poland croatia kolinda grabar kitarovic.jpg
Photograph: EPA/LESZEK SZYMANSKI

President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic on Saturday replied to a letter sent to her by the president of the Serb National Council, Milorad Pupovac, saying that she agreed with his claim that intolerance had increased in the Croatian society, however, she believed that that process did not start after the formation of the new government but before and that tolerance required mutual respect.

"I largely agree with your claim that intolerance has grown in the Croatian society," President Grabar-Kitarovic says in her answer to Pupovac's letter in which he expressed concern about "a growing atmosphere of intolerance and messages of hate directed at political, ethnic and other minorities" and noted that it "especially became evident after the formation of the new government."

"I felt this particularly strongly right after I returned to Croatia in September 2014, after being absent for six years due to my diplomatic duties, regardless of how much in my work outside Croatia I was connected with the Homeland," Grabar-Kitarovic says in the letter published on the web site of her office.

"Upon returning to Zagreb, I felt huge disappointment and concern because Croatia had evidently regressed in terms of mutual respect. I was very unpleasantly surprised by general pessimism and a very low level of political communication, as well as by inappropriate and utterly irresponsible labeling," she says.

She goes on to say that she felt the atmosphere of intolerance most strongly in the election night after the first round of presidential elections, when the former prime minister made the statement "It's either us or them", adding that her surprise was all the more greater because she encountered "exclusion and calls for radicalisation of political differences from those who formally pledge to promote tolerance."

If we want to talk about the causes of "the growing intolerance and messages of hate", we cannot not mention such radical messages and not ask ourselves how much they had encouraged those with the same views, as well as those with different views, to act similarly, says Grabar-Kitarovic.

"Therefore, while agreeing with you that intolerance has increased in Croatia, I nonetheless have to say that that process did not start 'with the formation of the new government', but much earlier," President Grabar-Kitarovic says, wondering if Pupovac's personal negative experiences could at least be partly due to such "long-lasting, intentional or unintentional, fomenting of ideological and world-view differences" and underlining that any radicalisation of public discourse by political actors is unacceptable.

In that context, she believes that chanting the Ustasha salute "For the homeland ready" is entirely unacceptable because it "harms national cohesion, citizens' unity and interests of the Republic of Croatia."

In her letter President Grabar-Kitarovic condemns threats and messages of hate directed at the public figures and organisations Pupovac mentions in his letter, but adds that "among them are people who with their public work have for years provoked, irritated, and insulted the largest part of the Croatian public, falsely depicted or even mocked the Homeland War, and basically denied the reality, and implicitly the very idea of the Croatian state, thus creating an atmosphere of tension, exclusion and intolerance."

"I am not saying this to justify the insults or threats to those people, which I consider to be unacceptable. I believe, however, that objectivity is needed in judging undesirable events, especially taking into account the fact that in the past years the state authorities not once reacted to such mocking and acts of provocation."

As the President of Croatia I have the duty to protect the dignity of all citizens and minorities but also of the Croat people and the values on which the Croatian state was founded, says Grabar-Kitarovic, noting that she encountered on a daily basis statements and comments designed to discriminate against her and discredit her just because she was a woman.

Just as we should condemn acts against the equality, security and dignity of political, ethnic and other minorities in Croatia, so too we should condemn all acts that insult the Croat people and any majority group, says the President.

"Tolerance requires respect. Therefore evident acts of provocation and insulting of the national sentiment of the Croat people and the huge majority of Croatian citizens who love their country cannot be called 'performance', 'journalistic' or 'artistic freedom' or 'satire'," says Grabar-Kitarovic, citing in that context an article in the Novosti weekly, published by the Serb National Council, which she says ridicules the Croatian anthem, and "a similar malicious 'satire'" in the same paper on the crash of two Croatian Air Force jets, "yet all this prompted no reaction from the publisher and the responsible state bodies even though it evidently insulted the feelings of the Croat people."

"Aren't this too events that very much create the context of 'the atmosphere of intolerance', of which you rightly warn? As far as I know, such acts were not condemned by any of the individuals or organisations that you describe in your letter as victims of 'threats and hate speech', or by any other organisation or individual who consider themselves to be guardians of democracy and tolerance."

Grabar-Kitarovic says in her letter that she agrees with Pupovac about the unacceptability of a recent incident, when insulting leaflets were left in mail boxes in Zagreb, which he described as "the worst totalitarian (fascist) practice", but wonders "if 'totalitarian practice' is only fascist?"

"Why do we always avoid to condemn communism, it originated and was maintained, not less than fascism, on various forms of crime and human rights violation for decades," Grabar-Kitarovic asks.

She says that the political platform with which she had won the elections was based on unity and not on division.

"I want all to feel Croatia as their homeland and their state, to be able to realise their aspirations in an atmosphere of civil equality, tolerance and peace," Grabar-Kitarovic says, noting that she expects all citizens to duly contribute to such an atmosphere, notably those that by virtue of their public office have more influence in creating it.

She says that she agrees with Pupovac that "political guardians of constitutionality and lawfulness" are particularly responsible for that and expects all to apply the same criteria in their public statements.

"I want the Croatian society to overcome divisions that are burdening it based on true tolerance, respect and openness to the truth. I therefore believe that an open dialogue in political and scientific forums dedicated to those topics and disputes would contribute, if not to unanimous answers, then at least to reducing tensions and promoting democratic culture and respect for differences," says the President, noting that she will gladly attend such a forum if the parliamentary club of deputies representing ethnic minorities organises it.

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