Former Senator Mark Begich of Alaska was awarded the NFCA President’s Leadership award at the Embassy of the Republic of Croatia on Saturday, June 11, at a private ceremony with the National Federation of Croatian American Cultural Foundation (NFCA) board members and delegates. NFCA President Mijo Radocaj cited Senator Begich’s advocacy for Croatian causes during his six years in the US Senate as an extraordinary example of his serious commitment to the Croatian community. This award ceremony was held during a very busy weekend of activities in the nation’s capital as part of the NFCA’s 23rd Annual Assembly of Delegates meeting.
The former Senator’s speech consisted of many specific ideas about how both his home state of Alaska and the Republic of Croatia have similar challenges and opportunities when it comes to ecotourism and other business ventures associated with their long coastlines. Senator Begich shared how Alaska created a one billion dollar fishery business while making Alaskan Salmon and Alaskan King Crab Legs popular brands and big sellers for the Alaskan economy. Our famous Croatian American was proud to talk about his willingness to visit Zagreb again this fall and to continue his advocacy with ongoing projects, especially the establishment of a Double Taxation Treaty agreement between our two countries. He outlined highlights about his past trips to Croatia and emphasized his recommendation that everyone visit the beautiful country and her 1,200 Adriatic Sea coastal islands. It was a pleasure to hear about the many projects that the former Senator is currently collaborating on and how devoted he is to Croatian economic projects. The Senator noted that he and his family are about to move back to Alaska, but he will continue his work in the nation’s capital with his consulting firm.
It is important to note that the Senator’s dad, Nick Begich, was the first Croatian American to serve in the US House of Representatives in the early 1970s. As most all Croatians know, Mark Begich was the first Croatian American elected to the Senate in US history. He was the Mayor of Anchorage from 2003 through 2009 until he served his six-year US Senate term after his victory in 2008. In 2014, the Croatian American Democrat, in a heavily Republican state, lost his Senate reelection campaign by just 7,991 votes.
The NFCA was thrilled to host the following speakers including; Antoine Ripoll, the European Parliament’s Office Director for the U.S. Congress; Ian Campbell, the US State Department’s Deputy Director for Southeast Europe; and, Dejan Vanjek, a political counselor to Bosnia and Herzegovina President Dragan Covic. Mr. Vanjek addressed the electoral challenges facing the Bosnian Croat community in his presentation to the Assembly’s Delegates and the public attendees in the afternoon. There was also serious discussion during the conference about how to deal with political, economic, and religious discrimination against Croat Bosnians. These discussions also included developments in planned changes to electoral law in the national constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as the electoral processes of the Federation.
The European Parliament’s representative in Washington announced recent EU progress on the Visa Waiver Program for Croatia. Mr. Ripoll also provided the Assembly with a unique European perspective and overviewed the recent assimilation of Croatia into the 751-seat European Parliament as the newest EU member state.
The Delegates and attendees at the public session also very much appreciated the thorough presentation by Zoran Konstantinovic, the Croatian Embassy’s Senior Economic Advisor, who outlined in detail the significant challenges and hurdles facing the Republic of Croatia in securing a Double Taxation Treaty (DTT) with the US Treasury Department. Mr. Konastantinovic drilled down deeply on the DTT matter and responded to many questions during the public session. It is a fact that without such a mutual tax treaty there are costly tax problems facing Croatian Americans who: (1) plan to relocate and/or retire to Croatia, and, (2) for American investors and companies looking to create jobs and economic opportunities in Croatia.
The last speaker was Croatian Ambassador Josko Paro who extended a wonderful summation of his four years in the nation’s capital. He detailed his country’s important achievement of European Union ascension and the overall significance of Croatia being part of this Western political and economic alliance. The Ambassador proudly shared that we have been in a period of “normalcy in Croatian and US relations,” that there are currently no major problems at all between our two countries, and he underlined this important bilateral accomplishment. The Croatian Ambassador addressed a few of the priority energy-related projects that his Embassy staff has diligently worked on during his tenure in Washington. He also addressed the sensitivity and significance of a Double Taxation Treaty between the two countries.
Tony Butala, founder of the singing group The Lettermen, was awarded a NFCA Lifetime Achievement Award. He joins the ranks of past awardees such as longtime Croatian Fraternal Union President Bernard Luketich and world class California winemaker Miljenko Grgich. Tony has attended twelve past NFCA conventions and has spearheaded over 15 Croatian wine tastings as fundraisers for the Croatian American community. His support for Croatian causes has been extraordinary for over 25 years, and he has been the entertainment headliner for two of the most successful fundraisers ever held within the Croatian American community. Tony, originally from Sharon PA, accepted the NFCA’s Lifetime Achievement Award and graciously noted that he considers this award as important as any of his nine Gold Albums earned over the decades leading his singing group The Lettermen.
The NFCA Delegates also elected a new President, Executive Committee, and Board of Directors. NFCA’s new President is Steve Rukavina (PA) who will be serving his seventh term as President of the Croatian American ethnic leaders national umbrella group. Mr. Rukavina shared that “it’s a real honor to be elected President of the NFCA again and our group still has so many priority projects of high interest to our Croatian American community. I am very energized to partner with all of our Board Members. We all are excited about announcing our “40 Under 40″ program nationwide in July to nominate and then select forty younger Croatian Americans for their exceptional leadership, Croatian pride, and career achievements within the United States.”
NFCA Board Members with Croatian Ambassador Josko Paro
Zvonko Labas (MD) was reelected as the Executive Vice President and the Delegates also elected three Vice Presidents: John Kraljic (NY), Frank Jerbich (IL), and Mario Spalatin (FL). Eric Gregrich (MD) is the new National Treasurer, and Vlatka Persin (MD) was reelected NFCA’s National Secretary. Three officers at-large were chosen and included Bernadette Luketich-Sikaras (PA), Andrea Novak-Neumann (MN), and Jim Kresnik (NE). Mijo Radocaj (OH) becomes the immediate Past President and is the final designated member of the Executive Committee. The remaining Board members are: Anne Pavlich (MD), Ron Zivic (OH), Tony Dizdar (VA), Dr. Steve Pavletic (MD), Tony Butala (PA), Vido Artukovich (CA), Tom Steich (MD), and Lydia Antoncic (NY).
At the private NFCA Board and Delegates meeting, public affairs consultant Joe Foley, in his 17th annual address to the NFCA, presented the past twelve months of NFCA accomplishments to the Assembly. Mr. Foley outlined how important and successful a meeting was last fall with the new US Ambassador Julieta Valls Noyes to re-establish NFCA’s and CFU’s continued interest in Croatia’s inclusion in a possible expansion of the Visa Waiver Program and seeing real movement on a Double Tax Treaty (DTT). He outlined Ohio Representative David Joyce’s crucial initiation of Congressional support for the DTT, and his important help co-chairing the Croatian Caucus in the US Congress. In addition, the NFCA leadership met with Dragan Covic, Croatian Member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), during the 70th United Nations General Assembly in New York in late September. In February, NFCA leaders met with Bosnian Croat Federation of BiH President Marinko Cavara and his Chief of Staff Mira Bagaric, who were in Washington for the President’s annual National Prayer Breakfast.
Also, Mr. Foley detailed House Resolution 477, which has been re-introduced in the current Congress by California Representative Janice Hahn. It encourages the appointment of a Special Envoy for BiH and the Balkans to more fully evaluate the successes and shortcomings to date of the Dayton Peace Accords (DPA). The NFCA’s continued concern for the political, economic, and religious rights of the Croat Bosnian community is directly outlined and greatly detailed in the ten pages of H. Res. 477. The eventual fate of the smallest of the three DPA-stipulated constituent peoples, the Croatian Bosnians, will be determinative of the future success of BiH as one of the newest nation-states in Southeast Europe.
Mijo Radocaj, NFCA President for the past year, outlined in his State of the Union address on Saturday morning; (1) the need to continue our activities to help Bosnian Croats, (2) the concept for a Croatian-owned private bank, and (3) the need as an organization to recruit younger Croatian American members. He complimented Eric Gregrich on his outstanding work on developing the new NFCA web site and thanked all Board members for their support while President over the past twelve months.
The weekend activities included a special tour of The White House for twenty-two of NFCA’s special guests and Assembly Delegates. We were very pleased to have two special representatives from Sarajevo, Tugomir Culjak and Dejan Vanjek, from the Office of the Croat President for Bosnia, Dragan Covic. The NFCA Board was also pleased to have Jayson Braude, Foreign Affairs Advisor to US Representative Janice Hahn of California, at the Friday night reception. Mr. Braude spoke to the assembled NFCA members and guests for the Congresswoman, and he conveyed her sincere appreciation and enjoyment regarding her four years as the Co-Chair of the Congressional Croatian Caucus.
The Friday night Croatian wine tasting reception with tamburitzan entertainment by Sinoc, a Cleveland-based traditional music ensemble was truly one upbeat celebratory event. This was especially so when Tony Butala performed a wonderful rendition of “Marijana”. The Delegates and their guests were also thoroughly entertained when Tony also sang a few of The Lettermen hits at the Embassy party, such as “The Way You Look Tonight” and “Going Out of My Head-Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You”.
Ambassador Josko Paro with the Sinoc Tamburitzan group from Cleveland
The closing dinner on Saturday night had well known tambura star Tom Vesolich, who performed with Sinoc’s Ron Zivic. They entertained the guests with many classic Croatian songs as Croatian American activists socialized at a second gathering with the many guests and diplomats. The NFCA’s delegates and guests were all very appreciative of the hospitality extended by Ambassador Josko Paro and his entire staff all weekend.
The NFCA is the national umbrella organization established in 1993 for Croatian Americans, related professional associations, and the many fraternal lodges that collectively represent approximately 90,000 members. For individual membership information, recent newsletters, opportunities to donate and join the NFCA, and other Croatian American news and information about our advocacy work for the Croatian American community, please visit our web site: www.nfcacf.org <http://www.nfcacf.org>
on the top picture: NFCA President Steve Rukavina with Award Winner Tony Butala and Past President Mijo Radocaj
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