Mr. President of the Republic of Croatia,
Mr. President of the Croatian Government and Government members,
Distinguished members of the Diplomatic Corps led by the Apostolic Nuncio,
High dignitaries of the Church,
Dear parliamentarian colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Just like every person has some significant dates in life that he remembers with particular attention, so does every state have some significant dates which it celebrates on special occasions. Because, memories are part of life. Although life is primarily directed toward the future and days to come, toward the path that needs to be cleared because we should move forward and further, the path covered so far remains, living a life of its own, woven into the historic memory of the nation and carrying its own messages and meanings.
Our path to 8th October 1991 – the Day of Croatia’s Independence – has been very long and thorny most of the time. Larger nations have also had difficult paths to their state autonomy and independence. The thorniness of those paths in the lives of smaller nations was, as a rule, inevitable, because they were – together with the homeland territory – always subject to the expansionist greed of the stronger and bigger.
The Croatian nation, both according to the population size and the size of its territory, but also owing to its geopolitical and geostrategic position between the European East and West, was often forced to choose between Scylla and Charybdis in order to survive. It is indeed no wonder that our history in its 13 centuries long span is full of memories. The awareness about those experiences has strengthened this nation, telling it to persevere in the most difficult moments and temptations, and never to abandon its aspiration to be and stay on its own. After settling down between the rivers of Mura, Drava and Danube in the North, and the Adriatic Sea in the South in the final phase of the great movement of the peoples, the Croatian people found its permanent home here and, naturally, tried to be a master in its own home. Those efforts were by no means easy to make. However, it has persevered, survived and created its own state organisation, initially ruled by the Croatian princes, and later by the Croatian kings, throughout more than four hundred years.
From 1102 until 1918, a full 816 years, in unions with Hungary and Austria, Croatia enjoyed its statehood to a larger or smaller extent: this is, inter alia, especially proved by the existence of the Croatian Parliament as a legislative and administrative body, and the Croatian Vice-Roy. As a member of those personal unions, Croatia did not have its autonomy or state independence, but it maintained certain elements of statehood and safeguarded them persistently by offering resistance to all pressures aimed at suppressing and exterminating everything that denoted Croatia’s statehood. This, as well as its orientation toward the European West, its culture and civilisation, to the enrichment of which many representatives of the Croatian nation made a significant contribution, are the ancient foundations on which the current Croatian state has been built.
By a combination of circumstances, Croatia found itself in a wider state union both after World War I (the first, royal Yugoslavia) and after World War II (the second, socialist Yugoslavia). Croatia’s experience from both states was unfavourable. In the first Yugoslavia it lost its statehood and was nationally, economically and politically oppressed. In the second Yugoslavia its statehood was restrained and undermined by the communist one-party Yugoslav system.
A desired independent and autonomous Croatian state lived in the dreams of many of its citizens even in the socialist Yugoslavia. They could not accept the fading away of the Croatian state awareness and the curbing of Croatian national feelings. The processes of dissolution of the socialist systems throughout Europe were happening in the socialist Yugoslavia as well. The crisis in the Yugoslav territory had two directions, economic and political. The political crisis in Yugoslavia was, above all, generated by the ruling system itself. It was generated by the very essence of that system. Supporters or fans of the “Croatian spring movement” were under permanent attack. The ruling system created political dissatisfaction due to prosecutions of many individuals on the basis of the so-called verbal offence intended for punishing critical opinions, and due to its discriminatory views on employment and promotion at work in line with the principle of moral and political suitability.
The most destructive cause of the political crisis within Yugoslavia was Greater-Serbia chauvinistic hegemonism. In such a situation, political upheavals began to mould in Croatia. On the one hand, the need was emphasised for more homogeneity among the Croatian people; on the other hand, there was the need for comprehensive political reforms in the sense of shifting to a market economy, introducing a political multi-party system and confederalising the federal state. Political parties which were being formed found their programmatic foundations in those convictions. Multi-party elections, held in Croatia in the second half of April and the first half of May 1990, were won by non-communist political parties both at municipal level (municipal assemblies) and at republic level (the Croatian Parliament). Those were the first Croatian multi-party elections for the Parliament after 1913, and the first multi-party elections for municipal assemblies after 1940.
After coming to power in the second half of May 1990, the new, democratically elected Government, respecting the legitimate path, was preoccupied with dismantling the socialist system and making the Croatian state independent and sovereign. At the June session of the Croatian Parliament in 1990 the first and essential amendments to the 1974 Constitution of the Republic were adopted, marking its deideologisation by removing ideological denotations from its terminology. A new Constitution was prepared: the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia, also known as the «Christmas Constitution», which was adopted by the Parliament on 22nd December 1991.
The preamble to the Constitution points out the millenary identity of the Croatian nation and the continuity of its statehood. As the indisputable exhibits of Croatian statehood the Constitution mentions the evidence from recent times, in particular the right of the Croatian nation to full statehood, which was reflected in establishing the foundations of state sovereignty during the course of the Second World War, by the decisions of the Antifascist Council of National Liberation of Croatia (1943), as opposed to the proclamation of the Independent State of Croatia (1941), and subsequently in the Constitution of the People's Republic of Croatia (1947) and all later constitutions of the Socialist Republic of Croatia (1963-1990), at the historic turning point of rejecting the communist system. The 1991 Constitution of the Republic of Croatia emphasises that “the Republic of Croatia is a unitary and indivisible democratic and social state”, its sovereignty is “inalienable, indivisible and untransferable”, “freedom, equal rights, national equality and equality of genders, love of peace, social justice, respect for human rights, inviolability of ownership, conservation of nature and the environment, the rule of law, and a democratic multiparty system are the highest values of the constitutional order of the Republic of Croatia”, “government shall be organized on the principle of separation of powers into the legislative, executive and judicial branches”, “the borders of the Republic of Croatia may only be altered by a decision of the Croatian Parliament”.
By adopting this Constitution, the Croatian Parliament as the main representative of Croatia’s statehood clearly defined what the Croatian state is and in which direction it should develop. As Yugoslavia still existed at the time, Article 140 of the 1990 Croatian Constitution stipulated the following: “The Republic of Croatia shall remain within Yugoslavia until a new agreement among the Yugoslav republics is reached, or until the Parliament of the Republic of Croatia determines otherwise. Should the territorial integrity of Croatia be threatened by a legal act or procedure of a body of the federation or a body of another republic or province, it be brought into an unequal position within the federation, or its interests be jeopardised, the republic bodies shall, on the basis of the right to self-determination and the sovereignty of the Republic of Croatia stipulated by this Constitution, adopt necessary decisions so as to protect the sovereignty and interests of the Republic of Croatia.”
The circumstances in which the historic decisions were adopted by Parliament were uncommonly difficult, thus necessitating wise and cautious actions. Even before the Constitution was adopted, starting from August 1990 the Greater-Serbia circles from Belgrade incited the Serbian population in Croatia to a rebellion. Since January 1991 the Yugoslav National Army, which provided the renegade Croatian Serbs with arms, was a constant menace. The rebellion affected not only parts of Northern Dalmatia and Eastern Lika, Kordun and Banija, but also spread to parts of Slavonia and Western Syrmium. In the areas of the self-proclaimed «Independent Province of Krajina», the authorities of which – as instructed by Belgrade – proclaimed its separation from Croatia and accession to Serbia, Croatian and other non-Serbian population was brutally prosecuted, its property destroyed, and the first casualties were recorded soon.
Throughout the entire duration of this overall, carefully planned and systematically conducted and orchestrated crisis, the Parliament of the Republic of Croatia regularly responded with its resolutions confirming the statehood character of Croatia and the general principle of border recognition as the basic guidelines of the peacekeeping state policy of the then Croatian leadership. Events were mounting, and the inability to reach an agreement among the leading politicians created the need to ask the people about the future position of its own republic in a referendum, thus seeking a solution to the existing crisis in Yugoslavia. The significance of the referendum announced for 19th May 1991 was enormous. For the first time in its more than 13 centuries long history in this region, the Croatian nation was in a position to decide directly about the statehood future of its homeland. The turnout was 83.56%, with 93.24% of voters endorsing a sovereign and independent state.
Accordingly, on 25th June 1991 the Croatian Parliament adopted the Constitutional Decision on the Sovereignty and Independence of the Republic of Croatia. This decision stipulated, inter alia, that “the Republic of Croatia declares itself a sovereign and independent state. With this act the Republic of Croatia initiates its dissociation from the other republics and Yugoslavia, and the procedure of its international recognition. International agreements concluded by Yugoslavia shall be applied in Croatia, unless contrary to the Constitution and legal order of the Republic of Croatia. Only laws adopted by the Parliament of the Republic of Croatia shall be valid in the territory of the Republic of Croatia, as well as federal regulations which have not been declared invalid by the end of the process of dissociation. The Republic of Croatia shall assume all rights and obligations which had been transferred to the Yugoslav bodies by the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia and the Constitution of Yugoslavia. The state borders of the Republic of Croatia shall be the internationally recognised state borders of Yugoslavia which refer to the Republic of Croatia, and the borders between the Republic of Croatia and the republics within Yugoslavia so far. By accepting the principles of the Paris Charter, the Republic of Croatia shall guarantee the national and all other fundamental human and citizens' rights and freedoms to its citizens, the democratic system, the rule of law and all other highest values of the Constitutional and international legal system.”.
The armed aggression of Serbia against Croatia and continued armed rebellion following Croatia’s declaration of independence prompted the international community to finally become actively involved in the resolution of the crisis in the former Yugoslavia. However, a three-month postponement of the Croatian Constitutional decision did not stop the armed aggression. The war became even more intense, many unspeakable atrocities were committed against innocent civilians, entire villages and towns were brutally reduced to rubble, material goods including cultural and artistic monuments of the highest global significance were destroyed. Negotiations on stopping the war and solving the crisis, led at the Peace Conference on Yugoslavia, did not yield expected results. On 7th October 1991 the aggressor’s planes of the so-called Yugoslav National Army launched a rocket attack on the Vice-Roy’s Residence, the buildings of the Croatian Government and the Croatian Parliament, in an intention to decapitate the political leadership of the Republic of Croatia by making an assassination attempt on the President of the Republic. The three-month period of postponement of the Constitutional decision on the sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Croatia expired on the very same day. After the expiry, the decision was applicable and came into effect.
On the following day, 8th October 1991, the Croatian Parliament adopted the Decision to dissolve state relations with the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Its content was as follows: as of 8th October 1991 the Republic of Croatia dissolves all state and legal ties, on the basis of which it formed Yugoslavia together with other republics and provinces; it denies the legitimacy and legality of all bodies of the Yugoslav federation; it does not recognise the validity of any legal act of any body representing the former federation; it recognises the independence and sovereignty of other Yugoslav republics on the basis of the principle of reciprocity; it is willing to establish, maintain and develop friendly, political, economic, cultural and other relations with those republics with which it is not in an armed conflict; it shall proceed with the process of regulating mutual rights and obligations in relation to the other republics of the former Yugoslavia and in relation to the former federation. The Conclusions on the aggression against Croatia emphasised that “the Republic of Serbia and the so-called Yugoslav National Army perpetrated an armed aggression against the Republic of Croatia”; “Croatia was forced to defend itself by all available means”, “the so-called Yugoslav National Army was declared an aggressor’s and ocupator’s army, and it must immediately abandon the territory of the Republic of Croatia which it temporarily seized”. Furthermore, the Croatian Parliament demanded “from the former JNA to enable Croatian conscripts to immediately leave the army and to return to their homes”. The Parliament invited the republics of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro “not to allow the use of their state territory for waging a war against the Republic of Croatia”. Member states of the European Community and the UN were invited to establish diplomatic relations with Croatia. The Parliament pointed out that the Republic of Croatia, in line with the regulations of international law, commits itself to respecting the rights and obligations of the former Yugoslavia in the part referring to the Republic of Croatia”.
This date marked the historic travel of the Republic of Croatia to a completely sovereign and independent state, created in the most difficult war circumstances and based on the unbending and clearly expressed will of the people who ardently embraced the defence of their homeland as the most elevated and honourable task of all patriotic citizens of Croatia. The righteousness and legitimacy of the Homeland War, conducted successfully by Croats at home and abroad, as well as the maturity and consistency of Croatia’s internal and foreign policy – the President of the Republic, the Croatian Parliament and the Government – led to the international recognition of the Republic of Croatia in 1992 and its becoming a member of the United Nations.
On the occasion of the important Croatian holiday, the Day of Independence, we also remember that Croatia had been merged into wider, multinational state unions throughout its history, which it wanted to leave due to its experience of subordination. Those multinational unions were organised in an unnatural manner, and had to disintegrate as such. Permanent, natural integrations are based on equality, reciprocity, economic and cultural interests. Such a process of natural integration is going on right now in Europe in the form of EU enlargement. Its unification is based on membership of voluntarily associated, equal, free, democratic and peace-loving states, each of them finding its developmental interest within that unity. The path leads the Republic of Croatia into such an association, just as it leads us to NATO, the purpose of which is not to attack someone, but to be a shield of Europe, which is uniting in order to become more prosperous from the developmental point of view.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The year 2004, I dare say, has been marked by our historic and far-reaching foreign policy success. In June this year Croatia officially became a candidate country for full membership of the European Union, thus realising a turning point on its path toward the final goal: full EU membership.
In this way Croatia drew even closer to the fulfilment of its years-long strategic commitment to become a member of the community of countries sharing the same democratic, cultural and civilisational values. Acquiring the candidate status for full membership of the European Union and defining the beginning of 2005 as the date for initiating accession negotiations prove that all our efforts and concrete results in implementing comprehensive domestic reforms and transforming our society into a modern European society have been recognised. Nonetheless, one should be realistic in everything. Our becoming a full-fledged EU member is a process which is by no means easy and requires a lot of hard work, including sacrifices which we must be ready to make, and certain compromises other candidate countries were coping with.
Today, perhaps more than ever, perseverance is necessary on that path. We have a lot of work to do, which will necessitate a high level of responsibility and unity, so that we conclude our negotiations with the EU as successfully as possible and fulfil all the major components of our national interests in them. Our final success shall also depend on the readiness of all Croatian citizens to persevere on that path, because we have not initiated reforms only for the sake of joining the European Union, but primarily for the sake of ourselves – in order to live in an even better Croatia. Croatia’s orientation to the Euroatlantic integrations, more concretely to membership of the Northatlantic Alliance, is also among the strategic priorities of Croatia. In July this year, the Istanbul summit gave a positive evaluation of Croatia’s efforts and results in completing the reform of its armed forces and adjusting them to NATO standards. Owing to successful MAP implementation, Croatia is marching fast towards full membership of NATO. It should also be pointed out here that many tasks are ahead of us, the aim of which is to accelerate the adjustment of Croatia’s armed forces to NATO standards and to organise modern, operational and professional armed forces. Against this background, this year the Croatian Parliament is organising a meeting of the Speakers of Parliament of the countries participating in the U.S.-Adriatic Charter. As the co-ordinator within the U.S.-Adriatic Charter, Croatia shall additionally strengthen the regional co-operation dimension as an important factor in coming closer to NATO membership.
Croatia is a country which from the geographic and cultural point of view belongs to the three European regions: Central Europe, the Mediterranean and Southeastern Europe. For this reason Croatia has continued to participate in all regional programmes and initiatives aimed at expanding and strengthening of overall regional co-operation. Today Croatia has been recognised by all relevant representatives of the international community as a factor whose overall stability has a positive and direct influence on the stability of its neighbourhood.
The Republic of Croatia is completely ready to assume that role, to develop relations and to actively contribute to the development of stability and security in this part of Europe in line with the principles of equality and mutual respect. Croatia is today ready to represent and promote European values in this part of Europe. We are also ready to provide assistance to our neighbours and other countries in the region in their implementing of reforms and coming closer to political and security association. Croatia’s example of successful adjustment to the European values shows very clearly that the pro-European orientation does pay off.
In today’s highly globalised world it is difficult, but by no means impossible, to preserve what is most valuable to us: our national identity. Therefore, when conducting our overall state policy, we must be guided primarily by the national interest, and by the protection and preservation of our individuality. Croatia should never neglect its obligations to parts of the Croatian people in other countries in accordance with international obligations, and to promote links with the Croatian diaspora to our mutual benefit.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In today’s international relations the role of parliamentary diplomacy is increasing every day. Accordingly, the Croatian Parliament has strengthened its activities in the field of international parliamentary co-operation at numerous bilateral and multilateral meetings. The big novelty is that the committees of the Croatian Parliament have started to participate actively in meetings of their counterparts in the parliaments of the EU member states. After the last remaining member of the EU has ratified the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, a Joint Parliamentary Committee of the European Parliament and the Croatian Parliament is to be constituted soon.
This will create preconditions for the Croatian Parliament to work even more actively in promoting Croatia’s interests and presenting Croatia as a democratic country with enough will and strength to be an active member of the wider political scene. The Croatian Parliament pays particular attention to parliamentary diplomacy which, as an increasingly more relevant component of international diplomacy, is becoming an unavoidable factor in forming international relations, while serving as a permanent promoter of the national strategic interests in all areas at the same time. A segment of the foreign policy activity of the Croatian Parliament is oriented towards obtaining support by European states for our coming closer to the European Union, but also towards strengthening co-operation with the countries far more advanced in negotiations, which can transfer to us their important and useful experience related primarily to the preservation of the most significant national interests.
I wish to emphasise once more that we have clear-cut goals, we also have deadlines, but we do not have much time. Our path towards the European Union is the path of fulfilling Croatia’s geographic, cultural, civilisational and value identity in the joint family of European nations and states. We are only a few years away from Europe. We hold in our hands the key to the dynamics of our progress and the quality of the reform processes. In doing so, we have to pay particular attention to the imperative of informing our public about all the aspects and significance of membership in such an association. I believe that the Croatian Parliament as the highest representative body of citizens should play a considerable role in that task. The Croatian Parliament, the supreme legislative body in the Republic of Croatia, is facing a very concrete and demanding task of continued timely and successful harmonisation of our legislation with the acquis communautaire. This autumn we shall be working hard in this demanding and responsible endeavour, with concrete tasks and clearly defined deadlines, in order to fulfil the planned dynamics of harmonisation with the EU legislation and to be as ready as possible for the start of accession negotiations with the EU at the beginning of 2005.
A considerable task is ahead of us, which will necessitate even more strenuous efforts than before, so that in a relatively short period we can achieve what generations have been dreaming about: Croatia finally becoming an equal partner to all other European states, on equal foundations and based on the shared democratic and civilisational values within the European Union.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me emphasise in particular: the best guarantor of peace and stability in this part of Europe, but also in the whole world, is the awareness of all political decision-makers about their high responsibility. The Republic of Croatia and all important participants in its political life are aware of the necessity of unconditional respect for democratic principles as a precondition for peace in this part of the world. The Republic of Croatia fully and unreservedly shares the ideals, aspirations and values of contemporary European democracy. The Republic of Croatia respects and appreciates the complexity of its own diversity, as well as the complexity of the diversities of the world in which they exist. I therefore wish to point out here that the Republic of Croatia most resolutely rejects and condemns all forms of extremism, radicalism, national and religious intolerance and xenophobia, regardless of their sources and exponents.
The day in honour of which we have gathered here today, and all those who are not among us, who lived and gave their lives for this day, commit us to believing that only a modern, democratic, European Croatia, Croatia of welfare for all its citizens, justifies all the selflessly made efforts and sacrifices so far. Regretfully, the deep wounds caused by the imposed war and its consequences have not healed completely. Therefore, by evoking the significant events from Croatia's recent history, we primarily remember all brave and unselfish Croatian war veterans and all casualties of the war, who have built their lives into Croatian freedom and independence. The contribution is immeasurable: without them, ready to make sacrifices in the crucial moments for the Homeland, we would not be standing here today in a festive and elevated freedom-loving atmosphere, nor would the Republic of Croatia, internationally asserted and with a rising reputation, be on the brink of realisation of its major foreign policy goals laid down back in the 1990-ies, after the centuries-old dream of a sovereign and independent state came true.
By celebrating the Day of Independence, we celebrate one of the brightest days in our history, an event wanted by many generations, an event which is nowadays a reality. A reality which was made possible by persistent people on the Croatian soil, under the Croatian sky, as part of a larger European soil and more spacious European sky.
I wish all the citizens of the Republic of Croatia a happy Day of Independence.