He seeks winning game plan for peace

Kresimir Cosic, the former BYU Cougar basketball star named last fall as deputy ambassador to the United States for the newly independent nation of Croatia, never intended to enter the diplomatic arena. Yet, he says, the "playing fields" for basketball and politics are remarkably similar.

Cosic played for Coach Stan Watts during the early 1970s and then became a national hero in Yugoslavia, both as a player and a coach.Slumped over, elbows resting on his knees, Cosic does not appear to be the 6 foot 11 inches he is. Keeping up with an exhausting schedule, he looks but does not sound tired.

He is still, by anyone's terms, a national hero in his native land. While at BYU, Cosic is remembered for his 20-foot hooks and his Harlem Globetrotter-like antics. From BYU, he went on to become the center for the then-Yugoslavian Olympic team, which reaped a gold medal and two silver medals. He then gained fame as a coach who had an uncanny ability to turn good players into world-class athletes.

But did he ever see himself in the position of deputy ambassador? After all, how does one go from being a college basketball star, to an Olympic hero, to a renowned coach, to a government diplomat?

"Being a coach is probably the best political experience I could have had," Cosic explained. "As a coach for a national team in a communist country, you are constantly working on relations with all different segments. A coach must balance lots of needs - and it is almost impossible to satisfy everyone's interests."

It also helped that he was well-traveled and had lived in the United States. Plus, he was not a member of the Communist Party. "I had never wanted to be a member of the party," Cosic recalled. "The only organization I ever joined in my life was the Church." (He was baptized a member of the Church in 1971.)

Cosic says his service in the Church, whether it was as a missionary or president of the then-Yugoslavian and presently Croatian District, helped prepare him for the assignment he now has."When you give full service to the Church, you always gain both spiritually and educationally," he said. "I always believed that in whatever assignment I was called to do, doing the best job was a necessity. Now I am benefitting from what I learned in those various callings."

Cosic adds that he is not just referring to the tangible benefits, such as translation or leadership skills. The feelings of peace and understanding that come from living the gospel - "which diminish the hate" - are now a great comfort to him.

"But being a member of the Church does not just give you an occasional boost," he remarked. "It is the permanent relationship with the Spirit that teaches you - not just when the hard times come, when you are facing a war, but every day. I try to live the best I can to maintain this relationship."

After the elections in his homeland, many of the country's leaders were ruled out. "It was then I was asked to come here on a visit to help secure diplomatic representation for Croatia."

For Cosic and his countrymen, the trouble in the Balkans is much more than just a rekindling of old animosities kept under control by communist rule. It is the chance for Croatia to become a new democracy.

In his initial visit to the United States, Cosic found a sympathetic ear in Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who is a member of the Church. They had met earlier on Hatch's trips to the former Yugoslavia.

"He was one person who understood what was happening with Croatia. He was there before the elections, and I had a chance to visit with him."

With Hatch's guidance, Cosic secured diplomatic representation. Thinking his job was then done, he returned home only to be asked to return to Washington again - this time with a title.

Under communism, he said, his philosophy had been to be as good and as honest a man as he could - but to stay on the sidelines. Now, he is asked to move from that safe post. "For me, as well as most of the people in Croatia," Cosic commented, "we have come to realize that we can no longer stay on the sidelines and let somebody else run our lives."

Cosic said the Book of Mormon is not a sad tale from the past that has lost its meaning. "It is the picture of the world we now live in. If there ever was a time that this world needed a prophet and the spirit of prophecy, it is today, because nobody else can makes sense of the things that are going on. How can people live together for many years and then within a few months, for no right reason whatsoever, end up in a cruel war?"

His parents and sister live in his boyhood city of Zadar (on the Adriatic coast), which has been under heavy fire. Like anyone in Croatia, he is concerned for them. His wife, Ljerka, and their two daughters, Ana and Iva, live in Zagreb and will join Cosic after the birth of their third child.

In the midst of what is happening in his homeland, however, progress is being made, Cosic reflected. A winning game plan - for peace - is being sought.

"And once we start putting the best players on the floor to deal with this problem, we will see recovery."

But from one who knows, until the players are in place, the conflict will rage - and Cosic will have little thought of basketball.

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