On January 11th 2015, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, in a very tight runoff, was elected as the 4th President of Croatia. Grabar-Kitarović got only 32,500 thousand votes more than respected and the most popular Croatian politician, former centre-left President Ivo Josipović (2010-2015). Victory of Grabar-Kitarović was largely possible due to bad economic situation and poor performance of current government led by Social Democratic Party which used to be a party of Josipović. But not only because of that.
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović was labelled by the Associated Press as a “conservative populist” and this description spread throughout the international media. However, there is little reason to call her a “populist”, at least in comparison with other politicians. Grabar-Kitarović has served for many years as Croatian diplomat (i.e. Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration and then ambassador to the United States) and, more recently, NATO’s Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy. She had a chance to present herself as a skilful diplomat dealing with such important issues as the crisis in Ukraine.
Newly elected Croatian president will most likely be more than Ivo Josipović focused on foreign policy. First few months of new presidency may face a troublesome cohabitation as Croatian constitution describes role of the president in the process of shaping foreign policy in following way: “The President of the Republic and the Government of the Republic of Croatia shall co-operate in the formulation and implementation of foreign policy.” It leaves door open for the interpretation. Grabar-Kitarović who has been actively in the transatlantic field of Croatia’s diplomacy may want to turn the country into noticeable player on the international area or, at least, in the Balkans. However, at the beginning no controversial statements should be expected as Grabar-Kitarović will devote most of her time to the critique of the government and the preparation of ground for the parliamentary elections scheduled for autumn 2015.
Two things seem to be sure when it comes to the new presidency: it will be a stronger transatlantic voice in the region and it will be more assertive towards the neighbouring states, Serbia in particular. Election of Grabar-Kitarović as the President of Croatia is rather a good news for countries which have been decisively opposing Russia’s foreign policy and its military engagement in Ukraine. Croatian news website tportal.hr recently reported that reactions in Russia on the election of Grabar-Kitarović as the president are predominantly negative. Thus, Croatia’s relations with Serbia, which has been trying to keep good relations with Russia in spite of the war in Ukraine, may suffer. Relations between Zagreb and Budapest will probably worsen as well, especially having in mind highly possible return to power of Croatian Democratic Union after parliamentary elections later this year and the attitude of Viktor Orban.