Sunday, January 11, 2015 11:52 pm
Croatia’s first female president, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, is a moderate conservative who styles herself as “a woman of the people” and likes to joke that she is one of the few career diplomats who can milk a cow.
Before beating her incumbent rival Ivo Josipovic in a run-off vote on Sunday, the 46-year-old had held the posts of foreign minister, ambassador and NATO assistant secretary general.
“I never gave up my convictions and I still invest in the same values: homeland and family are my life choices,” said Grabar-Kitarovic of the main opposition HDZ party.
An energetic politician with a gentle smile, Grabar-Kitarovic often emphasises that she is a country girl, who had a happy childhood being raised in a modest butcher’s family.
She was born in a village in the hinterland of the northern Adriatic port of Rijeka.
“My mum is my hero. She is the one who nurtured my ambitions,” the former top diplomat said.
Her rural past has left her with manual labour skills of which she is proud.
“I’m probably the only woman in NATO who knows how to milk a cow,” she has joked.
Grabar-Kitarovic graduated in English and Spanish at Zagreb University before obtaining a masters degree in political science.
She joined the conservative HDZ in the 1990s and was the European affairs and foreign minister from 2003 to 2008. After that she became Croatia’s ambassador to the US until 2011 during which time she was named NATO assistant secretary general for public diplomacy, becoming the first woman to fill that post.
Grabar-Kitarovic, praised for her eloquence and firm debating, represents moderates within HDZ.
During the campaign she said she would support a potential gay choice of her child and legalise medical marijuana. A staunch Catholic, Grabar-Kitarovic has also said she respects a women’s right to choose regarding the abortion issue.
Fashion experts here have often criticised Grabar-Kitarovic over her rather tight outfits, her hair tied up in a chignon and the false lashes she does not want to give up.
“These are secondary things … Appearance is important, but instead of remembering one’s hairstyle people will rather remember one’s smile that opens all the doors,” the radiant blonde told a local weekly.
Grabar-Kitarovic has a daughter and a son, and describes her husband as a “professional dad”.