INTERVIEW IN “SLOBODNA DALMACIJA”: I am going to the elections in Nepal and looking forward to changes to the Election Law in BiH
25 November 2017 – Slobodna Dalmacija
By Miroslav Landeka
In a couple of days, it will be a year since the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz introduced at an EP plenary session in Strasbourg two new Croatian members of the European Parliament, Željana Zovko and Ivica Tolić, who replaced Andrej Plenković and Davor Ivo Stier. However, as opposed to other Croatian MEPs, Željana Zovko from Mostar is not very well-known to the Croatian public.
Zovko has recently been appointed the Chief Observer of the EU Election Observation Mission to Nepal for the elections to the House of Representatives and provincial assemblies. She has already officially opened the observation mission.
– This is the very first time that a Croatian MEP was appointed to this highly responsible position, what makes my responsibility even higher. Croatians have so far been highly ranked in EP delegations, but a Croatian MEP has never been appointed a Chief Observer. Therefore, I personally consider this to be a great success of mine that after only one year in the EP my work was recognised by the EPP and I was appointed the Chief Observer by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini.
The elections will be held in two rounds – on 26 November and on 7 December 2017. They mark an important stage in Nepal’s democratic development, and I very much hope that our presence will contribute to an inclusive and transparent electoral process.
What is your main task as the Chief Observer?
- I will observe all aspects of the electoral process and assess the extent to which the elections are in compliance with the laws of Nepal, as well as with international commitments for democratic elections. The elections in Nepal will be held in the new political and election system. During my visit to Nepal I had meetings with the prime-minister, Chairman of the Election Commission, government officials, as well as with leaders of political parties. Two observers in the EU mission are from Croatia and they will stay in Nepal during the elections. It is important to mention that these are the first general elections held after adoption of the new Constitution. In addition, this is the largest international observation mission with more than 100 EU observers.
You have been working diplomacy for long time. To what extent is your current job different from working in diplomacy?
It was a huge change in my life to replace diplomacy with the MEP position. Involvement in the activities of the EP Committee for Foreign Affairs and Committee
- of Development was a natural continuation of my activities in foreign affairs. As a member of these two EP Committees, I actively participated in various missions in which I had an opportunity to learn about various crisis focal points. I also had an opportunity to visit many refugees’ camps and directly see what the EU was doing on the ground. The EU has been supporting development and democratisation in the areas I have visited, what makes its role entirely indispensable when it comes to improvement of common people’s everyday lives and protection of their human, civil, cultural and linguistic rights and differences. In my work on drafting amendments to various documents I have always been trying to stress that the EU and its public diplomacy should be more recognised in this aspect in order to show its activities more clearly, which activities have actually been very well recognised and very well visible to the people on the ground for years already, both in financial and material terms. I firmly believe that such approach may reduce populism in the EU and refute the arguments of those who try by false news to simplify the current and forthcoming crises.
The issue of Bosnia and Herzegovina has to be mentioned. How much is BiH in the focus of your work?
- In addition to my other activities related to BiH, in cooperation with my colleague Cristian Dan Preda, the standing EP rapporteur for BiH and MEP Dubravka Šuica, the head of the Croatian EPP delegation I am organising the conference titled “European Bosnia and Herzegovina: Cultural Differences and Reconciliation“ and the exhibition of the bridges from the World Heritage List, which were reconstructed under the auspices of UNESCO. We are actually trying to keep focus on BiH and assist the country on its path to the European Union, which is the only way in which the country may establish stability and security and even more so, the only way in which stability and security may be maintained on the EU borders.
Right of Croats to their own language
What is according to your opinion the most important thing for BiH, which seems to be in a permanent political crisis ever since the end of the war?
- The most important thing is certainly the implementation of key institutional reforms in BiH, including changes to the Election Law in order to prevent the majority nation to elect the Croat political representatives instead of Croats. This issue was emphasised in the last EP resolution, on which I was actively working since my arrival to the EP, but it was emphasised in other EP resolutions on BiH as well. We now have to insist on implementation of the EP messages. There is nothing to add to them. Those solutions made the European Union an oasis of peace and prosperity. Decentralisation, federalisation and recognition of cultural, religious and linguistic differences and the right to education and information in one’s mother-tongue are undisputable rights and fundamental European values. The implementation is being frustrated by the same spoilers, who have been keeping BiH a hostage for years, a hostage in the status quo, out of which the citizens do not see any way out and slowly move out of the country, what is the biggest tragedy indeed.
Especially proud of the Old Bridge
Željana Zovko is an expert for international relations with very rich experience in diplomacy. She graduated French language at the University of London and started her political and diplomatic career in the BiH state Presidency in 1999 as a PR officer and later as the Head of Office to the Croat member of the BiH Presidency. For her commitment and efforts in the Spanish Square project in Mostar, Zovko was ordained with the Big Cross by the Spanish King Juan Carlos I, who visited Mostar for the opening ceremony in 2012 and opened the Spanish Square himself.
- I was BiH Ambassador to France from 2004 to 2008. At the same time, I was also non-resident Ambassador to Algeria, Tunisia, Monaco and Andorra and BiH permanent representative to UNESCO. I am particularly proud of the fact that the Old Bridge of Mostar and the Bridge of Višegrad were included on the UNESCO World Heritage List during my term at UNESCO. One of my other important activities in UNESCO was promotion of projects of reconstruction of three religious facilities under auspices of UNESCO: Orthodox Church in Mostar, Plehan Monastery in Posavina and Ferhadija Mosque in Banja Luka as symbols of reconstruction, reconciliation and inter-religious dialogue.
As I am from Mostar, I am especially proud of the Old Bridge, because it was the very first monument from BiH to be included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. I was BiH Ambassador to Spain from 2008 to 2011 and non-resident Ambassador to Morocco. I came to the European Parliament from the position of BiH Ambassador to Italy.