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PROMOTING CROATIA

A CROAT LOBBY IN BRITAIN?

With a new government being formed in Croatia, it is an opportune time for the country to reassess its relationship with the United Kingdom. This has never been good, and has in fact got worse, with Britain now blocking Croatia's path to the EU. New thinking is required. A Croat lobby needs to be formed in the UK.

First off, some form of information/media centre needs to be established. London is a centre for many international media organisations, quite apart from the local media. Such a centre can be used as a contact point for journalists. Further it should rebut erroneous stories each and every time they appear.

Certainly the BBC should be held to account for their continual stories about the alleged sufferings of Serbs - whilst somehow ignoring what happened to Croats during the war.

English language reports on Croatia need to be produced, and sent to media organisations, politicians, academics etc. Negative human rights reports produced in the UK need to be pored over and where necessary their conclusions and sources need to be challenged in detail. Such challenges should also be made known to relevant political and media sources in the UK.

It's worth mentioning that anti-Croat activities continue in the UK. Highly negative and biased reports emerge from the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) - part funded by the British Foreign Office -, which are disseminated to many people. Furthermore there is still an active Serb lobby in the UK.

Any Croat official dealing with Britain should read Brendan Simm's best-selling 'Unfinest Hour - Britain and the Destruction of Bosnia' and Carole Hodge's 'The Serb lobby in the United Kingdom' to see how the Foreign Office is still pro-Serb and the great influence of the Serb lobby. Croatia underestimates or ignores this at its peril. That is why efforts to counter this are required.

One problem Croats have in the UK and indeed elsewhere is the perception of being fascists - the excuse the Serbs used to murder Croats. Indeed, IWPR often have some comment to make about supposed fascism in Croatia. This is all based on the Second World War and the Croatian 'Ustasha' puppet government. One excellent way of dealing with this would be to demonstrate Croatia's anti-fascist credentials. One book on this already exists - 'Serbia's Secret War' by Philip J. Cohen. But another, focusing more on Croatia was published in Zagreb in 1996.
This is 'Vojska Antifasisticke Hrvatske (1941-1945)' by Dr Branko Dubrovica (Publisher: Narodno sveuciliste Velika Gorica).

This book demonstrates the strong anti-fascist record of Croats, using facts and figures from government archives. It has an introduction by a respected academic, Dusan Bilandzic. Bilandzic points out that this work should be used to counter accusations of fascism against Croatia. Indeed, it needs to be translated into English and distributed widely, in particular to academic institutions. In demonstrating Croatia's anti-fascist credentials, it subsequently becomes much easier to raise such issues as the communist slaughter of Croat troops handed over by the allies in 1945 and the allied bombardment of Zadar during the war, which needlessly devastated much of the city.

In the academic field, much more could be done in the same vein. Credible English language academic material does need to be fed into the UK and elsewhere. John Kampfner in his illuminating book 'Blair's Wars' - another important primer for Croats dealing with the UK - relates how prior to Blair taking office he was briefed on foreign policy issues by eminent ex-diplomats and academics. Given academia's input into policy, it is important to ensure they have access to reliable texts rather than serbocentric material on Croatia - of which there is a great deal.

A lot of pressure is put on Croatia by the UK and others in regard to the Hague tribunal and Serb
refugees. Zagreb should put some pressure back. It may be diplomatically difficult, but Britain's role in effectively supporting Serbia during the war should be mentioned. Serbian atrocities in Croatia should be highlighted. Indeed, an act of remembrance should be held every year in London, with British dignitaries invited, to remember the Croat victims of the Serb invasion and occupation of Croatia. Such crimes should not forgotten - and it would make it more difficult for Britain to be obstructive. At the moment, certain people in Britain are pushing the Serbs as the victims of the war. This needs to be resisted.

One area where Croatia fails near completely is in the area of culture. Most central and east European countries invest heavily in promoting their culture in the UK: artistic festivals, book launches, film seasons, music recitals, wine tastings etc. The Czechs, Bulgarians, Poles and especially the Hungarians put major efforts in this. Croatia doesn't really do any of this at all. Cultural events in the UK are usually at the initiative of artists in Croatia and Croat groups in London. The embassy hosts the occasional event but a major programme - such as Hungary's 'Magyar Magic' - of Croat events is absent. This is a clear sign that Zagreb has not been serious in its EU application or indeed any foreign policy goals. Cultural events by other East/Central European states have been more or less tools to pursue the goals of integration into the west.

A lack of imagination is also evident. A number of British people are investing in Croatian homes. These people thus have an interest in Croatia's well-being - they should be contacted and given information on Croatia's problems with the UK. Many of these people will be influential types who may well be happy to help.

All of this is geared to creating an effective Croat lobby in the UK. It may not turn the UK into Croatia's best friend but it should at least alleviate negative pressure. It's certainly not impossible - after all the UK went along with diplomatic recognition of Croatia and more recently the country's tourism efforts have led to Croatia being named 'hottest destination' for 2003 by The Sunday Times Travel magazine. A warmer relationship would also benefit London as it currently has little influence in Croatia. Zagreb's approach to the UK is a mess that has held the country back. How the new government deals with this situation will be a key test of how serious it is in taking Croatia forward.
Brian Gallagher

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