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State Dinner Hosted by the President of Croatia

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State Dinner Hosted by His Excellency Mr. Stjepan Mesic,
President of the Republic of Croatia

Zagreb, Croatia, Friday, October 23, 2009

For me and the Canadian delegation accompanying me, this State visit—which will take us from Zagreb to Vukovar, stopping in Dubrovnik and Split along the way—is an opportunity for us to open our eyes and our hearts to the many gifts that Croatia has given to universal culture and the human adventure.

And indeed, there have been a great many gifts, because Croatia has been at the crossroads of great civilizations from its very beginning and has been shaped by the many influences that have passed through it. 

In this country that is the guardian of many world heritage treasures, the traces that time has left behind to enrich our present speak of cultures coming together.

Such encounters can at times be brutal, as your recent past can attest, but nonetheless a source of renewal when those cultures come together not in conflict but in harmony.

I am told that there is a Croatian custom, rooted in the traditions of the inhabitants of the Kvarner region, that involves setting fire to a kind of effigy—a mesopust, as you say—that is blamed for all of the misfortune of the previous year, to scare away winter just before Lent.

In so doing, the ills of yesterday are reduced to ash so that from those ashes can emerge promises of renewal.

In recent years, the people of Croatia have made a wish to rise from the ashes and move toward reconciliation. 

And under you guidance, Mr. President, Croatia has found stability once again.

Canadians share with Croatians the profound belief that if we cannot forget the wounds of the past, we can transcend them, and that in every ordeal resides the possibility of reinventing oneself.

After years of hardship under the iron rule of Communism, you undertook courageous social and economic reforms and began a process of democratization and openness to the world.

As you yourself expressed, Mr. President, a few years ago at a sitting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, “Croatia’s citizens have shown that they want . . . a Croatia of tolerance, human rights, prosperity and economic growth . . . a Croatia determined to influence the democratic transformation of the region.”

No society can move forward by clinging to hate.

Sustainable development and peace are possible only when every heart and mind is committed to ensuring that the forces of solidarity and creation triumph over the forces of exclusion and destruction.

Last April, Croatia officially became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization with which it has been maintaining a co‑operative relationship for years; among other things, Croatia contributes to the Kosovo Force and the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

Croatia now hopes to join the European Union, which is Canada’s second largest investment and trade partner and a natural ally on a number of crucial issues.

We applaud wholeheartedly Croatia’s willingness to assume its responsibilities fully within the international community and to find its place on the world stage. Our country is hopeful as we support Croatia’s integration into Euro-Atlantic and international institutions.

Mr. President, many Canadians of Croatian heritage were part of the struggle for Croatian independence and helped to create today’s Croatian State. 

Throughout the 20th century, Canada opened its doors to Croatian immigrants, who today form a community that is proud of its language and cultural heritage.

These new arrivals built bridges between us, bridges that both of our countries have used to strengthen our political, economic and cultural ties.   

Not long after independence was declared in Croatia, diplomatic relations were established between our countries that have continued to grow and that we hope to strengthen even further.

Moreover, it was in a spirit of openness and in recognition of your efforts to promote democratic change and the rule of law that Canada decided, last March, to remove the visa requirements imposed on visitors from Croatia.

And we are enthusiastically looking forward to one day soon signing a bilateral agreement on youth mobility.

Young people are already exploring new ways of opening themselves to the world. No longer limited by time and space—thanks to new technologies—youth today circulate freely on global networks that we never could have imagined less than 30 years ago, and are proposing new ways of bringing about social harmony.

Around the world, young people are speaking out about the major issues facing all of our societies and have told me time and again that solidarity is a responsibility.

I will be focussing on youth during this State visit to Croatia and listening closely to what they have to say.

Earlier today, I had very productive discussions with you, Mr. President, and with the Speaker of the Croatian Parliament, His Excellency Luka Bebič, whom we welcomed to Canada last June, as well as your prime minister, Jadranka Kosor.

I would like to take this opportunity to applaud your decision to appoint a woman to this high-level position, which is a first for Croatia.

Throughout this visit, I will have the pleasure of meeting with women engaged in Croatian society and discussing with them the challenges they have faced since the war and their hopes for the future.

Preserving culture and heritage, which are readily apparent throughout your beautiful country, is a responsibility that your fellow citizens have taken to heart, and we will be taking a closer look at what has now become an issue of such importance internationally.

We know how rich Croatian culture is and will also be meeting with artists.

We commend your efforts to preserve your culture, to promote it and to be a part of the ongoing dialogue of cultures to which our societies have been invited.  

We believe strongly that culture, though rooted in the place where it first took shape, ignites a dialogue that extends beyond borders, beyond our differences, in the hope of putting a more human face on humanity.

Canada is delighted to be a part of that dialogue, particularly as it prepares to welcome the world to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in February and March.

We are counting on you to be there, dear Croatian friends, not only because of your athletic excellence, but also to make this global gathering a celebration of fellowship, in the Olympic spirit, as Pierre de Coubertin envisioned it, and to promote “a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”

May our visit to Croatia bring our peoples closer together. 

To many more years of friendship between Canada and Croatia!