Dobro došla Hrvatska – welcome to Croatia
This may come as a surprise but for ages the Croats have been holding most Europeans by the neck.
The neck tie was worn by a regiment of Croatian hussars created during the reign of the French King Louis XIII: their uniform included a white scarf, a fashion that won over the French Court. In 1666 this light cavalry regiment received the name “Royal Cravat”. The French word for a tie, cravate, therefore comes from a mispronunciation of the word croate, meaning ‘from Croatia’.
From now on we should really stop mispronouncing this word and instead refer to the Republic of Croatia as the “Republika Hrvatska”, because it has just become part of our European Union. It was to the tune of the European hymn “Ode to Joy” that, at midnight local time on 1 July, tens of thousands of Croats throughout the country celebrated their country’s membership of the EU.
After eight years of membership negotiations, this country will become the 28th EU Member State. Croatia now has a Commissioner, Neven Mimica, who was endorsed by the European Parliament on 12 June and will be in charge of consumer protection until the end of the present Commission’s term in 2014. The European Parliament has also agreed that 11 Member States will lose one seat and Germany three seats in order to welcome the 15 new Croatian MEPs, who were elected on 14 April by a small proportion of the Croatian electorate - judging by the participation rate of only 20.79%. Croatian voters will be able to improve on this outcome at the European elections in 2014 when this time the seats allocated to Croatian MEPs will number 11.
Last April, the COMECE Secretariat welcomed some 15 Croatian trainees who had come to Brussels for training at the European Parliament to become parliamentary assistants to future Croatian MEPs. This allowed them to learn about the representation of Catholic bishops to the EU and to understand how Christian values are represented and welcomed in European policy discussions. COMECE is about to welcome a new member from Croatia, delegated by the Croatian bishops’ conference (already represented in COMECE by Cardinal Josip Bozanić, a bishop with observer status).
As the tie (or cravat, if you will) so aptly illustrates, Croatia belongs to the history of Europe, situated at the centre of Europe even in Roman times, when Emperor Diocletian built a fortified imperial palace on the Dalmatian Coast for his retirement after his voluntary abdication in 305 AD. Today this palace is one of the best preserved buildings of the Late Roman Empire, and constitutes the centre of the town of Split. The country then came under the influence of Venice on the Dalmatian coast, as evidenced by the towns of Rovinj and Dubrovni which in mediaeval times was the Republic of Ragusa. In later times, the Austro-Hungarian influences can be seen in the northern plains of Slavonia and in the basin of the River Danube.
In the modern era, Europe was deeply scarred by the Yugoslav Wars which ravaged the whole Balkan region between 1991 and 2001, breaking apart the six republics of the defunct Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. When Croatia declared its independence in 1990, the Yugoslav army (dominated by Serbia) seized one third of the country and four years of war followed. The destruction wrought by this conflict in material and human terms was enormous, whole populations were displaced and others forced to ask for asylum in EU countries.
Even so, looking beyond this tragic story, it should not be forgotten that the ‘Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’ experiment had lasted from 1945 to 1992. This multinational, multilingual and multireligious community had added weight to the influence of the Balkan nations in the Soviet bloc, and had developed a reputation for being a neutral non-aligned country.
The Union gives strength while an outbreak of nationalism leads to bloodshed or even genocide. Backed by this experience still fresh in their minds, the Balkan nations are today entering the European Union. After Slovenia in 2004 and Croatia this year, it will be Serbia’s turn to open EU membership negotiations in the next few months. For the first time, these countries and their peoples are becoming part not of a geopolitical grouping to whose rule they will have to submit (as was the case in the past with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Soviet Union) but rather a community of nations which is willing to allow a sharing of sovereignty with a view to the common good, to liberty and to the prosperity of their peoples. Thus a quite different experience of federation is in store for the peoples of the Balkan nations in Europe.
Translated from the original text in French