Iceland and my Croatian flag
Published in the Croatian newspaper Novi list 13 July 2010
It was a mixture of historic foresight and bravemanship spiced with a generous dose of desperation that kindled the decision by Croatia to announce its sovereignty as a full blown state on the 25th of June, 1991. At the time this part of Europe was still torn by one of the ugliest wars of the century and the reborn Croatia was under attack from outside and within by peoples that hitherto had been her firm alliesas members of the old Jugoslavian state of Josip Broz Tito.
In vain, the leaders of the new republic sought support from the world at large. The world does not always brim with courage or bravehearted leaders. There were no takers. To Croatia´s deep sorrow and disappointment not a single state or federation stood up to be counted in her favour. The EU was pithily nervous of the consequences and whispered behind the curtains that any such action might upset the delicate geopolitical balance in the area.
In Iceland, a lot of people followed the tragic development of the newly formed state, torn by war from outside and inside enemies. They had scant understanding of the meaning of the concept of “geopolitical balance” and even less respect for what little they understood. A swell of support in favour of Croatia shook the small Icelandic nation. Earlier in the year the Parliament had taken a deep breath and assumed the courage to declare is full and unequivocal support for the freedom of the three Baltic states. We, young Icelanders at the times, felt we owed it to the perseverance and heroism of the Croatian people, to advance to them as well as the Baltic our formal recognition of the Croatian statehood. We wanted Iceland to break the ice for Croatia and were convinced it would work out well. History shows we were right.
At the time, I was a new Member of Parliament, wet behind the years, but moved by the plight of the Croatian people. One of my best friends, Hrafn Jökulsson, journalist and a poet, who later sat briefly in our Parliament, decided to travel to Croatia and see for himself how things were developing. The despatches he sent from cities under siege, people being killed, and describing something we didn´t realise at the times was nothing but ethnic cleansing moved our hearts and stirred our blood. He could´nt get into Vukovar as she was under siege from all sides. He managed however to travel by stealth of night into Osijeka. From there he symbolically sent me a splinter of a bomb that had killed a family. At the time, I had been elected the leader of my parliamentary group, and for Croatia it was fortunate that our party was a member of the government. Hrafn´s torrents of phonecalls, despatches, and pleading in all forms, led to tough discussions within the party. Support for Croatia was rampant among the younger cadres whilst the elder parliamentarians wanted to be cautious.
On the 11th of December, 1991, I went public as our parliamentary leader with my views on Croatia. It had a strong resonance all around. I was scolded by one politically more experienced lady who said I was forcing the hand of the foreign minister at the time, Jon Baldvin Hannibalsson. I was a very minor influence of the time, and nobody probably thought that at later stages I would resume both the leadership in a much larger party, and take on the portfolio of foreign affairs as well. But Jon Baldvin was a very coureagous man, who had strong sympathy in his heart for Croatia. He decided to act, and may his God bless him for that historic decision. In advanced years, when my friend Hrafn and myself think back, we like to think that the splinter from the bomb from Osijeka and how it inspired my official declaration as as the parliamentary leader of my party, might perhaps have had miniscule influence to tip the balance in favour of Croatia´s recognition. Anyway, eight days after my official challenge to the government to recognise Croatia Iceland became the first nation to declare so.
A few weeks later my friend Hrafn came back from Croatia. “Mission accomplished,” he said with a glint in his eye and added that he had a gift to me from Croatian friends in Osijek. That gift was the Croatian flag. It still adornes my home, and on special occacions, such as the 19th of December, or Croatia´s national day, can sometimes be seen flying proudly at my home.