Croatia-Sri Lanka Relations
Banquet in Honor of President of Croatia Stjepan Mesić
Colombo, Sri Lanka
November 16, 2002
Your Excellency President Stjepan Mesić and Madame Milka Mesić,
Hon. Tonino Picula, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Croatia,
Distinguished Members of the Delegation from the Republic of Croatia,
Hon. Prime Minister,
Hon. Ministers and Members of Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure and privilege to welcome President Stjepan Mesić, Madame Milka Mesić and your delegation to Sri Lanka. We are glad that President Mesić included Sri Lanka in the itinerary of his Asian tour. We are particularly honoured by your gracious presence with us today and I am sure, that this first visit by a Croatian Head of State to Sri Lanka will further strengthen the excellent relations between our two countries.
President Mesić has had an illustrious political career, which spans over three decades. He was a prominent student leader during his youth. President Mesić entered the political scene as a member of Parliament of the Socialist Republic of Croatia. After the first multi party elections in Croatia in the late 1980’s, he was appointed the first Prime Minister of the country. He was also the last to hold the rotating Presidency of Yugoslavia at a critical time in the history of the country. His Excellency Stjepan Mesić was first elected President of Croatia in 2000.
Relations between Sri Lanka and Croatia have always been very warm and friendly. Even though Croatia re-emerged as an independent State about a decade ago and diplomatic relations between our two countries were established in 1997, Sri Lanka maintained cordial relations with Croatia when it was a constituent Republic of the former Yugoslavia until 1991. Diplomatic relations with Yugoslavia were established in 1957 under the Premiership of my father, Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, who brought about a revolutionary change in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy. Yugoslavia and Sri Lanka were also in the forefront of the Non-Aligned Movement. Both countries have held the Chair of the Movement. The Movement, though undiminished in its relevance today, played a particularly crucial role in world politics and in the struggle of the developing countries for national and social emancipation and a better life for our peoples during the Cold War era. The Pancha Seela principles, on which Non Alignment was based, have not lost their relevance even today.
The former President of Yugoslavia Marshal Tito, a native of Croatia himself, visited our island twice, once in 1959, during which he discussed the problem of convening a conference of Heads of State and Government of all Non-Aligned countries, and again in 1976 to attend the 6th Summit of the Movement in Colombo. The ties between Sri Lanka and all the Republics of Yugoslavia developed into a durable relationship of warm friendship. Croatia, as part of former Yugoslavia, and after independence, has always considered, and continues to consider, Sri Lanka as a traditional partner.
I vividly recall my late parents’ close friendship and association with President Tito and his family. My mother, Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, often warmly spoke of her numerous meetings with Marshal Tito and greatly admired his close friendship with the people of Sri Lanka. President Tito is a household name in Sri Lanka and our people fondly, and with respect, remember him even today. My late mother made numerous visits to Yugoslavia both official and private, during which she developed a very close association with Madame Jovanka Broz and Marshal Tito and many people in Croatia and the rest of the former Yugoslavia. I myself had the opportunity to visit your beautiful country and its Adriatic coast twice, when I accompanied my late mother.
This year Croatia marks the tenth anniversary of its re-emergence as a sovereign State. Sri Lanka, along with the international community, recognized Croatia in 1992. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1997, Croatia and Sri Lanka took early action to accredit their Ambassadors to the respective capitals. Both countries have also appointed Honorary Consuls in each other’s capitals.
I recall with pleasure the privilege of meeting Your Excellency last May in New York, during the UN Special Session on Children, where we were able to have a very useful discussion covering bilateral, regional and international issues. Your Excellency’s visit to Sri Lanka is a high-water mark in our ever-growing relations.
Today, Croatia is the second most prosperous and industrialized republic of the former Yugoslavia and it has made significant economic progress after independence. It is an important emerging economy of Eastern Europe. Low inflation and currency stability can be singled out as major achievements. We know that Croatia is strong in the areas of shipbuilding, pharmaceuticals, power production, food processing and fisheries, among many other areas of industrial activity. I am certain that our two countries could closely cooperate in these areas.
Sri Lanka liberalized its economy in the late 1970’s and Croatia has also adopted a similar market economic system after its independence. The trade between our two countries has been on the increase, for the past few years and we note that the balance of trade has consistently been in favour of Sri Lanka. There are further opportunities and potential for expansion.
The bilateral Agreement on the Fight Against International Illicit Trafficking of Narcotic Drugs, International Terrorism and Organised Crime was signed during the visit of Foreign Minister Tonino Picula last year. We believe that there is scope for signing more bilateral Agreements on Trade Cooperation, Maritime Transport, Air Services, etc.
The present Government has continued the process initiated by me to find a negotiated political solution to the ethnic problem that has enveloped our country in a climate of violence over the past decades. Last February 2002, the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE entered into a Ceasefire Agreement to ensure a violence free environment and create the climate of confidence which is necessary for the pursuit of political negotiations. As you are no doubt aware, two rounds of official talks between the two parties have now been completed in Thailand. We in this country, and our friends all over the world, hope and pray that a process has begun whereby the legitimate political aspirations of all communities in Sri Lanka – Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and others – who have lived together in our island home from time immemorial, could be realised within a democratic framework in a united Sri Lanka. I am personally deeply committed to the success of this cause.
Your Excellency, the relationship between our two countries has been devoid of any bilateral irritants or tensions. For Sri Lanka, the Republic of Croatia has been, and I am confident will always be, a partner and a true friend. It is therefore, a matter of great personal satisfaction to me, as well as to the Government and people of Sri Lanka, that your visit has become a reality today.