President of India Shri Ram Nath Kovind along with his wife was on a state visit to Croatia, a small country located in South-eastern Europe. India’s relations with Croatia are part of an older historical equation when New Delhi, Belgrade (capital of undivided Yugoslavia) along with Cairo and Jakarta were part of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) that offered a different view to global politics during the Cold War. From 1945-1992, Croatia was one of the six constituent republics that made up Yugoslavia. This was the first visit by an Indian president to Croatia that came into being in 1992.
India and Croatia have long standing cultural connections. Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore visited Croatia in 1926 and in addition, the church of Saint Blaise in Goa is a replica of the original in Dubrovnik, Croatia that got destroyed in the earthquake of 1667. It was the spice trade that brought the Dubrovnik close to Goa. The Indology Department at the University of Zagreb has a long history of over six decades, and an Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) Hindi Chair was set up a decade ago.
India recognised the newly independent Croatia in 1992 and diplomatic relations were soon established thereafter. During his visit, President Kovind delivered an address at the University of Zagreb on the topic “India–Croatia Relations-The Way Forward’. He stated that India’s second President and his illustrious predecessor Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan had visited this university in October 1965. President Kovind launched a Sanskrit Chair and renewed the Hindi Chair. He commended the University for bringing the two countries together by studying their languages, history and culture.
Although the Indian diaspora in Croatia is very small; at the Indian Community Reception in Zagreb, the Indian President commended the Indians living there and said, “You are also the prism through which the Croatian people see India, and your success here has contributed to building a positive image of India in this country”. Further, he invited them to benefit from India’s growth and invest in the country. The President recalled in his banquet speech hosted in his honour, Croatia’s performance in the FIFA world cup last year – as the runner up in the final had come to create a lasting impact on many Indians.
As the Indian Ministry of External Affairs says, “India’s trade with Croatia is modest.” So the visit sought to infuse more in this area. Some of the critical areas for expanding the bilateral trade relations include textiles, leather, pharmaceuticals, coffee, tea, industrial and electrical machinery. Addressing the India-Croatia Business Forum, President Kovind said that there is “immense potential to expand trade and investment profile and establish innovation, research and start-up partnerships”. He invited Croatian participation in the “Make in India, Clean India, Start-up India and Digital India” initiatives of India. Simultaneously he also said that “We are also keen to learn from Croatia in the tourism and urban infrastructure sectors. In addition, the location of Croatia also offers an excellent opportunity for India to develop more relations in Southeast Europe.
The Indian President reiterated that New Delhi stands for values of democracy, pluralism and peace and that it endorses at the global level multi-polar world uplifting multilateralism, strengthening global governance and ensuring adherence to international laws and regulations.
Addressing the University of Zagreb students, President Kovind highlighted Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas that “knowledge and education were about understanding the oneness of humanity and about harnessing the power of truth”. As the country celebrates the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation on 2nd October, his bust would be unveiled in Zagreb as a gift to the people of Croatia.
Script: Prof. Ummu Salma Bava, Chairperson & Jean Monnet Chair, Centre for European Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University