A Foreign Eye Behind the Scenes at Croatian President Milanovic Inauguration

Total Croatia News

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February 20 – A look behind the scenes at the Zoran Milanovic inauguration of the office of the Croatian Presidency through the eyes of one of the few foreigners to attend. 

As I had never been to the Presidential compound on Pantovcak, I thought I would try and take advantage of the Zoran Milanovic inauguration to see the place, as well as to observe the swearing in ceremony up close. It was bound to be a rather curious affair, given the tension between the SDP man and the HDZ government, who would be in attendance. And the fact that Milanovic decided against a big event with just 39 guests reportedly invited, as well as a rather unusual choice of singer for the National Anthem meant that it could be quite an event. I am very grateful to official spokesman Nikola Jelic for arranging two press passes for myself and colleague Forrest – everything was swiftly and smoothly arranged.  

We were instructed to report to Pantovcak 281 between 09:00 and 11:00 to process the press accreditation, with the ceremony due to start at midday. My faithful Varazdin chauffeur dropped me in plenty of time, and I switched vehicles to be transported to the location of the ceremony. 


Initially I thought that the reason for the transfer was due to the rain, but then I got to understand the size of the presidential grounds. It is HUGE. Not the greatest filming in history, but here is the drive from the gate to where the ceremony took place. Incredibly beautiful and peaceful, although the chap in charge of picking up leaves has his work cut out. 

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It was WET. 


Although it was going to be a low-key affair (apparently it cost six times less than Kolinda’s inauguration), I had been expecting a little more life than this – the video above was taken 30 minutes before kick off. 


I had no idea what to expect in terms of media access, and I was a bit surprised to learn that for the ceremony itself, we would all be in the room next door watching events on television screens. Having enjoyed the fabulous hospitality for the press at the opening night of Rijeka 2020 recently, it was also a surprise to see the contrast at the inauguration. When I rocked up in the press room at about 11:30, I saw evidence of a few coffees, but there were no refreshments whatsoever. Not a problem for me, but a little surprising. Although we could not go into the room for the ceremony, we were allowed in a little before – see video above.  


And we were free to roam around some parts of the building – busts of some prominent Croats on display.  

Both Milanovic and Prime Minister Plenkovic were dropped directly by the entrance, and it was only outgoing President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic who walked the red carpet past the ceremonial guards. Her arrival is in the video above. 

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I have never met Kolinda (her office rejected a request for a TCN interview a couple of years ago), but she has now smiled at me twice in my life. The first time was at Spancirfest in Varazdin in 2016 when I ran along a hill to get in position to take her photo, slipped, fell and rolled down to land almost at her feet. It was one of the highlights of my less than distinguished journalistic career. And she was probably not smiling at me when she walked past, but it felt like it. Although I am not a fan personally, she conducted herself with dignity on what must have been a very difficult and emotional day for her.  

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The press room, with the Milanovic inauguration taking place behind us. 

There is not much point me commenting on the inauguration itself, as I saw it the same as everyone else – on television – albeit with the added bonus of a sea of cynical comments from the assembled national media. 

And there was one major talking point. My views on the rendition of the national anthem by Croatian icon Josipa Lisac are unimportant, and the subject has been covered at length in the Croatian media already. But check it out in full above. 


There was another female star at the ceremony, First Lady Sanja Milanovic, and it was great to see her promoting Croatian fashion and excellence with her outfit from Varteks. 

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And after the ceremony, we waited in the hallway for a chance of a photograph, an interview. I was very impressed with how civil and polite members of the media were towards each other. No pushing, checking that views were not obstructed. Much more civilised than I had been expecting. A liaison lady took requests from journalists as to who they would like to interview, and then she went into the ceremony room and brought those who agreed to appear for the cameras. 

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Former President Ivo Josipovic (who unlike Kolinda, did agree to my interview request) was one of the first out. 

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And then they were there. Like an estranged couple who had been married for years but no longer had anything in common, the doors opened and the two presidents emerged and climbed the stairs for a short meeting. The campaign was brutal, and there is clearly no love lost between them, but protocol was adhered to. Thinking about it, the room was filled with key members of the HDZ government who are opposed to Milanovic in general – I wonder how many friends and allies were among the 39 guests.

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I was a little surprised not to receive a programme of the day’s schedule with the press accreditation, but I soon learned why. There simply was no progamme. There was less of an inauguration and more of a bureaucratic procedure. The black cars started to appear and the prominent guests took their leave. PM Plenkovic was one of the last to leave, at precisely 12:59, less than an hour from the start of the ceremony. Astonishing that such an event could be over so quickly, but I liked it in a way. My last editorial was called Would Croatia Be Better If Its Politicians Were Not Treated As Rock Stars? The Milanovic dour approach is certainly in stark contrast to the previous regime, and perhaps we can now focus on real issues. 

Milanovic seems to have decided to downplay the role of the presidency, perhaps more in line with the reality of the importance of the office, after five years of Kolinda’s style over substance. Whatever I think of his politics, I for one welcome that. 

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Being a first timer at such an event, I wasn’t quite sure where to stand, and it was an education to watch the professionals set up shop for the best angles. This is how it looks behind the scenes. 

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And of course I was standing in the wrong place, as I soon learned after my phone started beeping incessantly, with screenshots of live national television coverage such as the one above. 

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I could be wrong, but I think we might actually have been the only two foreigners at the Milanovic inauguration – great material for my faithful trolls who think I am the MI6 chief in the Balkans. It took some effort, but we managed to secure the building.  

And then, perhaps the most poignant moment of all – the Kolinda farewell. President Milanovic walked former President Grabar-Kitarovic to her car, give her flowers, a kiss and a wave goodbye. Then he turned round and went back into his new home. 

And that was the end of the party – time 13:15. 

For a different TCN account of the Milanovic Inauguration, check out Forrest Stilin’s Croatia President Inauguration: Gay Icon Eclipses Modest Event

 For the latest news about President Zoran Milanovic, follow the dedicated TCN section


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