An important night for the Croatian diaspora in North America on June 11, 2016. TCN’s Steve Rukavina reports.
NFCA Members and Sarajevo Guests with Former Senator Mark Begich Outside Croatian Embassy in Washington, DC
Washington, D.C. — Former Senator Mark Begich was awarded the NFCA Leadership award at the Republic of Croatia’s Embassy on Saturday, June 11th. Twenty-five National Federation of Croatian American (NFCA) Cultural Foundation Board members and delegates attended the private ceremony. NFCA President Mijo Radocaj cited Mark’s advocacy for Croatian causes during his six years on Capitol Hill as an extraordinary example of his serious commitment to the Croatian community.
The former U.S. Senator’s speech was full of specific ideas about how both his home state of Alaska and the Republic of Croatia have similar challenges and opportunities when it comes to eco-tourism and other business ventures associated with their long coastlines. Senator Begich shared how Alaska created a one billion dollar fishery business and how Alaskan Salmon became a popular brand and big seller for Alaska! Our famous Croatian American was proud to talk about his willingness to visit Zagreb again this fall and to continue his advocacy with on-going projects like with the Double Taxation Treaty agreement. He outlined his highlights about past trips to Croatia and why he recommends to everyone to go and visit the beautiful country of Croatia. It was a pleasure to hear about the many projects that the former Senator is collaborating on these days and how devoted he is to Croatia and Croatian projects. His family is about to move back to Alaska, from Washington, D.C. but he will continue his work in the nation’s capital with his consulting firm.
It is important to note that Mark’s dad, Nick Begich was the first Croatian American to serve in the U.S. Congress and Mark, was the first Croatian American U.S. Senator. He was the Mayor of Anchorage from 2003 through 2009 until he served his six year U.S. Senate term after his victory in 2008. In 2014, the Croatian American Democrat in a heavily Republican state lost his Senate re-election campaign by only 7,991 votes.
The NFCA was thrilled to host the following speakers including, Antoine Ripoll, European Parliament’s Office Director for the U.S. Congress; Ian Campbell, State Department’s Deputy Director for Southeast Europe; Dejan Vanjek, a political counselor to Bosnia and Herzegovina President Dragan Covic and who addressed the electoral challenges facing the Bosnian Croat community. The attendees at this public session appreciated the very thorough presentation by Zoran Konstantinovic, Croatia Embassy’s Senior Economic Attache, outlining all the challenges and barriers facing the Republic of Croatia with securing a Double Taxation treaty with the U.S Treasury Department. There was a serious discussion about how to deal with political discrimination that Bosnian Croats face within the electoral process in the Federation and within the national constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The topic of the lack of a Double Taxation Treaty with the United States was another serious topic and without this DTT agreement there are costly tax problems facing Croatian Americans who plan to re-locate and retire in Croatia and of course, with American companies and investors looking at Croatia as an opportunity.
The last speaker was soon-to-be departing Croatian Ambassador Josko Paro who extended a wonderful summation of his four years in the nation’s capital. He detailed some background about the achievement of European Union ascension and the overall significance of Croatia being part of this Western political and economic alliance. He proudly shared that we have been in a period of “normalcy with Croatian-US relations” and there are no major problems at all between our two countries right now and that in itself is quite an accomplishment. The Croatian Ambassador addressed a few of the priority energy-related projects that his Embassy staff have diligently worked on and he also, addressed the sensitivity and significance of the Double Taxation Treaty.
Tony Butala, founder of the singing group, The Lettermen, was awarded a NFCA Lifetime Achievement Award, joining the ranks of past winners like long-time Croatian Fraternal Union President, Bernard Luketich and world class 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 award and said that he considers this award as important as any of his nine gold album awards which he earned over the years with his group, The Lettermen.
The weekend activities included a special tour of The White House for twenty-two NFCA special guests and delegates. We were very pleased to have two special guests from Sarajevo, Tugomir Culjak and Dejan Vanjek from the office of President Dragan Covic. The Friday night Croatian wine tasting reception with tamburitzan entertainment by Sinoc, a Cleveland group was truly one upbeat celebratory event. Tony Butala did a wonderful rendition of “Marijana” and also, sang a few of The Lettermen hits like “The Way You Look Tonight” and “Going Out of My Head-Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.” The closing dinner on Saturday night had tambura star, Tom Vesolich with Sinoc’s Ron Zivic entertaining the guests with many classic Croatian songs, as Croatian American activists socialized at the Croatian Embassy! The NFCA Cultural Foundation organization was very appreciative of the hospitality extended by Ambassador Josko Paro and his staff. For further information, about the NFCA Cultural Foundation and their advocacy work for the Croatian American community, please visit their web page at: www.nfcacf.org.