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Croatian President In Hot Water Over Serbian Chocolate

  • Enis Zebic
  • Dusan Komarcevic
  • Deana Kjuka

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic probably wishes she hadn't said anything.

Talk of strains in relations between neighbors Croatia and Serbia is back on everyone's tongues, this time over chocolate.

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic has apologized after handing out Serbian-made chocolate (along with a signed photograph of herself) to kindergarteners to mark Defenders of Dubrovnik Day on December 6.

A Facebook post by an angry parent was published by a Croatian daily, then widely shared by tabloid media. "I had to post this so you can see what kind of country we live in...all this on Defenders of Dubrovnik Day -- bravo."

Grabar-Kitarovic's visit marked the 25th anniversary of the attack during the Croatian war on the historic port city by the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and Serbian paramilitaries. Dubrovnik came under siege from the Yugoslav army and navy in October 1991, but the worst shelling took place two months later, on December 6.

Aside from her visit to the kindergarten, Grabar-Kitarovic also met with veterans of Croatia's fight for independence from Yugoslavia, a conflict that is still fresh in the minds of many locals.

The whole incident might not have been picked apart on social media had it not been for Grabar-Kitarovic's public apology, which has prompted teasing and mockery.

After the incident, she said she was "extremely disappointed" that the chocolates were Serbian, especially because she is a promoter of a "Let's buy Croatian" campaign. She has promised to send Croatian products to the parents whose children received the Serbian chocolates.

Her response prompted people to respond on social media.

"I didn't know chocolate had a nationality. I've just eaten a 'Belgian' #kolinda," tweeted one.

This woman made a reference to 1920s Italian-American gangster Al Capone: "Al Capone fell over taxes, Kolinda will fall over chocolates."

This man notes: "If chocolate is the biggest problem in relations between Serbia and Croatia, I'm a happy person."

This Twitter user took issue with another aspect of Kolinda's benevolence, saying, "I'm more concerned that Kolinda was handing out her photo with the chocolates."

Grabar-Kitarovic's apparent faux pas has also prompted a reaction from her political opponents.

Former Croatian President Ivo Josipovic called her message "inappropriate" because "it sends a clear nationalist message."

"This notion that a Croatian president should only advertise Croatian products is not acceptable in our globalized world," Josipovic told RFE/RL's Balkan Service.

The whole "chocolate affair" will fuel nationalists in both Serbia and Croatia, he predicted.

Another former Croatian president, Stipe Mesic, also criticized the apology, saying that if the candy was purchased in a Croatian store, the manufacturer is not important.

"I don't think there should have been any apology," Mesic told RFE/RL.

Serbian ultranationalist leader Vojislav Seselj sent a series of sexist and nationalist tweets mocking the Croatian president.

It's not the first time that one of Grabar-Kitarovic's photo opportunities has backfired.

On her visit to Canada in late November, she allowed herself to be photographed with a group of men holding a flag resembling that of the Ustasa, a brutal fascist movement that was in power under an Axis-backed protectorate during WWII.

Serbia and Croatia still have major unresolved issues related to the conflicts in the 1990s related to alleged war crimes, refugees, and the use of the Cyrillic alphabet in certain parts of Croatia.

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