Franjo Tudjman (born 1922), once communist Yugoslavia's police general and political commissar, who subsequently turned military historian, politician, and finally president of the secessionist Republic of Croatia, was not an ordinary survivor. A favorite of the Communist dictator Tito, Tudjman reached the rank of major general at the age of 36. Croatia's parliament elected him the nation's first president in 1990, and he led his people to independence the following year. In 1992 and 1997, he was re-elected president. He will likely run the country for the rest of his natural life.
Franjo Tudjman was born on May 14, 1922, in Veliko Trgoviste, in the hills north of Zagreb. Little is known about Tudjman's early life other than that his father was a politically active landlord. In April 1941, the Germans invaded Yugoslavia. With their support, Ante Pavelic's nationalist movement, the Ustashe, set up the Independent State of Croatia. Young Franjo, about to graduate from gymnasium in Zagreb, was already known as a Communist sympathizer. When threatened with arrest by the Ustashe, he fled Zagreb to join one of the partisan units led by Josip Broz, also known as Tito. Tudjman's father and two brothers also joined the partisans, and his youngest brother died during the struggle.
After the war, the elder Tudjman was rewarded with a Communist Party committee chairmanship. In 1946, however, Tudjman's parents' lives ended abruptly when, according to Franjo, they were liquidated by the Communist Party. Zagreb authorities said they died as a result of a suicide pact.
During the war, young Franjo had advanced rapidly as a reliable political commissar at various working levels. The end of war found him as a 23-year-old major and political commissar of the 32nd Partisan Division. As one of Tito's most trusted officers, Tudjman attained the rank of general and held a variety of high-level positions. Among them, he was entrusted with the responsibility of monitoring Yugoslavia's senior officers corps' political ideology. In the years following the Tito-Stalin break he is said to have done his job only too well, helping to depose Tito's enemies to the notorious Adriatic island Goli Otok.
Historian and Nationalist
In 1961, after 15 years in Belgrade where he acquired a taste for a luxurious lifestyle and a preference for tennis, champagne, and caviar, Tudjman suddenly quit the army. He told friends he wanted to give his undivided attention to academic research in military and political history. From 1961 to 1967, Tudjman was the director of the Institute for the History of the Labor Movement of Croatia. He also served as associate professor of history at the University of Zagreb from 1963 to 1967. The University of Zagreb in 1964 rejected his dissertation as inadequate for a Ph.D. degree in history. However, the following year, he took the same dissertation, The Causes of the Crisis of the Monarchist Yugoslavia from Its Inception in 1918 to the Collapse in 1946, to the newer and less prestigious university at Zadar, which granted him a Ph.D.
Living and working in the center of Croat nationalism, Tudjman gradually abandoned his Titoist and pro-Yugoslav orientation, which eventually led to his expulsion from the Croatian Communist Party. As an historian, Tudjman wrote profusely, publishing books and scholarly articles on history, military theory, and international relations. His works brought him prominence but also criticism for what was termed "bourgeois-nationalist deviations" in dealing with the "national question."
For his role in the growing Croat nationalist movement, Tudjman was condemned to two years in prison in October 1972, although he served only 10 months of the sentence. Acting as a persistent dissident, he got three more years of imprisonment and a five-year ban on public activity on February 20, 1981.
Some of Tudjman's writings were controversial. He tried to disprove assertions that Croats had practiced genocide against Serbs during World War II. He claimed that the murder of Serbs was not a Ustashe policy but rather the actions of a small number of fanatics, that the number of Serbs killed was less than previously had been argued, and that the Serbs had also killed many Croats.
Tudjman suffered literary humiliation in 1967, when one of his works, The Creation of the Socialist Yugoslavia, was challenged as plagiarism by Croatia's premier historian, Ljubo Boban, who offered several conclusive proofs to his claim. What threatened to become a scandal of some proportions, however, was quickly papered over as just a little mistake.
Tudjman's most controversial work was Wastelands of Historical Truth (1989). His theory was that history merely repeats itself. For example, Tudjman said that Israel campaigns to reconquer the "promised land" by methods reminiscent of the Nazi "final solution" and employs genocidal practices he described as "Judeo-nazism." In February 1994, however, President Tudjman showed his political astuteness as he apologized in a letter to the American Jewish organization B'nai B'rith for the "hurtful" assertions he made in his book. He did not explain a widely circulated remark he made at a political rally during the first presidential election campaign. "I am elated every time it occurs to me that my wife is neither a Jew nor a Serb, " said candidate Tudjman.
The Father of his Nation
In 1989, at the beginning of the collapse of the communist regime Tudjman was one of the leading founding members and president of the Croatian Democratic Union. The party won Croatia's first free elections. Tudjman was elected to the parliament, which chose him in 1990 to be Croatia's first president. His mandate was confirmed and extended for a second term by direct presidential elections in August 1992, in which Tudjman received 57 percent of the votes.
Within Croatia, President Tudjman gradually introduced the free market, although Croatia's economy continued to suffer from inflation. He purged the old Communist apparatchiks and replaced them with persons loyal to himself. Meanwhile the United Nations accused Croatia's government of press intimidation and human rights abuses. At the same time, Croatia's Serbian minority complained about summary dismissals of Serb employees from jobs designated as "sensitive" unless the Serbs in such jobs signed special loyalty oaths. President Tudjman's task was complicated by the neo-fascist Croatian Party of Rights, headed by Dobroslav Paraga, a skilled demagogue. Nevertheless, Tudjman maintained his authority.
Tudjman's imperious manner caused criticism at home and abroad. The regal-looking sash he wore on all festive occasions invited ridicule. His use of a luxurious and expensive private jetliner rather than commercial airliners raised eyebrows among those familiar with Croatia's precarious finances. Assessments such as autocratic, pompous, combative, thin-skinned, and insensitive to minorities were often heard. "Charm and patience, " said one newsman, "are not Tudjman's strong suits." In his first two years as president he appointed and dismissed five prime ministers, five defense ministers, and six foreign ministers.
Croatia declared its independence on June 25, 1991, and a civil war broke out the following month. According to the last census in the former Yugoslavia, only 12 percent of Croatia's population were ethnic Serbs. Only in the Krajina enclave in the Dalmatian hinterland did Serbs form a majority. Despite this, Serbian irregulars, backed by arms and troops from Serbia itself, seized control of about 30 percent of Croatia's territory. In a process known as "ethnic cleansing, " they drove out or massacred the Croatian villagers.
Germany recognized Croatia's sovereignty in December 1991, and many observers believe that Tudjman's excellent relationship with Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Germany's foreign minister at the time, had a lot to do with Bonn's decision. Hostilities ended for a time in January 1992, when the European Community and UN mediated a truce between Croatia and the Krajina Republic (the Serbian secessionist government). Meanwhile, however the war had spread to Bosnia and Hercegovina, where fierce fighting continued until 1995.
After Croatian troops failed to regain territory lost to the Serbs, another cease-fire was negotiated in May 1993. In January 1994, Tudjman and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic agreed establish offices in each other's capitals to begin "the process of the normalization of mutual relations."
However, the military situation within Croatia itself remained unsettled. With some American help, President Tudjman rebuilt and reequipped the Croatian army. In the summer of 1995, Croatian forces crossed the cease-fire line and recaptured the Krajina region. The troops drove out some 170, 000 Serbs, who fled to Bosnia and Serbia. Hundreds of others were found with bullet holes in their heads or in unmarked graves, leading some foreign observers to question whether Croatia also was practicing "ethnic cleansing." Not everyone believed President Tudjman, when said he was doing all he could to stop the killings and punish those responsible.
These military victories were ratified in September 1996, when Croatia and the new Republic of Yugoslavia (consisting solely of Serbia and Montenegro) formally established diplomatic relations. Yugoslavia agreed to surrender the last Serbian-held regions in Croatia. In return, Presidents Tudjman and Milosevic each guaranteed legal protection to the citizens of the neighboring state.
Croatian success in driving the Serbs from the Krajina also helped to end fighting and extend Croat influence in neighboring Bosnia. In 1994, with U.S. backing, a Muslim-Croat Federation was created as a counterweight to the Bosnian Serbs. Following Croatian victories in the summer of 1995, a peace accord was agreed to in Dayton, Ohio, the following November. The agreement assigned 51 percent of the country to the Muslim-Croat Federation, and 49 percent to a Bosnian Serb Republic. Many Muslim Bosnians believed the Croatians had no intention of ever leaving. Adding to their fears was a highly publicized incident at a London dinner party. President Tudjman drew a map of Bosnia, then divided it in two, one half reading "Croatia, " the other half "Serbia."
At home, Tudjman continued to be less than a friend to the free press, engaging in forced takeovers of some newspapers that criticized his government. Some foreign observers also scored Tudjman for his efforts to rehabilitate the World War II Ustashe regime as patriots and precursors of the modern Croatian state. He adopted the currency and flag associated with the Ustashe movement. And he ordered Ustashe soldiers reburied with honor.
President for Life
Despite his foreign critics, President Tudjman succeeded in winning recognition for Croatia as an independent state. In October 1996, Croatia was admitted to the Council of Europe, a human-rights organization. By 1997, with support from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, the government could sell bonds on the world market. As a further sign of stability, Croatia was invited to join the Bank for International Settlements, a grouping of central banks based in Switzerland.
By the mid 1990s and in his 70s, Franjo Tudjman clearly was seriously ill. In November 1996, after he received medical treatment at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C., U.S. officials reported that Tudjman had cancer and was not likely to recover. Nevertheless, Tudjman and the Croatian Democratic Union continued to cruise to electoral victory. With 61 percent of the vote, Tudjman himself easily won another five year term as President in June 1997. Although some foreign observers criticized the electoral process, it was clear that most Croatians wanted Franjo Tudjman to rule for the rest of his natural life.
Further Reading on Franjo Tudjman
A useful source for those who read Croatian is Tudjman's major work titled in translation Wastelands of Historical Truth (1989). There are, however, a number of articles in newspapers and periodicals addressing various aspects of Franjo Tudjman's life and work. See Stephen Kinzer, "Croatia's Founding Chief Seen as 'a Mixed Story', " The New York Times (August 5, 1993); Peter Maass, "Heard the One About Franjo Tudjman?" The Washington Post (June 5, 1992); Steve Coll, "Franjo Tudjman at War with History, " The Washington Post (March 1, 1993); Stephen Engelberg, "Croatian Leader on Defensive in Fight for Re-election, " The New York Times (August 2, 1992); Roger Boyes, "Tudjman Exploits Fascist Heritage, " The Times (June 30, 1992); John F. Burns, "Croatia's Strongman Hedges His Bets, " The New York Times (December 18, 1992); Teddy Preuss, "Goebbels Lives—in Zagreb, " Jerusalem Post International Edition (December 21, 1991); Blaine Harden, "Croatians Vote in Aftershock of Vicious War, " The Washington Post (August 2, 1992); Philip Sherwell, "Leader Tightens Grip on Croatia, " Washington Times, courtesy of London Daily Telegraph (August 12, 1992).
Bennett, Christopher, Yugoslavia's Bloody Collapse: Causes, Course and Consequences. (1995). Vulliamy, Ed, Seasons in Hell: Understanding Bosnia's War (1994). "Shaky Future, " The Economist (June 21, 1997).