Croatia’s top diplomat Miro Kovac said his country and Israel already work together in areas of defense, security & intelligence, and is now keen to upgrade cooperation in areas of agriculture, water management, tourism, cyber and high tech.
Croatia’s Foreign Minister Miro Kovac unequivocally denied on Monday that anti-Semitism, racism, and extremism are prevalent in his country.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Kovac – who is his country’s first government minister to visit Israel since Croatia won accession to the European Union in 2013 – said: “I strongly reject any perception of anti-Semitism. It is simply wrong. It is not true.”
He claimed that as far as tolerance and protection of minorities are concerned, “Croatia is a role model” with a constitution whose preamble condemns fascism and guarantees protection to minorities.
When there are instances of racism, anti-Semitism and extremism he said, “It is up to us to denounce it. That kind of behavior is not compatible with our values as defined by the constitution.”
When it was pointed out to him that spectators at a recent friendly soccer match between Croatia and Israel made anti-Semitic remarks and yelled pro-Ustashe slogans in the presence of Croatia’s prime minister, Tihomir Oreskovic, who remained silent on the issue, Kovac admitted that he would have loved a clear, on the spot reaction.
He had not been at the match himself, he said, but had he attended, he certainly would have said something.
Later in the morning, speaking at the King David Hotel at a breakfast meeting of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, Kovacs said Croatia is strongly opposed to boycotts and rejects the idea of the isolation of Israel.
He told the Post that there is simply no public support for a BDS movement in Croatia.
Kovacs said when his party was in the opposition, it enjoyed strong cooperation with Israel, and now that it is in government it is keen to upgrade that cooperation in areas of agriculture, water management, tourism, cyber and high tech. There is already excellent cooperation in areas of defense, security and intelligence, he said. There is a very good foundation for a stronger relationship, he added, but it has to be “more concrete and have more substance,” than having Croatian basketball players on Israeli teams.
Oreskovic, Croatia’s first non-partisan prime minister, was previously the Chief Financial Officer for Teva Global Generics.
The two countries can co-operate more politically, said Kovac, noting that the Croatian government “understands Israel’s position in the Middle East quite well. We have a lot of sensitivity to your sensitivities,” he said.
From a political perspective, Kovacs stressed the importance of high level exchange visits. Croatian President Kalinda Granbar Kitarovic visited Israel last year, and Croatia would now like to see a reciprocal visit to Croatia by President Reuven Rivlin plus a visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The first Croatian president to visit Israel was Stipe Mersic in 2001; and the first Israeli president to visit Croatia was Moshe Katsav in 2003.
Croatia gained independence from the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991, and set about establishing a free, independent democratic, multi-party state with the rule of law, gender equality, equality for all minorities and rejection of fascism, Nazism and Communism. It established full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1997.
It applied to join the EU in 2003 and in 2013 was the only country in Europe to gain access. It joined NATO in 2009.
When asked to explain the current upsurge of anti-Semitism in Europe, he replied that he would answer that question not as a politician but as a former historian. “In politics you always need a scapegoat,” he said. Jews have been scapegoats, he continued, because they have been successful in the countries to which they migrated and people were envious of them. “Envy is a natural and strong emotion.”
In addition, Kovac explained, today there is a strong proportion of Muslims in Western Europe – people who moved recently from countries in the Middle East. “The long history of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians reflects on Muslims in Europe and their perception of Jews.” He hastened to add that in Croatia there is no problem between Muslims and Jews, and that unlike Western Europe, there is no special security attached to Jewish kindergartens.
Other than in World War II, when the Ustashe murdered the bulk of Croatian Jewry or deported Jews to Auschwitz, Jews lived well in Croatia, he said. While no one in his family was involved with killing Jews, Kovac said that as a Croat he had to take responsibility fort what happened to the Jews. “We look to the future without forgetting the past. We have to respect the past,” he said.
Croatia has been impacted less than most other European countries from the huge waves of refugees seeking to find a haven in Europe. While 650,000 have crossed Croatia in an effort to get to Germany, Austria, Sweden or the Netherlands, less than 100 chose to remain there.
On the issue of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Kovac said no solution can be imposed on the two parties, and that they have to sit together and find a solution that includes security for Israel and peace for the Palestinians.
At the ICFR breakfast, Kovac was challenged on the issue of anti-Semitism by Efraim Zuroff, head of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Kovac disarmed Zuroff by telling him that he was familiar with his work in monitoring anti-Semitism and that he would like to enter into a permanent dialogue with him.
When Colette Avital, who chairs the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors asked about compensation for private and community property belonging to Jews, Kovac initially said it had been confiscated first by the Ustashe and then by the Communists. Avital persisted and Kovac suggested the creation of a foundation to be jointly administered by Croatia, the United States and Israel to work in consultation with Croatia’s Ministry of Public Administration and Ministry of Justice to see how best to deal with the property issue.
View original The Jerusalem Post publication at: