|President of Croatia|
19 February 2015 – 18 February 2020
|Prime Minister||Zoran Milanović|
|Preceded by||Ivo Josipović|
|Succeeded by||Zoran Milanović|
|Assistant Secretary General of NATO|
for Public Diplomacy
4 July 2011 – 2 October 2014
|Preceded by||Stefanie Babst (Acting)|
|Succeeded by||Ted Whiteside (Acting)|
|Ambassador of Croatia to the United States|
8 March 2008 – 4 July 2011
|Preceded by||Neven Jurica|
|Succeeded by||Vice Skračić (Acting)|
|Minister of Foreign and European Affairs|
17 February 2005 – 12 January 2008
|Prime Minister||Ivo Sanader|
|Preceded by||Miomir Žužul (Foreign Affairs)|
Herself (European Affairs)
|Succeeded by||Gordan Jandroković|
|Minister of European Affairs|
23 December 2003 – 16 February 2005
|Prime Minister||Ivo Sanader|
|Preceded by||Neven Mimica|
|Succeeded by||Position abolished|
29 April 1968
Rijeka, SR Croatia, SFR Yugoslavia
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović (pronounced [ɡrǎbar kitǎːroʋitɕ] (listen); born 29 April 1968) is a Croatian politician and diplomat and a Member of the International Olympic Committee who served as President of Croatia from 2015 to 2020. She was the first woman to be elected to the office since the first multi-party elections in 1990 and independence in 1991. At 46 years of age, she also became the youngest person to assume the presidency.
Before her election as president of Croatia, Grabar-Kitarović held a number of governmental and diplomatic positions. She was minister of European Affairs from 2003 to 2005, the first female minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration from 2005 to 2008 in both the first and second cabinets of Ivo Sanader, Croatian ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2011 and assistant secretary general for public diplomacy at NATO under Secretaries General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Jens Stoltenberg from 2011 to 2014.
Grabar-Kitarović was a member of the conservative Croatian Democratic Union party from 1993 to 2015 and was also one of three Croatian members of the Trilateral Commission, but she was required to resign both positions upon taking office as president in 2015, as Croatian presidents are not permitted to hold other political positions or party membership while in office. In 2017, Forbes magazine listed Grabar-Kitarović as the world's 39th most powerful woman.
Early life and education
Kolinda Grabar was born on 29 April 1968 in Rijeka, Croatia, then part of Yugoslavia, to Dubravka (b. 1947) and Branko Grabar (b. 1944). She was raised mainly in her parents' village of Lopača, just north of Rijeka, where the family owned a butcher shop and a ranch. As a high school student, she entered a student exchange program and at 17 moved to Los Alamos, New Mexico, subsequently graduating from Los Alamos High School in 1986.
Upon her return to Yugoslavia, she enrolled at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb, graduating in 1993 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Spanish languages and literature. From 1995 to 1996, she attended the Diploma Course at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna. In 2000 she obtained a master's degree in international relations from the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Zagreb.
In 2002–2003 she attended George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs as a Fulbright scholar. She also received a Luksic Fellowship for the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and was a visiting scholar at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
In December 2015, Grabar-Kitarović began her doctoral studies in international relations at the Zagreb Faculty of Political Science.
In 1992, Grabar-Kitarović became an advisor to the international cooperation department of the Ministry of Science and Technology. In 1993 she joined the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). In the same year she transferred to the Foreign ministry, becoming an advisor. She became the head of the North American department of the Foreign ministry in 1995 and held that post until 1997. That year she began to work at the Croatian embassy in Canada as a diplomatic councilor until October 1998, and then as a minister-councilor.
When Social Democratic Party of Croatia (SDP) came to power after 2000 elections Tonino Picula became minister of Foreign Affairs. After taking office he immediately started to remove politically appointed staff that was appointed by the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) to high-ranking diplomatic positions. Grabar-Kitarović was ordered to return to Croatia from Canada within next six weeks, which she at first refused to do because she was pregnant and had already made plans to give birth in Canada, however, she eventually decided to return after being strongly pressured by the ministry to do so. During her stay in the hospital, she applied for Fulbright scholarship for studying international relations and security policy. She eventually moved to the United States and enrolled at the George Washington University. After graduating, she returned to Croatia and continued to live in Rijeka.
Two years later, she was elected to the Croatian Parliament from the seventh electoral district as a member of the Croatian Democratic Union in the 2003 parliamentary elections. With the formation of the new government led by HDZ chairman Ivo Sanader she became Minister of European integration, which entailed the commencement of negotiations regarding Croatia's ascension to the European Union.
After the separate ministries of Foreign Affairs and European Integration were merged in 2005 Grabar-Kitarović was nominated to become minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration. She was confirmed by the Parliament and sworn in on 17 February 2005. Her main task as foreign minister was to guide Croatia into the European Union and NATO. On 18 January 2005, she became head of the State Delegation for Negotiations on the Croatian accession to the European Union. Furthermore, on 28 November 2005 she was elected by the international community to preside over the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention's Sixth Meeting of the States Parties, or Ottawa Treaty, held that year in Zagreb. Grabar-Kitarović was the first woman to be named president of the Ottawa Treaty.
Following the HDZ's victory in the 2007 parliamentary election and the subsequent formation of the Second Sanader Cabinet, she was reappointed as foreign minister, but was suddenly removed from the position on 12 January 2008. The exact reason for her removal is not known. Gordan Jandroković succeeded her.
On 8 March 2008, while the President of Croatia was Stjepan Mesić, she became the Croatian ambassador to the United States, where she replaced Neven Jurica. She served as ambassador until 4 July 2011. In 2010 a scandal broke out at the Croatian Embassy in Washington, DC when it was revealed that Grabar-Kitarović's husband, Jakov, had been using an official embassy car for private purposes. Namely, a member of the embassy's security staff had followed and filmed Kitarović for days and footage of the events was posted on YouTube, but were later removed. As a result, Foreign Minister Gordan Jandroković launched an internal investigation because of Jakov Kitarović's unauthorized usage of the official car, as the unauthorized filming of members of the diplomatic staff and their families by a member of the embassy's security staff. The investigation concluded that Grabar-Kitarović herself was, despite having an embassy-owned Cadillac DTS with a driver available to her 24 hours a day, using another embassy car, a Toyota Sienna, for private purposes. Grabar-Kitarović claimed that her duties continued for 24 hours a day and that she could not separate her working life from her private life. She later paid for all expenses that occurred due to her husband's unauthorized using of the car, while the member of embassy's security staff who had filmed her family was fired.
In 2011 Grabar-Kitarović submitted her resignation as ambassador and on 4 June 2011 became assistant secretary general of NATO for Public Diplomacy. She was criticized because of the way she left her position in Washington, DC. Namely, Grabar-Kitarović had failed to inform Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor in advance of her plans to resign as ambassador, so Kosor was not prepared to appoint a replacement on time. As a result, the position of Croatian ambassador to the United States was vacant for almost nine months after Grabar-Kitarović's departure. Grabar-Kitarović, however, said that she did in fact inform the newly elected president of Croatia, Social Democrat Ivo Josipović, of her plans and Josipović subsequently confirmed these claims in December 2014, stating that he even gave his personal contribution to her appointment to NATO by writing Grabar-Kitarović a written opinion that she needed from someone reputable. Grabar-Kitarović also said that she had on two occasions offered herself to Prime Minister Kosor and also to return to Croatia, so as to make herself available to the HDZ for the 2011 parliamentary elections. Furthermore, stating that Kosor had just ignored her offers and that it is for this reason that Grabar-Kitarović decided not to communicate with the Prime Minister any further.
When Grabar-Kitarović saw an ad for a job at NATO in The Economist magazine, she thought that the job was well-suited for her, but in the end decided not to apply for it. It was only when NATO failed to choose a candidate for the job in two rounds that she finally applied, and in the third round she received the position. During her term at NATO she often visited Afghanistan and the Croatian soldiers that are deployed there as part of a peacekeeping mission. Her task was to take care of the "communication strategy" and to "bring NATO closer to the common people". Her colleagues at NATO often referred to her as SWAMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed). Grabar-Kitarović was the first woman ever to be appointed to the position. She served as assistant secretary general in NATO until 2 October 2014.
2014–15 presidential candidacy
Croatian daily newspaper Jutarnji List published an article in September 2012 stating that Grabar-Kitarović was being considered as a possible candidate for the 2014–15 Croatian presidential election by the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). It was confirmed in mid-2014 that she was to become the party's official candidate, going up against incumbent Ivo Josipović and newcomers Ivan Vilibor Sinčić and Milan Kujundžić. In the first round of election in December 2014 Grabar-Kitarović won 37.2% of the vote, second to Josipović who received 38.5%, while Sinčić and Kujundžić won 16.4% and 6.3% of the vote respectively. Since no candidate received more than 50% of the vote, a run-off election was scheduled between the top two candidates, Josipović and Grabar-Kitarović, in two weeks time.
Grabar-Kitarović contested the presidential election held in December 2014 and January 2015 as the only female candidate (out of four in total), finishing as the runner-up in the first round and thereafter proceeding to narrowly defeat incumbent President Ivo Josipović in the second round. In the second round, Grabar-Kitarović defeated Josipović (by a margin of 1.48%). Furthermore, as the country had previously also had a female prime minister, Jadranka Kosor, from 2009 until 2011, Grabar-Kitarović's election as president of Croatia also included it into a small group of parliamentary republics which have had both a female head of state and head of government.
The run-off took place on 11 January 2015, with Grabar-Kitarović winning 50.7% of the vote. She thereby became Croatia's first female post-independence head of state and the country's first conservative president in 15 years.[Note 1] She was ceremonially sworn into office on 15 February, and assumed office officially at midnight on 19 February 2015.
Upon election, Grabar-Kitarović became the first woman in Europe to defeat an incumbent president running for reelection, as well as the second woman in the world to do so, after Violetta Chamorro of Nicaragua in 1990. She is also the first candidate of any gender to defeat an incumbent Croatian president. In addition, Grabar-Kitarović is the only presidential candidate to date to have won a Croatian presidential election without having won the most votes in the first round of elections, as she lost it by 1.24% or 21,000 votes. Furthermore, the 1.114 million votes she received in the second round is the lowest number of votes for any winning candidate in a presidential election in Croatia and the 1.48% victory margin against Josipović is the smallest in any such election to date.
Less than nine months into Grabar-Kitarović's term the European migrant crisis began to escalate with large numbers of migrants entering Greece and Macedonia and crossing from Serbia into Hungary, with the latter beginning the construction of a fence on its southern border as a result. In September 2015, after Hungary constructed a fence and closed its border with Serbia, the flow of migrants was redirected towards Croatia, causing over 21,000 migrants to enter the country by 19 September, with the number rising to 39,000 immigrants, while 32,000 migrants exited Croatia, leaving through Slovenia and Hungary. She appointed Andrija Hebrang her commissioner for the refugee crisis.
With the parliament expected to dissolve by 25 September, Grabar-Kitarović called parliamentary elections for 8 November 2015. They proved inconclusive and negotiations on forming a government lasted for 76 days. Grabar-Kitarović had previously announced on 22 December 2015, if there were no agreement on a possible Prime Minister-designate in the next 24 hours, she would call for an early election and name a non-partisan transitional government (which would have reportedly been headed by Damir Vanđelić), thereby putting intense pressure on the political parties involved in the negotiations regarding the formation of the new government, to find a solution. The crisis finally ended on 23 December 2015 when Grabar-Kitarović gave the 30-day mandate to form a government to the non-partisan Croatian-Canadian businessman Tihomir Orešković, who had been selected by HDZ and MOST only hours before the expiration of the President's delegated time frame for the naming of a Prime-Minister-designate.
On 24 August 2015, Grabar-Kitarović was, as Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief, presented with a petition for the introduction of a Croatian fascist Ustaše movement salute Za dom spremni to the official use in the Croatian Armed Forces. She immediately rejected petition calling it "frivolous, unacceptable and provocative". She called the salute a "Croatian historical greeting" that was "compromised and unacceptable". Following a backlash from historians that the salute was not historical, Grabar-Kitarović admitted that she was wrong in that part of the statement.
On 29 September 2015, at the initiative of Grabar-Kitarović the Atlantic Council co-hosted an informal high-level Adriatic-Baltic-Black Sea Leaders' Meeting in New York City which would later grow to Three Seas Initiative. The Initiative was officially formed in 2016 and held its first summit in Dubrovnik, Croatia, on 25–26 August 2016.
On 11 April 2016, after meeting with Nicolas Dean, the special envoy for Holocaust of the United States Department of State, Grabar-Kitarović stated that the "Independent State of Croatia (NDH) was least independent and was least protecting the interests of the Croatian people". Adding that the "Ustaše regime was criminal regime", that "anti-fascism is in the foundation of the Croatian Constitution" and that the "modern Croatian state has grown on the foundations of the Croatian War of Independence." In May 2016, Grabar-Kitarović visited Tehran on the invitation of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani called on Croatia to be the gateway to Iran's ties with Europe. The two presidents reaffirmed the traditionally good relations between their countries and signed an agreement on economic cooperation.
In October 2016, Grabar-Kitarović made an official visit to Baku, Azerbaijan where she expressed her support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, stating that the solution to this conflict "must be peaceful and political".
Grabar-Kitarović expressed her condolences to Slobodan Praljak's family after he committed suicide in The Hague where he was facing trial, calling him "a man who preferred to give his life, rather than to live, having been convicted of crimes he firmly believed he had not committed", adding that "his act struck deeply at the heart of the Croatian people and left the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia with the weight of eternal doubt about the accomplishment of its tasks".
In a speech held at the ceremony at which Grabar-Kitarović was named honorary citizen of Buenos Aires in March 2018, she stated that "after World War II, many Croats found a space of freedom in Argentina where they could testify to their patriotism and express their justified demands for the freedom of the Croatian people and homeland." Since a number of Ustaše officials fled to Argentina after WWII, her statement was interpreted by some as support for them. Among the critics was Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center who remarked that: "What she was obviously oblivious to was the fact that the wave of immigrants who moved to Argentina after 1945 were Ustaše Nazi war criminals. So if she's proud of them, something is obviously wrong." In a press release, Grabar-Kitarović rejected "malicious interpretations" of her statement.
During the 2018 FIFA World Cup, held in Russia, Grabar-Kitarović attended the quarter-final and final matches, wearing the colors of the national flag in support of the national team, which ultimately ended up as tournament runners-up. According to the analytics company Mediatoolkit, she "emerged as her country’s star of the tournament" with "25% more focus on her in news stories about the final than any of the players on the pitch", as she "travelled to Russia at her own expense in economy class and often watched from the non-VIP stands". Commenting on the appearance of Croatian nationalist singer Marko Perković at the celebration, whose songs and concerts are said to glorify the fascist Ustaše regime, and have been banned recently in some places, Grabar-Kitarović stated that she “never heard” such songs nor “seen any evidence that they exist”, was "very fond" of some of his songs and that she did not see any evidence for the controversies associated to him, claiming his songs are "good for national unity". She condemned all totalitarian regimes, including nazism, fascism, and communism.
In 2019, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović became the chair of the Council of Women World Leaders, a network of 75 current and former Presidents and Prime Ministers. It is the only organization in the world dedicated to women heads of state and government.
President Grabar-Kitarović is the recipient of numerous foreign awards and decorations. In 2017, she received the Collar of Mubarac the Great in Kuwait, and the National Star of the Republic of Rumania. In 2018, she received the Portuguese Order of Prince Henry and the National Flag Medal of the Republic of Albania. She also received the honorary doctorates from the Slovak Matej Bel University for International relations and economics in 2015, and from Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, Hungarian Corvinius University of Budapest, and Argentinean San Pablo University in 2017. She received honorary citizenship of Buenos Aires, Argentina and Mljet, Croatia in 2017, and Berat, Albania in 2018.
During her presidency, she has also received numerous awards, among others the International award “Isa beg Ishaković” in 2015 and “Evening news stamp award” for promoting the European values in 2018, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and EBAN “Visionary Leadership Award” in 2016, as well the “Paul Harris Fellow” of Rotarian Club in 2019. In 2019, she also received the Special recognition for the development of inter-religious dialogue from the Islamic community in Croatia.
2019–20 Croatian presidential election
In August 2019, during the Victory Day celebrations in Knin, Grabar-Kitarović informally hinted that she would be seeking reelection to a second and final 5-year term as President in the upcoming election, and formally confirmed this several days later in an interview for the right-wing publication Hrvatski tjednik (Croatian Weekly). Prime Minister and HDZ President Andrej Plenković announced that the HDZ will support her bid for second term. On 2 October 2019, Grabar-Kitarović formally announced her bid for re-election with the campaign slogan "Because I believe in Croatia". Her most serious challengers according to the polls were former social democratic Prime Minister Zoran Milanović and conservative musician (and former Member of Parliament) Miroslav Škoro who was supported by nationalist parties.
In August 2019 she announced that she would be seeking a second and final term as president in the upcoming election. She thus proceeded to face 10 other candidates in the first round on 22 December 2019, with her main challengers being former Social Democratic Prime Minister Zoran Milanović and conservative folk musician and former Member of Parliament Miroslav Škoro. Zoran Milanović won a plurality of 29.55% of the vote, ahead of Grabar-Kitarović, who received 26.65% of the vote. Miroslav Škoro attracted the support of 24.45% of voters. Therefore, this election marked the first time in Croatian history that the incumbent president did not receive the highest number of votes in the first round. Grabar-Kitarović only managed to defeat Škoro by a margin of only 2.2% of the vote, and therefore narrowly proceeded to the run-off against Milanović. Also, Grabar-Kitarović attained both the lowest number of votes (507,626) and the lowest percentage of votes of any Croatian president competing in either of the two rounds of elections. Furthermore, Milanović attained both the lowest number of votes (562,779) and the lowest percentage of the vote of any winning candidate in the first round of a presidential election.
A run-off election took place between Milanović and Grabar-Kitarović on 5 January 2020. If Grabar-Kitarović was to be reelected, her victory would have marked the second instance in a presidential election where the result of the first round was overturned in the run-off, with the first instance of this occurring having been in the 2014–15 election, in which Grabar-Kitarović won her first term. She would also have become the first, and to date only, Croatian president to have never finished first in the first round of a presidential election. She was eventually defeated in her bid for reelection by Milanovic who won 52.66% of the vote, while Grabar-Kitarovic, who had tried to unite a fractured right wing, garnered 47.3 percent. The turnout was about 55%. She is thus the second (consecutive) President of Croatia to not win a second term, after Ivo Josipović. Grabar-Kitarović left the presidency on 18 February 2020, when she handed over the office to Milanović, who thus became the 5th President of Croatia since independence.
Grabar-Kitarović declared herself a "modern conservative" during the 2014–15 presidential election. Her political positions have mostly been described as conservative in the media. Agence France-Presse wrote that Grabar-Kitarović represents moderates within her party. Some observers describe her actions as populist, or nationalist.
Grabar-Kitarović opposes same-sex marriage stating that marriage is a matrimony between woman and a man. However, she expressed her support for the Life Partnership Act, which enabled same-sex couples to enjoy rights equal to heterosexual married couples except in adoption, praising it as good compromise.
Grabar-Kitarović considers that the prohibition of abortion would not solve anything, and stresses that attention should be paid to education in order to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Grabar-Kitarović criticized the hard process of adoption and stated that "the whole system has to be reformed so that through education and social measures it enables every woman to give birth to a child, and that mother and the child can eventually be taken care of in an appropriate manner."
Grabar-Kitarović has spoken in support of green initiatives along with the dangers of climate change for the environment and global security. In 2016, she signed the Paris Agreement at UN Headquarters in New York City. During another speech at the UN, she stated that climate change was a "powerful weapon of mass destruction."
Grabar-Kitarović has been married to Jakov Kitarović since 1996 and they have two children: Katarina (born on 23 April 2001), a figure skater and Croatia's national junior champion; and Luka (born c. 2003).
In an interview for Narodni radio Grabar-Kitarović stated that her favorite singer was Croatian nationalist singer Marko Perković. She awarded Charter of the Republic of Croatia to Prljavo kazalište and stated that they are one of her favourite Croatian rock bands. Grabar-Kitarović also likes Klapa music.
- Three Seas Initiative
- List of state visits made by Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović
- List of elected and appointed female heads of state
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović.|
- Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović presidential candidacy page
- Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović approval ratings from the start of her Presidency
| Minister of European Integration
as Minister of Foreign Affairs
| Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration
as Minister of European Integration
| President of Croatia
| Ambassador of Croatia to the United States
| Assistant Secretary General of NATO for Public Diplomacy
| Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders