As Barcelona Seeks Independence, Some 1992 Catalan Help for Croatian International Recognition

Total Croatia News

December 22, 2019 – As the sentiment of self-determination blows from London to Barcelona, a look at the Catalan factor in Croatia’s road to international recognition in 1992.

One of the things I enjoy about living in Croatia is the constant level of learning about its fascinating history, both ancient and much more recent. My arrival in Croatia from Somaliland in 2002 was very accidental and due to a Croatian National Tourist Board video, and while I have learned a lot about Croatia since then, there is still so much to learn, even about the first decade or so of independence prior to me buying a house in Jelsa. 

It was a big surprise, for example, to learn which sovereign nation was the first to recognise the newly independent Croatia back in 1991. I am sure every Croat knows the answer well, but how many others do?

The answer is Iceland. 

Not long before I moved to Croatia, I found myself watching a movie in a Mumbai hotel room called Shot Through the Heart. It was a story of two Yugoslav marksmen who were expecting to achieve Olympic glory for Yugoslavia at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. Apparently based on a true story of two Sarajevo friends, one Muslim and one Serb, their Olympic dream was shattered when war broke out and they found themselves shooting not at a Catalan target for Olympic gold, but rather at each other. 

The film has been shelved in the back of my head for years until recently when I heard about a Catalan delegation visiting Croatia as part of Catalan diplomatic efforts to secure support for their bid for autonomy from Madrid. As TCN reported at the time, neither Croatia’s President or Prime Minister met with the delegation from Barcelona (unlike Slovenian President Pahor), but they were warmly received by Varazdin County Prefect, Radimir Cacic, who spoke at length about the areas of interest for economic cooperation. 

“But you do know about the small but significant Catalan contribution back in 1992 as Croatia was trying to establish international recognition, at the Barcelona Olympics?” asked a friend when the topic came up over a beer. 

I little like the Icelandic recognition, I had no idea, but memories of the two sharpshooters in the movie came back, as well as a thought that it must have been quite an impressive diplomatic effort to not only get Croatia recognised by the Olympic family, but also competing under its own flag both at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, and the Barcelona Summer Olympics, where every Croat will tell you their newly independent country won silver in the basketball against the ‘Dream Team’ from the USA – watch the final below. 

It turns out that the speed of Croatia’s acceptance in the family was helped along by a great friend of Croatia, International Olympic Committee chairman, Juan Antonio Samaranch, a Catalan. The Croatian Olympic Committee was only formed in October, 1991, and just four months and seven days later, Croatia was welcomed into the Olympic family, before it was granted a seat at the UN. Things moved even quicker after that, with an invitation to the Olympic Games after being accepted into the IOC, a record timeline. 

The first appearance of Croatian sportsmen under the Croatian flag, which was led by the first President of the COC, Antun Vrdoljak today a member of the International Olympic Committee (since 1995), will have a special place in the history of Croatia at the Olympics. In addition to the basketball silver, Croatia also came home with two bronze medals in tennis, thanks to Goran Ivanisevic and Goran Prpic. Watch Ivanisevic reflect on the medals of 1992 below.

And the Samaranch effect did not end there, as Visnka Staresijna noted in a recent article on the subject in Slobodna Dalmacija:

A few years later, under the auspices of Juan Antonio Samaranch, a sculpture of our Drazen Petrovic was erected in the park of the Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne. It was the first sculpture of an individual athlete to be erected in an Olympic park.

Croatia expressed its gratitude, as Samaranch became one of the first recipients of its highest State honour, the Grand Order of King Tomislav. The Grand Order of King Tomislav is the highest state order of Croatia. It is usually awarded to top foreign officials for their contribution to the improvement of Croatia’s good standing internationally as well as achievements in developing international relations between Croatia and their respective countries. It is awarded by the President of Croatia.

Mr. Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, which included the Croatian Olympic sport into the great worldwide community of the Olympic movement, contributing to the international recognition of the sovereign and independent Republic of Croatia. His merit has enabled Croatian athletes to represent their nation for the first time in history in the Olympics in Albertville and Barcelona, thus permanently joining the global Olympic family. With this extraordinary act, the Republic of Croatia was included in the International Olympic Committee before being invited to be a member of the United Nations.

The path to Catalan independence may or may not succeed, but if it does, I wonder what little historical nuggets young Catalans of the future will learn about the origins of their independent State, such as the Iceland love and Catalan Olympic support that are now part of independent Croatian folklore. 


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