By Natasa Radic – Zagreb
At midnight on July 1st, tens of thousands of people gathered in the main squares in almost all Croatian cities to welcome the long-awaited Croatian accession to the European Union. In all the squares it seemed like it is the New Year’s party time, and the most solemn celebration with the Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” – the official anthem of the EU, was the one in the Croatian capital Zagreb, where at midnight the EU flag was raised. At all border crossings plates and signs EU were posted. Zagreb sky was covered with the magnificent fireworks.
Croatia became the 28th EU member and the people who celebreated the EU entry were emotional about the end of the long road they have taken two decades ago. Croatia is first of the so called Western Balkan countries to enter the Union.
President Ivo Josipovic and Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic were the hosts of the ceremony which started at 11 pm, and they welcomed the foreign guests: European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, deputy Irish Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore, President of Lithuania Dalia Grybasuskaite – whose country takes over the EU Presidency from the Irish, President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Parliament Martin Schultz.
Zoran Milanovic said that Croatia is a country of rational people who really want a good future.
-Croatia knows that tonight we will have a new responsibility – Milanovic said, stressing that Croatia was strongly connected with other EU members throught the ideals of the anti-fascist struggle.
President of the Commission Jose Manuel Barroso congratulated Croatian citizens.
-You wanted to join the EU, and you made it possible with your hard work – said Barroso, stressing that Croatia is now back where it belongs, and that is the heart of Europe.
-Welcome to the EU – Barroso finished his greeting in the Croatian language, which caused a huge applause.
-We are delighted that you will take the place that belongs to you – said Deputy Irish Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore and expressed the hope that EU membership would bring benefits to Croatia.
President of Lithuania Dalia Grybasuskaite held a speech in Croatian and she gave Croatian President Ivo Josipovic a jersey with the number 28 on the EU flag.
The official part of the celebrations began around 7 pm when at the St. Mark’s Square – the seat of the parliament and government began arriving the first foreign dignitaries from the EU member states, countries of the region and the leaders of the European institutions. After a short protocol part in the Presidential Palace and a joint photograph, they went to the official dinner in the Gallery Klovicevi dvori in Zagreb’s Old Town, where the guests were served with exquisite delicacies.
On that occasion, President Josipovic and Prime Minister Milanovic gave a toast:
-Croatian reality, regardless of shades which we experience today is completely different from the one we had when we wanted our independence and created our own state. And this is the reality today that we are so proud to celebrate – said Ivo Josipovic, adding that now is the time to launch a new power that will prove that the project was worth the effort.
Josipovic thanked the representatives of the member states in various forms of assistance which supported the Croatian accession to the EU, as well as their citizens who have at a sensitive time supported the Croatian membership.
Prime minister Zoran Milanovic made a toast:
-Raise this glass in the honor of Croatian openness to Europe and throughout the world.
Milanovic said that we should always fight against the fear of other and different, noting that it comes down to basically understanding Europe: a pure heart, and not fear, collaboration, not skepticism, acceptance and not ghettoization.
Some time after 10:30 pm the guests began to descend on Zagreb’s main Ban Josip Jelacic Square, where the music and entertaining program has already started. There it was more of a party time ase the people gathered there to sing and dance in order to greet Croatian full membership in the European Union. From the top of the Hotel Dubrovnik seven climbers dropped down, and two of them had carried the flag of the European Union.
-This is a big day for Croatia and all citizens. We are happy that our children will be citizens of Europe and that they will have a number of options – from education and professional development, across a variety of job opportunities – said Ante Horvat, who was his wife Vesna and came to the square to have fun on a spectacular welcome party for Croatia.
There were more that 700 accredited journalists and photographers from home and abroad for the ceremony, among whom were media representatives from Brazil, Japan, China and the United States.