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Saturday, 11 December, 1999, 01:20 GMT
Franjo Tudjman: Father of Croatia
In 1990, Dr Franjo Tudjman became the father of his newly-proclaimed state of Croatia when he was elected President in a landslide victory.

His ultra-nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) Party secured nearly two-thirds of the seats in the Croatian parliament.

Unlike Serbia's President Slobodan Milosevic, Mr Tudjman managed to promote his equally rampant nationalism without attracting widespread condemnation.

He achieved this by currying favour with the West by creating the impression that he was creating multi-party democracy at home.

Yet, in reality, his domestic policy saw the closing down of newspapers or television programmes that offended him and the manipulation of the electoral process.

Tudjman and Milosevic together
Tudjman with Milosevic whom he often outmanoeuvred
His rule saw the concentration of power in the hands of a small oligarchy including members of his own family.

Military career

At the age of 19, Franjo Tudjman fought with the partisans against the Nazi occupiers of Yugoslavia during World War II.

He quickly rose through the ranks and became a major-general before he was 40, the youngest in the Yugoslav national army.

Disillusioned with Serb-dominated Yugoslav communism, he left the army in 1961 to take up historical studies.

But in 1967, his ultra-nationalism led to his dismissal from the University of Zagreb, and he was expelled from the League of Communists for publishing a declaration protesting against the policy of forced unification of the Croat and Serb literary languages.

He served two prison sentences for anti-Communist and anti-Yugoslav activities.

Independence struggle

By this time he was convinced that Croatia should press for full independence and his well-organised HDZ party succeeded at the polls.

Tudjman kissing flag
Tudjman kisses the Croatian flag after victory in the Krajina
His brand of nationalism appealed particularly to Croat exiles in the US, Canada and Australia, from whom he secured the funds for his campaign.

His refusal to endorse the Serbs' traditional place in the Croat constitution inflamed Serb opinion in Croatia, resulting in many Serbs being purged from their jobs in the police, security forces, the media and factories.

In August 1990, Serbs in Serb-majority districts loyal to Belgrade rose against Croatia. With the support of the Yugoslav army they seized a third of the country and declared themselves to be the Republic of Serb Krajina.

Mr Tudjman's retaking of the area in 1995 was a personal triumph. His calculation that Serbian President Milosevic was too preoccupied with events in Bosnia to intervene proved correct.

The stunning victory of Croatian forces in the Krajina triggered a huge exodus of civilians, yet was hardly condemned by the West.

Ambiguous role

Tudjman with soldiers
Tudjman's rule at home was autocratic
Mr Tudjman's role in neighbouring Bosnia was ambiguous. The fragile partnership between Muslims and Croats had collapsed into open conflict in Mostar and a scribbled map discovered at a banquet in London clearly showed that Mr Tudjman did not envisage a Bosnian state.

It was long-suspected that he and Mr Milosevic were in collusion about the future make-up of Yugoslavia. But, by 1994, pressure from the United States forced Mr Tudjman to change his mind. He signed the Dayton Peace Accord which provided a solution to the Bosnian question.

At home, Mr Tudjman's rule became increasingly autocratic and he showed little sensitivity to criticisms. His civil rights record to the minority Serb population was poor.

It is only now, after his death, that real democracy in Croatia will have the chance to flourish.

Franjo Tudjman Obituary
A look back at Franjo Tudjman's life
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11 Dec 99 | Europe
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