Holocaust main subject of conversation between Rivlin and Croatian President

The government had proposed establishing a monument for victims of the Holocaust, and the project was taken up by the Zagreb municipality.

President Reuven Rivlin held a state reception for Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović who visits Israel (photo credit: MARC NEYMAN/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin held a state reception for Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović who visits Israel
(photo credit: MARC NEYMAN/GPO)
Holocaust commemoration, education and restitution were the key subjects in the long conversation that President Reuven Rivlin had on Monday with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović who is on a three day state visit to Israel.
It was the third meeting between the two presidents. The first was during Grabar-Kitarović’s first visit in 2015. The second was a year ago, when Rivlin paid a state visit to Croatia.
Ordinarily, when presidents of other countries come to Israel, there is a 10-15 minute period where both presidents make official statements. Then, they have a private meeting that generally lasts for up to half an hour, and then the visitor continues with his or her itinerary.
Rivlin greeted his Croatian counterpart at 9:30 a.m., and she left the President’s Residence at 11:10 a.m.
Although the two had touched on several issues in areas of cooperation when making their official addresses, when they had their private meeting, Grabar-Kitarović sought Rivlin’s help in settling a dispute that the Croatian government and the Zagreb municipality have with the World Jewish Congress, and the “small but active Jewish community” of Croatia, which boasts “the second oldest synagogue in Europe.”
The government had proposed establishing a monument for victims of the Holocaust, and the project was taken up by the Zagreb municipality. However, a certain segment of the Jewish community believes that the Zagreb municipality is trying to whitewash Croatia’s fascist past.
Grabar-Kitarović assured Rivlin that this is not the case, and that Croatia is not trying to deny its past. The Zagreb municipality even offered to build a second monument in accordance with whatever the Jewish community wants, but the offer has not served to end the dispute.
Rivlin said that he would do what he could to help, but that he really could not interfere in Croatian affairs.
Grabar-Kitarović also spoke about Croatia’s Restitution Committee, which has allocated both property and monetary compensation to private individuals and the community, but stated that the work is going too slowly. Part of the problem, she said, is that there are no exact details of how many Croatian Jews were murdered and how many are entitled to restitution. Not all those entitled identify either as Jews or Croatians, so it is difficult to track them down. There are currently 75 cases pending, she said.
Croatia’s Education Ministry and Culture Ministry are doing a lot to promote Holocaust awareness and education. During her visit, a memorandum of understanding for intensive Holocaust education will be signed with Yad Vashem, which she also visited on Sunday. The Culture Ministry is also working on memorial sites and synagogue restoration, she said.
Rivlin invited his guest to return toward the end of January 2020, when, together with Yad Vashem, he will be hosting world leaders in commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
He told her that both Israel and Croatia are “looking towards the future without forgetting the past.”
At the beginning of next year, Croatia will take over the rotating presidency of the European Union for the first time. Croatia will strive to take a balanced approach, which includes “hearing an Israeli voice in the EU.”
Grabar-Kitarović said that during her country’s presidency, there will be an international Holocaust seminar at one of the import important Holocaust memorial sites. The purpose is “to remind the EU of our common values and why the EU was formed.” The young people who are part of the EU today don’t remember when Europe was walled and fenced with barb wires, she said.
Another Holocaust commemorative event that will take place during Croatia’s presidency of the EU will be in conjunction with Yad Vashem. There will be an exhibition at the United Nations in New York of the Righteous among the Nations.
Rivlin, who declared that the UN has been anti-Israel for years, said that such an attitude should be accepted as the norm. He praised Croatia as a great ally, and thanked his visitor for Croatia’s support of Israel at the EU, the United Nations and other international forums.
“We will remain reliable,” responded Grabar-Kitarović, who in turn thanked Rivlin for Israel’s assistance in Croatia’s bid to join the OECD.
Rivlin and Grabar-Kitarović each voiced regret that sale of 12 Israeli F-16 planes to Croatia had fallen through due to a third party veto. Neither named the third party, though it is known to have been the United States.
However, both presidents agreed that their countries would continue to cooperate on matters of defense, security and fighting terrorism.
In the latter context, Grabar-Kitarović noted that her country is suffering a migrant problem that is not quite like that of much of Europe. She made the distinction between migrants and refugees, saying that while Croatia was willing to give asylum to refugees, migrants looking for an improved lifestyle should not be in violation of international borders.
The migrants actually have no wish to stay in Croatia, she said, but simply to cross through to Germany.
While nearly all claim to be Syrian refugees, most are actually African or Pakistani migrants who try to break through the border from Bosnia-Herzegovina, which Grabar-Kitarović said was very unstable, and had in some respects been taken over by people who have connections with Iran and terrorist organizations. “The problem is that the refugees are being left behind.”
The two president concurred on the importance of developing business relations in agriculture, construction and cybersecurity. They also spoke of increasing tourism in both directions, and agreed that direct flights between their countries had helped to boost two-way tourism.