Tudjman's Return

The late president's son is building a new right-wing alliance among Croatians enraged by The Hague. But the court may be on his tail, too.

Tudjman's Return

The late president's son is building a new right-wing alliance among Croatians enraged by The Hague. But the court may be on his tail, too.

Miroslav Tudjman, the 52-year-old son of late president, is positioning himself to spearhead a right-wing coalition to exploit the increasing weakness of the centre-left government of Prime Minister Ivica Racan.

For several months after Franjo Tudjman's death on December 10, 1999, the late president's son remained politically inactive. He then took up with former defence minister Andrija Hebrang, with whom he worked closely when he headed the Croatian Intelligence Service.

For over a year, the young Tudjman has headed the Movement for Croatian Identity and Prosperity, which rallies many of his father's senior appointees in the army, police and intelligence service. He recently announced that the movement will become a fully-fledged political party, called the Croatian True Revival, CTR, with Tudjman as its first president.

"Tudjman is our Coca-Cola," explained Nenad Ivankovic, a Tudjman ally and editor of the government daily Vjesnik during his father's rule. Tudjman's son is a well-known brand that, Ivankovic believes, will sell well in the political market.

At the moment, that market is turning to the right because of public hostility to the extradition of Croatian suspects to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. The swing was evident in this May's municipal elections, when Tudjman's movement captured seven per cent of the vote, though it was not registered as a party.

Since then, Tudjman's ambitions have grown exponentially. The CTR wants to lead a "Croatian bloc" of extreme-right, nationalist parties such as the Croatian Party of Rights and the Croatian Demo-Christian Union, which account for five per cent of the electorate.

The young Tudjman reportedly chose not to attempt to succeed his father in the formerly ruling Croatian Democratic Community, HDZ, because he did not think he would emerge as its leader. But many radical HDZ members are also sympathetic to Tudjman and his new party.

Supported by former HDZ members and an influential section of the Roman Catholic leadership, Tudjman has lobbied strongly against cooperation with the international court in The Hague and the extradition of any more Croatian generals to The Netherlands.

After Croatian President Stjepan Mesic "retired" seven generals last year, Tudjman penned an open letter warning that the government was leading the country to the "brink of chaos and conflict". Among the generals is Mirko Norac, currently held in Rijeka prison, where he is awaiting trial on charges that he committed war crimes against Serbian civilians in the winter of 1991.

Another Tudjman supporter is General Ante Gotovina, who has been a fugitive since Croatian police issued a warrant for his arrest following his indictment by The Hague.

Tudjman's antipathy towards The Hague is understandable. In the Gotovina indictment, his father was listed as a "co-offender" for crimes committed against Serbs in Croatia.

Yet, his own ambitions could also come to grief on the rocks of a tribunal indictment. As head of Croatia's most powerful intelligence agency throughout his father's rule, Tudjman is widely considered responsible for Croatian Army operations during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He only stepped down from the post after the HDZ was defeated in the January 2000 elections.

Intelligence agency personnel and others reportedly played a role in covering up the activities of Croatian forces in the Bosnian village of Ahmici, near Vitez, in April 1993, when over 100 Bosniaks were brutally murdered. According to the Zagreb weekly Nacional, the alleged suspects - Ante Sliskovic, Pasko Ljubicic, Miroslav Bralo Cicko and Vlado Cosic - were provided with false identity documents by Miroslav Tudjman's agency, and now live openly in Zadar.

Known for its close sources in the intelligence community, Nacional revealed in its most recent issue that in July The Hague had launched an investigation of Miroslav Tudjman and 30 other high-profile individuals.

Tribunal investigations have, so far, always spelled political trouble for Prime Minister Racan. For every enquiry launched, Croatia's ever-present right wing receives a further boost of popular support. In February, the right staged large demonstrations in support of General Norac, whose extradition was demanded for alleged killings in the Serbian village of Gospic in 1991. And they promised more should the fugitive General Gotovina be extradited for alleged murders in Knin in 1995.

Racan denied the Nacional report, admitting that The Hague had simply requested certain documents covering Croatian operations in Bosnia. However, one year ago, he told Zagreb's Radio 101 that Miroslav Tudjman might one day find himself before the court.

The prime minister is far weaker now than a year ago. As the economic situation continues to deteriorate and more people lose hope that the Social-Democrats alliance will eventually turn the corner, the public mood is indeed swinging to the right.

The young Tudjman knows this only too well, and is using the breathing space to prepare his candidacy for the presidency. That is, if the very court which he is exploiting for his rise does not bring him down first.

Dragutin Hedl, IWPR project editor in Croatia, is a journalist with Feral Tribune.

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