27 June 2007

1773) 'We Are Not Competitors, But Partners' Croatian Ambassador to Turkey Gordan Bakota

 This content mirrored from TurkishArmenians  Site © Click For Larger Image Gordan Bakota, the ambassador of Croatia to Turkey, says that his country is an open one. They are proud of their inventions, like the necktie.

‘I am very proud that I had two opportunities: one was to be there when my country was attacked and to participate in the defense of Croatia; and the other was, after this, to join the diplomatic service and to help my country to establish excellent relations in the neighborhood’

But they avoid calling themselves nationalists. They want to keep their culture, but are ready to share it with others and benefit from the other cultures. He says they want to join the EU not for Brussels, but for their own society. He underlines that Turkey and Croatia are not competitors for EU membership, but partners. This is the way it should be in tourism also, he says. During the interview, he mentions similarities between two countries.

Personally he says participating in the Croatian War of Independence to defend his country made him understand the value of maintaining and building good relations. His motto is borrowed from Atatürk’s famous saying, “Peace at home and peace in the world.”

He is also proud of his country without being jingoistic.

“I would rather prefer to say positive patriotism, instead of nationalism,” says Ambassador Bakota, after chatting for a while about his country over a glass of tea and some very delicious Croatian candies. Until he mentions positive patriotism, we were talking about Croatian inventions such as neckties, parachutes and pens. The ambassador also mentions another Croatian, Nicola Tesla, world-renowned inventor, physicist, mechanical engineer and electrical engineer.

We also talk about the Balkan wars and Croatian efforts for accession to the EU. My impression from all the chat is that Croatians are nationalists, but also open to other cultures. Then the ambassador puts it in more diplomatic terminology.

“Once you actually make the decision to join the EU you have to prepare yourself to share culture and values and you have to prepare to establish good relations with neighbors, to accept and recognize other cultures, religions and peoples. Croatia is not developing nationalism, but developing positive patriotism, which could definitely be an added value to the EU. It means that something we have in Croatia that does not relate just to my country, like [parts of our] cultural heritage, must also be open to other nations. Positive patriotism does not exclude others, but at the same time is open to cooperation,” he says.

He mentions that although their land is small in size, they do not object to other nations buying real estate in their country, if it is based on reciprocity. “Croatians have always been entangled with other nations. Support for their national team in football does not exclude the love for others. This is how I see my country -- I am deeply convinced and sure that my country will develop as an open society. Our roots are very much interconnected with the Ottomans and Central Europe and the Mediterranean. This is a kind of potential for my country,” he says.

Although some men do not like to wear them, neckties, invented by Croatian soldiers during the time of Napoleon in order to distinguish themselves from others are “very European” and Croatians are proud of being their inventor.

When it comes to his personal collection of ties, Mr. Ambassador says he loves them and that the necktie forms a very important fashion detail for men. But he qualifies his statement by adding that to claim that ties are completely related to Croatia is not the right way to promote the country or the accessory.

“This is not the way I would praise the connection between ties with Croatia. Other nations are also proud of their symbols. Croatia does not have to preserve ties only for itself. This is not the way to promote ties,” he says.

Ambassador Bakota mentions that a Croatian artist put ties around the famous Coliseum in Croatia, which, he says, was not an act of propaganda. “We want to offer it as a puzzle in the general concept of European or southeastern culture,” he says.

“Countries who are interested in joining the EU should also be ready to preserve their national identities. We do not consider the EU as a melting pot. Not only do we have Croatia, but other Balkan countries -- including Turkey, which has lots of opportunities to add to the common cultural, economic and historical aspects of the EU. Ties today are very symbolic, because you have excellent production of them in many countries, including Turkey. But as a kind of ‘brand,’ as a kind of symbol, ties helped us to promote our culture and individuality. So we have to come to the EU as individuals with our historical cultural sensitivities. This is the way to come to the EU,” he says.

Ambassador Bakota, talking without using almost any gestures, very openly points out that globalization is a tough process, especially for small nations. But he adds this process makes small nations talented: “Small nations definitely need to know how to stay very innovative and talented. This is the only way the society can preserve itself. This is very important. People are pushed to be creative and positively assertive.”

Ambassador Bakota also mentions that Croatia has a large diaspora in Europe and America, including the South, which helps to increase its cultural interaction. He adds that from very early times Croatians were well-traveled. He tells me that Marco Polo was born in Croatia.

“As a Mediterranean country, we used to be a link between very remote, distant places. Even today, in our consulate network, we have problems because our people are traveling a lot to remote places. As diplomats you have to help them and cover them, but it is a very big advantage,” he underlines.

When asked if Turkey should be jealous of Croatia because they will join the EU before Turkey, Ambassador Bakota strongly opposed this idea.

“I don’t think so. From the very beginning, it was actually my intention to come here and explain to Turkish and Croatian society that these two countries are not competitors. According to our experience in the region, it was much more helpful when other countries from the region joined the EU, because it accelerates the process. If our neighbors are ready, we are ready too. It is positive. When Croatia joins the EU it will be a good signal for Turkey. This will definitely be a message to Turkey. Romania and Bulgaria joined, and we were not jealous, but took it as a good sign for us. This is a positive impetus for our society. It is signal that we will be ready and accepted by the EU. Croatia and Turkey are extremely different in the matter of size. So it is very understandable that some reforms, adoptions and harmonization with EU [rules] are much harder in Turkey than in Croatia. So it was very important to explain to the Croatian and Turkish public that the two countries are not competing, but rather should be in communication. I proposed to the Turkish side [during the] consultations between the two chief negotiators and they accepted immediately.”

But despite his enthusiasm for the EU, the main reason he advocates joining the bloc is for his country’s interests, not those of Brussels.

“Negations with the EU are a kind of accession and domestic reform -- it is very important to undertake measures for our country. I want to see that our judiciary and administration are functioning in the same way as the in other EU countries. We are very close to this goal. This goal is fixed for us, not for Brussels. I suppose that this is also what the Turkish government is doing,” he says.

An ex-soldier who believes in peace

Ambassador Bakota says he is a career diplomat. Before coming to Turkey he served in Switzerland, Serbia and the US. All of them were different posts, but they each had their advantages. “I am very happy with my postings,” he says.

Before being a diplomat he was a soldier during the Croatian War of Independence. “When the war started in 1991 I had graduated from law school and started to work as a lawyer. So the concept and idea of my career was completely different when the war started to how it was when it ended. At that time I was 24 and the aggression started against Croatia. I decided to quit and stop my current activities and I joined the army. I was a soldier between 1991 and the spring of 1992. I am very proud of this because it was the time to defend the country.

“After defending my country it was very important to help my country restore its ties, not only with Western countries, but also in the neighborhood. Soon I discovered that it would be very important after we defended our country to restore relations. I spent [two] crucial years in Belgrade. I am affiliated to the famous idea of Atatürk, “peace at home, peace abroad.” Whoever wants to have good international relations needs to start building up good neighborly relations,” he says.

“I am very proud that I had two opportunities: one was to be there when my country was attacked, so I participated in the defense of Croatia. The other was to join the diplomatic service and to help my country establish excellent relations in the neighborhood.”

Ambassador Bakota says that being in a war teaches the importance of maintaining and building up good relations. “I think once you know about the actual damage that war brings to your country it makes you much more sensitive and sensible in restoring the peace. It would be much better if we had had the opportunity to skip this war. On the other hand looking back on 1991-1992, this experience was very important for me. This experience really helped me to understand the difficulties and differences in the international field and that they have to be restored by diplomatic activities, not with war or arms. There are no such differences or barriers that cannot be overcome,” he says.

‘We are not competitors in tourism either’

I remind Ambassador Bakota that on many Turkish Web sites and blogs almost all Turks who have been to Croatia say the same thing: “Turkey will lose its tourism potential to Croatia.”

“I absolutely disagree,” he says. “Croatia and Turkey are not competitors. Last year we had 10 million tourists and we want to enhance our capacity. Turkey is doing extremely well too. Your potential is huge. The country has such large places and the culture is beautiful. Its historical legacies are gorgeous. Many people are interested in visiting both countries,” he says, adding that Turkey and Croatia do not have visa restrictions against each another.

“We have direct flights from Zagreb to İstanbul and it takes less than two hours, but I am not satisfied with the numbers. The figures are still very minor regarding the tourist exchange. Therefore my job is to work at this very hard. People are coming, but it has to be better organized. I will never accept opinions that claim Turkey and Croatia are competitors. Personally I am going to put a huge emphasis on tourism,” he says.

Ambassador Bakota mentions that the people of both countries are known for their hospitality. “Turkish people are very nice. They will help without any prejudice. I see similarities here, but I want to see it in my country more,” he says, adding that one of the other things he admires about Turkey that he doesn’t not see enough of in Croatia is a strong work ethic.

“My first impression and what I really want to see in my country is that Turkey’s people are very hardworking. With this kind of Turkish mentality and entrepreneurial spirit, you are very creative as it shows in your economic progress,” he says.

“I want to see more promotion of my country here and this is something that I will work very hard to do,” he adds emphatically.



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