President Milanović’s Speech at Diplomatic Corps Reception

17. June 2020.

The President of the Republic Zoran Milanović held a reception for Heads of Diplomatic Missions and International Organizations accredited to the Republic of Croatia on the occasion of assuming the office of the President of the Republic of Croatia. The following is the full speech given by the President of the Republic at the reception:

“Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed ambassadors and members of the diplomatic corps, I am exceptionally honoured to host you on this occasion, which was supposed to take place a few months ago. Also, allow me the little ‘luxury’, which should actually be a normal thing, to speak my mother tongue, because we rarely do that on occasions like this. I recall that not once at the meetings of the European Council, and there were many of them when I was the Prime Minister of Croatia, did I speak my mother tongue, I always spoke English. Blessed English – bloody English!

Once again, welcome! I am not new to politics and public life; I have already left a trace behind me, which everyone sees in their own way – either positively, negatively, others are indifferent, without opinion. I tried to ‘practice what I preach’ in my work during my public life and I see myself in this way, which of course does not mean that everyone has to see me as such, because beauty and ugliness are in the eye of the beholder.

I don’t know how much you were following things, but I assume that you did follow politics in Croatia, the campaign and everything that preceded the presidential election, what happened in the elections themselves and after them. Because, what I was saying is my platform and I will act accordingly. There will be no surprises.

I am the President of a small Republic, a small community of citizens, a small nation, some people voted for me, some did not and I will always try to adapt my behaviour to that, but I will not depart from some basic principles that I live by and preach, so to speak. And these principles are in my opinion – although perhaps not directly related to international and external relations, but they certainly are present in the foundations of a community – the rule of law, an open society, and free and independent media.

An incredible three-month period is behind us and it goes hand-in-hand with the proverb: May God let us live in interesting and fascinating times. Well, we have gone through an interesting time. It has passed, more or less. Maybe the virus will come back, maybe not, but the economic damage will be extensive and as bad as it may be, it is not bad that it is happening to everyone. It’s both a positive and negative thing at the same time. If nothing else, we can’t blame or accuse anyone of this – nobody is to blame.

In just a few days, one of the most unnoticed periods of any country’s EU Council Presidency will be, unfortunately, behind us. I say unfortunately because I am confident that the Croatian public administration had prepared very well and would have given its maximum. I know how much people worked on this – people with whom I may not agree on everything politically – but who were ready for this and saw it as the time of their lives. Unfortunately, it did not go as planned.

In the meantime, after many years there was an earthquake in Zagreb and it further traumatized our community. Such things are painful, people get scared and those among you who have ever felt this know what I am talking about.

In the period ahead, I will cooperate with the Croatian Government and the political option that wins a majority in the elections. Just like all of you, I will wait to see the election results. I will give the mandate to the camp that proves that it has the support of the majority of members of the Croatian Parliament and then continue my work as before.

And I am fully aware that I will be under the close watch and scrutiny of all Croatian people – and not just them, because before I was elected President, for years I was the leader of a major political party in Croatia, which was for some time also the largest political party. Therefore, my objectivity, my impartiality will not be taken for granted. I have to prove it.

And exactly for this reason, because I know what it means to be Prime Minister – and especially what it means to be Prime Minister in times that were more difficult than current times, in times of recession and huge deficits – I will stick quite strictly to, let me call them my constitutional restrictions, not powers. This means that I will not interfere in the work of the Croatian Government as that can only cause chaos and not help. Because, I was there and I know what it feels like.

Small countries must be, in my judgment and experience, open, ready to interact with the world, but also harmonious within themselves, because if they are not harmonious they cannot compensate this with 50 or 100 million inhabitants they do not have. And that is why the European Union – which I do not see as a project, because ‘project’ is a technical term – is Croatia’s destiny and the only smart path for Croatia. And in that sense, I am aware of the shortcomings of the European Union and its institutions, the need of the European Commission to flourish and grow in terms of influence, just like any bureaucracy, but these are all challenges and adversities one can normally live with. They are a part of human nature and the nature of all societies and organizations.

Therefore, you might sometimes hear reasoned criticism coming from me of some European policies or the ambitions of some institutions, but you will never hear any fundamental, systemic criticism that would call into question Croatia’s place in the European Union, as there is no alternative to EU membership. There really is no alternative. And because there is no alternative, I firmly believe based on my experience that at some point, it is necessary to say where the limits of integration are.

I had the opportunity and the pleasure to meet many European and British politicians, including Prime Minister David Cameron, who would get an anxiety attack every time the term Ever Closer Union was mentioned. And the response would always be, “we are close enough, you don’t need to come any closer, you are invading my personal space.” We need to be aware that a lot of people in Europe think that way, a bit more in some countries than in others. Underestimating this mind-set has resulted in the majority of Britons, Englanders especially, wanting to leave the European Union. This did not happen by chance. Some clever conclusions should be drawn from Brexit.

The first President of the modern Croatian state Franjo Tuđman is the author of a book “Great Ideas and Small Nations”. I never voted for him, but I have a lot of understanding for many of his moves. When small nations start daydreaming about great ideas they very quickly become even smaller nations because they get into conflict with other, greater ideas. I hope the latter was clear. Thank you again for coming.”