Steven Rukavina Biography (St. Paul, MN, 1954)


Mr. Steven Rukavina, is a Croatian American activist, originally from Minnesota, and now resides in Philadelphia, after thirty years based in the Washington D.C. area. He was a co-founder of the National Federation of Croatian Americans (NFCA) in 1993 and has been an officer for all 29 years of the group’s existence.  He is now serving as President for the eleventh time with the National Federation of Croatian Americans Cultural Foundation (NFCA), a national umbrella group, based in the nation’s capital.


From a family perspective, Mr. Rukavina’s grandfather Thomas Rukavina immigrated to the USA in 1900 from Perusic in Lika, Croatia. His grandmother, Lucy Basic was also from Perusic and the County of Gospic. His grandfather’s saloon in Chicago burned down in 1914 and Thomas moved with his wife to the Iron Range of Minnesota within their first year of marriage. His father, Joseph Rukavina was a lifelong Croatian American activist and long time friend and supporter of Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich.  Also, his father was a prominent well known Croatian Fraternal Union member and national convention delegate eleven times and President of the Minnesota Croatian Cultural Society for over 15 years. Mr. Rukavina keeps in contact with over forty Rukavina, Golic, Ugarkovic relatives in Croatia who reside mostly in the Croatian towns of Zagreb, Dugo Selo and Spisic Bukovica.


Mr. Rukavina served as a Board Member  with Croatian Democracy Project (CDP) for four years (1989-1993) during an exciting time in Croatia’s history. CDP had a busy agenda and issued quarterly newsletters, monthly media press releases, co-sponsored several symposiums. Mr. Rukavina was proud to arrange and preside over a press conference in July 1991 with the new Croatian Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Frane Golem at the National Press Club in Washington, DC which was broadcast live on C-Span during the week the Yugoslav Army was fighting in Slovenia.


Mr. Rukavina was elected co-chair of the Croatian Unity Committee (1993) and also served as a Co-Chair of the NFCA Interim Committee with Reverend Anthony Petrusic, National President of the Croatian Catholic Union.  The NFCA held their first convention in January 1994 in St. Louis. He was elected the National Treasurer and then Executive Vice President at the second convention in 1994 and became National President in 1995 when Ed Damich stepped down to accept a federal judge position.


Since 1994, Mr. Rukavina has represented the Croatian American community at The White House about thirty times for policy meetings, ethnic heritage events and three White House Christmas parties and two Vice Presidential Christmas parties. He has participated in over forty meetings with U.S. Ambassadors to Croatia as an officer of the NFCA. He has attended and arranged over sixty meetings with American diplomats from the U.S. Department of State and well over 800 meetings directly with Congressional Members and staffers as an advocate for the Croatian American community over the past thirty years.


Mr. Rukavina’s milestone NFCA events and accomplishments include: riding the Freedom Train on August 26, 1995 from Zagreb with stops in Karlovac, Knin, and then Split immediately after Croatia’s successful Operation Storm; catalyst for connecting Brcko Croatians with the State Department for multiple meetings in 1996, regarding the implementation of the Brcko neutral district as directed by the Dayton Peace Accord; member of 1996 NFCA delegation visit to Vukovar as a guest of General Jacques Klein (UNTAES);  Air Force II trip to Croatia with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and with CFU President Bernard Luketich (2000) for a Croatian Presidential Inauguration; proud to join over twenty Senators and Congressman in raising their glass in the Spring of 2009 to toast Croatia’s new membership in NATO at a NFCA-sponsored “Congressional Croatian Caucus” event on Capitol Hill.


Mr. Rukavina played an instrumental role in the NFCA’s effort on Capitol Hill from 1998-2008 to help Croatia become a NATO member. He was the NFCA member who worked  directly with Senator Joe Biden’s staff to ensure the Senate Foreign Affairs committee held a hearing in September 2008 to approve Croatia’s Ascension into NATO and thus, to send that bill to the full Senate for a vote! it was the number one NFCA priority for over ten years. He also, was one of a handful of NFCA activists to collaborate with the Embassy of the Republic of Croatia over the years to help create and grow the Croatian Congressional Caucus which has twenty-five members now. Mr. Rukavina personally has co-chaired three NFCA-Embassy Congressional Wine Tastings and over a dozen plus NFCA wine tasting fundraisers. He has spearheaded and co-managed the NFCA’s efforts to help promote needed electoral reform recommendations for BiH and over the last six years, has arranged over six State Department and two White House meetings during that time frame. Mr. Rukavina is proud that five major congressional resolutions that the NFCA has supported, have by approved the U.S. Congress.


This long time NFCA officer is extremely proud of the fact that since 1990 under his name, his signature, his phone calls and his emails that he has raised over $1,500,000 for Croatian American projects including for: Croatian Democracy Project; Croatian Unity Committee; National Federation of Croatian Americans; NFCA Cultural Foundation; 2020-2021 Croatian earthquake relief; for the International Children’s Heart Foundation and The William Novick Global Cardiac Alliance. Dr. William Novick operated on 325 Croatian children total from Croatia over a fifteen year period. Over the past eight years, Mr. Rukavina has been become a major personal contributor to the Croatian Special Olympics based in Zagreb and the NFCA has become the number one organizational sponsor for Team Croatia-Special Olympics.

In 2018, on the 25th Anniversary of the NFCA, President Rukavina received “The Charter of the Republic of Croatia Award” from President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic in New York City to salute all the group’s contributions and the overall promotion of the international position of the Republic of Croatia.

In 2019, Mr. Rukavina co-managed five events in Philadelphia to celebrate and highlight the non-stop American Airlines flights from Philadelphia to Dubrovnik and both are sister World Heritage cities.

Mr. Rukavina has recently been a panelist on several Washington D.C. foreign policy panels, focused on Southeast Europe and has had several columns published about geo-political issues in Croatia or in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He has had two statements regarding Southeast Europe published in the Congressional Record and has had his official testimony twice been made part of the official record with the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats.


My Fellow Croatians!


It has been a real pleasure and honor for me to be involved in well over 100 major and worthwhile Croatian projects over the past 35 years. It’s a labor of love and a true love for Croatia and it’s people. At age 17, I was fortunate to visit Croatia and meet twenty relatives. I have been a proud activist Croatian ever since and I am so proud to share that I have visited Croatia nineteen times in my lifetime and I am a second generation Croatian American of Croatian descent.


Please let me challenge all Croatian Americans that are proud of their heritage and ancestry to find a project to embrace and to go beyond just visiting Croatia as an act of love. Join one of our Croatian American groups like the CFU, ACAP or the NFCA or your local Croatian American group to make a difference. It will take a lot of volunteers and committees to better organize more and more projects to benefit our Croatian community or the Republic of Croatia directly.


It has been such a high honor for me as President of the NFCA to be a citizen diplomat activist to build support for the Republic of Croatia from NATO membership to the signing of the Avoidance of Double Taxation Treaty. I seriously recommend that everyone consider finding a project and initiative that keeps you better connected to Croatia and your Croatian relatives!  We won the war and yet, still have miles and miles to go to build even a more viable free market economy to only bolster and strengthen Croatia’s independence and democracy. Zivila Hrvatska!


Mr. Rukavina has been a lifelong Croatian Fraternal Union (CFU) member and created an annual CFU Educational Scholarship in his father Joe’s memory after his death in 2013. He takes great pride in trying to connect with Croatians globally, involving worthwhile projects and to promote Croatia to American diplomats, elected officials and the public overall.


Professionally, Mr. Rukavina was a successful businessman for over thirty-five years in the cardiovascular medical device arena and over twenty years with St. Jude Medical (mechanical heart valves) and Thoratec Corporation and now Abbott owned (Left Ventricular Assist Devices).  Previously, he served as a congressional legislative aide, deputy presidential press secretary and a public affairs lobbyist before his professional medical device business career. He is now retired from the medical device world (2020) and his work as President of the NFCA national group is his labor of love and almost a full-time hobby now.


A 1976 Cum Laude graduate, history major, two sport letterman and Rhodes Scholar nominee at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. He also pursued graduate studies at the George Washington University School of Public and International Affairs in Washington DC (1977-78).