Edging toward the EU
Hundreds of thousands of mourners paid their respects December 13, 1999, to Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, a controversial figure whom many Croats considered to be the “father” of the Balkan state, after having led Croatia to independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. The controversy surrounding Tudjman was palpable at his funeral, which notably few Western heads of state or government attended.
Tudjman, the first president of the independent Croatia, was in his youth a committed communist who fought with former President Tito and the partisan forces against the Croatian pro-Nazi Ustashe forces during World War II, rising quickly throughout the ranks of the military. He later turned and became a historian and ardent Croatian nationalist, provoking Western anger through a decidedly revised view of history, believing that accounts of Croatian atrocities committed against Serbs and Muslims during World War II were in fact greatly exaggerated. He also claimed that Croatia was the victim of a communist and Serb plot aimed at suppressing its cultural and political identity and freedom. Latently anti-Semitic statements and reported ambitions of creating a “greater Croatia” followed.
Since Croatia’s recognition (through pressure from Germany and the Vatican) as an independent state in 1991 and Tudjman’s subsequent presiding over two disastrous wars between 1991 and 1995, Croatia has been left a “new,” battered country surrounded by other “new,” battered countries.
Tudjman’s death has left Croatia in a pivotal position. Croatians will quickly have to choose between the heavy-handed nationalism of the hdz (Croatian Democratic Union) which has ruled the country for the past decade, or a leftist opposition which has vowed to promote democracy and closer integration with Europe.
Whichever party is chosen will determine Croatia’s status in relation to the EU and could further accelerate profound political changes. Tudjman’s strong-arm style of government, criticized as being a virtual “one party state,” along with his fervent nationalism and involvement in the Bosnian War, strained relations with Western Europe and hindered the development of closer ties with the EU.
Europe now waits to see whether Croatia will turn toward the EU or strengthen its nationalist stance. EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana laid out Europe’s hope: “The importance of Croatia in the region…is very great, very important, and we would like to see Croatia play a positive role in the future” (AP News, Dec. 11, 1999).