Croatia after Tudjman

ZAGREB: Franjo Tudjman’s death, like his life, was a bizarre parody of Marshal Tito. Comparisons between Tudjman and Tito, however, are undermined by anachronism. In Tito’s day it was still possible to have strongmen in gleaming white uniforms command European states, albeit in the Balkans. It was possible to establish authority through collectivist myths, to assert your separate road against global trends, to molest neighbors in the teeth of international censure. No longer. Retrograde regional satraps are outdated in a uniting Europe. And, unlike in Tito's time, whenever the West played Tudjman as a proxy for its interests the results were very mixed.

Tudjman probably did not wish to be independent Croatia’s Tito clone, but he could not help himself. Tito provided the only leadership model that resonated with him. Under the guise of democratic verbiage and a facade of democratic institutions, Tudjman promoted the monopoly of his nationalist party/movement, the HDZ. Tudjman’s excuse was that Croatia needed to concentrate power for its struggle with Serbian aggression. The truth is that he used a negotiated hostility with Slobodan Milosevic to solidify personal rule and a Russian-style plunder of state properties by his coterie of loyalists. In order to accomplish this with a minimum of fuss he muzzled the press and electronic media.

Despite enmity between Serbia and Croatia, dealing dictator to dictator with Milosevic was simple. Because both Tudjman and Milosevic believed in ethnically homogeneous states, they fomented forced population transfers (ie, ethnic cleansing) and a division of territory between each other. The chief victim of their land-grab was Bosnia, which they divided and ravaged through various proxies. The Dayton agreement represented not so much the defeat of their plans as the international legitimation of their division of Bosnia, with Bosnian Muslim enclaves left in a nervous see-saw with Tudjman's vicious Hercegovinian minions.

The consequence of Tudjman's policies – always projected in a harsh, bullying style – led to Croatia's isolation from Europe and America. It is not that Tudjman, on occasion, did not prove useful – the Croatian army's blitzkreig in 1995 led to Dayton – but ultimately his arrogance galled more than his cooperation helped. The tightrope turns that characterized the last several years of his encounter with the West (threats of sanctions for non-cooperation with the Hague war crimes tribunal, holding back Western assistance – EU aid programs, Partnership for Peace, etc.) reflect this bitter antagonism.