Croatian Ambassador Pjer Simunovic with Peres 521.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israeli diplomatic officials congratulated Croatia on Monday for becoming the
28th state in the European Union, but said the Balkan country’s ascension has no
special meaning for Israel.
The official’s statement indicated that
Jerusalem had no great expectation that Croatia’s joining the EU on Monday would
mean that Israel would add another significant supportive voice inside the
Not because Israel and Croatia do not enjoy good relations, but
rather because Croatia – because of its small size (4.4 million people),
geography and economic problems – is not expected to wield much influence over
The EU’s enlargement over the last decade has brought into its
ranks a number of former Iron Curtain countries which have often taken a more
supportive policy of Israel inside EU institutions, something not insignificant
given that the EU decisions need a consensus.
Foremost among those
countries is the Czech Republic, but also countries such as Romania, Bulgaria,
Poland and the Baltic countries.
For instance, the EU split last November
at the UN General Assembly vote on whether to grant the Palestinians non-member
statehood status. While 14 EU countries voted for the proposal, that number did
not include any of the former Iron Curtain countries.
The only EU country
that voted with Israel was the Czech Republic, and of the 12 EU countries that
abstained, nine of those were former Soviet Bloc countries.
expected that Croatia will join that bloc inside the EU. Croatia abstained in
the UN vote, as well as in the vote to grant the Palestinians membership in
UNESCO in 2011.
Israeli officials did not expect Croatia to have an
influential voice inside the EU on Mideast deliberations, and that rather than
taking a lead on these issues it would most likely follow its perception of the
Israel established diplomatic relations with Croatia in
1997 and the two countries exchanged ambassadors. The relationship got off to a
rocky start, however, when Franjo Tudjman became Croatia’s first president in
1991 and continued in that post until his death in 1999.
In a 1989 book,
Tudjman downplayed the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust and included a
number of anti-Semitic passages.
Because of this book and Tudjman’s
penchant to glorify the ultra- nationalist Croat Ustashi terror movement – whose
Nazi puppet state behaved with savage cruelty toward its Jews – the former
president was persona non grata in Israel, even though he tried to forge closer
defense ties with Jerusalem. Israel refused to host him on an official visit
while he was president.
Relations between Israel and Croatia greatly
improved after a new, pro- Western government came to power in early
Diplomatic officials characterized the current state of relations
between the two countries as “friendly,” with Croatia an increasingly popular
destination for Israeli tourists. Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman was
the first Israeli foreign minister to visit there, doing so in 2009, and
visiting another two times over the next three years.