An Interview with President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović of Croatia

An Interview with President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović of Croatia

Fletcher Forum: In a speech given at the U.N., you stated that climate change is a powerful weapon of mass destruction, and we were hoping that you could elaborate on how you see climate and climate control as security issues.

KGK: Absolutely. Climate and climate control are intertwined with security in every possible way. We’ve seen entire countries starting to disappear, small island countries. But even for Croatia as a coastal state, we’ve seen the level of the sea rising, and in Italy, across the Croatian coast, Venice is sinking, one of the reasons being also the rising levels of the sea because of the melting polar ice caps. Climate change is definitely one of the elements that will continue to contribute to the migratory waves that we’ve seen so far that consist of asylum seekers, people fleeing from war, destruction, terrorism, oppression, et cetera, economic migrants, but also people who will be running in search of a home to live once their countries disappear. So I believe that this is one of the security threats of the future that we have to start working on very firmly today. Croatia has signed and ratified the Paris Agreement, we will continue to stick not only to the provisions of the Paris Agreement, but will continue to do whatever is in our power to provide for climate control and for control of environmental pollution and the protection of the environment in Croatia. Our forests, for instance, are disappearing, especially the evergreen forests because of the acid rain that we get from the west, from other parts of Europe that are more developed and where there is more industrial pollution. So climate control is something that cannot be stopped by walls or wires or borders, it’s something that is our joint obligation for the future of mankind.

FF: Can you speak a little bit about “real” versus “imaginary?” Our theme for this semester for the print edition is the global battle for truth, so looking at all sides of different debates. A lot of problems that are racking the EU right now and similar institutions come down to these competing claims for truth. For example, the truth that Europe’s long history of violence or the EU’s continuing imperfection versus the truth that European integration has brought unprecedented stability, prosperity, democracy, et cetera. So how do you confront these competing claims, such as the ones stated, or others that come to mind.

KGK: It’s not always easy, but for me, European integration has absolutely been a very, very positive process that has truly brought Europe together. But we still see these differences in imaginary geography between the East and the West. And we need to erase that, in physical and all other terms. So, you still see that there is lack of an infrastructure, of energy, of transportation, and other infrastructure—and thus my Three Seas Initiative that has been embraced by twelve EU member countries. So we need to pull the continent closer together. It has been imperfect, it has had its setbacks, but I think that the accession process, or rather what I call the consolidation of Europe—because Europe will not be enlarging anywhere, it will be incorporating the areas that truly belong to the continent—is a natural process that will guarantee freedom, stability, and prosperity on the continent.

Of course, there will always be skeptics in our own country and in many other countries, there will always be push and pull factors, and unfortunately we’ve seen more pull than push factors lately. Brexit has been an event that has shocked us all, and we do respect the will of the people of the UK that they expressed in the referendum. We’ll be sorry to see the UK leave, but I hope that the UK will remain engaged, especially in the Euro-Atlantic structures, and this is also where we see the role of the United States, closely connected to the European continent to keep the peace, to keep the stability, and to keep the prosperity. Because the threats to security today are becoming so volatile, so unpredictable, and develop so fast that none of us can protect ourselves individually and, as I’ve said already, no walls, no razor wires, will protect us. It’s only collaboration and sharing of values, which often we forget about. And one of the basic ones, solidarity, is what will protect us from the dangers of the future.

FF: Just expanding a little bit more on the theme for the current edition, we at The Forum have been very concerned this year with prevailing dueling narratives. Recently the suicide of General Praljak shocked the world. He’s been identified as both a war hero and a war criminal, and we were wondering to what extent this has reopened old wounds in the region, especially as they relate to miscarriages of justice in both the verdict and the war.

KGK: It has, it has, and when I go to New York on Wednesday, I’ll be speaking in front of the UN Security Council, and I have to tell you very honestly, I’ve been writing that speech in my mind over and over again, over and over. I think I’ll be up late at night, perhaps I won’t even go to sleep, come Tuesday night, until Wednesday’s session, because I, first of all, have to be responsible for the future of my country. The past has burdened us for such a long time, and I do have personally mixed feelings about the ICTY—we did support its founding, and we did support the fact that they should have tried individuals for war crimes perpetrated on the territory of the former Yugoslavia in different wars, to bring about the conditions for reconciliation, but it dragged on for a long time, and I think that we really need to be objective in looking at the results that we’ve seen. It’s basically been one of the first, apart from the court on Rwanda, one of the first international criminal courts—if we forget about the Nuremberg Trials a long time ago—and we have to be realistic and look at the lessons learned, and see where the court has done right and where the court has done wrong.

And, of course, for me, being a Croatian and the president of Croatia, it’s not easy to speak about that, because we feel injustices that have been done in the work of the court. But on the other hand, I feel the responsibility for the future not just for Croatia but for the whole neighborhood, and my primary intent, my primary goal, is to complete that reconciliation between all the countries in the region and all the peoples of the region, to put those open issues behind us, to resolve them with a view of the future, and to be able to look at our young people and say, we want to keep them in the region, and for that we need to keep an open mind. Croatia has been dealing with our past—it’s not easy to acknowledge that members of your own ethnic community have committed crimes, but we’ve done that, and we expect others to do that as well.

And I don’t want for any of the indictments of the ICTY to be some sort of grounds for future bickering and fighting and shifting guilt. What I want is to really look into the future. Bosnia and Herzegovina is so important to us, it’s so sensitive, we have the three nations living there, and for you who live in democracies that are based on individual participation, it’s difficult to accept and to understand the concept of the three nations, but in Bosnia and Herzegovina, for the functioning of that country, it’s so important. So, I want for this case not to put further obstacles in terms of friendship for the Croat and the Bosniak people, or the Serb people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I just would like to draw that line and look into the future of friendly mutual relations and of keeping the people in the country, of keeping Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, because without Croats there will be no Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country might fall apart, and I’m really concerned about some of the developments that could lead to opening up some of the old wounds and some of the old problems from the past. I’d really rather close them and move on, than keep talking about the past all the time.

Image "Background flag" Courtesy Simon & Vicki/CC BY-NC 2.0

About the Interviewee


Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović  was elected Croatia’s first female, post-independence head of state in January 2015. Under her leadership, Croatian foreign policy has been concerned with such issues as the European migrant crisis, reaffirming good relations with Iran, expressing support for the territorail integrity of Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, climate change and global warming, and the Three Seas Initiative  (the twelve EU nations that border the Adriatic, the Baltic, or the Black Sea). Prior to her election to the Presidency, Grabar-Kitarović served for three years as NATO Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy where she was the first female Assistant Secretary General in NATO’s history and the highest ranking woman in NATO. From 1993—2008, Grabar-Kitarović served in the Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs where her positions included Minister for European Integration (2003-05), the first female Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration (2005-08) where her mandate was to lead Croatia on the road to Euro-Atlantic integration (NATO membership and EU accession), and Ambassador to the United States (2008-11).

President Grabar-Kitarović earned her first degree in English and Spanish languages and literature at University of Zagreb, pursued further study at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, and earned a Masters in International Relations at the University of Zagreb. She has been a Fulbright Scholar in international relations and security policy at The George Washington University and a Lukšić scholar for management training in high-level government structures at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. In 2017, Forbes magazine listed her as the world’s 39th most powerful woman.  

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