President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said on Wednesday that freedom of the media in Croatia was much better than some were trying to portray and denied claims about the fascistisation of Croatia.
"It is true that there are incidents in Croatia, I'm not denying that, they occur in every country," Grabar-Kitarovic said in an interview with the HRT public broadcaster when asked to comment on criticisms in foreign media about the fascistisation of Croatia.
"Our society is deeply divided. The far left and the far right are gaining strength," the president said, adding that isolated articles about the alleged fascistisation were coming from Croatia, but that Croatian diplomacy was also partly to blame.
She called on Foreign Minister Miro Kovac to "finally do something about it in our diplomacy".
"Sometimes I wonder whether some of our ambassadors represent the interests of Croatia or their host country when they absolutely agree with them in statements and criticisms of Croatia," the president warned.
Grabar-Kitarovic said she was deeply disappointed by the fact that a year had passed since a swastika was drawn on the pitch of a football stadium in Split and the perpetrator had not been identified. Stressing that she expected Interior Minister Vlaho Orepic to identify the perpetrator, she said she was confident that this incident had nothing to do with fascist elements but that someone did it deliberately in order to portray Croatia as a country where fascism was growing.
Asked to comment on her being booed at a panel on freedom of the media in Zagreb on Tuesday, Grabar-Kitarovic said that freedom of speech in Croatia was at a much higher level than some were trying to portray. She said that the boos came from "a handful of activists who abused the good intentions of the organisers."
"The point of yesterday's gathering, which was organised by the US Embassy to mark Press Freedom Day, was not just freedom of the media, but also to talk about responsibility, because freedom implies responsibility, responsibility is the price of freedom," the president said, adding that this was precisely why she regretted that she could not finish her speech. She said she was deeply confident that those who booed at her "were not Croatian journalists".
"I will absolutely not be discouraged by any boos or any criticism, because this is not about my rating, but the rating of the country, this is about the life of our citizens, in particular young people who are fed up with ideological divisions and who are emigrating from Croatia not just because they cannot find work but also because of the social climate, which is so divided, so cynical, sarcastic and lacking in optimism. All this needs to be changed," the president said.
Asked if she would join a commemoration at Bleiburg, Austria, Grabar-Kitarovic said that she would go there privately to pay her respects to the victims, but that she would not take part in politicising and divisions of the Croatian people.
Commenting on the government's reform agenda, Grabar-Kitarovic said she was pleased that the reform package had been adopted, expressing hope that the differences within the ruling coalition would now be "translated into constructive work on implementing these reforms."
She said that the reforms would include cuts. "But let's stop saying that these cuts will be painful for the citizens, because they actually need to remove the pain. The burden of the reforms must be borne first and foremost by the government and state administration," the president concluded.