The trauma caused by the break-up of Yugoslavia and the atrocities of the homeland war have left an indelible mark on all aspects of Croatia's social, economic and political life. For many Croats, the last two decades of the past century were beyond painful.
In the first decade of the new century, lost jobs, malpractice, failure to adapt to new democratic relations and the market economy, a poorly conducted transition and privatisation of state-owned and socially-owned enterprises saw most Croats turn from elation and optimism, fuelled by national romanticism and enthusiasm about the creation of the independent state in the 1990s, to hopelessness and lack of trust in the future. Employment declined and successful companies, capable of responding to the demands of the free and competitive western European market, were all but non-existent. Members of the young generation, myself among them, were the worst affected. It is therefore no surprise that, in the 1990s, they began eagerly contemplating the idea of Croatia joining the European Union. Their dreams of life in a community of peoples living by the standards of a free and democratic society grew with every passing day.
In the 1990s, having defended the country from the greater Serbian aggression and created a state, young Croatian people dreamed of a life in a society where people, goods, ideas and education moved freely, a society of equal opportunities and possibilities, of knowledge, understanding and tolerance. Following the painstaking, and often disappointing, accession negotiations on 1 July 2013, European stars lit up the Croatian skies. Ahead of us lies a life in the great European family which has inherited, and is now guarding and promoting, the traditional Christian values of understanding and solidarity, and of mutual respect and care. Croats are happy to return to the fold of the family that is creating and promoting a society of equal opportunities where no one person or group is privileged or favoured.
When Croatia joined the EU, its great dreams became reality. It is therefore very important for all of us as Croats, and especially for politicians, public workers and the young, to work diligently every day on the development of the democratic society and its institutions, adhering to western European political and cultural principles, so that our dreams don't turn to dust. Croatian history abounds with examples of great hopes and expectations turning, almost overnight, into great disillusions. I am convinced that, this time, it will not happen. We have to learn from the experience of past generations.
"Croatian history abounds with examples of great hopes and expectations turning, almost overnight, into great disillusions"
Although Croatian society has achieved a high level of democratisation, we must all of us, young people especially, continue to work hard on strengthening the European Union's democratic principles and values. We are aware that our dreams will only become reality if we take the first step, seize the opportunities and take advantage of the benefits offered to us through our membership in the EU. Croatian products, ideas, wishes and partnerships will communicate the idea of Croats and Croatia and testify that we can live successfully in this great community of European nations. Indeed, we know it is far from easy to succeed on this great market of products and ideas, but we are also convinced that we have both the material and the scientific potential to achieve our goal. This will not be easy as some Croats are still deeply "blocked", sceptical, even disheartened, and we will need time to learn how to live in the EU. In order to succeed, we must work on ourselves, keep learning all the time, change and adapt to new relations. That, however, does not mean that we should forget our national values which are an integral part of the European system of economic, historical, cultural and political values.
My role as a member of the Committee of Regions (CoR) will undoubtedly be of great importance for my region because I am at the source of information telling me which direction the development of Europe is going to take. It is particularly important for me to have the opportunity to establish direct contacts with my colleagues from other European regions so that we can carry out common projects of mutual interest.
I believe that most of our entrepreneurs and farmers were prepared for entering the EU market. They had used the accession funds to ensure better conditions of production by acquiring the technologies they needed to put them on an equal footing with other European producers.
I am also particularly interested in environmental protection because of Croatia's many green areas, drinking water resources, national parks and its Adriatic coast. All these need to be preserved and the development of our entrepreneurial sector and our economy should be harmonised to that end. This is why I have become a member of the environmental protection forum at the ministry of environmental and nature protection and the environment, climate change and energy policy commission at the CoR.
It is essential that steps be taken in Croatia to decentralise the state, not only in terms of increasing the powers of local authorities, but also in terms of fiscal decentralisation.