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Tudjman's Death Leaves Uncertainty In Bosnia

For some people in Bosnia, the death of Franjo Tudjman was a national tragedy, for others it raised hopes for better relations between the two countries. But the post-Tudjman era is bound to bring uncertainty to Bosnia.
By Janez Kovac

Croatian President Franjo Tudjman's acts had an effect over all aspects of life in Bosnia. His death brought mixed feelings of sorrow and relief, uncertainty and fear to the people of Bosnia.


"With the death of President Tudjman, we lost the man... who made a great contribution to the establishment and strengthening of peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina," read a telegram of condolences from the Bosnian tripartite presidency.


Bosnia's top international mediator, Wolfgang Petritsch, also sent a letter of condolence to the Croatian people, but against the diplomatic protocol usual in such occasions, top Bosnian Serb and Muslim leaders, Zivko Radisic and Alija Izetbegovic remained silent.


In the areas dominated by Bosnian Croats in Mostar, and other parts of southern and central Bosnia, Croatian national flags flew at half-mast and posters of Tudjman were put up along all main streets.


Many Bosnian Croats respected the three-day mourning proclaimed by the Bosnian Croat leadership, and the Bosnian Croat member of the presidency, Ante Jelavic, invited all Bosnian Croats to attend last Monday's funeral in Zagreb.


Chairing the commemorative session of the ruling Bosnian Croat Democratic Union (HDZ) in Mostar, Jelavic called on all his countrymen "to solemnly and decisively continue on Tudjman's path for the establishment of full equality and sovereignty of Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina".


But Tudjman's constant interfering in Bosnian internal politics and awkward positions on ethnic issues made him few friends in Bosnia. Therefore many of the diplomatic statements issued after his death had a certain cold touch.


For example, a letter from Ilija Simic, president of the opposition Bosnian Croat Peasants' Party in Bosnia to the Croatian Embassy in Sarajevo, offered condolences but also noted Tudjman's part in the "latest" tumultuous and significant decade of Croatian history.


In another rather short letter of condolence to the Tudjman family, Kresimir Zubak, president of the Bosnian opposition New Croat Initiative (NHI), noted Tudjman's 'unerasable' mark on recent Croatian history.


Perhaps the defining moment in Tudjman's relations with Bosnia and Bosnians was his notorious meeting in 1991 with Slobodan Milosevic at a former royal hunting lodge in which they plotted to seize and divide the then newly independent Bosnia between them.


In pursuit of this wider objective, when the war started in Bosnia in 1992, Tudjman openly supported Bosnian Croats with weapons and money. Although initially allied against the Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Croats turned against their Muslim allies in 1993 and the two ethnic groups fought each other for territory in southern and central Bosnia.


This war-within-a war ended after strong international, principally US pressure in 1994, but ethnic mistrust and tension marred the renewed alliance. Continued international pressure forced Tudjman to sign the Dayton peace accord in 1995 that stopped the fighting in Bosnia. Yet in many of his public appearances and statements he has demonstrated that he personally cannot accept the concept of an independent Bosnian state.


It was widely believed that Tudjman was the man behind the Bosnian Croat hardliners' attempts to secede from the rest of Bosnia. His connection, through his overall status in the command lines between party and military on both sides of the border - and their part in serious atrocities - fed speculation that he would be indicted for war crimes by the UN War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.


Unsurprisingly then, many Bosnians met news of Tudjman's demise with relief and even joy. "He never recognised the existence of Bosnia and the existence of Bosnian Muslims. He always believed that Bosnia was a part of Croatia and that Moslems were only Croats who accepted Islam," said one Sarajevo Muslim tersely.


Mahmut Stupac, a Muslim from the divided southern town of Mostar is a good example, who once swore that he would never shave his moustache while Tudjman was alive, happily did so this week.


Stupac, owner of a pizza parlour in the Muslim dominated eastern part of town, held off the razor in protest at the Croats' destruction of the famous old quarter of Mostar and its landmark bridge. Regular diners at his restaurant called round to see the clean-shaven Stupac at the weekend.


But for many Bosnian Croats, Tudjman was a hero. Bosnian Croat leader Jelavic said that Tudjman was the "leader and victor who provided protection and defence or Croats in Bosnia in their hardest moments".


On the other hand, some thought Tudjman's extremism spoiled relations between Bosnian Croats and Muslims and that his hardline nationalism and dictatorial attitudes gave Croats and Bosnian Croats a bad name.


"Along with Milosevic and (Bosnian Muslim leader) Izetbegovic, Tudjman is among those who brought the unnecessary war to these parts," said one Bosnian Croat. "After his death we can only prosper." Not only relations between the two countries but also the situation in Bosnia itself will now depend on who succeeds Tudjman - whether Croatian moderates or Croatian hardliners.


"What political consequences will the departure of Franjo Tudjman from the scene have - that is the question of the utmost priority," noted analyst Mirko Sagolj of the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje, in a Sunday front-page editorial.


"Predictions are different, even contradictory ... (but) whatever changes occur in Croatia, they will affect relations between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in the same way," Sagolj said.


Tudjman's death brings the power struggle within the HDZ to the surface. On the 'moderate' side sits Deputy Prime Minister Mate Granic and allies; on the 'hardline' side, HDZ bulwarks Vladimir Seks and Ivic Pasalic.


Croatian parliamentarian elections are scheduled for January 3, while presidential elections must take place within 60 days of Tudjman's death.


Croatian opposition parties have a good chance of winning at least a parliamentary majority, and perhaps the presidency - if the hardliners force out Granic, thought to be the only HDZ candidate able to win the presidential vote.


Yet a complete electoral defeat for the HDZ, or at least a defeat of HDZ hard-liners in Croatia would most likely bring an immediate improvement in relations between Croatia and Bosnia.


That in turn would strengthen the position of Bosnian Croat moderates, led by Foreign Minister Jadranko Prlic, and would help out Bosnian Croat non-nationalist opposition parties.


On the other hand, a victory for HDZ hardliners in Croatia would reinforce Bosnian Croat hardliners and create new tensions both between the two countries as well as within Bosnia itself.


Such outcome could also strengthen the determination of Bosnian Croat hard-liners for larger independence within Bosnia, probably through the creation of a third entity, which would not be recognised by the international community and Bosnian Muslims and could trigger renewed violence in Bosnia.


Yet Tudjman's death, combined with the indictment of Milosevic and the likely reduction of influence of Izetbegovic, in worsening health, can in the long term only raise the prospects for peace in the region.


Janez Kovac is a pseudonym for a journalist working in Sarajevo.


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