whose recognition took effect on January 15, 1992. Slovenia technically did recognise Croatia first, the same as Croatia was the first to recognise Slovenia, but neither country had international recognition at the time, which is the reason Iceland counts first. Floored by Iceland and Germany, other countries started to recognize Croatia and the new-found Republic joined the UN on May 22, 1992. The international status was then additionally boosted with joining Nato on April 1, 2009, and the EU on July 1, 2013.

Today, Croatia has 176 diplomatic relations; and for TCN writers, reporting on diplomacy is nothing new. Diplomatic relations can be viewed, in layman terms, like friendships, and this is why this series is called „Friends of Croatia“. As stated by the E-International relations site, diplomacy has existed as long as the human race. It can be viewed in the first negotiations amongst individuals before graduating to the level we know today.

„Among the many functions of diplomacy, some include preventing war and violence and fortifying relations between two nations. Diplomacy is most importantly used to complete a specific agenda. Therefore without diplomacy, much of the world’s affairs would be abolished, international organizations would not exist, and above all, the world would be in a constant state of war. It is for diplomacy that certain countries can exist in harmony“, writes the E-International relations site.

And indeed, shutting down diplomatic relations is a final step before potential war escalation and the spread of violence. Even with certain diplomatic tensions, Croatia has with Slovenia around Piranski Bay, or with Serbia regarding uncleared questions from the Homeland War, the fact there are diplomatic relations both with Serbia and Slovenia ensures that these tensions can be solved by peace and not violence.

But what exactly are the details of Croatian diplomatic relations with other countries and international organizations? This is precisely what this series strives to bring by explaining the history of Croatian diplomatic relations by talking to diplomats, embassies, and representers of international communities, with an informative, unique approach to each specific relation. The series wants to inform of the ups and downs of Croatian international collaboration, how to make them better, what benefits are there in these relations for Croatia, and what benefits are there for other countries. Keep your eyes open for articles in these series with more details and interesting facts about diplomacy in general too.

If you are working in the embassy or in an international organization in Croatia, feel free to reach out to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  

To read more from the series "Friends of Croatia", follow TCN's dedicated page.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

President Zoran Milanović Decorates Participants in 1991's Operation Plitvice

ZAGREB, 30 March, 2021- President Zoran Milanović, acting in his capacity as Commander in Chief of the Croatian Armed Forces,  on Tuesday decorated participants in 1991's Operation Plitvice, describing them as heroes to whom Croatians owe lasting gratitude.

Milanović presented the decorations at a formal reception in his office, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the operation and in memory of Josip Jović, the first Croatian police officer killed in the 1991-95 Homeland War. 

Jović, 22, was killed and nine other police officers were wounded in a police operation on 31 March 1991 after Serb insurgents occupied the Plitvice Lakes National Park and blocked the D1 state road that connects the country's north and south. Jović was a member of the Lučko Anti-Terrorist Unit.

Addressing the participants in the operation, Milanović said that as the Commander in Chief he would pursue a non-partisan policy.

"A policy that does not recognise either of the two big parties or third parties, a policy that recognises only our interests. And for Croatia and us Croatians to be able to define and realise those interests, the state had to be defended and created first. Without you, none of that would have been possible. May the memory of Josip Jović live, to you we owe our gratitude. Long live Croatia!" Milanović said in his address.

In a statement to reporters after the reception, Milanović noted that no government representative attended the event.

For more about war in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

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