Is Croatia’s president a bigger star than Ronaldo and Messi?

August 15, 2018
Is Croatia’s president a bigger star than Ronaldo and Messi?
Jameel Altheyabi

The headline in the British newspaper The Guardian was: “Croatia’s real World Cup star? The president in the stands”

Perhaps the description closest to reality was the headlines of some international newspapers: France wins the World Cup and Croatia wins the world’s hearts.

The Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, who celebrated her 50th birthday on July 29, attracted the attention of the world by her strong support for her country’s national team in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, descending to the stands among the Croatian fans to support and cheer her national team and donning the red-and-white Croatia soccer shirt. She also hugged the Croatian players one by one and cheered them following their defeat by the French national team.

The support for her team by the Croatian president led some Arab fans to write poems in classical Arabic and in dialect singing the praises of the beautiful mother, who is the president of Croatia. Social media became a playground for those who indulged in love poetry and others who mocked!

However, the fact is that Kolinda skillfully took advantage of the power of the “fair sex” for the interests of her country.

Overnight, media began narrating and transmitting stories about Kolinda – her slim figure, spirit of sportsmanship, travel to Russia on a tourist class seat, her refusal to sit in the VIP section. Instead, she preferred to cheer her national team from the stands among her country’s fans.

Suddenly people started asking: Where is Croatia located? Who is this beautiful lady ruling the country? They learned that she was the president of a country that has 91 theaters, 47 orchestras, 222 museums and 1,781 libraries. She is a politician with multifaceted experience. She worked as the Croatian ambassador to the US. She became the chairperson of the negotiating committees that led to admitting Croatia to the European Union.

She also worked as Assistant Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). She is a mobile notebook full of knowledge. Kolinda is fluent in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and German. She was even involved in journalism when she worked as an editor of a literary magazine.

Kolinda’s warm hugs for her country’s players provided an opportunity for the world to get acquainted with Croatia itself. Croatia has 10 sites that have been included by UNESCO on the World Heritage List. The UN considers it a high-income country in which tourism alone contributes about 20 percent to the country’s Gross National Product (GNP). In 2017, the returns from Croatian tourism reached euros 9.5 billion. Croatia has long experience in the manufacture of military hardware that fetches some $120 billion annually.

Were it not for President Kolinda’s performance that was devoid of any pretention and melodramatics, people would not have known that those who provided military services to the French during the 17th century were the ones who invented the “cravat” which is linked to the name of this ancient country.

According to press reports, Kolinda’s interaction, bright smile and the spirit of friendship and sportsmanship she showed during the World Cup competition resulted in doubling the number of passenger reservations to Croatia. This is a success for which she deserves to be congratulated. Developing countries should emulate this success.

Those enchanted by the beautiful Croatian president may be interested to know that she has been married to the former presidential candidate Jakov Kitarovic since 1996. They were blessed with a son and daughter. Their daughter Katarina, 17, is Croatia’s champion in ice skating. President Kolinda received her education in Zagreb, Vienna, Washington and Harvard. She returned to obtain a doctorate from Zagreb University. She is the first woman to become president of Croatia.

She became president in 2015 during a serious economic crisis. However, she took measures and established policies that enabled the country to overcome the situation.

Croatia has lost the World Cup, but it has surely won the attention of those who know little about the country. The credit goes to Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, whose warmth, spirit and intelligence superseded the stardom of the renowned Portuguese football player Cristiano Ronaldo and the Argentinian Lionel Messi. Many are now interested in becoming acquainted with the culture of the country with a population of four million.

— The author is the editor-in-chief of Okaz. Follow him on Twitter: @JameelAlTheyabi

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