Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Croats Ignore Tudjman Anniversary

Croatians have little interest in commemorating the death of Franjo Tudjman
By Dragutin Hedl

Few Croatians will be shedding tears on December 10, the anniversary of their former president's death.


The man who proclaimed himself the "Founder of the Croatian State" is despised by many for both plundering the country and condemning its people to years of international isolation.


Under Tudjman, Croatia became one of the most corrupt countries in the world - the former president's family and political cronies helping themselves to much of the country's wealth.


At the same time, his regime is believed to have been responsible for numerous human rights abuses and war crimes in Croatia and Bosnia.


Unsurprisingly, the Croatian government - a coalition of reformist, progressive parties - will not be commemorating Tudjman's death on Sunday. Parliamentary deputies will hold a low-key minute's silence and lay a wreath at his grave.


"These days he is only remembered for the scandals surrounding his family," said a Zagreb resident.


Tudjman claimed his place in history as the "Father of the Nation" was assured after leading the country to independence a decade ago. He undoubtedly did play a significant role in the creation of the modern Croatian state, but he left it in a miserable and hopeless situation.


So much so that his regime collapsed like a house of cards after his death. Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, was defeated in parliamentary elections in January and several weeks later his arch rival, Stipe Mesic, won the presidential ballot.


The new government inherited an internationally isolated country facing economic ruin. But it has done more for Croatia in ten months than Tudjman managed to accomplish over several years.


The country has joined NATO's Partnership for Peace, the World Trade Organisation and recently took its first steps towards membership of the European Union.


Croatia is no longer a pariah state. Its president, ministers and other government officials are welcomed in European and world capitals.


Were he still alive today, Tudjman would surely have been indicted by the international war crimes tribunal for both his plans to divide Bosnia and military excesses in Croatia and Bosnia.


The new government has sought to be more co-operative with the international tribunal - a task made difficult by the former regime's contempt for the court. Since Croats had been fighting a defensive war, they could not have committed war crimes, the ex-president repeatedly asserted. Croats are only now rather painfully coming to terms with the fact that this was not the case.


With Tudjman gone, people feel they have more freedom. Their phones are no longer tapped, they read reasonably objective newspapers and they're spared scare-mongering propaganda warning of internal enemies and fifth-columnists - a trademark of the Tudjman regime. "Now we may breathe easier but life is more difficult," said one Zagreb resident.


For most, economic survival is a daily preoccupation. One-in-ten of the population is unemployed and the country is saddled with an external debt of nine billion dollars.


Tudjman and his cronies embezzled the country's wealth. In recent years, numerous HDZ officials have been prosecuted for defrauding the state and the ex-president's family are now being implicated in various economic crimes.


Tudjman's eldest son, Miroslav, the former head of the security services, is alleged to have been involved in smuggling cars. His daughter, Nevenka, is suspected of taking illegal commissions to mediate between state and private companies.


The government is left with few options. It needs to invest in the economy but it's faced with the unpalatable choice of drawing funds from the already depleted social security budget or cutting back on reconstruction costs for war-stricken areas.


Attracting foreign investors is no easy matter. During the Tudjman era, high levels of corruption put off Western financiers. The new authorities have done much to root out graft, but investment in Croatia continues to be seen as fraught with risks.


However much the government tries to right the wrongs of the past, it seems that Croatia will struggle to throw off Tudjman's legacy for a long time to come.


Dragutin Hedl is a regular IWPR contributor