Croatian Delegation Discuss Israel During Visit to Kitchener
From left: Croatian State Secretary Tonci Glavina, US Ambassador Pjer Simunovic and State Secretary Frano Matusic from the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Croatia during a visit to Kitchener (Eric Schucht)
June 7th may have been an average day for many, but it was monumental for a Balkan nation.
On that day, American Airlines launched a new flight from Kitchener to Dubrovnik, Croatia – the first direct flight between the two countries in 28 years.
The Croatian Ambassador to the United States, Pjer Simunovic, visited Kitchener on the occasion, together with State Secretary Tonci Glavina and State Secretary Frano Matusic from the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Croatia.
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During the trip, the Croatian delegation attended a gala held at the National Constitution Center with the Mayor of Kitchener, Jim Kenney. She stopped at St. John Neumann Shrine to offer prayers to commemorate D-Day and was present at a Croatian flag-raising ceremony in City Hall. State MP Jared Solomon also read a resolution at Betsy Ross House commemorating the state of Dubrovnik as one of the first to recognize the United States as a nation.
And between these activities, the three diplomats even talked a little bit about Israel.
Simunovic mentioned his time in Israel and his interactions with the Jewish people there after serving as his country’s ambassador from 2012 to 2016. He said he made many lifelong friends from his time there.
“I always say to whoever asks me [about my time in Israel] that it was easy to get me out of Israel, but it was almost impossible to get Israel out of me, ”said Simunovic. “It was really a formative experience.”
Croatia is located in south-eastern Europe and borders the Adriatic Sea to the east of Italy. It is one of several nations that were formed after the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Croatia became a full member of NATO in 2009 and was admitted to the European Union in 2013. The country has about 4 million people, of whom Glavina said about 90% are Catholic.
An estimated 1,700 Jews lived in Croatia in 2001, a fraction of the 20,000 or so who called it home before the Holocaust. But Jewish tourism to Croatia is booming. According to Glavina, between 70,000 and 100,000 Israeli tourists visit the country each year, with Dubrovnik being one of the hot spots.
“Croatia has been one of the stars of tourism for the past ten years and we are definitely moving into the group of the 20 most competitive tourism countries in the world,” said Glavina. “We are very open to guests from all over the world. Croatia may have been known primarily as a vacation destination for many surrounding European countries in the past, but in recent years we have focused heavily on foreign markets. “
The city with 40,000 inhabitants, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located near the southern coastal tip of Croatia. It has garnered more attention in recent years for being the location of King’s Landing in the HBO series Game of Thrones.
The Dubrovnik Synagogue is also located here, the oldest still in use Sephardic synagogue in the world and the second oldest synagogue in Europe. It was founded sometime after 1407 when the Dubrovnik Senate allowed Jews to settle in the area. Today it is mainly used as a museum, the main floor of which is used for services on public holidays and special occasions.
“No matter where you find Judaism, there is a deep spiritual connection that connects the Jewish people,” said Simunovic. “Many Jewish communities expelled from Portugal and Spain found refuge in Dubrovnik, but also in the other [Croatian] Cities along the coast like Split have contributed immensely to the cultural, political and material life of the entire region – Ashkenazi in the north and Sephardic in the south. “
The group also spoke of the military cooperation between Croatia and Israel but shared their disappointment that a planned sale of 12 used Israeli fighter jets had failed. The deal, valued at around $ 500 million, was canceled in January due to objections from the United States. The jets were manufactured by the US in the 1980s and later upgraded by Israel with sophisticated electronics and radar systems. When the US demanded that the technology be removed before the plane was handed over, Croatia ended the sale.
“Unfortunately we didn’t make it [in buying] these planes from Israel, “said Secretary of State Matusic. “We were so close.”
While Croatia may not have these military aircraft, it is easier than ever to catch a commercial flight there. The Kitchener to Dubrovnik flight operates on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays and Wednesdays, Saturdays and Mondays from Dubrovnik to Kitchener. The flights last from June to September.
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