During a state visit to Israel on July 29, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović was quoted as telling President Reuven Rivlin that Bosnia was “very unstable,” and had in some respects been taken over by people “who have connections with Iran and terrorist organizations. The country is now controlled by militant Islam….”
The statement caused a stir in Bosnia-Herzegovina, with condemnation coming from different segments of the society. Sven Alkalaj, Bosnia’s UN ambassador and a member of the country’s Jewish community, was quick to denounce the statement as “unfounded” and “irritating.” Bosnian Jewish historian Eli Tauber added that Grabar-Kitarović’s statement sought to “diminish Bosnia and Herzegovina before the European public.” Bosnia’s Croat member of the country’s tripartite presidency, Željko Komšić, quipped that it was not Bosnia that was unstable but the Croatian president herself. Dragan Mektić, an ethnic Serb and Bosnia’s minister of security, responded by stating that Grabar-Kitarović had earned a reputation for “stupid remarks” in Croatia but was now also doing the same while on trips abroad.
The controversial quote on militant Islam in the web version of Greer Fay Cashman’s July 31 Jerusalem Post article has since been deleted.
Grabar-Kitarović’s Islamophobic statement is not an instance of misspeaking or a gaffe to be written off. In fact, the latest statement follows a pattern that the Croatian president established not long after assuming the top political office in her country.
Grabar-Kitarović’s Islamophobic statement is not an instance of misspeaking or a gaffe to be written off. In fact, the latest statement follows a pattern that the Croatian president established not long after assuming the top political office in her country
Elected president in 2015, Grabar-Kitarović has taken a completely unwarranted and unfounded paternalistic approach to Bosnia-Herzegovina. While frequently publicly proclaiming support for Bosnia, she has perfected the use of “alternative facts” in the Balkans. She has particularly aimed to tarnish the image of Bosniaks both at home and abroad. Three recent examples illustrate this point.
In late 2016, Grabar-Kitarović claimed that “thousands” of ISIS terrorists were returning to Bosnia. Mektić, the security minister, denounced the statement as false. In March this year, Bosnian investigative outlet Žurnal uncovered a false-flag operation conducted by Croatian intelligence in Bosnia. According to Bosnian journalist Avdo Avdić, the operation sought to recruit Bosnian citizens from the Salafi community for the purpose of portraying Bosnia as a hotbed of terrorism.
The latest case was her statement during the visit to Israel. After strong reactions from different segments of Bosnian society, Grabar-Kitarović’s responses have also followed a pattern: first a denial, then a claim that she was misquoted, followed by a new controversial statement to sideline the previous and a subsequent customary statement on her support for Bosnia.
While honing her skills in tarnishing the image of Bosnia, Grabar-Kitarović’s own record on her country’s past has drawn criticism. According to The Jerusalem Post, Efraim Zuroff, head of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, points out that Grabar-Kitarović’s record on Croatia’s World War II past is problematic. Zuroff notes three cases: First, Grabar-Kitarović was photographed in Canada in 2016 with Croat émigrés and the fascist Nazi-era Ustaše flag; in 2018 during a visit to Argentina she spoke of how Croats after World War II found “space of freedom” in that country; and third, the Croatian president is fond of the controversial rock band Thompson.
Similar criticism of Grabar-Kitarović was aired by Bosnia’s security minister.
Rather than dealing with Bosnia, Grabar-Kitarović should be paying more attention to her nine-to-five job: president of Croatia. With the rise of far-right politics and discourse, Grabar-Kitarović could spend more time trying to stem the tide of historical revisionism in Croatia. The best way to start would be with her own clear and unequivocal condemnation of revisionist politics.
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