President of Croatia

Speech made to the Assembly

Thursday, 28 September 2000

It is my great pleasure to have been given the opportunity, as President of the Republic of Croatia, to be your guest and to address the parliamentarians of the first political organisation to be created after the horrors of the second world war in order to preserve and promote individual freedoms, political freedom and the rule of law, the fundamental values of genuine democracy, and political pluralism. Today, fifty- one years after its foundation, we are aware that the Council of Europe is the most European political organisation on our continent. Almost all European states have become its members and thereby accepted the commitment to foster and disseminate our common values. One of the greatest examples of the noble activities of the Council of Europe was the adoption of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the fiftieth anniversary of which we will mark in November.

Let us be candid and admit that in spite of the optimism inherent in human beings, few believed that the Council of Europe would undergo such a swift transformation from a cold war institution into a forum for dialogue between the East and the West, and, eventually, into a truly pan-European organisation. We have thereby come close to fulfilling the wishes of the great British statesman, Sir Winston Churchill, who in 1946 publicly asked himself, “And why should there not be a European group which could give a sense of enlarged patriotism and common citizenship to the distracted peoples of this turbulent and mighty continent? And why should it not take its rightful place with other groupings and help to shape the onward destinies of men?”

The openness, generosity and perseverance of the Council of Europe ought to be a model for other European political organisations. In particular, I have in mind the European Union, within which there is undoubtedly awareness of the necessity to accept new members, but there are also, for economic and other reasons, those who oppose expansion to include some former socialist states on our continent. I am convinced that partial solutions, such as the admission of only some countries to the European Union, would represent a major injustice to the already long-suffering nations at the rim of western Europe. Indeed, I believe that all states which have seriously taken the road towards comprehensive Europeanisation should be given a genuine prospect of association with the European Union – a political, economic and defensive union in which small nations will have their place and be able to contribute to the common cause.

The openness, generosity and perseverance of the Council of Europe ought to be a model for other European political organisations.

Among the countries that have seriously tackled that challenging project, I can without hesitation include Croatia, whose road to fully fledged membership of the national community has been, as we are all aware, extremely hard. Let us remember Tito's Yugoslavia. As one of the six republics of the Yugoslav Federation, Croatia decided to turn its back on communist ideology and socialist self-management and to transform its society along the model of western European democracy and market economy. However, the hegemonic and nationalist forces in Belgrade opposed Croatia’s freedom-loving aspirations, and then resorted to armed aggression. At that time we already knew that its aim was not the preservation of Yugoslavia, but the creation of an “ethnically clean” greater Serbia – an insane, uncivilised and, fortunately, failed project. The war imposed by the Yugoslav national army and the Belgrade leadership, the temporary loss of one third of our national territory, the massive ethnic cleansing, the unfortunate conflict between the Croats and the Bosnians and the provision for hundreds of thousands of refugees – a huge number of casualties – have significantly slowed down the process of democratic transformation and thwarted the healthy economic transformation of Croatia. My last visit to the Council of Europe, in 1993, in my capacity as Speaker of the Croatian Parliament, reflected all of the complexity of the situation in Croatia at that time.

With major efforts, our country has nevertheless succeeded in emerging from the armed conflict as a victor. With the establishment of territorial integrity – a process which took seven years – the conditions were finally created for the liberalisation of Croatian society. Unfortunately, the former Croatian Government did not have the strength – perhaps not even the will – to promote further democratisation of society and the economic reforms so badly needed by the impoverished and long- suffering Croatian population. The parliamentary and presidential elections in January and February have shown that Croatia’s citizens are not prepared to follow a path focused on the past. Instead, they have shown that they look to the future. They have clearly expressed then- wish for a rapid implementation of urgent social and economic reforms, thereby demonstrating the vast democratic potential of the country. They have shown that they want a European Croatia – a Croatia of tolerance, human rights, prosperity and economic growth.

I feel great pride in the fact that the citizens of my country are ready to bear the burden of such a challenging and comprehensive economic and social transformation. Unfortunately, the restructuring of the economy will initially result in considerable lay-offs; later, however, it will certainly generate new jobs and a more advanced working environment. The Croatian Government is well aware of the gravity of this unrewarding and unpopular task. It is well aware that the development of a modem and efficient economy is correlated with the continued and successful democratic transformation of its country. Only prosperous societies, or those promising to become prosperous, can be a sound foundation for the strengthening of democratic order and the rule of law, as well as a barrier against political extremism.

In that regard, Croatia counts on foreign assistance – and that needs no particular emphasis. Although it does not suffer privation, Croatia will require the knowledge and the capital of foreign partners and international organisations to ensure a fast and efficient transformation of its economy. I want to use this occasion to point out that Croatia expects neither charity nor gifts, but rather direct foreign investment in its respectable natural and economic resources. The importance of such support is demonstrated by the example of western European countries whose reconstructed and mutually connected economies have made it possible to strengthen and, in some cases, to create, political systems inspired by the values of liberal democracy. It is no wonder, therefore, that Croatia expects much from the new Cards Programme of the European Union and from the mechanisms of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, in which it is playing an increasingly important role. Obviously, we are grateful to the Council of Europe's Development Bank for the approved loans to aid the recovery of the social infrastructure in war- affected areas and to support the return of people who had to leave their homes. We also hope that, as in other countries, it will play an important role in the development of small and medium-sized enterprises, and thereby at least partly help to resolve the unemployment problem.

However, the reform-focused undertakings of the new Croatian Government are not limited to the economy. Croatia’s citizens also expect social transformation. They have shown that they want to live in a community whose identity is based primarily on the will of its members to share the same destiny. The new Croatia – self- confident and full of the spirit of victory – does not fear the return of those Croatian citizens, ethnic Serbs, who left the country but who sincerely want to integrate themselves into Croatian society and share the destiny of their fellow citizens -I mean those who truly consider Croatia to be their homeland. Obviously, the transformation of our society is not a painless process and it is meeting with resistance from certain parts of the Croatian population. At present, that is most evident in the reexamination of certain events relating to the patriotic defence war, one of the constituent elements of the identity of the Republic of Croatia. However, a Croatia turned to Europe must have the strength and maturity to face the potentially negative phenomena of our positive struggle for freedom and independence. It is, of course, the task of the Croatian judiciary to investigate possible crimes and, should they be established, appropriately to punish those guilty of such crimes. Any other conduct would not comply with the principle of the rule of law and would take Croatia away from the European family embodied primarily in the Council of Europe.

The changes that have taken place in Croatia are not confined to the sphere of internal policy. The most spectacular results of which the new Croatia can be proud have been achieved in foreign policy. In Une with the principle of the rule of law, we have established comprehensive co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. We have substantially redefined our policy toward neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina and we fully respect its sovereignty and territorial integrity, which implies transparent funding of the institutions of Bosnian-Herzegovinian Croats. We support the return of all refugees without discrimination: Croats and Bosnians to Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Croatian Serbs to homes they abandoned because of the defeat of Milosevic's imperialist policy. We have started to play an active and constructive role within the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe by availing ourselves of the mechanisms for financing the return of refugees and the reconstruction of war-devastated areas. Finally, I should mention our truly exemplary relations with our three north-western neighbours, Italy, Slovenia and Hungary, with whom we have recently started to co-operate within the scope of the so- called quadrilateral. The close co-operation and the degree of mutual trust that prevail are illustrated, for example, by the border regime under which citizens of those four countries can cross state frontiers on the presentation only of their identity cards, and by the agreements – highly appreciated by the international community – on the mutual protection of minority rights which Croatia has concluded with Italy and Hungary.

Like the international community at large, Croatia pays close attention to current political events in the neighbouring Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. We would like that country as soon as possible to abandon the path of nationalism and isolation and board the train of genuine democracy and tolerance, so that we can establish good neighbourly relations and thereby contribute to the stabilisation of the region. We expect from a democratised Federal Republic of Yugoslavia a constructive attitude toward the resolution of the problem of succession within the former Yugoslav federation – that is, respect of the principle whereby all successor states enjoy equal rights and obligations. That, of course, implies that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia cannot automatically inherit the place of the former Yugoslav federation in the United Nations and other international organisations, and that it has to undergo the same admission procedures as are applied to other successor states.

The new foreign policy orientation of Croatia has met with the approval of the international community, which has not waited long to reward the efforts of the Croatian Government. In late May, at the ministerial meeting of the members of the North Atlantic Council in Florence, Croatia was admitted to the Partnership for Peace, which is the antechamber of the main present-day defensive alliance. A few weeks later, the Council of Ministers of the European Union accepted the feasibility study regarding the negotiations on the agreement on stabilisation and association between Croatia and the European Union, which are to start in November. In July, Croatia signed the protocol on admission to the World Trade Organisation, thereby becoming a member of an organisation that covers almost 90% of world trade.

The most recent achievement is the decision of this Assembly, adopted two days ago, to end the monitoring process in Croatia. Allow me to take this opportunity to thank the rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Ms Maria Stoyanova and Mr Jerzy Jaskiemia, for their efforts in preparing a balanced and comprehensive report that emphasises the continuing progress in the development of democracy and the rule of law, without omitting still outstanding problems. Obviously, the success of those two rapporteurs was facilitated by the involvement of their predecessors, Ms Hanna Suchocka, Mr Gunnar Jansson and Mr Jan Figel.

Croatia regards the end of monitoring by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe as the passing of another maturity test, but we will not by any means stop strengthening our democratic order and the rule of law. On the contrary, our sleeves will remain rolled up so that we can meet as soon as possible our remaining commitments and bring our legislation into line with European standards. In that effort, we shall continue to count on the precious help of the experts of the Council of Europe. In that context, allow me to mention that Croatia has recently enacted two laws on national minorities and is preparing a third one, which, like its two predecessors, has been forwarded to the Venice Commission for opinion. All that demonstrates that Croatia is experiencing the international community as a genuine partner.

Relations with national minorities are among the best indicators of our commitment to democracy, tolerance and the principle of good neighbourly relations. National minorities must be seen as a precious element in the promotion of international co-operation, and must never be used as a pretext for territorial claims to parts of other states. Are not the lethal implications of such a way of thinking best illustrated by the recent tragic developments in the former Yugoslavia?

The international community and the international public have, I dare say, discovered a new Croatia, which, in spite of understandable difficulties, continues courageously and ambitiously to blaze its trail towards a better future. All our friends and well-intentioned sceptics can rest assured that our strong reforming drive is not flagging. Croatia remains determined, not only to implement its own democratic and economic transformation, but to influence the democratic transformation of the region, which, unfortunately, has suffered from aggressive wars, intolerance and economic regression for too long.

Dear friends, members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, I believe that I do not need to stress that Croatia continues to count on your help. Together, we can contribute to accelerating the process of stabilisation and Europeanisation of the longer suffering countries of South Eastern Europe, and heed the noble and unselfish thought of the French philosopher, Montesquieu: “If I knew that something benefited my homeland and harmed Europe, or benefited Europe and harmed humankind, I would consider it a crime.”

Thank you for your attention.


Thank you very much, Mr Mesic, for a calm, enlightened speech, but one which also reflected Croatia’s democratic optimism. A number of members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to put questions to you, and you have kindly agreed to answer them. There are sixteen questions, which I have grouped according to subject. I will ask the questioners to put their questions one after the other, and you can answer them all together. Unfortunately, we will not have time for supplementary questions.

The first question comes from Mr Hegyi of Hungary and the Socialist Group, and it is about the European Social Charter.

Mr HEGYI (Hungary)

Your country, Mr Mesic, has already made progress in several fields, and we understand the difficulties that it faces. Nevertheless, as Vice- Chairman of the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee, may I ask when you think your country will be ready to ratify the European Social Charter?

Mr Mesić, President of Croatia (interpretation)

said that this would be within a short time. Legislation in Croatia needed changing, and this would happen soon.


Thank you. We now have four questions about relations between Croatia and her neighbouring countries. The questions are from Ms Stoyanova of Bulgaria, who is known to you, Mr Eôrsi from Hungary, Ms Durrieu from France, who is the leader of the French delegation, and Mr Besostri from Italy.

I call Mrs Stoyanova, who is a Christian Democrat, first.

Mrs STOYANOVA (Bulgaria)

As a Bulgarian, I am very proud that the report adopted by the Monitoring Committee proposes that the monitoring process for Croatia should end. Two days ago, the Parliamentary Assembly welcomed the significant progress that Croatia has made. How do you view future relations between Croatia and Bulgaria, in the light of the opportunities provided by the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe?

Mr EÖRSI (Hungary)

I congratulate the Croatian people on their great achievements. How do you see the opportunities for your country widening as a result of cross-border transactions? I should also be interested to hear about your country’s relations with Hungary.

Mrs DURRIEU (France) (translation)

I pay tribute to the new determined Croatia. I believe that it will not be long before we will be speaking about the “example of Croatia”.

Mr President, what is the status of economic, political and cultural co-operation between Croatia and the neighbouring states? To what extent could this co-operation help to counteract the surge in nationalism, or even to create a national identity that would precede European integration?

Mr BESOSTRI (Italy) (translation)

In your speech, President Mesic, you recalled the benefits of the fourway initiative involving Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary and Italy. It grew into the Central European Initiative. All the states participating in it are also members of the Council of Europe. How do you feel about closer cooperation among these countries? It is clearly in Italy’s interest since we will be taking over the presidency in January.

Mr Mesić, President of Croatia (interpretation)

said that Croatia enjoyed excellent political relations with Bulgaria. There was scope for improvement of economic links. He would be visiting Sofia soon accompanied by leading businessmen to explore new possibilities for co-operation. Croatia had excellent relations with Hungary in all areas, including inter-ethnic co-operation. Croatia had a large community of ethnic Hungarians. Such national minorities must become a bridge for co-operation. Hungary had an excellent record as a refuge for displaced persons of all ethnic groups. Economic co-operation was now also progressing – a motorway was being built across the frontier, and he hoped it would ultimately lead to Budapest. Railway finks were also being developed.

Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina were dealing with the outstanding bilateral questions. The war had been fought over territory, but Croatia respected the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and he could envisage no difficulties. The Dayton Accord on the return of displaced persons must be implemented as soon as possible. Bosnia and Herzegovina also needed considerable help in economic reconstruction. He expected Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to advance together towards their long-term goal of EU and Nato membership. Croatia also had excellent relations with Montenegro, and President Djukanovic had recently visited Croatia. Economic relations were developing. He was particularly pleased with the democratization of Montenegro, and with the apology offered for acts committed by Montenegrins within the Yugoslav army. Montenegro had promised compensation for the damage inflicted on Dubrovnik. The two countries were now pursuing a major tourist initiative in partnership.

Co-operation with Italy was very strong, and there were few outstanding issues. The rights of the ethnic Italian community, for example in education, were fully protected.

Mr GOULET (France) (translation)

As a member of the Committee on Agriculture, Rural Development and Food, I have had the advantage of visiting Croatia; furthermore, I led a team of observers, which made me realise that, apart from the assets it possessed, Croatia had one major handicap, namely the anti-personnel mines.

Mr President, how much progress has your country made in destroying these mines? I am particularly interested in your reply as I am the rapporteur, in the French Senate, for the bill on the Ottawa Convention on the destruction of anti-personnel mines.

Mr Mesić, President of Croatia (interpretation)

said Croatia had taken all steps in its power to clear land mines, but the number was so great that it was a very expensive task. The problem was made worse by the fact that all sides in the conflict had used mines, and many of them had not been mapped. It was fortunate that there were no mines in any tourist areas. Croatia was receiving international assistance, and with this aid he was sure the problem would be resolved. He mentioned the US matched funding initiative as a particularly good example.

Mrs SQUARCIALUPI (Italy) (translation)

I should like to thank President Mesic for already having replied in part to some of the questions I would have liked to ask him.

I was born in an Italian town which later became Croatian and this is why I feel so strongly about minority issues.

I would especially like to know about the follow-up to the Croatian Parliament's law on bilingualism at regional level and on safeguarding the ethnic minorities' schools.

Another question I wish to put to President Mesic concerns the right of ownership of property which belonged to Italian citizens who later left the country. I am aware that this is a tough problem that is hard to solve.

Mr Mesić, President of Croatia (interpretation)

said that the issue of bilingualism had been taken care of. Italian was one of the official languages of Croatia and Italian language schools had been opened with the support of the Italian and Croatian governments. The philosophy of the government was that people from ethnic minorities were a vulnerable group and should be treated as such by the use of positive discrimination. On property rights, he said that most of the problems had been resolved in an agreement between the former Yugoslavia and Italy, but he assured the Assembly that any problems which had not already been addressed would be resolved.

Mr GJELLEROD (Denmark)

Freedom of the press has always been a matter of concern for us in the Council of Europe, especially when we are monitoring commitments and obligations with regard to membership of the Council of Europe. In reports on Croatia in recent years, we have learnt about many problems in Croatia, but things have changed there now. However, I was surprised to hear that there have been some problems in Croatia recently with distributing newspapers. I would like to hear your comment on that. Thank you.

Mr Mesić, President of Croatia (interpretation)

said that there was no longer control of the media in Croatia, but some newspapers seemed to be operating a sort of self-censorship. This was an unwelcome hangover from the previous regime. The new government wanted the press to be free, believing that that was the basis of a free society. If newspapers were not distributed they would be a dead letter. This problem would be reviewed within the privatisation process.


Thank you, Mr Mesic. We have two questions on the Venice Commission. I call Mr Gross.

Mr GROSS (Switzerland) (translation)

Mr President, my point concerns co-operation with the Venice Commission – a question you mentioned in your speech. Perhaps you could tell us where the problems were, whether you have trouble justifying this to the public and parliament, and whether you now find it easier to work with the Commission.


I cordially thank you for the kind words you addressed to me as the co-rapporteur of the Monitoring Committee. I was proud that the Parliamentary Assembly unanimously accepted the report, but, as you know, legal and constitutional issues remain, including issues to do with national minorities.

The Venice Commission offered three important opinions. I should like to know how you envisage further development of co-operation with the Monitoring Committee and the Venice Commission, and to what extent the Government of Croatia will be ready to accept the Venice Commission's advice.

Mr Mesić, President of Croatia (interpretation)

said that Croatia had cooperated with the Venice Commission so far and would continue to do so. His foreign policy adviser was a member of the commission. The assistance that had been provided by the Venice Commission for the Constitutional Court had been welcome. He assured the Assembly that Croatia would accept the proposals of the Venice Commission constructively.

Mr BARSONY (Hungary)

First, Mr Mesic, I congratulate your country’s efforts and achievements over the past couple of months. Secondly, do you believe that Croatia is fully fulfilling its obligation towards a vast number of refugees? Do you think that you receive adequate and satisfactory support from the international community?

Mr Mesić, President of Croatia (interpretation)

replied that it had been accepted in principle that all refugees must be allowed to return and should be able to return to a position in a democracy. Croatia was providing housing without discrimination. For the repair of the economy it needed help from the international community. Housing was not enough without schools and work. He encouraged the flow of capital into Croatia which would help the creation of new jobs.

Mr MOTA AMARAL (Portugal)

I was in your country recently, Mr Mesic, and I saw for myself how your leadership is providing democratic progress for the Croatian people. I testified to that in the Monitoring Committee.

What is your opinion on the role of Kfor, Mr Mesic, given the recent evolution in Kosovo? Do you think that the new leadership of Belgrade will accept self-determination or a more advanced form of self-government for pluriethnic Kosovo?

Mr Mesić, President of Croatia (interpretation)

replied that Milosevic first of all destroyed Kosovo and brought down the leadership of Montenegro. The war had been brutal and Milosevic had had a horrible plan to clear Kosovo of Albanians, drive them from their homes and resettle Croatian Serbs. The international community had prevented genocide, but it was now necessary to establish a community which could function. All had drawn lessons from this and wished to function as a democracy.


I do not see Mr Lachat or Ms Vermot-Mangold, so I call Ms Zapfl-Helbling.

Mrs ZAPFL-HELBLING (Switzerland) (translation)

President Mesic, I am also very impressed by the social progress your country has made recently. Now that the elections have given your party a chance to lead Croatia into a new future, I should like to know how, and to what extent, you are involving the defeated party in the new structures and in building democracy. I find recent media reports disturbing. Is it true that experienced staff are being got rid of, because of their party allegiances? Is this not a little reminiscent of the old communist way of doing things?

Mr Mesić, President of Croatia (interpretation)

said that in Croatia after the election, whoever had the parliamentary majority set up the government and the institutions. There had been no discrimination. Previously many positions had been occupied on the basis of party allegiance. It was now done on the basis of competence.


Thank you, Mr President.

We have now reached the end of our dialogue with Mr Mesic. We thank you very much for answering our questions with the clarity and directness that are clearly your hallmark.