Speaking at a news conference to mark the final year of her term on Saturday, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović said she was wrong when she said that the salute "For the Homeland Ready", used by the pro-Nazi Ustasha regime in Croatia during World War II, was an old Croatian greeting.
President Grabar-Kitarović told reporters that the controversial salute was now "compromised and unacceptable".The president was asked about the issue after making a statement at the news conference, which covered the achievements and challenges of the first four years of her term so far. Explaining her reversal, she said that he had been told that this was an old traditional greeting by her advisers.
"I have accept what historians have said about this. That it is not a traditional Croatian greeting. But the point of my statement was not that part of the sentence, but that it is compromised and unacceptable," the president said.
Asked to comment on the case of a man recently criminally charged for publicly calling the first Croatian president, Franjo Tuđman, a war criminal, Grabar-Kitarović said that freedom of speech must be respected.
"Freedom of speech must be absolutely guaranteed, and it must stop where hate speech begins. I respect President Tuđman immensely, but I allow that there are people in Croatia who do not share my opinion and they should have the right to speak and think freely and should not be punished for that," the president said.
She said she was ready to attend the annual memorial ceremony in Jasenovac, the site of an Ustasha-run WWII concentration camp.
"If a consensus is reached for all of us to go there, the government, parliament and everyone else, so that there won't be several ceremonies, I am ready to go to the official ceremony and make a speech if necessary, even though I think no speeches are necessary at places like that because victims speak for themselves. But for the sake of achieving unity and resolving problems of the past that still burden our reality, I am ready to take that step so that we can better dedicate ourselves to the future," she said.
Grabar-Kitarović did not confirm that she would run for a second term as president, saying that she would announce her decision "when the time comes."
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