As modern as Europe has become, some pomp and ceremony traditions there have defied progress and serve as a reminder of an earlier more romantic era. One such tradition is the protocol by which official guests are welcomed.
Thus when President Reuven Rivlin – whose state visit to Croatia began on Tuesday – was welcomed to the Presidential Palace in Zagreb by President Kolinda Grabsr-Kitarović, there was a resplendent honor guard in gold braided red livery reminiscent of military officers from another century.
Israel also provides an honor guard from the armed forces for official visitors, but the khaki of the army, the white of the navy, and the blue of the air force can’t compare with the aura of the European uniforms of yesteryear.
During a brief private meeting of the two presidents, Rivlin briefed his hostess on developments in the Middle East. They were then joined in their discussions by Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel and Minister for the Economy Eli Cohen, following which they met the media. Though primarily in Croatia to discuss further military cooperation, Rivlin, could not resist mentioning Croatia’s formidable showing at the recent FIFA World Cup Championships in Russia, where the Croatian squad came second only to France. Rivlin, an avid soccer fan, told Grabsr-Kitarović that the whole world witnessed the enthusiasm with which she had supported her country’s team.
Rivlin also spoke of the growing cooperation between Israel and Croatia, and the two countries’ flourishing economic ties.
It would be impossible for an Israeli president or prime minister to visit Croatia and ignore its shameful record during the Holocaust. But in reviewing the past, Rivlin noted that 115 Croatians are listed among the Righteous of the Nations.
Even today, more than 70 years after the end of the Second World War, Israel and the Jewish people still have to contend with threats and hatred, he said. In the war against terrorism, the home guard becomes the front line, he added.
Noting that terrorism threatens not only Israel but the whole world, Rivlin emphasized that all countries must unite in fighting this scourge.
Inviting Grabsr-Kitarović to re-visit Israel, he quipped “Next time you might be world champions.” The tacit message referred to Israel’s trouncing of Croatia’s under 20 National Basketball team in Germany on Sunday night.
Grabsr-Kitarović made a private visit to Israel in 2015, and said it had a left a deep impression. She characterized Rivlin’s visit to Croatia as being very important, not only because of the excellent bilateral relations between their countries, but also for Croatia’s Jewish community. As Mediterranean countries, Croatia and Israel should build on their commonalities, she said. There are many as yet unexplored areas in which they can cooperate, she said, citing immigration, security, energy, industry, agriculture and economics.
Grabsr-Kitarović devoted much of her address to Croatia’s acquisition of F-16 fighter jets, tying this in with the warm relations between the two countries and the strength of their military and economic cooperation.
She emphasized that the relationship had been strengthened by the acquisition of the planes, stressing that the Croatian Defense Ministry was very happy about the negotiations for the purchase. She was very optimistic on this score she said, and saw it as an opportunity for future investment by Croatia, and a sign of even greater military cooperation.
The Croatian President expressed great regret for the lives lost in the Holocaust.