Croatia’s new Ambassador, Dr Ivan Grdešić, arrived in early October, with his wife Elena. Thrilled at the prospect of his new posting, Dr Grdešić is optimistic: ‘my first experiences of London are very encouraging. London offers so much and I only regret not having more time to explore and enjoy the city’.
A political scientist by training, Dr Grdešić has taught at the University of Zagreb, in the Department of Political Science for most of his professional life. However, in 2000 he was called upon by his government to serve as Croatia’s Ambassador to the United States. ‘It was a difficult but also very positive time for the country,’ he recalls. ‘To serve in Washington DC was an honour but also a challenge to present the new face of newly democratised Croatia, an open, pro-European, pro-NATO country,’ he says. But he left the posting content with his achievements; his diplomatic efforts were crowned by the visit of the Prime Minister to the Oval Office: ‘it is something that ambassadors hope to achieve and is a benchmark of their success.’
Dr Grdešić recalls a memorable (and amusing) incident while presenting his credentials in Washington DC. ‘I arrived immediately after the elections, so I was the first Ambassador that President Bush received in the Oval Office. We were both new in our jobs. As I arrived, the President turned to Condoleezza Rice and said ‘is he supposed to give me something or am I supposed to give him something?’ Later on, the President liked to recall his first credential ceremony with me.’
Following his posting, he returned to the University of Zagreb, with a wealth of experience to share with his students. ‘I’d been a diplomat in the US during the September 11th terrorist attacks and the subsequent intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq.’ He recalls how ‘for the eight years after my return I shared my hands-on experience of being part of the political process with my students.’
Again, Dr Grdešić is ready to move out of academia and engage with the political process.’ Although he is in little doubt that his background will be invaluable to him, having already discovered the common ground between the two roles: ‘Much of the time, diplomacy today is about talking publically and trying to convey a message. In many aspects this is also a job of a professor.’
As Ambassador in the UK, Dr Grdešić has plenty of important tasks ahead, and top of his ‘to-do’ list is to help finish the ratification process in the British Parliament of Croatia’s Accession Treaty into the European Union. This involves providing UK Parliament with the information they need to ratify, on the British side, future Croatian membership. ‘The process is going very well, and we believe that Croatia will be a full member of the EU by 1 July 2013.’ In anticipation of this important date, the Croatian Embassy with the British-Croatian Society and friends is organising the ‘Welcome Croatia’ festival which will showcase that Croatia is a country with lots of young talent.
Once membership has been attained, Dr Grdešić must pursue further business opportunities for Croatia. With 25 per cent growth in UK tourists visiting Croatia in the past year, the country is in a strong position when it comes to tourism. Dr Grdešić believes ‘that British businesses will be interested in finding the investment opportunities and partners in Croatia for the benefit of both sides. ’
As a small embassy, Dr Grdešić is aware that he’s one of a number of European countries competing with the bigger diplomatic services of larger countries. ‘It’s a challenge and we know that but we hope that with the talented young staff and partners in the city we will be able to implement our mission in London’. No doubt Croatia will greatly benefit from Dr Grdešić’s learned and personable approach.