A very modern model of security for Ukrainians

Croatia’s entry into the inner sanctum of the EU, where principles are a source of power, is a model for Ukraine in defining a secure future.

Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, inspect euro coins in Zagreb, Croatia, Jan. 1.

Few people around the world noticed a milestone for Europe on New Year’s Day. Not so in Ukraine. People there watched as the small country of Croatia entered the inner sanctum of the European Union, joining both the single-currency eurozone and the Schengen Zone – the passport-free area across 27 countries. And this comes only a decade after Croatia was granted general EU membership.

With a recent history similar to Ukraine’s – war with neighbors, high-level corruption, and post-Soviet meddling by Russia – Croatia is seen in Ukraine as a model for joining the EU, especially since June when Ukraine was made an official candidate for membership.

The war in Ukraine, which will soon enter its second year, has not only affirmed a strong democratic identity among Ukrainians, but also pushed them to gain a higher concept of security than just a military victory over Russia. Croatia “is valuable for us because one day we, too, will have to go down our own path of post-war transformation in order to rebuild the country and eventually join the club of developed states,” wrote Nazar Zabolotny, an analyst at the Joint Action Center, in the publication Yevropeyska Pravda.

The strength and power of the EU lies in its “values and principles,” as European Parliament President Roberta Metsola told another potential EU candidate, Moldova, in November as that nation also tries to ward off Russian meddling. According to the International Crisis Group, the EU welcomes European countries “where institutions work reliably, leaders govern cleanly, and sovereign neighbors treat one another with generosity and respect.”

Through three democratic revolutions – in 1990, 2004-2005, and 2014 – Ukrainians have found national unity based on such civic principles, giving them the stamina to rebel against Russian forces and the desire to align with Europe’s other democratic states, perhaps even to join NATO someday as an external protector.

Croatia’s journey into the EU and the eurozone required dealing with high-level corruption – such as the conviction of a former prime minister, Ivo Sanader – as well as achieving better financial discipline. Croatia also recognized its responsibility in regard to war criminals, a problem for many states in the former Yugoslavia caught up in the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s.

That journey may also explain why the Croatian soccer team took third place in the 2022 World Cup, a feat duly noted in Ukraine despite the distraction of war. Security for a nation is more than missiles and ammunition.

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