Croatia President: Europe, an opera with happy ending

By Daniela Vincenti

A musician and a composer,  Ivo Josipović, President of Croatia, sees Europe as an opera with a happy ending. The eurozone crisis has sidelined the fundamentals of the Union, and people take their anti-war community for granted, but it is perceived differently outside the EU borders, he said in an interview.

Ivo Josipović is the third and  current President of Croatia. A law professor and classical music composer,  Josipović has taken office in 2010.
You are in Brussels to participate in the State of the Union conference, which this year highlights the European Dream. Is there a European dream?

Sure. First, I have to stress that in Europe, the European Union is something normal. So the positions of people from Germany, Austria, Italy, France and the others are different from the people that are outside and observing Europe, thinking about our future and the future of the world. For you it’s simply normal to be included in the big European family.
We take it for granted?

Yes. The European Union is precisely an anti-war community. The European Union did not emerge just for the sake of trade, even though this aspect was an important component of its genesis.

The EU emerged as an expression of concern of the European nations over violent nationalism, that unfortunately characterized the 20th century.

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But as you can easily recall, during the first period of the European construction, there was more motivation, vision, more active discussions about it. Because then it was a dream.

Of course, when you wake up you think about other things. Now we in Croatia we are dreaming still, and I hope our dream will be a nice dream. For Croatia, Europe is not just about participating in a common European market, and to be included in the overall society.

We are a young country, and principles of democracy and human rights from Europe are still very attractive for us. And, somehow we feel that by entering the EU, we get some kind of historical approval of our newborn statehood in building democracy, democratic society, institutions, human rights.

We expect that our membership will improve our quality of life, not just in an economic way, but also in societal terms—quality of our democratic life. When I say improve our lives I mean quality of our society. I can assure you that during these accession negotiations when Croatia had to comply with the acquis communautaire, we became a better society despite all our economic problems.
You have been applauded by business leaders here for having given a very positive message about the EU, while our leaders seem to dwell in catastrophic and negative discourse. Would you say that EU leaders look too much at the negative rather than the positive of what they have achieved so far?

It was a very nice presentation. It shows that you Europeans show half-half. That means half in favour, half against. And probably that way of thinking, it can generate good ideas and criticism that can be constructive. So I’m not worried about different attitudes, especially on the economic situation.

I would like to stress again that for most Europeans, Europe is taken for granted. And they do not consider other possibilities. It’s normal for them. But from outside, Europe is a really good project. A really, good project.
One question on the reconciliation with Serbia after the elections instated an ultranationalist at the head of the country. How do you view the future of the region in this context, also considering the more assertive role of Russia in the region?

Firstly, we are very firm on our ambition to create a region of peace and cooperation. We are not going to change our attitude, definitely. In the last several years we have improved significantly our relations with Serbia, and I hope the new governments will continue with cooperation.

The new President Nikolic, whom I congratulated after the victory in the election, has not connected to this process in the past.  He participated in a political party that was promoting aggression and was involved in the war as well. But definitely everyone can change. And I hope President Nikolic can change his views on neighbourhood, on peace and war, and if he does, we can definitely cooperate.
Nikolic made his first official trip abroad to Russia. He said that accession to the EU will not happen before ten years. Do you think this timetable is realistic?

Yes, it is realistic because our accession also last several years. It’s normal because the process is very demanding. And even though six, eight, ten might seem a very long period, it is just a second in the life of a particular state. I would say it´s worth taking the time, investing efforts to make proper reforms and then join the EU. I hope our neighbours will do the same.
A word on Kosovo?

Yes, it’s very sensitive issue. Croatia recognized Kosovo like most of the European countries. President Nikolic has been very clear that he’s not going to support any policy that is leading to the recognition of Kosovo. It’s his policy. I cannot advice him. We’ll see what will happen in the future.
What kind of role will Croatia play in order to bridge differences among neighbours? What kind of leadership will you play?

I think it’s quite visible that we already play this role. And we are trying to promote European values, friendship, cooperation, but definitely you cannot do it alone. So I prefer partnership as a term than leadership. So we are looking for partners.

But also, the EU has to formulate a clearer strategy not only in the Western Balkans but also the Mediterranean and the relations in Central Europe and the whole post-communist part of Europe. “We are prepared for and interested in becoming a protagonist of further transformation and Europeanisation – in the positive sense—of the entire Europe, he ended.
Are you concerned about Russia’s role in the region?

Russia is a big, important partner for all countries. Croatia has been quite clear on its Euro-Atlantic orientation, but we are surely open to cooperate with Russia as well, especially on the economic side. All Western countries are trying to collaborate as well as possible with Russia.
But you don’t see any risk in Russia taking a more decisive role in the region?

Definitely, the superpowers are fighting for space and influence, and it’s part of political life.
Mr. President, you are not only a politician but also a musician and composer. I have read you are writing an opera about John Lennon. Why him?

Indeed, I said during the campaign I would finish my opera before the end of my mandate. That will be the only unfulfilled promise from my campaign. It’s just not possible with all my commitments. My work starts early in the morning and finishes also in the morning. So definitely the opera will have to wait until the end of my mandate.

Actually, the opera is not about Lennon, but about his killer, Mark Chapman. Somehow Lennon is a symbol, and there’s some spirit in the air, that I wanted to describe.

I wanted to describe the psychological profile of a person who admires someone, like Chapman admired Lennon, and then decides to kill him.
Is there a reason for why you are going for that kind of profile?

It’s a drama and opera is some kind of drama with music, it’s interesting to analyze people and different psychological profiles.

You cannot create stories about ordinary people. You need to find something that is important and can possibly be important for other people to study, to listen, to reflect on it. Think of personalities like Hamlet, that is suitable for this type of artistic analyzes.
Is there a link to politics in that?

Possibly. I haven’t really developed this idea, but there are definitely many operas with a political background, even those operas that are not directly connected to politics can generate some political ideas. They have hidden political ideas, like Don Giovanni.

It’s about seduction and love, but there is a clear political message for that time. Now it might seem very naïve, but for that time it was very important. The same can be said for the Magic Flute: there is a clear political message.
If you had to come up with an opera that looks like the European Union today, which one would that be?

Opera buffa? I hope not. I hope it will be an opera with a happy end. And of course it would be very interesting to… Good idea. I would probably try.
So you have to do it before the end of the mandate.

It would be very complicated. It would have to be an opera with 28 voices—very polyphonic … but hopefully not cacophony.