By H.E. Dr. Gordan Grlić Radman, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Republic of Croatia.
In January 2021, Croatia celebrates the 30th anniversary of its international diplomatic recognition. The recognition came at the time of dire need and turned the tides in Croatia’s struggle to defend itself against the military campaign spearheaded by Serbia’s Slobodan Milošević that aimed also to subdue Slovenia and, later, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
While facing incredible challenges that threatened the very existence of the state, Croatian diplomatic service, had to be built from ground up and facilitate an international response to stop the unfolding tragedy. After achieving peace, Croatian diplomacy stayed on track and focused on building alliances with like-minded countries. Today, Croatia is a member of NATO and of the European Union, pivoting to extend the European area of peace, stability and prosperity to its neighbourhood.
The experience of carrying on regardless of how difficult the challenge resulted in a very swift and agile diplomatic service, capable of adapting and acting with determination in the harshest of circumstances, which proved exceptionally valuable during Croatia’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic engulfed the world.
First steps – Legacy of a bold generation
Within the circumstances that came after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Communist regimes in Europe, and while facing a war for its very survival and independence, Croatian diplomacy showed relentless dedication to achieving peace and stability as the path that has no alternative.
Primary goal of, at that time, nascent Croatian diplomatic service was securing international recognition. Although Iceland and the Vatican were the first to recognise Croatia, it was the recognition of all 12 members of the then European Community on 15 January 1992 that started the tide. This act of political and moral courage was soon followed by others, each of them proving anew the pointlessness of war and laying the building blocks of the peace to come.
Croatian military successes in liberating its territory, supported by the remarkable diplomatic efforts, brought the horrors of war to an end. They also made possible the signing of the Dayton peace agreement, with which the war in the neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina ended in 1995. The last remaining part of Croatia was liberated in 1998 by diplomatic means alone, which to this day represents a case study in peaceful conflict resolution.
Teaming up with NATO and the EU
After peace was restored, Croatian foreign policy focused on building a lasting alliance with like-minded countries, more specifically by becoming a NATO and European Union member. This was not just a diplomatic but a country-wide effort through which Croatia looked to anchor itself in the civilizational project based on the common values of peace, democracy, rule of law, and human rights.
The road to NATO and EU membership also required a rethink on how our diplomatic service operates, as it needed to be larger and ready for the more prolific role it would take with the membership. It took Croatia nine years to become a NATO member, and during those years, Croatian defence forces made significant contributions to international peace missions and operations, of which we are exceptionally proud.
Remarkable diplomatic work needed to be invested into achieving our next strategic goal. Eight years ago, Croatia joined the European Union, and in January 2020 we were the youngest member state to preside over the Council of the European Union. Our presidency coincided with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted all forms of “normal” life. Adequate response to the pandemic, especially at its beginning when the uncertainties were greatest, necessitated thinking out of the box. In these circumstances, our diplomatic service, its adaptability and resourcefulness, came forward and we managed not only to overcome the logistic obstacles for continued communication and coordination under our Presidency by transforming into the EU’s first “digital presidency”, but also to reshape and restructure our own priorities.
The safety of European citizens and the pandemic response became our focus. At the same time, we did not want to lose from sight our pre-pandemic priorities of European perspective of our neighbouring countries. Croatia is unwavering in its belief in the European future and the EU perspective for our neighbours and we are very proud to have facilitated removing the deadlock from the accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia during our Presidency.
The pandemic has certainly been a dominant disruptive force in our lives, but other stressors, like global economic instability, increasing uncertainty, regional divisions and environmental catastrophes alert us to be more aware, to give greater attention to the role of multilateralism and cooperation.
Stress in the global economy, together with the sense of a growing socio-political frustration in the world, including the threats of armed conflicts, demand us to be attentive and to engage in dialogue on innovative ways to strengthen our multilateral connections and ensure a much needed predictability of a level playing field.
Croatia, as a tourist-oriented and ecologically well-preserved country, is especially mindful of the fragility of our environment. Extreme climate conditions and other effects of the global warming are a persistent reminder of the urgency, not only of the need for a green transition, but of the importance of improving the way our societies and economies engage with the environment. Certainly, diplomacy will take on a greater role in this field as well.
Croatian diplomacy, through its lessons from the past, the tremendous work it has done in building alliances and securing regional stability, testifies that perseverance, belief in one’s abilities and joint work based on trust are the foundation to achieving even the most difficult goals. Let’s make it so.