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(E) THE VIEW OF CROATIA IN THE WEST
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  04/8/2005 | Opinions | Unrated
(E) THE VIEW OF CROATIA IN THE WEST


THE VIEW OF CROATIA IN THE WEST
 

By John Peter Kraljic

 

Published in Croatian Chronicle 22 March 2005

 

"Are Croatian leaders really
that thick that they can not see the importance in
forcefully engaging their resources to turn these
perceptions around?"


Should we really be surprised by Croatia’s miserable
failure in getting the members of the European Union
to see Croatia’s side of things with respect to
General Gotovina and the International Criminal
Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia?
Unfortunately, we should not be, and the reason, in my
opinion, is a simple one. Despite years (actually,
more than a decade and a half) of advocacy by Croatian
Americans and Croatians in other countries, the
various governments which have ruled Croatia since
independence have chosen to focus practically all of
their diplomatic efforts in the corridors of various
foreign ministries. Such a focus may have worked in
the 19th century, but in today’s age when mass
circulation newspapers and magazines, hundreds of
television channels, countless think-tanks and the
internet have been the earmarks of the “Information
Age,” diplomacy requires much more effort than
engaging in discussions with ambassadors and envoys.
As we have seen most recently with respect to the
United States and its on-going efforts to re-shape the
Middle East, public diplomacy has become a major
feature of foreign policy efforts. No longer does the
US solely revolve its work in other countries around
the diplomatic corps. It has invested major resources
in this work. It cannot be expected that such efforts
will yield immediate results. It takes a lot of time
and energy to convince people that your point of view
is the right one.
Croatia’s work in this regard has been close to nil.
Unfortunately, the problem stems from what appears to
be the continued aversion by the Croatian governmental
elite to engage in these kinds of activities.
Croatia’s officials rarely are pro-active in this
regard. We have seen this clearly in the past few
weeks when, despite the plethora of negative publicity
which has appeared in the Western press concerning
Croatia’s supposed failure to cooperate with the ICTY,
we did not see any reactions published in the
English-language media coming from Croatian officials.
Is it really that difficult, or that “beneath them,”
to write a letter to the editor or an opinion piece?
Another disheartening problem appears to be complete
ignorance. At a meeting I attended in November 2001
with President Mesic and then Foreign Minister Picula,
I forcefully made the point that public relations was
an important component to Croatia’s success in gaining
entry into Euro-Atlantic institutions. I specifically
pointed out that many of America’s leading newspapers,
magazines and officials believe that the Croatian flag
is an Ustashe flag, a belief stemming from Greater
Serbian propaganda in the 1990s.
Mesic’s then foreign policy advisor, Tomislav JakÅ”ic,
completely denigrated my point, noting that Mesic had
met with President Bush that morning and would
certainly not have allowed the Croatian flag to be
displayed if he believed it to be an Ustashe one.
When I pointed out that nevertheless such newspapers
as The New York Times have routinely made such an
assertion, JakŔic stated that The New York Times was
“just one newspaper.”

Obviously, such a response from anyone who knew
anything about America could only be termed idiotic.
That it came from a person who had the ear of the
Croatian President made it distressing.
As far as I am aware, the only public relations that
Croatia has engaged in over the past few years in
relation to joining the EU or NATO has been to produce
one CD-rom.
Croatia is paying dearly for this lack of foresight.
In a recent issue, for example, The Economist, a
leading British magazine, wrote that General Gotovina
had been indicted for his role in Croatia’s “war
against the Serbs” in 1995. What was widely
recognized as a legitimate military action against
terrorists armed and supported by MiloŔevic has now
been turned on its head as an ethnic war waged by
Croatia.
Other publications have implicitly praised Serbia for
the recent surrender of relatively minor war crimes
suspects while noting Croatia’s failure concerning
General Gotovina. Such articles took no account of
what Croatia has done for the ICTY in the past few
years. General Gotovina himself has been made a
whipping boy of the press, on par with Mladic and
Karadžic, even though the latter two have been charged
with genocide while General Gotovina’s charge solely
relates to his command responsibility during Operation
Oluja (Storm) when 150 Serb civilians were allegedly
killed.
If Croatia has a public relations campaign, it can be
summarized in two words: tourism and sports.
Croatia’s successes with its tourist industry and the
continuing success of its athletes have certainly
generated nice publicity.
But such news stories cannot compensate for the
Croatian government’s failure to promote its own views
about issues critical to Croatia. As we can see from
the few examples cited above, Croatia is allowing
those who do not necessarily have Croatia’s best
interests at heart in writing and presenting stories
about Croatia to the Western elite. The Western elite
reads these publications and often makes its decisions
based on such readings. Are Croatian leaders really
that thick that they can not see the importance in
forcefully engaging their resources to turn these
perceptions around?
 

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