When Pope Benedict received Croatian president Ivo Josipovic in an audience this past Saturday, conversation turned to the tenuous position of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the need for his country to maintain its Christian identity as it pursues European Union membership.
In discussion with the Pope and his representatives, the Croatian president also spoke about the importance of maintaining the traditionally Roman Catholic country's “specific Christian identity” as it pursues full EU membership. Croatia applied for membership in 2003, and could join as an official member state by 2012.
President Josipovic noted the perennial importance of the Catholic Church to the spiritual and cultural development of the nation. Although the Republic of Croatia's third president is personally non-religious, more than 85 percent of Croatians are Roman Catholics.
An aide to the president told the Croatian news magazine Nacional, prior to last week's visit, that Josipovic wanted “to demonstrate respect towards believers,” most of whom had supported him in the election. Josipovic's aide also told the magazine that “from the start of his term in office he has adopted a very conciliatory attitude towards the Catholic Church” and remained “open to cooperation."
The president additionally spoke with the Holy Father and Vatican officials about the situation of Croatian communities and individuals in the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is also seeking EU membership after less than 20 years of existence.
Croatia's neighboring country is ethnically and religiously divided and faces an uncertain political future. Recent election results showed continuing conflict between Serbian nationalists and Bosnian Muslims, leading some observers to question the state's basic stability. Around 15 percent of the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina are Roman Catholics and ethnic Croats.