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Europe

Miro Kovac: 'Normalizing ties with our neighbors'

After weeks of struggle, Croatia finally has a new government, one with the top priority of normalizing relations with their neighbors, as the country's new Foreign Minister, Miro Kovac, told DW in an interview.

DW: The refugee crisis is the biggest topic in Europe at the moment. Do you think Germany's attempts at resolving the crisis at the EU level still has a chance?

Miro Kovac: What we've got at the moment isn't a European solution, but a number of solutions at the national level. Croatia has been very cooperative with its neighbors. At the same time, we think that if our Greek friends are unable to secure the external borders of the EU, then we will support the proposal made by Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar to control the wave of refugees at the border between Macedonia and Greece. Our current solution will not be sustainable much longer. We have to drastically reduce the numbers of refugees. I repeat: our cooperation with our neighbors can only function as long as Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Austria continue to take in refugees. But migrants and refugees must be clearly told that they cannot all come to Europe. The EU, likewise, needs to be more active in the countries from which the refugees are coming as well as the nations at their borders.

In Berlin, you visited the Stasi Museum, a symbol of confronting and dealing with the history of former communist East Germany. Croatia has been doing something similar for years, but can't seem to make much progress; the historical ideological differences seem to have taken a firmer foothold now than they ever have before. Can Croatia learn anything from Germany in this respect?

Miro Kovac Kroatien Außenminister

Foreign Minister Miro Kovac

We're future-oriented, but at the same time need to maintain a "normal" attitude towards our past. Every person in our society should be given the chance to speak freely about his or her feelings towards history, and that, of course, applies to the Second World War as well. We have to finally move past that discussion and find a new way of dealing with the past. We can look at the paths that other societies have paved as examples - good or bad - but in the end we have to carve out our own trail. That would be especially good for the younger generation, which needs to be freed from these historical chains. It would also be good for business, as we've seen in other post-communist countries.

In what state did you find the foreign ministry when you took office? Where does Croatia's foreign policy now stand?

We have a number of very competent young people in our ministry and I'm confident that we'll be able to accomplish our foreign policy goals. Less satisfactory, however, was Croatia's foreign policy situation and especially the inter-European ties. The new government needs to change that fast. We have to work on our inter-European cooperation much more intensively. What I mean is that, first and foremost, we need to strengthen the role of Croatia within the EU, while also strengthening our understandings within Central and Southeastern Europe. Second of all, it's necessary to activate our cooperation with our neighbors. In some cases, that means the relationship has to be improved; in others, it requires repairs from the ground up. And thirdly, Croatian foreign affairs need to be in the service of Croatian businesses and help Croatia to develop a competitive economy. We will strengthen our support for Croatian companies as they look to increase their activity abroad.

In your ministry's foreign policy guidelines Germany was not expressly mentioned. Does the country play an important role for Croatia?

Germany is our strategic partner, a central nation in the European Union. All countries from Central and Southeastern Europe are established around it. We'll continue our existing cooperation with our partners and further strengthen them.

You mentioned earlier the relationship to your neighbors as well as to the European Union. What remains of the old notion of Croatia's role as a bridge between the Balkans and the EU?

Croatia has lacked ambition in the last few years. The country needs to redefine itself and win back its image of trustworthiness. We need to finally realize in what position we find ourselves in the EU, what our possibilities are and what we can do. With regard to the countries bordering us which have not yet achieved EU membership, Croatia has a greater responsibility but also greater opportunities. We'll actively support Bosnia-Herzegovina in its candidacy for EU membership. We know that the path through the integration process is long and difficult but it's important to get a start. It's also important for the Croats living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, who could redefine themselves as a motor of European Integration. And that, in cooperation with Croatia, can be very useful for Bosnia-Herzegovina. As far as other countries in the region go - and I'm thinking here about Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo - we'll support them in their strides towards EU membership; of course, we will also pay attention to ensure the criteria are filled. Tough but fair.

Miro Kovac (48) was Croatia's Ambassador to Germany from 2008 to 2013, after which he served as the foreign affairs spokesman for the conservative HDZ party in Croatia. He has been foreign minister since January 2016 in the new Croatian government headed by Tihomir Orešković.

The interview was conducted by Nenad Kreizer.

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