ZAGREB, January 17, 2018 – Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović said in Sarajevo on Wednesday that Croatia had always been and would remain Bosnia and Herzegovina’s friend as well as a strong advocate of the equality of all its peoples and citizens, expressing at the same time regret about unnecessary political conflicts between the two countries’ officials over the past weeks, including accusations against her coming from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“Unfortunately, statements that I did not make were often attributed to me,” she said at a news conference held after talks with the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina members Dragan Čović, Bakir Izetbegović and Mladen Ivanić, which took place at the start of her three-day official visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
She said that the purpose of her visit to Sarajevo was to give clear and unequivocal messages about Croatia’s policy towards Bosnia and Herzegovina and her personal positions.
“My first duty is to protect the interests of Croatia and the Croatian people, but I also want to build peace and friendship with neighbouring countries and there is no country with which that is more necessary than Bosnia and Herzegovina. Croatia has to carefully follow developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina and point to them in a friendly way, and that can in no way be interpreted as interference in its home affairs,” Grabar-Kitarović said, recalling obligations which Croatia has as a signatory to the Washington agreement and a guarantor of the Dayton agreement.
She added that she also personally wanted to support Bosnia and Herzegovina as its friend and that Croatia wished Bosnia and Herzegovina only well in its internal development and on the path to membership of the EU and NATO.
The Croatian president described her talks with the Presidency members as “very open”, noting that “its positive dimension prevailed” and announcing that communication would be stepped up to deal with outstanding issues through quiet diplomacy. She said that outstanding issues needlessly burdened the two countries’ relations.
Grabar-Kitarović recalled that Croatia had invested almost one billion euros in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s economy while trade between the two countries in 2017 alone amounted to 1.6 billion euro, which clearly illustrated the connection between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
She said that it was therefore sad that in recent weeks and months a climate had been created in both countries both with regard to her visit and with regard to mutual relations and that it was therefore time to send clear and unequivocal messages about the need to strengthen cooperation and friendly relations.
Amendment of election law key challenge
The Croatian president said that leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina should deal with outstanding issues in the country based on the equality of its constituent peoples and citizens, including the “key challenge” of anticipated changes to the election law in line with appropriate court rulings, with the primary goal being avoiding a possible paralysis of the government after elections set for October. Croatia does not want to impose any solutions in the process, she said.
Speaking of Croatia’s care for the Croat people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, she said that it was an integral part of the country’s care for the well-being of all peoples and citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“I’m afraid that… there is often the perception that what benefits one people is automatically to the detriment of other people. That cannot and should not be like that, and the advocacy of the rights of the Croat people in no way means that it should be to the detriment of other peoples and ethnic minorities,” she said.
She said that Bosnia and Herzegovina did not have and would not have a greater advocate of its integration with Euro-Atlantic associations than Croatia.
Grabar-Kitarović said that Croatia resolutely advocated the strengthening of regional stability and cooperation, noting that a precondition of a lasting peace and stability in Southeast Europe was for all countries wishing to join the EU and NATO to do so.
Commenting on accusations that she had exaggerated the danger of Islamic radicalism in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Grabar-Kitarovic said that all doubts about that had been cleared up in contacts between two two countries’ intelligence officials, and that it was most important that security services in the entire region now cooperated even better and exchanged information to prevent possible threats.
Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency Chairman Dragan Čović thanked the Croatian president for her attitude to Bosnia and Herzegovina, expressing hope that her visit would help stabilise the situation in the country.
“I am confident that all you have been doing so far has been in the interest of strengthening relations between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Čović said, adding that there was a lot of room for advancing economic cooperation and cooperation in the fields of transport and energy.
He noted that he believed that none of the outstanding issues in relations between the two countries was so grave that it could not be resolved through talks.
Čović said that Bosnia and Herzegovina should deal with its internal situation on its own and that Croatia should be a partner in that process.
After talks with the Presidency members, Grabar-Kitarović was expected to hold separate talks with Prime Minister Denis Zvizdić and representatives of the parliament’s upper and lower houses.
She was also expected to meet with Sarajevo Archbishop Vinko Puljić, the international community’s High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Valentin Inzko, and representatives of the “Mothers of Srebrenica” association.