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Bridge on the River Dráva at Murakeresztúr

From Balaton to Und

In a series of personal rather official stories shared with the readers of Diplomacy & Trade by ambassadors accredited to Hungary, the Croatian Ambassador Gordan Grlic-Radman has written a diary about his visits around Hungary.

It was Thursday, 19 September 2013, a chilly but beautiful autumn day. I was off to a meeting at the educational center of ‘Youth Town’ in the former Pioneer town of Zánka with the 4th year students of the VII Gymnasium in Zagreb and their professors. These pupils, together with their Hungarian and Polish peers, were on a five-day retreat at Zánka as part of a history competition. However, the main incentive for their trip was to get to know other students of these three culturally similar countries, who share a common history.

Misled by my navigation system to the southern shore of Lake Balaton, I had to take a 10-minute ferry ride to Tihany, a beautiful town on the northern shore. From there, the drive to Zánka took about 15 minutes. Only then did I realize that while in Tihany, I should have met with my 93 year old friend Jelena Vesely, a very vital Hungarian-Croatian painter and sculptor, and the oldest living student of Ivan Mestrovic, Croatia's world famous sculptor. Jelena was born in Croatia, but has lived and worked in Hungary since the early 1940s. Her exceptional vitality and optimistic spirit promise her a long life ahead.

Zánka

The Youth Town in Zánka impressed me both with its size, covering about 220 ha, and its lush vegetation, which has contributed to a natural harmony of the environment, both peaceful and beautiful. Though built in the Social-Realist period, this center looks more like a modern Western European college campus. The Croatian students and their professors were very pleased with their stay in Zánka and with all the new acquaintances and experiences their stay afforded.

Among the protocol speeches, I was particularly inspired by Mónika Balatoni’s, State Minister in the Hungarian Ministry of Public Administration and Justice. She recalled the long Croatian-Polish-Hungarian friendship and our common past, particularly emphasizing that the Croats and Hungarians had shared the same country, and all the good and bad within, for 800 years. She quoted Albert Szent-Györgyi, who said that “history is the school subject which has most influenced the building of our value system, for what other foundation to build our future than on our past”?

Hungarian-Croatian friendship

I emphasized the fact that Hungary was one of the first countries to recognize the independent and sovereign Republic of Croatia and through this entire period, it has wholeheartedly assisted Croatia in achieving its foreign policy goals. I touched upon several examples of the Hungarian-Croatian friendship, which represents a precedent and paradigm in the European political context.

After a delicious dinner, I participated in the opening of a meeting organized – for the first time – between Croatian youth from Hungary and Hungarian pupils from various schools throughout the country. On that evening, an exhibit was opened of pupil's artwork and photographs with a tourism theme, as well as posters of Croatian tourism landscapes. The rich cultural, sports and culinary program, with competitions ongoing in various disciplines, truly justified the purpose of this meeting: to become better acquainted and closer to one another. Folklore performances were held, and a history and geography quiz was organized to commemorate the 900 years of our common history and the accession of the Republic of Croatia to the EU.

Ties between the two peoples

After breakfast the next day, I drove to Veszprém where I opened an exhibit on the life's work of the great Croatian author Miroslav Krleza in the Art Nouveau Petõfi Theater. It is unbelievable just how much attention and esteem Hungarians give this Croatian author, who also spoke and wrote in Hungarian. I am very proud that a monument to Krleza stands in Budapest, a gift from the City of Zagreb. There is also a statue of Miroslav Krleza in Pécs, where he attended the military academy. This great Croatian author perhaps best symbolized the closeness and ties between the Hungarian and Croatian peoples, our common past, culture and tradition. His words best describe this relationship: “All disputes between the Hungarians and Croats can fit into one book, though no library would be sufficient for our positive communication and mutual understanding.”

The next stop of my trip was Murakeresztúr, a small town along the Hungarian-Croatian border. It was here that the Croatian state self-government organized a scientific symposium entitled “One life in the service of a people – Nikola Zrinski, poet and military scientist”. It confirmed that Nikola Zrinska (known for Hungarians as Miklós Zrínyi) was a historical figure equally shared by Hungarians and Croats, – a Croatian Viceroy who advocated the new sovereignty of the Croatian-Hungarian Kingdom.

Bridging banks and people

My hosts reminded me of how for years they have been trying to build a bridge over the Mura River, to connect Murakeresztúr with Kotoriba, a Croatian town just 2 kms away as the bird flies. In order to go from one town to the other, it is necessary to drive about 50 kms. Murakeresztúr and Kotoriba are connected only by an iron bridge. Once passenger trains passed through here, and it was simple to travel from one town to another and from one country to another. Now only the occasional cargo train goes blaring by, and rarely stops. The paradox is that now, when Hungary and Croatia are once again close to one another, their border zones have remained distant. They have almost completed the project documentation for the bridge, but there is no one to finance it. For economic reasons, they have even proposed that a single driving lane be added on the existing iron bridge, which both directions would share. There are no longer customs checks and in two years time, when Croatia enters into the Schengen area, there will be no need for police, either. Connecting these two neighboring Croatian villages, situated in two countries, would greatly contribute to preserving the tradition, culture and national identity of the Croats along the Mura River. I told them that I would not cease in my attempts to write to and lobby with the competent institutions of both countries. I also promised to help them to ensure that their requests and clear arguments receive public significance. Perhaps it is possible to find funds through EU projects.

On Saturday morning, with my wife Marijana and our friends Marica and Rajko Dumancic (a former military attaché in Budapest, now Staff Brigadier in the Ministry of Defense), I set off to Und, a small Croatian village on the Hungarian-Austrian border. There I was greeted by the Burgenland Croats who were celebrating the 480th anniversary of their arrival in this region. One can see the vitality and heartiness of these Burgenland Croats, who for half a millennium have succeeded in preserving the Croatian cultural tradition and heritage of their ancestors, of whom they can be proud. We congratulate them on this jubilee and wish that the new generations also nurture the Croatian word, and that they equally respect both their homelands. It is certain that their survival has also been due to the friendliness of Hungary, which has ensured them an equal life of cohabitation. In that respect, our two countries and our two nations represent something unique on the European scale, although, neither nation has been spared the globalization trends and assimilation where cultures are slowly being lost. The Croats in Hungary – from Pécs to Sopron, from Budapest to Murakeresztúr – are proving that multiculturalism and multi-ethnicism are a treasure for both nations and something that we all should nurture. It is both our duty and our obligation to do so.

Dr. Gordan Grlic-Radman, Ambassador of Croatia

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