ANKARA (AA) - Croatia remains firm in its conviction that the NATO military alliance is the cornerstone and backbone of Europe’s security architecture, the country's president told Faces of Democracy in an interview published Monday.
Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic said NATO’s relevance and importance for European, as well as Croatian, security and stability remains unquestionable, in the interview conducted by the pro-democracy initiative that has spoken to dozens of high-profile figures on democracy and civil society.
"NATO remains for us the anchor of our joint defense," Kitarovic said, adding that Europe must invest in its security, and thus its long-term stability and prosperity.
Croatia is committed to NATO and has actively participated in all major NATO missions and operations in Afghanistan, Kosovo and the Mediterranean, as well as NATO’s enhanced forward presence in Lithuania and Poland, she added.
- Democracy and democratic values
Remembering her childhood growing up in "communist Yugoslavia", Kitarovic said she wanted Croatia to become a part of the "democratic family of nations".
Kitarovic underlined that for her, the EU’s greatest achievements were peace, freedom, democracy, equality and human rights, adding that the desire "to be part of the free world" guided and invigorated Croatia's fight for democracy and liberation.
"As a country which has had its fair share of difficult history, communism and war it had to endure to achieve its independence and freedom, we appreciate peace, liberty, democracy, prosperity and stability even more," she said.
Noting that Croatia will begin its first term as president of the EU Council for the first time in 2020, Kitarovic said joining the Eurozone and Schengen Area were among the country's top priorities.
"When it comes to our EU Presidency, we want to focus on development and growth, employment -- especially of youth, connectivity [energy, transport, digitalization], and strengthening the security of our citizens, both internal and external," she said.
Croatia is ready to start the accession process to join the OECD, she added.
- Gender equality and gender roles in Croatia
Croatia has a "whole range" of established institutional mechanisms against gender discrimination, as well as combating all forms of domestic violence, Kitarovic said.
Underlining that the country was among the few in the world where a woman was elected head of state directly by popular vote, Kitarovic said Croatia also had a female prime minister, and women foreign and defense ministers.
The country also has a dedicated Ombudsperson for Gender Equality, she added.
She underlined that by developing a data base of businesswomen and a Women's Entrepreneurship Development Strategy, Croatia managed to raise the share of female entrepreneurs by 23% over 15 years.
Kitarovic added that a total of 344 women participated in international peace missions and operations around the world since 2003.
However, she stressed that there was not a day when she was not personally faced with some form of gender discrimination, stereotypes and language that borders on hate speech.
"Our work is far from done until full gender parity is achieved and violence against women is eradicated, in Europe and the World."
Kitarovic said she recently took over the chairmanship of the Council of Women World Leaders (CWWL), the only organization in the world dedicated to current and former women heads of state and government.
Kitarovic has been President of Croatia since 2015.
* Writing by Jeyhun Aliyev