Press Releases

    21 November 2002


    NEW YORK, 20 November (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Secretary-General Kofi Annan's address to the Croatian Parliament, Zagreb, 20 November:

    It is indeed a great honour for me to address this August assembly.

    Every national parliament is a special place, because its members provide the indispensable link between national and local concerns.

    An American politician once said that "all politics is local", and in a sense that is true. It is in local communities that people live their everyday lives, and it is by their impact on local conditions that politicians, including members of parliament, are most likely to be judged. You do not need me to tell you that.

    Yet in the present age it would be equally true to say that "all politics is global". There are few communities so isolated today that they do not feel the impact of global trends.

    Often, indeed, global problems seem bent on visiting us, wherever we may live. No one can escape the impact of climate change. And few can feel wholly secure, nowadays, from threats as diverse as terrorism, transnational crime, HIV/AIDS, or worldwide recession.

    People look to you, their elected representatives, to protect them from such "problems without passports", which are the downside of globalization. But you also have a more positive role: that of helping to make sure your constituents can benefit from the upside of globalization -- from the opportunities offered by freer trade, faster communications and new technology.

    All these things have vastly expanded our ability to enrich our lives by exchanging goods, ideas and influences with people in different parts of the world, living very different lives from our own. But we can benefit from this only if we manage change successfully at the global level.

    It is for that purpose that nations come together in global institutions, of which the United Nations is, of course, the indispensable centrepiece.

    And that is why it is so important for parliamentarians like you to involve yourselves in our work at the global level.

    You can bring to us the essential perspective of local communities and ordinary people on global problems.

    You can help us explain those problems to ordinary people.

    And -- even more important -- you can help us mobilize ordinary people, in their local communities, to tackle those global problems and become part of the solution. It is at the local level, in thousands of small communities around the world, that the great struggles of our time -- the struggles for freedom from fear and from want -- will ultimately be decided.

    When I speak of freedom from fear, all of you here know what I am talking about. Your memory of the horrors of war and ethnic cleansing -- of people driven from their homes at gunpoint, or killed for no other reason than their ethnic identity -- is all too fresh.

    I know, because I was briefly here among you during the last, dramatic phase of that bitter conflict, in the autumn and winter of 1995. Even before that, as Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, I had responsibility for the United Nations Protection Force, whose headquarters were here in Zagreb.

    Few of us, I fear, can look back on that period with any great pride or satisfaction. And yet I have many good memories, of the courage and friendliness of individuals even in the worst of times. I still have many friends here, and it is very good to be among them today.

    It is also very encouraging to come back here today, and see how much has changed in the last seven years.

    As you know, this is the last stop on a very brief tour of the region, which has taken me also to Sarajevo, Pristina and Belgrade.

    All of you, within the last decade, have lived through war, though in different ways, and living the worst moments at different times.

    All of you were caught up in the violent dissolution of the former Yugoslavia.

    All of you learned how communities, families and individual human beings can be callously destroyed, once the politics of hate, and fear, and mutual exclusion are given free rein.

    And all of you, I believe, are now putting that lesson to good use.

    You are putting the ideologies of the past behind you, and cultivating the true spirit of democracy.

    You have understood that democracy is not simply a matter of elections and majority rule. Democracy requires also respect for human rights, including the rights of minorities, and for freedom of expression.

    It involves listening as well as speaking. It involves painfully seeking compromises, so that no one’s views or interests are ignored.

    It involves cultivating mutual trust among fellow citizens, whatever ethnic or other community they belong to. And that must be done not only by the State but also, and above all, by civil society -- by the patient building of voluntary institutions, in which people of different backgrounds work side by side, not because the State or the Party has so ordered, but because they themselves understand how important it is to work together, and want to do it.

    These things are not easy at the best of times. In the wake of bloodshed, when people of different communities have many good reasons to fear and mistrust each other, they are hard indeed.

    That is why this part of Europe so badly needs the support and guidance of international institutions, and especially those of the new Europe.

    The more fortunate and prosperous part of this continent was slow to realize how much its interests were bound up with this region, and therefore slow to assume its responsibilities. But in the last few years that has changed.

    In Kosovo, European institutions are now playing a decisive role, in partnership with the United Nations. The same has been true in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the United Nations has now nearly completed its share of the peace-building mission.

    You in Croatia are ahead of the curve. It is now nearly five years since the United Nations restored full control of Eastern Slavonia to the Croatian authorities. Since then, you have had full responsibility for your whole territory and its population, with the partial exception of Prevlaka.

    You are now at peace with all your neighbours, and I hope you will soon be able to resolve all outstanding issues with them bilaterally, including that of Prevlaka -- which I am happy to note is on the verge of solution-seeking solutions in a spirit of compromise, and making a real effort to understand the needs of the other side.

    Instead of playing host to United Nations peacekeepers, you now contribute to peacekeeping missions in other parts of the world.

    We are very grateful for that. And I believe confidently that you will live up to your international obligations in other respects, too.

    War crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the war must not remain unpunished. Justice needs to be done. The entire international community has understood that the restoration of trust between nations and communities is possible only if the individuals responsible for the worst crimes are called to account. In your region, this task has been entrusted to the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. You owe it to yourselves, as well as to your neighbours, to give that Tribunal your cooperation.

    No less important, I am confident that you will continue the process of national reconciliation among your citizens, allowing all those who lost their homes to return, if they so choose.

    I believe you are now past the point where any community needs to feel afraid because members of another community are living in the same neighbourhood.

    Law and order prevail, and the most important thing is to ensure that all parts of the population benefit, so that no one, in the future, has any interest in disturbing the peace.

    This new Croatia can, I believe, and will be a factor of stability in the region. Indeed, I believe you have already started to play that role, because you are in the forefront of the positive changes we have seen throughout the region.

    Let me thank the Croatian people and Croatia again for your warm welcome. And through you, let me thank Croatia for all it does in and with the United Nations.

    Hvala lijepo!

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