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

Tudjman Junior Eyes Presidency

Franjo Tudjman's son faces an uphill struggle in his bid to become Croatian president.
By Dragutin Hedl

Miroslav Tudjman, son of late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, is planning a visit to North America in November to lay the groundwork for his presidential campaign.

That he is starting now, when elections are still over four years away, gives some indication of the uphill task Tudjman junior faces in repairing the family's battered reputation. Indeed, if latest reports in the Croatian press are correct, the Canadian's have even refused to grant him a visa.

Tudjman's visit is aimed at raising funds from the Croatian diaspora which helped his father establish the Croatian DemocraticUnion, HDZ, and secure the presidency.

His main campaign message will focus on the diaspora's antipathy towards communism and the old appeals to the nationalist right.

Although Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan's six-party coalition government has nothing in common with communism, Tudjman argues the victory of Racan's left-orientated Social Democratic Party in January will allow 'communists' to exert influence on government.

Tudjman is not himself a member of the HDZ, but he needs the financial and political backing of extremists within the party, especially those now living in Canada and the United States. It seems the extreme right hope to use the Tudjman family name as a platform for an independent presidential candidacy.

To bolster his political credentials and influence within the HDZ, Miroslav recently proposed two of Racan's coalition partners - Drazen Budisa's Liberal Party and Zlatko Tomicic's Peasant Party -split from the government and form a minority administration with the HDZ.

But the Tudjman reputation is so low there is considerable opposition within the former ruling party to granting Miroslav any high profile role. "The name Tudjman has been blackened," said Michael Pack, president of British Friends of the HDZ.

The diaspora is aware too that the family are implicated in criminal activity perpetrated during Franjo Tudjman's ten-year reign.

On November 2 the Croatian police charged the late president's daughter Nevenka with graft. Miroslav Tudjman's younger brother Stjepan has been the subject of numerous newspaper articles accusing him in fraud.

In 1998 a secret bank account containing 200,000 German marks was found in the name of Franjo Tudjman's wife, despite the then president's declaration in the property census the same year of minimal personal wealth.

Meanwhile, the HDZ itself has disappointed its foreign backers. The party's incompetence, corruption, internal divisions and continuing unpopularity - the party registers around five per cent in most opinion polls - have discouraged further support from abroad.

The diaspora is more divided nowadays than it was in 1990. Many feel cheated now the extent of HDZ fraud has been exposed. Enormous sums of money donated by Canadian and American Croats, and intended for the new Croatian state and its war effort, found their way into the pockets of HDZ officials.

Hence Miroslav is focusing attention on his presidential candidacy, rather than rallying support for the HDZ. His main strategy is to reunify the right, especially its most radical elements, which are currently splintered across various Croatian political parties.

Tudjman, former chief of state security under his father's administration, started airing extreme right-wing views in public shortly after his father's death last year.

He is counting on support from Croatia's army generals, particularly the twelve who sent an open letter of protest to the government in September over its crackdown on alleged Croatian war criminals. President Stipe Mesic immediately sacked the seven signatories still on active service. (See Balkan Crisis Reports No. 180)

The majority of veterans' associations are also a natural constituency. Franjo Tudjman granted these organisations considerable privileges, which many members now fear are under threat from the Racan government.

The veterans' groups object to co-operation with the Hague tribunal, the return of Croatian Serb refugees and further membership of Western institutions - all policies of Miroslav's father.

The so-called 'Herzegovina' lobby are also likely backers of Tudjman junior. All politicians from the Herzegovina region of Bosnia, this faction were thrown into disarray after the death of former defence minister Gojko Susak and the removal from office of Ivica Pasalic, previously one of Franjo Tudjman's closest advisors.

But more than anything else Miroslav Tudjman needs the backing of those Croatian émigrés who support or were members of the World War Two Nazi collaborationist Ustashe movement.

They played an important part in his father's rise to power, ever hopeful Tudjman would build a state similar to that governed by Ustashe chief Ante Pavelic from 1941-1945.

And Tudjman did fulfil some expectations - Serbs were persecuted, Ustashe symbols and insignia were reintroduced, as was the World War Two currency, the kuna, and parliament was renamed the Sabor.

Miroslav Tudjman is now treading the same path. He has four years to repair the damage to the Tudjman name and convince the diaspora that this time their money will not be wasted.

Dragutin Hedl is a regular IWPR contributor.

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