by Steve Rukavina, President of the National Federation of Croatian Americans.

On Wednesday, December 6th, Madam President of the Republic of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic was the honored special guest at the 25th Anniversary of the official diplomatic relations between the Republic of Croatia and the United States of America.  The prestigious Army Navy Club in the heart of the nation’s capital was the ideal location for this milestone celebratory event. The new Croatian Ambassador to the United States, Pjer Simunovic was the gracious host to welcome the 110 guests and a select group of American diplomats and fifty fortunate Croatian Americans who were there to toast and salute the partnership between the two countries. Ambassador Simunovic stated for the group that Croatia remains focused on the enduring  and profound partnership and the shared mutual interests to build an even stronger alliance in the years ahead. The Croatian Ambassador then welcomed all the guests and introduced, Her Excellency, Mrs. Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and finished by thanking everyone for being there for this historic occasion and celebration.

There were five former US Ambassadors were there to honor the US and Croatian relationship which served as a special reminder of the mutual respect and affinity that American diplomats have for the Republic of Croatia. Former American diplomats: Peter Galbraith, Robert Bradtke, Ken Merton, Jim Foley and Julieta Valls Noyes were all there to congratulate Croatian President and to show their respect for this partnership between two countries. Also, Croatian American Victor Jackovich, the first US Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina was in attendance and General Jacques Paul Klein too. The new Ambassador to Croatia, Robert Kohurst was a special guest at this festive gala dinner and was kept busy meeting so many Croatian diplomats and Croatian Americans all in one night.

Former Senator Mark Begich, from Alaska was thrilled to be there and mentioned how proud he was that he served in the United States Senate when they voted on Croatia’s membership for NATO. Congresswoman Claudia Tenney (R-NY), and a member of the Croatian Congressional Caucus was there and impressed so many attendees with her command of the Croatian language and her commitment to get more involved in issues involving Southeast Europe. Capricia Penavic Marshall, long time White House official in the 1990s within the President Bill Clinton Administration was there too to celebrate the anniversary. Luka Misetic, Croatian American attorney who was a key lawyer assisting the legal efforts of General Ante Gotovina was a special guest.

The US State Department, was represented by Elisabeth Millard, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. Also, Matt Palmer, Director of the Southeast Europe Division for the US State Department was there to show more respect for this milestone event as was Liam Sullivan, the new Croatia Desk officer based in Washington, DC.

The official dinner program featured Madam President Grabar-Kitarovic sharing highlights of the 25 year relationship between the two countries. The Croatian president thanked all the American diplomats for all their support and collaboration over all these years. She talked about the mutual trust and cooperation that was at the essence of the US-Croatia partnership.  She concluded by stating emphatically that” no one could ever take away Croatia’s freedom again” as she talked about the US-Croatia military alliance constructed within the Euro-Atlantic NATO organization.

The National Federation of Croatian Americans (NFCA) , Croatian Fraternal Union (CFU) and Association of Croatian American Professionals (ACAP) were all sponsors of the dinner. The NFCA Executive committee and CFU National Officers there included  Steve Rukavina,  Zvonko Labas,  John Kraljic, Ed Pazo, Franjo Bertovic, Derek Hohn, Andrea Novak-Neumann, Biljana Lovrinovic, Ron Zivic, Dr. Steve Pavletic and NFCA consultant Joe Foley and they were all honored to participate in this historic dinner.

A wonderful seafood and filet dinner was served and the music provided by duo Bow versus Plectrum with Filip Novosel on tambura and with Tihomir Hojsak on double bass.  Their acoustic music was world class and thrilled the dinners guests with their beautiful and haunting four songs which included: Dalmatian Sunrise and Mojo Domovina!

Peter Galbraith, the first American Ambassador to Croatia said that being a diplomat in Croatia was a “ ten out of ten” job and he fell in love with the Croatian people and the endless beauty of Croatia from one end to the other. He said he was “so happy to be be part of the 25th Anniversary of US-Croatia diplomatic relations.” The gala dinner was one love fest and surreal dinner  enjoyed by all.