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Hugs, smiles and warmth: Croatian President wins hearts

Grabar-Kitarovic was the real star of World Cup 2018, but do you know who she is?

Image Credit: AFP
Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic (rear C) comforts Croatia's midfielder Luka Modric (front C) during the trophy ceremony at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018.

Dubai:  'Your country lost in the World Cup, but you won the hearts of millions,' that tweet from a football fan about Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic at World Cup 2018 summed it all up.

Grabar-Kitarovic was the real star of World Cup 2018. Braving the rain and drowning the pain of her country's defeat (Croatia lost to France 4-2 in a thrilling final on Sunday, July 15), Grabar-Kitarovic congratulated and hugged each and every player and officials at the closing ceremony.

Was she holding a tear back? Not at all, for that's the grace of this 50-year-old Croatia President.

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, left, embraces Croatia's midfielder Luka Modric on the stage at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup final football match between France and Croatia. AFP

Grabar-Kitarovic was among the numerous dignitaries in attendance to watch football’s showpiece event at Luzhniki Stadium in the Russian capital on Sunday.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic arrive for the presentation after the final match between France and Croatia. AP

The Croatian leader has been a frequent presence in the stands throughout her team’s run to the final in Russia, and has won fans for her passionate support and stylish red and white team attire.

Grabar Kitarovic, clad in a red-and white Croatia soccer shirt, stood on the podium with Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron when the medals were given to the players.

While Putin was handed an umbrella, she stood soaked but smiling in the heavy rain, clearly delighted by Croatia’s brave showing. Aides eventually found her an umbrella.

From left: Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic attend the award ceremony at the end of the final match between France and Croatia. AP

An emotional Grabar-Kitarovic, who had appeared animated in the VIP pavilion, hugged and comforted remorse-hit captain Modric at the end of the game. 

“Best scene at the World Cup. Pouring Rain, no umbrella and Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic hugs every single player from Croatia and France, even if Croatia has just lost. That’s pure emotional and so warmly. No politics, only sport! Congrats to both teams!,” a comment on social media said.

Another one pointed out her graceful demeanor despite Croatia losing the final.

“A heart broken Croatia President looks graceful in defeat hugging every player!,” it said.

“She made the fans more emotional,” another comment added.

Grabar-Kitarovic displayed great passion throughout the tournament, following the team in all the games after the group stage but missing the semi-final against England due to the Nato summit in Brussels.

“The Croatian president is coming out of this as the winner. Football shirt, rain, crying, hair ruined, doesn’t give a damn,” was another one among many comments.

Some also saw a display of a great sporting spirit as she hugged players from both teams: “Loved your gesture and sporting spirit during World Cup final game. You are the true epitome of sportsman spirit. Way to Go!”

Who is Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic. AP

Grabar-Kitarovic was born on April 29, 1968, in Rijeka in the Croatian part of Yugoslavia.

After schooling, she studied in Zagreb, Vienna, Washington DC and Havard, before completing her doctoral studies in her home country.

Grabar-Kitarovic became the fourth Preisdent of Croatia in February 2015, the first woman to do so.

Grabar-Kitarovic is fluent in Croatian, English, Spanish and Portuguese, while she has some understanding of German, French and Italian.

Prior to becoming president, she worked as a Croatian Ambassador to the United States and as Assistant Secretary General of NATO before being elected by beating the current head of state Ivo Josipovic.

Personal life

Kolinda Grabar married Jakov Kitarovic in 1996, with whom she has two children.

Her daughter, 17-year-old Katarina, is a junior national champion figure skater, while the couple's son Luka was born in 2003.

Jakov Kitarovic was a caught in a scandal while his wife Kolinda Grabar was serving in Washington DC in 2010, having been spotted using an embassy car for private purposes.

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic eventually paid the expenses for Jakov's unauthorised use of the vehicle.

First female president in Croatian history

Grabar-Kitarovic is the first woman to have become Croatian president. She had previously served as Deputy of Nato’s General Secretary for public policies, Croatian ambassador to the United States, Croatia’s European integration minister and finally the country’s foreign minister, before being elected as president by narrowly defeating the incumbent head of state.

A success story

She took over the reins of government during a period of extreme recession and took successful measures to lead the country out of it. Along with efficient domestic policies, Grabar-Kitarovic  became one of the key negotiators in establishing ties between Iran and Europe, due to the charisma she has demonstrated winning support of over a half of her compatriots.

- With inputs from Reuters

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