ZAGREB, July 24, 2018 – Croatia and Israel should investigate every possibility to intensify cooperation, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović said in Zagreb on Tuesday after meeting with her Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin, who called on the two countries to look to the future as well as learn lessons from the dark moments in the past.
Croatia and Israel, as Mediterranean countries, should investigate every possibility to intensify cooperation between the north and south coasts of the Mediterranean, from common heritage to the common issues we encounter today, such as migration and security, as well as common possibilities in energy, agriculture, tourism, industry and other economic branches, Grabar-Kitarović told reporters.
Cooperation can also be intensified in high technology and culture. We have a firm foundation for raising our relations to a strategic level, she said.
Croatia and Israel are located in historically turbulent regions and undergoing transition, she said, adding that Croatia was Israel’s friend, ally and reliable partner in the European Union, NATO and the UN. She said today’s talks between the two countries’ delegations focused on military and economic cooperation.
The procurement of F-16 Barak fighter jets brings the cooperation in defence to a brand new level, she said. This isn’t just a military equipment sale but the first step in the long-term strategic relationship between Croatia and Israel, she added. She said Croatia’s Defence Ministry was pleased with the negotiations that would result in the signing of a contract, and that she was more than optimistic the delivery contract would be signed in the autumn.
Grabar-Kitarović said she was also pleased about the interest of Israel’s defence industry to invest and cooperate in Croatia. There is huge potential to establish mutually useful relations between our industries and defence sectors, she said, adding that a conference on the two countries’ defence industries would be held tomorrow.
Grabar-Kitarović said she was pleased with the growth of Croatia-Israel trade, despite it being a very modest 50 million dollars. I believe it can be raised to at least 200 million dollars, she added. Croatian companies can offer their experience and know-how in construction, shipbuilding, furniture production and other industries, said Grabar-Kitarović.
She recalled that Croatia and Israel signed an agreement on cooperation in agriculture in 2017 which provided a legal framework for institutional, expert and scientific cooperation. Croatia is interested in the transfer of knowledge and experience in irrigation and the use of modern technology in agriculture and food processing, she said.
She also voiced hope that Israeli investment in Croatia would increase.
The two presidents also spoke about historical issues and the suffering of the Jewish population in the territory of present day Croatia and education about the Holocaust.
Primarily, I would like to emphasise that the democratic foundations of modern Croatia have firm roots in anti-fascism and the Homeland War in which Croatia, as a sovereign state, defended itself from aggression. This is clearly stated in the Croatian Constitution, which at the same time guarantees and protects the fundamental democratic values of all Croatian citizens – the rule of law as well as human and minority rights, the Croatian president said.
She recalled that every Croatian government thus far has expressed deep respect for all Holocaust victims.
Croatia takes very seriously its cooperation with all institutions in Israel and elsewhere and by doing so it is preserving the memory of the Holocaust and its victims. Croatia has continuously proved its active and deep commitment to global determination in the fight against anti-Semitism,” Grabar-Kitarović said.
She recalled that, to this day, a total of 117 Croat nationals have been declared Righteous among the Nations, adding that in April 2015 she attended a ceremony at which Dr. Stanko Sielski was posthumously awarded the Righteous among the Nations medal by the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial centre.
On Wednesday, Rivlin and Grabar-Kitarović will visit the Jasenovic Memorial Centre and pay their respects to all victims of the WWII Ustasha-run death camp there.
Reuven Rivlin is the third Israeli president to visit Croatia but the first one on an official state visit. Moshe Katsav visited Croatia in 2003 and Shimon Peres visited in 2010.
At the start of his address, Rivlin firstly congratulated Croatia on the great success of its national team at the World Cup in Russia. Jokingly he added that this was the real reason for his visit, to transfer that talent and skills to the Israeli team. The entire world watched how you cheered for your team. We saw a leader who loves her people, who is proud of them and who cheers for her team. We value that immensely and we also value the profound and close friendship of our peoples, Rivlin said.
He expressed satisfaction with cooperation and growing trade between the two countries that are looking to the future together.
But we also have to know our past which wasn’t always easy and had many dark moments from which we have to learn, Rivlin said and underscored that it also had a lot of heroes, referring to 117 Croats proclaimed Righteous Among the Nations. Each of them was a light in the dark, he said and added that even today we have to face threats of hate and terror.
We have to protect our peoples in the war against terror. We have to cooperate so our peoples can be safe. We have to defend our peoples and our values and we will do that together, he added.
President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović conducted a working state visit to Israel in July 2015 and on that occasion met with President Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanjahu and Knesset Speaker Yuli-Yoel Edelstein.
During that visit she also visited the Yad Yashem memorial centre and expressed her “deepest remorse,” for all Holocaust victims in Croatia killed during the Ustasha Nazi-puppet regime in WWII. During her visit, she quoted the words by Israeli poet Haim Hefer in Hebrew: “In front of you, the Righteous, I bow.”
During her talks she expressed understanding regarding Israel’s security and said that Zagreb would be Israel’s voice in the EU.