Amb. Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović (Ambassador of Croatia to the US)

07.11.2009 - Interview conducted by Patrick Thomas

Grabar-Kitarović became the Minister of European Integration for Croatia in December 2003. During her time in this position she began negotiations for Croatia’s EU accession. Her role in these negotiations led to her being appointed Foreign Minister of Croatia in 2005 and, after having successfully guided Croatia into the European Union, she was appointed the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Croatia to the United States in 2008.

At the World Without Walls conference Mrs. Grabar-Kitarović participated in a panel discussion entitled ‘The US-Russian Relationship: Europe’s Role Then and Now’, after which she spared a few moments to talk to a member of the CD News team.

How do you think you have been affected, politically and personally, by the time you have spent in the US?
Well I think it has affected me a lot. I was a foreign exchange student in New Mexico from 1985 to 1986, at height of Reagan administration. I was from the Former Yugoslavia, which was viewed as a communist country by the USA. It was a very informative experience, it taught me the value of democracy and human rights, but also the responsibilities of an individual because in communism you are always hiding behind collectivism - collective responsibility and collective rights. So I began to view an individual as guarantor of rights but also responsibility. When I went back to the Former Yugoslavia and back to the old regime, the economic situation that Croatia was in that made me realise I wanted a more liberal, more democratic state. I wanted an economy that offered possibilities to everyone who was willing to work and to improve, not just their personal lives, but the life of the whole country. As I became engaged in Croatia’s independence movement, I became more determined to have Croatia integrated in the western family of nations.

Croatia is now on the way towards EU accession, why do you feel this is so important for Croatia?
Well, we just became a member of NATO in April of this year and that was very important for Croatia for many reasons. First for economic reasons and second because it was important to become part of a security umbrella that would provide the best conditions for Croatia to be a stable and prosperous nation. Why is it important to become a member of the EU? A lot of people in Croatia are asking the same question and it’s a legitimate question as we only gained independence in the early 90’s and at a very high price. However, even when we were striving for independence, at the outset we stated that we wanted to become members of the EU because we realised that today’s world is a world of interdependence. Being on your own is very tough. No situation in life is perfect. There are a lot of advantages and disadvantages of becoming a member of the EU but the advantages outweigh the possible disadvantages by far. We have done a lot of studies, economic and social, that demonstrate that, in the long run, it is a good decision for Croatia. Ultimately we will be better off in the European Union than on our own. Of course we believe we are going keep our national identity, we will remain a sovereign state, though this concept is being redefined currently when it comes to human rights and democracy - there is no traditional sovereignty so to speak. Being outside of the EU you are still affected by EU policies, you have to comply with the legislation and the market of the EU, but you don’t have the privilege of shaping those policies and taking decisions and voting for them which you do as a member of the European Union. We are concerned about the future of the continent and our neighbourhood and so we are taking an active position to shape that future, to be a factor of stability, not just in South East Europe but in the larger European community as well.

You were mentioning some good words about President Obama, I was wondering if you could elaborate what you think about him as a politician and also as a person?
Well I had the honour of meeting him personally last summer and he really was a wonderful outgoing person. He did his utmost to make you feel comfortable and to demonstrate that there was an equal footing with him. He is a very energetic person and had a tremendous program when he came. He is bound to cause some disappointments since the expectations form the public were so huge when he came to power. No matter what he does it probably won’t be good enough for the public. That, however, is the reality of the political life. It is important to recognise that he has  already really changed the course of foreign policy in general. A lot of people criticise the fact he got a Nobel peace prize without having spent a full year in office. He himself stated he was deeply honoured and humbled by that decision, but in my opinion it was a good decision. It is an encouragement for him to proceed with his policy of negotiating and multilateralism and to reach his ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

Thank you for answering my questions today, it was a pleasure to hear you speak tonight.