[FOUNTAIN]Moving ahead, looking backCroatian President Stjepan Mesic visited Korea on Wednesday. Mesic is respected among Europeans for taking a leading role to have his country to apologize over past wrongdoings and try to reconcile with neighboring countries, even though the population of his country is only 4.4 million people. He is a man of very unique experiences by serving as the president of two countries successively.
He was the last president of the Federation of Yugoslavia, which consisted of six republics including Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Sarajevo. Representatives of each republic took turns in the post for one-year terms, starting in 1980, when the late president Josip Tito died after ruling for 35 years. However, Mesic resigned due to the civil war after the breakdown of the federation without getting the chance to show his leadership.
Mesic’s true value showed after he became president of Croatia in February 2000. That August, he visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. He asked forgiveness for sending hundreds of thousands of Jews and gypsies to Nazi camps when the country was ruled by a pro-Nazi government from April 1941 to May 1945. The next October, he visited Israel to ask forgiveness for the past affairs. He even revealed the whereabouts of Croatian war criminals who took part in genocide, then fled abroad.
In September 2003, both presidents of Croatia and Serbia, which had internal wars resulting in tens of thousands of deaths, apologized to each other in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. Then, Mesic sued military leaders, respected as heroes by some, as war criminals. He steadfastly continued to apologize and made reconciliation efforts against all threats and demonstrations of extremists.
The European Union acknowledged Croatia as a responsible member of international community after watching President Mesic’s actions. Croatia is set to join the EU in 2009.
During a speech in early January, Mesic said that since we have experienced wars and conflict, we know the importance of peace better than anybody. Therefore we bravely apologize for the past. This is the only way to a peaceful future.
Will Japan be the only country that does not follow this road? A recently revealed internal document from the Japanese ministry of foreign affairs devalued the Korean government’s strong response against Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine as a political gesture by a lame-duck politician.
by Chae In-taek
The writer is a deputy international news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.