Balkan Strategic Studies

December 31, 1999

Franjo Tudjman: No Tears for Tyrants

Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor. Franjo Tudjman’s death, officially announced in Zagreb on December 10, 1999, may not have necessarily been cause for celebration, but the passing of Croatia's first President in the country's modern independent history should be cause for sober reflection as to where and how the country -- and the Balkans generally -- can be cured of its ills and begin the process of integration into Europe. Perhaps Croatia, given its history, needed someone like Tudjman to break the country away from the Yugoslav Federation. Perhaps only by appealing to Croatia's Ustaše fascist past could the country have been galvanized to break up the Yugoslav Federation, because it is clear that not only did Tudjman wish to break Croatia away from Yugoslavia, he wanted to break up the Federation entirely.

Franjo Tudjman was a demagogue who cared little for democratic niceties, although he had a keen eye for the kind of things the West wanted to see. As a result, he won for Croatia sufficient backing from Germany -- in particular -- to get Croatia its independence. What he failed to do was to win for Croatia the kind of respect necessary to truly make the country attractive as a partner of the European Union.

Croatia, in the post-Tudjman era, is likely to see some degree of political uncertainty and temporary instability, which is why the Croatian Democratic Union (Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica: HDZ) apparatchiks went to such great lengths to keep artificial life support mechanisms functioning long after Tudjman was clinically dead. They needed time to come up with some plans. [This is not a new scheme; the same operating procedure applied when Croatian-born Marshal Tito died, and was kept "alive" for a period to enable his successors to plan a strategy.]

There is no real reason why Croatia should continue on the "revolutionary" path upon which Tudjman had embarked. Indeed, it would be counterproductive to the country's clear aim to become part of Western Europe. The question will be, however, whether any new leader can emerge in Croatia without adopting the mantle of Tudjman, with all his racist rhetoric and philosophies, against Serbs, Jews and others.

The period of transition will determine whether Tudjman had helped get his people through an historic period, or whether he had further compounded the xenophobic national hatreds and shibboleths which condemned a potentially prosperous nation to a puzzled isolation. Tudjman did not help make the Croatian people more tolerant and integrated into modern international society when, for example, he praised and elevated those in Croatian history who had run Jasenovac, the third largest concentration camp and genocide factory of the Third Reich. He did not make Croatia more humane and "Western" when he encouraged the "new genocide" at Vukovar (in 1991) and at other locations during the modern Balkan wars.

Perhaps now, Croatia can move on.