Mr. Steve Rukavina, b. in 1954, has Croatian roots, and he visited the land of his parents 19 times. He is very active in the NFCACF (National Federation of Croatian Americans, Cultural Foundation), as well as in fostering closer ties between Croatia and the USA. NFCA has organized more than 250 meetings with the USA Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with American diplomats. On Nov. 2020, Steve Rukavina gave an interview to Croatian journal Večernji List. He kindly sent us his original English text, see below. We also provide larger excerpts from the interview in Croatian translation.
Mr. Steve Rukavina is Croatian American activist originally from Minnesota. He lived 30 years in the Washington, D.C. area. He is co-founder and officer now for 27 years (since 1993) with the National Federation of Croatian Americans, and has served eleven terms as President. His activities include working with Special Olympics in Croatia. Mr. Rukavina served as congressional political aid and presidential campaign press secretary in the past before a business career in the medical device arena. He is now residing in Philadelphia.
Joe Biden is President-Elect. You have met him, what is your impression of him?
President-elect Joe Biden is very personable, empathetic and trustworthy man. He is the symbol of civility, moderation and truly an authentic person which is still rare and to be appreciated with any politician.
Joe Biden loves to talk about his connections to Croatia. I first met him when the Croatian Fraternal Union was hosting Cardinal Vinko Puljic in 1994 at a Capitol Hill event. Senator Joe Biden was the featured speaker and I was so impressed with his passion that the U.S. must do more to stop the Serbian aggression in BiH. He's a man of faith and aĂĂĂÂ very devout Catholic and he laughed that night when I told him the Croatians are the Irish of Central Europe and share the same commitment to the Catholic religion.
In 2010, at a holiday party at Vice President Joe Biden's residence, he told me the story of his first visit to Croatia back in 1979. The young U.S. Senator was part of the American delegation led by the famous Averell Harriman to attend the funeral of Tito's right hand man, Edvard Kardelj. Vice President Biden told me they could not meet in Zagreb with Tito with so many world dignitaries there also requesting a meeting with him. Thus, a few days after the funeral they flew down to Dubrovnik to meet privately with Tito as a strategic American objective. He shared with me that this visit for that funeral really created an interest in Croatia and the region. I think he knew that I would love that story. I must say, his ability to find a common connection with just about anyone is a true gift.
How do you think Croatia will benefit from the new administration?
President-elect Joe Biden has an unmatched record of experience, engagement and already has well-developed relationships throughout Southeast Europe. He has been a consistent and one of the biggest supporters of Croatia's Euro-Atlantic aspirations in the 21st Century. The Biden Administration will clearly continue to build on the twenty-seven year U.S. - Croatia alliance. President-elect Joe Biden is much more pro-NATO than Donald Trump and the Republic of Croatia will never ever have to worry about having to defend itself against any aggression alone again with his commitment to NATO's Article 5 provision to protect all members. Joe Biden is a proven friend of Croatia.
Senator Joe Biden visited the region in 1993, as the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations-Europe subcommittee issued a scathing report against the Milosevic and Serbian aggression. He spoke out against those on Capitol Hill who argued it was a civil war and who pushed the "don't get involved in this conflict" opinion. Joe's report included a detailed description of the destruction of Vukovar and pushed for more decisive action from U.S. leadership.
Again, in 2015 when then Vice President Joe Biden visited Zagreb he showed his personal interest and commitment to the stability of the region. The Biden Administration will be constructively involved in Southeast Europe.ĂĂĂÂ The President-elect even discussed the situation in the that area this week within his discussion with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Lastly, let me mention again Biden's role as one of the ten most influential U.S. Senators who were the biggest supporters within the bipartisan support group, pushing for Croatia's ascension into NATO, during the 2000-2008 time frame. In closing, the Biden Administration's reinvigorated Department of State, will return as a valuable partner again with our European allies to make sure there is an open door for all countries who aspire to join the European Union and the NATO Alliance and together to stand up to diminish the influence of outside malign actors in the region.
Do you think Joe Biden can be a more of a unifier than Trump or even Barack Obama?
It was day five of the election night on Saturday, November 7th, President Elect Joe Biden stated, "Let this grim era of demonization in America begin to end." He added how important it was for Americans to heal and he was committed to unifying this country. I know the Biden Administration will bring civil discourse back to our political system and will work overtime to stress that truth matters. Joe Biden will be a restoration President to help America heal and return our society to more civility and more normalcy as part of our American way of life.
How do you think Donald Trump changed America in the last 4 years?
It's bad for the country when you make out your political opponents to be the enemy and to "demonize" them too. The President has undermined so many institutions with his autocratic behavior. I do believe his war against the media and so-called fake news and also recently about fraudulent elections just creates so much more distrust. He practices a type of "rage politics" that divides Americans. Joe Biden is committed to unify all Americans. It is for this reason that Joe Biden decided to run for President and he really felt it was a battle over the soul of America. Election experts actually were impressed how smooth this election went and all the voting during a pandemic. Let me finish here by saying that winning the Presidency by over five million votes and with 306 electoral votes is not a close election and the fact it took an extra four days to count most all of the mail-in ballots made it appear to be close.
Trump supporters really seem to be enthusiastic about the president. Do you think that his legacy will still be here also in this populist regard?
Yes, Trump supporters are very enthusiastic and showed up in big numbers to vote this election. It will be very interesting to see which Republicans step forward and try to claim that populist approach and Senator Lindsay Graham (SC) and Senator Ted Cruz (TX) have been very outspoken the last week defending the President's outlandish statements about election fraud. It appears likely that there will be a few Republican politicians who really want to inherit the Trump populism. The effort to de-legitimatize the 2020 elections is really undermining our democracy at this transitional time.
You supported Joe Biden. These two politicians could not be more different. Do you think that the American people will get a break when he is elected?
Yes, especially with the fight against COVID-19 and Joe Biden will side with the physicians, research experts and science and not pretend the virus will go away by itself in a few months. The country wants a break from endless tweeting and negative attacks against so many individuals and institutions. Again, a President with character and a deep belief in all the American institutions will be well received by a vast majority of the American people.
How do you think Joe Biden would change America?
Joe Biden will choose science and facts over misinformation. I do believe my four "C" words will help explain his strength and potential as President. First, COVID-19 will be a priority and his competence and civility will bring a new necessary element to all initiatives embraced by the White House. Fourth, the character of Joe Biden will help him be a restoration President to help America return to more civility and to more normalcy in our society overall.
You are one of the leaders of Croatian Americans. What are the current most important issues facing them?
Issues facing the Croatian American community that we are involved with include the Avoidance of the Double Taxation Treaty efforts. We are very pleased the US-Croatia VISA waiver program should be official and finalized over the next few months. The NFCACF will host a major November 21st "Dayton Peace Accord 25th Anniversary" virtual event. We are collaborating with European Parliament Member Zeljana Zovko with this webinar panel discussion with several former American diplomats including Peter Galbraith and Croatian American lawyer Luka Misetic will speak too.
How do you think that Croatian Americans view Croatia today?
Croatian Americans who are active with the National Federation of Croatians, the Croatian Fraternal Union and the Association of Croatian American Professionals are proud patriots who promote Croatia in many ways. We are all so proud in Croatia's beauty and all the reasons tourism is such a draw for Americans. We are so proud of all the sporting accomplishments and even more Croatians came out for the World Cup to root for the Homeland's soccer team and then got involved on our community too. The community is very pleased that the pathway to citizenship is much more straightforward and achievable these days. I think that the biggest frustration over the past 25 years is that for a variety of reasons it has not been easy or wise for interested Croatian Americans to invest or start a company in Croatia.
Could you tell us a bit more what does National Federation of Croatian Americans Cultural Foundation do?
(= National Federation of Croatian Americans, Cultural Foundation) is the Croatian American community's advocate in the nation's capital, working with so many diplomatic, political, public affairs, charitable, cultural and educational projects. We can on a moment's notice embrace a special need for our Croatian American community and activate our national network or partner with allies in Washington, DC. to move toward any objective. We host so many Croatian dignataries in Washington, DC when they visit the nation's capital.
We have had over 250 meetings with U.S. State Department and American diplomats especially all the U.S. Ambassadors to Croatia over the past 27 years. We work closely with the Croatian Embassy and all the Croatian Ambassadors in the nation's capital. We promoted Croatia's Ascension in NATO for over ten years. We partner with the Croatian Congressional CaucusÂ of over forty congressional members and in 2019 hosted a Capitol Hill event with the "Operation Storm
" Nikola Knez film.
We are supporting new efforts by Congressman Mike Turner (Dayton OH) to have the US Congress further discuss and vote on House Resolution 1163 that examines on-going issues in BiH from a Dayton Peace Accord perspective. We support his idea for the U.S. and European Union to support and stage a Dayton II meeting in Ohio to discuss modernizing the Dayton Peace Agreement. We have worked on many congressional resolutions on Capitol Hill over the past 27 years to benefit Croatia or the Bosnian Croat community!
We are the number one organizational sponsor of Croatia's Special Olympics group. We are helping to manage some Catholic Church restoration projects in Croatia (on Hvar and Korcula). We have a lot of fun projects like to honor, for example, the rising stars of our Croatian American community through a "40 Under 40" program.Do you have any cooperation with the Croatian government?
Of course, we have since the very beginning and we rolled the red carpet out for the first Croatian Ambassador Dr. Frane Golem in 1990. We seriously collaborate with all the Croatian Ambassadors to the USA. However, it's important to note our national umbrella organization, the NFCACF represents the interests of the Croatian American community and work on projects that have an American element to it.
How often do you visit Croatia? Could you describe to us your links with it?
I have been to Croatia nineteen times and even once for 44 hours flying to Croatia on Air Force II with Secretary of State of State Madeleine Albright and Bernard Luketich. I keep in touch with close to forty relatives from the Golic, Ugarkovic and Rukavina families who are mostly live in the Zagreb area, though I have four second cousins who treat me like royalty whenever I visit Spisic Bukovica. I partner with Croatia's Special Olympics organization to host an annual event in my dad's honor: The Joseph Rukavina Special Olympics Floorball tournament. I had the pleasure to be on the inaugural American Airlines flight from Philadelphia to Dubrovnik in June, 2019. I was so fortunate to visit Croatia seven times with my father, Joseph Rukavina who had such an incredible love for Croatia and instilled that in me too.
In Croatian (excerpts)
Joe Biden dokazani je prijatelj Hrvatske
Dino Brumec, Nov 15, 2020
Kako mislite da će Hrvatska profitirati od buduće administracije?
Izabrani predsjednik Joe Biden ima neusporedivo iskustvo, angažman i već ima dobro razvijene veze diljem jugoistočne Europe. Bio je konzistentni i jedan od najvećih pristalica hrvatskih euroatlantskih ambicija u 21. stoljeću. Bidenova administracija očito će nastaviti graditi na već zabilježenih 27 godina američko-hrvatskog savezništva. Biden je mnogo više pro-NATO orijentiran nego Donald Trump i Republika Hrvatska neće se nikada morati brinuti kako će se sama braniti od bilo kakve agresije s obzirom na njegovu predanost NATO-ovu članku 5 o zaštiti svih članica. Joe Biden dokazani je prijatelj Hrvatske.
Senator Joe Biden posjetio je regiju 1993., kao šef senatskog vanjsko-političkog pododbora za Europu te je objavio razarajuće izvješće protiv Miloševića i srbijanske agresije. Govorio je protiv onih koji su na Capitol Hillu tvrdili da je riječ o građanskom ratu i koji su zagovarali "nemojmo se uvlačiti u taj sukob". Joeovo izvješće uključivalo je i detaljan opis razaranja Vukovara i zagovaralo je za odlučnijom akcijom američkog vodstva. Ponovno, 2015. kada je potpredsjednik Joe Biden posjetio Zagreb, pokazao je osoban interes i predanost za stabilnost regije. Bidenova administracija bit će konstruktivno uključena u jugoistočnu Europu. Izabrani predsjednik čak je govorio o tom području ovog tjedna tijekom razgovora s britanskimm premijerom Borisom Johnsonom.
Na kraju, dopustite mi da još jednom naglasim Bidenovu ulogu kao jednog od desetorice najutjecajnijih senatora koji su bili najveći podržavatelji unutar međustranačke grupe koja je promovirala hrvatski ulazak u NATO od 2000. do 2008. godine. Također, State Department će se u Bidenovoj administraciji vratiti kao koristan partner naših europskih saveznika kako bi osigurao otvorena vrata za sve države koje se žele priključiti EU i NATO-u te zajedno ustati protiv utjecaja vanjskih štetnih aktera u regiji.
Možete li nam reći nešto više što Nacionalna federacija kulturnih zaklada hrvatskih Amerikanaca radi?
(= National Federation of Croatian Americans, Cultural Foundation) je zagovornik hrvatskih Amerikanaca u glavnom gradu SAD-a koji radi na toliko mnogo diplomatskih, političkih, javnoslužbeničkih, kulturnih, obrazovnih i humanitarnih projekata. Možemo u trenu oka prigrliti posebne potrebe zajednice hrvatskih Amerikanca i aktivirati našu nacionalnu mrežu ili se povezati sa saveznicima u Washingtonu kako bismo ostvarili bilo koji cilj. Bili smo domaćini mnogim hrvatskim uglednicima u Washingtonu kada su posjećivali glavni grad SAD-a.
Imali smo preko 250 susreta s američkim ministarstvom vanjskih poslova i američkim diplomatima, posebno s američkim veleposlanicima u Hrvatskoj u zadnjih 27 godina. Blisko smo surađivali s hrvatskim veleposlanstvom i sa svim hrvatskim veleposlanicima u glavnom gradu. Promovirali smo hrvatski ulazak u NATO više od deset godina. Povezali smo se sa skupinom od više od 40 hrvatskih kongresnika i 2019. smo bili domaćin na Capitol Hillu prikazivanja filma Nikole Kneza Operacija Oluja.
Podržavamo nove napore kongresnika Mikea Turnera da američki Kongres razgovara i glasa o rezoluciji Predstavničkog doma 1163 koja se bavi trenutačnim događanjima u BiH iz perspektive Daytonskog mirovnog sporazuma. Podržavamo njegovu ideju da SAD i EU moraju podržavati sastanak Dayton 2 u Ohiju kako bi se razgovaralo o modernizaciji Daytonskog mirovnog sporazuma. Radili smo na mnogim kongresnim rezolucijama na Capitol Hillu u posljednjih 27 godina koje bi koristile Hrvatskoj i zajednici Hrvata u BiH.
Mi smo glavni organizacijski sponzor specijalne Olimpijade Hrvatske. Pomažemo neke projekte obnove Katoličke crkve u Hrvatskoj (na Hvaru i Korčuli). Imamo mnoge zabavne projekte koji slave, primjerice, nadolazeće zvijezde naše zajednice hrvatskih Amerikanaca kroz program "40 ispod 40".
Imate li kakvu suradnju s hrvatskom Vladom?
Naravno da imamo, od samog početka, te smo podastrijeli crveni tepih za prvog hrvatskog veleposlanika Frane Golema 1990. godine. Ozbiljno surađujemo sa svim hrvatskim veleposlanicima u SAD-u. Ipak, važno je naglasiti da naša krovna organizacija, NFCACF, predstavlja interese zajednice hrvatskih Amerikanaca i radi na projektima koji sadrže u sebi američke elemente.
Koliko često vi posjećujete Hrvatsku? Možete li nam opisati svoje veze s njom?
Bio sam u Hrvatskoj 19 puta i jednom sam letio čak 44 sata do Hrvatske na Air Force II s ministricom vanjskih poslova Madeleine Albright i šefom Hrvatske bratske zajednice Bernardom Luketichem. Održavam vezu s gotovo 40 rođaka iz obitelji Golić, Ugarković i Rukavina koji uglavnom žive u Zagrebu, a imam i četvrto daljnjih rođaka koji me kraljevski tretiraju svaki put kad posjetim Špišić Bukovicu. Povezao sam se sa Specijalnom olimpijadom Hrvatske kako bih organizirao godišnji događaj u čast mog oca: Turnir specijalne olimpijade u floorballu Joseph Rukavina. Imao sam čast biti na inauguralnom letu American Airlinesa iz Philadelphije u Dubrovnik u lipnju 2019. godine. Imao sam i sreće posjetiti Hrvatsku sedam puta sa svojim ocem Josephom Rukavinom koji je imao nevjerojatnu ljubav za Hrvatsku koju je usadio i meni.
Source Večernji List, 2020