CROATIA: Redefining Croatia
Karin Palmquist

Croatia, Albania and Macedonia and don't share borders, but they do share a common goal: to become members of NATO.

On May 2 of last year, Secretary of State Colin Powell signed the US-Adriatic Partnership Charter in the Albanian capital of Tirana, signaling American openness to membership for the three hopefuls. In return, the three countries pledged to continue with reforms to qualify for membership.

In mid-November, representatives for the three Balkan countries met with Senator John McCain (R - AZ) and Congressman Doug Bereuter (R - NE) in Washington for a review meeting, to sum up the progress since the charter was signed. "We want a stronger commitment than just an 'open door' policy. We want a date," Croatia's ambassador to the United States, Ivan Grdešic, says was Zagreb's message at the meeting.  

By the organization's spring meeting in Istanbul on June 28-29 of this year, all NATO members will have ratified accession of seven new members -- Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Ambassador Grdešic hopes that the Istanbul summit will also see Croatia, Albania and Macedonia invited to be the next wave of enlargement, perhaps by 2006. There are currently no other candidates.

"We had a working lunch with [Deputy Secretary of State Richard L.] Armitage. It was a very constructive meeting. That was our latest NATO-related meeting and the only one since the Prague summit last November," the ambassador says.

Throughout the turbulent nineties, Croatia always had a very good relationship with the United States.

"The United States was very supportive of us. Without a positive relation with the United States we would not have been able to suppress the aggression by Serbia on Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina." The ambassador underlines the importance of America's role in the Balkans, by referring to a comment former U.S. president Bill Clinton had made to him in reflecting on US policy: "'I would have done the same, but sooner'. We have always had a positive relationship with the United States, but help didn't come soon enough," Ambassador Grdešic says.
 
"We joined the war on terrorism right after September 11," the ambassador continues. "I think one of the greatest contributions we can make is to ensure stability at home so that Croatia does not become a new hot spot, a home for terrorism. Strengthening democracy in Croatia is our contribution to the fight against terrorism."

The country has contributed a bit more than that. Croatia has one platoon of military police in Afghanistan and has provided humanitarian assistance to Iraq. The country's experience in de-mining, for example, could be very helpful in Afghanistan, he says.

"We supported the UN resolution to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but we couldn't support an intervention without a UN resolution. We couldn't just give a blank check for Iraq. But the Iraqi people need our support. We've been in that situation ourselves," the ambassador says.

Strengthening democracy at home means assuring democratic leadership on all levels. Former Croatian president Franjo Tudjman had been criticized for a not-so democratic style of governing.

"We're a democracy, but president Tudjman's ruling style was not democratic," the ambassador says. His attitude towards Bosnia Herzegovina and The Hague tribunal was not very democratic."

The country is also vying for another membership: the European Union.

"We're on the threshold of being invited," the ambassador says. "It's about shared values and the international community recognizes these values. We're a European country and we're a Balkan country. We have to redefine the Balkans. We have to make Balkan a good word again. We have to learn from the past, for the future. Europe should not be ashamed of the Balkans."

The country has managed to redefine itself. Just ask the eight million tourists - twice the population of Croatia - flocking to the country each year. For them, Croatia is not a country torn by war, but a vacation paradise with no fewer than six UNESCO-protected World Heritage sites and unspoiled beaches along the Adriatic coast.

"We can't be a tourism country if we're not open," the ambassador says. "We welcome tourists. But at the same time we have to redefine tourism a bit. Before it was more about quantity, not quality. Our coast can't sustain masses of tourists. We don't want to end up like Spain or Turkey."

Mainly European tourists visit Croatia and soon they will find it even easier to do so. Next summer will see the completion of four hundred kilometers of new highway, linking Croatia to the German road network. It is the biggest infrastructure project in Europe at the moment. It is the biggest infrastructure project in Europe at the moment, the ambassador says. US giant Bechtel was a member of the consortium that built the new highway.    

American tourism numbers are still fairly low - only half of what they were before the war. "The Americans visit Croatia by cruise ship. We hope that by next summer they will come and stay. We also need to extend the season. Our summer months are full."
 
Tourism accounts for 22 percent of the country's revenues, but its gains go beyond that. Visitors enjoying their vacations is the best PR a country can get.

"Word of mouth is the best marketing," Ambassador Grdešic says. "There is no need to put a spin on what we have. If they come they will fall in love with the place."



Curriculum vitae of Dr. Ivan Grdešic, Ambassador of the Republic of Croatia to the United States of America 

Prior to assuming his ambassadorial duties, Dr. Ivan Grdešic was the associate professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences at the University of Zagreb, where he graduated and obtained his Ph.D. in political science. 

From 1996 to 1999 he was Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Political Sciences and President of the Croatian Political Science Association. 

Dr. Grdešic is author of the book "Politicko odlucivanje" (Political Decision-making; 1995); he was co-author of several books, among them: "Hrvatska u izborima 1990" (Croatia in the 1990 Election; 1992), "The 1990 and 1992-93 Sabor Elections in Croatia" (Izbori za Hrvatski sabor 1990. i 1992-93.; 1997), "The Radical Right in Central and Eastern Europe" (Radikalna desnica u Srednjoj i Istocnoj Europi; 1999). 

He wrote numerous scientific and scholarly articles on Croatia's political systems, democratic transition, elections and public policies, all of which were published in domestic and international journals. He taught American studies for postgraduate students at the Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb, Faculty of Political Sciences in Zagreb and at the Ljubljana University. 

Dr. Grdešic spent several years doing research and teaching at various U.S. universities. He participated in numerous scientific conferences developing a rich international cooperation. He was a Fulbright Visiting Professor at the Virginia Tech University during the academic year 1999/2000, and at the Indiana University, Bloomington, 1992/93. 

He was born in 1952 and is married with two children.