Franjo Tudjman never went as far as Oliver Cromwell

Franjo Tudjman

Election campaigns for leadership of Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) are entering the last leg in the race when thick dust gets raised as candidates gallop to the finish line (20 May).

There’s renewed pledges by candidates to return HDZ to its original values set by the late President dr. Franjo Tudjman and to return to membership many members expelled from the party during the period of de-Tudjmanisation particularly marked by the reign of dr. Ivo Sanader (2000 – 2009), currently in court over several significant corruption charges.

While the values Tudjman set for HDZ (over 20 years ago) are still relevant it’s important to separate the person (Tudjman) from the future of HDZ. That is, euphorically chanting the name of Tudjman can easily hide gross incapability to take Croatia well into the 21st century. Hence, it is hoped that HDZ membership will look at the Tudjman era as proud history but vote for the candidates that understand the crucial issues to be addressed for the future.

Future must become a priority.

Monday 14 May 2012: 90th Anniversary of dr. Franjo Tudjman’s birth.

This is an opportune moment to reflect on his political life and I have decided that one of the best ways to do that is to extract passages from James Sadkovich’s (Public Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, USA) 2004 paper “The Father of his Country?

Whether or not Franjo Tudjman was the father of his country, there can be no denying that he played a pivotal role in the creation of contemporary Croatia. While it can be argued that someone else may have been better able to lead the Croatian people through the wastelands of war, occupation and diplomacy during the early 1990s, it was Tudjman who actually did so. If his Croatia was not the peasant republic envisioned by Stjepan Radic or the Croatian state imagined by Ante Starcevic, it was a viable democratic state with a powerful military, a skilled diplomatic corps and citizens who both fought for its survival and criticized its policies.

Born four years after the creation of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, he died (1999) eight years after Yugoslavia’s dissolution.

He joined the Partisans to fight fascism (World War II) and he served in the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA). Tudjman fought the German occupation and Ante Pavelic’s Independent State of Croatia (NDH). His younger brother was killed by the Ustashe…

 An ardent nationalist, he wrote history from a Croatian perspective… But he was also an ardent communist and a prominent member of the progressive reform movement in Croatia in the 1960s. Like many Croatians, he paid the price for believing in Tito. And, like most dissidents, he was kept out of public life well into the 1980s…

Tudjman and Slobodan Milosevic have repeatedly been paired as Balkan dictators, but the two men were as different as bourgeois nationalism and bureaucratic socialism. When asked about Milosevic, Tudjman responded that the Serbian leader was an imperialist, and that he was defending Croatia from him…

Tudjman believed in the power of communism, and then of nationalism, to transform Yugoslavia. Milosevic made a career in the Serbian communist party. Tudjman was an intellectual and a theorist, while Milosevic was a technocrat and a pragmatist. Tudjman wrote books and gathered honors while Milosevic made money and amassed power.

Tudjman stayed in the Army after the war and moved to Belgrade, where he studied military history. His first book, War against War, was an ambitious study of partisan warfare that reflected the theories of national liberation, which dominated the 1950s. The book brought Tudjman both accolades and criticism for his depiction of the Partisan movement in Croatia as primarily Croatian. Following a bitter exchange with the army’s historical office, he moved to Zagreb to head the new Institute for the History of the Workers’ Movement.

In 1967, after signing a declaration which asserted that Croatian was a distinct literary language, he was forced to resign his posts in the communist party and give up his positions at the university and the institute.

Tudjman spent the next 23 years as a dissident. During that time, he was jailed twice for publicly criticizing the communist regime. He continued to write, including a study of nationalism published in the US in 1981, but his writings only confirmed the regime’s opinion that he was a dangerous nationalist. After he challenged official figures on the number of war dead, he was tarred as an apologist for the Ustasha regime.

In 1989, Tudjman helped to create the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), a coalition of dissidents. Tudjman saw the HDZ as a “synthesis of Croatian politics” and believed it would play a “positive role” in creating a new “Yugoslav synthesis.”

Attacked as a nationalist, Tudjman insisted that he was neither a Milosevic nor a (Jean-Marie) Le Pen. Rather, he espoused a combative pluralism. “The essence of democracy,” he said in 1990, “exists in political diversity, and that diversity presupposes political clashes.”

His love of Croatia, his knowledge of Greater Serbia aspirations, “could not have accommodated Serbian nationalists intent on creating a Greater Serbia. After being elected President of Croatia in 1991, he had to contend with espionage, rebellion, war and occupation. In 1993, his party began to splinter under the weight of policy in Bosnia, and Tudjman found himself increasingly isolated. By 1996, with no war to distract people, attention focused on his shortcomings, in particular his heavy-handed treatment of the media, the corruption of HDZ and government officials, the trials of Croatians at The Hague and international pressure to reintegrate Croatia’s Serbian population.

An intellectual who sought to shape reality to conform to his vision of it, Tudjman tended to lecture and to give orders”. However, general elections were always free.

“If Tudjman mimicked Josip Broz Tito in his more autocratic moments and Charles De Gaulle in his more grandiose, he never went as far as Oliver Cromwell or Miguel Primo de Rivera.

He was a nationalist in that he believed that only nation states are authentic political formations, and he championed the right of self-determination of peoples.

Tudjman’s nationalism included a desire to resuscitate old symbols for the new Croatian state. Because the Ustasha had done so in 1941, it was easy to accuse him of refurbishing the NDH. In other instances, he seems to have insisted on certain symbols, despite the controversy, such as when Croatia introduced a coin whose name had been used by both medieval Croatia and the NDH, or when a street in Zagreb was named after Mile Budak, an important Croatian writer but also a leader of the Ustasha.

Croatia’s most powerful—and divisive—symbols were the Ustasha and the Partisans. Tudjman sought to denature and appropriate both by condemning the crimes of the Ustasha and stressing the Croatian nature of the Partisans. He invited the descents of both to build a common Croatian state”…

In 1991, as Slovenia and Croatia were on their path to secession from communist Yugoslavia, “the international community had tacitly encouraged Belgrade (Serbia) to use force to bring Slovenia and Croatia to heel. But like many Croats, Tudjman believed that the world community would intervene, as they had in Kuwait, to prevent a violent redrawing of Yugoslavia’s internal borders…

He continued to put his faith in negotiations and blocked efforts by his Defense Minister, Martin Spegelj, to disarm the Army, in order to avoid antagonizing it and being cast in the role of aggressor. In August 1991 he followed advice from the French and Americans to make concessions to Croatia’s Serbs, and by November he lifted the siege of JNA barracks at the urging of the American ambassador. But Tudjman also wrote a letter to Western leaders, chiding them for encouraging aggression by their inaction, and he built up Croatia’s armed forces.

Croatia lacked the military means to defend itself in 1991. During Croatia’s war, he urged the creation of a court to try war crimes and the deployment of UN troops to Croatia. Only once it was clear that the UN could not enforce the Vance Plan did Tudjman apply force—in 1993 at Maslenica and two years later in Western Slavonija and the Krajina. But he was content to use diplomacy to regain Eastern Slavonija…

He considered Bosnia an imperial creation with three distinct constituent peoples (Croat, Muslim and Serb), none of whom could lay claim to a Bosnian state, and as early as 1990 he suggested a referendum, which would have partitioned Bosnia-Herzegovina by allowing its peoples to choose where they wanted to live. For geopolitical reasons, Tudjman would not allow Bosnia to remain in a rump Yugoslavia, but he warned that Croatia would demand its “historical and natural” borders only if Bosnia disintegrated as a result of Serbian actions. He discussed political countermeasures with Bosnian Croat leaders in June 1991, but he did not follow the Serbian example of creating autonomous communities in Bosnia-Herzegovina until December—after Alija Izetbegovic had sent representatives to talk with Serbian leaders in Belgrade and Pale, and after Serbian forces had occupied a third of Croatia and attacked Croatians in Bosnia.

Tudjman approved military intervention in Bosnia in response to Serbian attacks on Croatia from Bosnian territory. He could not convince Ejup Ganic to reword the referendum of early 1992 to define Bosnia as a state of three “constituent nations,” but Tudjman encouraged Bosnia’s Croats to vote for a Bosnian state in early 1992, Croatian forces fought as part of the Bosnian army, and in July, Tudjman and Izetbegovic signed an accord on military cooperation…

Tensions generated by the movement of refugees and pressure by the war itself triggered an 11-month war between Croats and Muslims, which ended in March 1994 with the creation of the Muslim-Croat Federation. With his borders secure, Tudjman pressed for the return of Serbian-occupied areas in Croatia. When negotiations stalled in the summer of 1995, he opted for military action. By September, Croatian forces in Bosnia and Croatia had occupied areas lost to the JNA in 1991 and relieved the siege of the Muslim safe area of Bihac.

Tudjman’s support of Croatian areas in Bosnia-Herzegovina made it easier for him than for Izetbegovic to accept the peace plans put forward by Jose Cutilheiro, Cyrus Vance, David Owen, and Thorvald Stoltenberg—all of which acknowledged the concept of constituent peoples and effectively partitioned Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Tudjman tailored his actions to the policies of the international community and the actions of Serbian and Muslim forces.

Throughout the conflict, Tudjman sought simultaneously to protect Croatians in Bosnia-Herzegovina and to isolate Serbian rebels in Croatia.

Tudjman left the Croatian state in disarray, but it was sovereign, secure, and had the institutions necessary to build a modern democracy. In 2002, as the ICTY pressed for the extradition of Ante Gotovina, the general who had led the decisive Croatian offensive in 1995, most Croatians remembered Tudjman as the father of his country. It had been a messy business, but if reality had proved more recalcitrant than theory and Tudjman proved more (Otto von) Bismarck or (Cardinal) Richelieu than (Giuseppe) Garibaldi or (Giuseppe) Mazzini, in the end he had still realized what would have seemed impossible in 1989—a Croatian state”.

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