Foreign Minister Miro Kovac said on Tuesday, on the occasion of the centenary of Islam's recognition as an equal religion in Croatia, that indigenous Islam in Croatia was not just a faith but a cultural legacy too.

This important and historic anniversary, which marks the passing of a law in the Croatian parliament on 27 April 1916 on the recognition of Islam's equality with other religions, has "extraordinary power and symbolism, notably in the historical circumstances which Croatia, Europe and the world are in," Kovac said at a conference at the Zagreb Islamic Centre, which was attended by leaders of Islamic communities from European countries, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

"Croatia and the Islamic community have built their relationship for centuries. The things in common with the Islamic world lie in the very roots of the existence of us Croats in this part of Europe," Kovac said, adding that that relationship was set on the right foundations with the parliamentary decision of 1916.

That relationship has grown into a model for regulating relations with Islamic communities, he said. "The relationship we in Croatia have in the treatment and in the media doesn't even exist in western Europe. Croatia must be proud of that."

Croatia, as a Catholic majority country, "opened up, received and confirmed itself by accepting other confessions. But what we built painstakingly, we must nurture intelligently," Kovac said.

He said many indicators showed that the relationship with the Islamic community was very good and positive. He said the successful sending of Croatian troops and other staff to work in Muslim countries had been recognised and that they adjusted well there. "That's possible because Islam is a constituent part of Croatian culture."

We must spread that spirit of tolerance to our southeast neighbours, being "very active, constructive in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the relationship between Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs is very important, and further south, where we also have a numerous Islamic community," Kovac said.

The head of the Islamic Community in Croatia, Mufti Aziz Hasanovic, said the position of the community was the "pinnacle of living together... We are talking about living and not co-existence."

He said that in Europe only Austria had a longer tradition than Croatia concerning the Islamic community, "but in the 20th century Croatia went the farthest with regard to the position of Islam and Muslims."

The minister of justice and chair of the commission for relations with religious communities, Ante Sprlje, said few states could boast of such a quality cooperation with the Islamic community. "In Croatia, Islam has always been looked upon as a constructive and not destructive element."

Relations between the Croatian state and the Islamic community were regulated with a 2002 agreement which guarantees all religious rights.

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