Dying leader leaves `rogue' Croatia to uncertain fate

CROATIA IS waiting. Its President, Franjo Tudjman, lies in a suburban hospital, apparently close to death and stripped of his powers. Parliamentary elections called yesterday for early January could sweep away the ruling party.

But the US and Europe are waiting, too, and with no less a sense of expectation and concern. The country which was formed out of the ashes of Yugoslavia in a bloody conflict that ended only four years ago has shifted from being the apple of Washington's eye to the margins of polite diplomatic society. Not just the choice of new rulers, but a new political identity is at stake.

On Friday, the Speaker of the parliament, Vlatko Pavletic, stepped into the President's shoes and assumed his duties. A panel of judges ruled that the present incumbent was incapable of exercising his functions, and for an interim period, renewable every 60 days, Mr Pavletic will be in charge.

Franjo Tudjman and his party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), have dominated the new nation since it declared independence in 1991. A former military officer, Mr Tudjman had long been a critic of Yugoslavia, and he rapidly emerged as the strongman at a time of conflict.

The US backed him to the hilt, delivering military assistance and political support as he fought Serbian and Yugoslav forces. That culminated in Operation Storm, a deadly assault on the Croatian Serbs who lived in the Krajina. They were forced out of the country - those that were not killed. But soon after the war, relations cooled as Washington realised that the country's ruler was no Vaclav Havel.

Since then, Croatia has sat uneasily between the countries of Western Europe and its former partners in Yugoslavia, a devastated Bosnia-Herzegovina and a hostile Serbia. Its elections have been persistently criticised, and much of the media remains under the thumb of Mr Tudjman, the state and the party (which are hard to disentangle).

The government has failed to give full co-operation to the international war crimes tribunal and the country has failed to reincorporate the Serbs who fled during the war. In raids earlier this year, Nato troops seized evidence that its intelligence services had been deliberately destabilising ethnically Croatian parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Croatia is perilously close to being regarded as a rogue state.

So America and Europe will have heard a mixed message when Mr Pavletic, an academic and writer, set out his stall. "I must continue what the President would do," he said. He also said that the parliamentary elections "must be held in an atmosphere which will make clear to everyone that Croatia's democracy is mature and that no one will be able to deny the results".

Beset by factionalism and allegations of corruption, the HDZ should by all calculations suffer a setback on 3 January, to the benefit of the Social Democrats and Social Liberals. The economy has failed to take off and unemployment is around 20 per cent. Privatisation largely meant handing state assets to friends of the ruling party. But the opposition claims the choice of election date means there will be little campaigning. That is in line with the HDZ's systematic attempt to depoliticise politics and make itself Croatia's only option.

But Mr Tudjman is the keystone - without him it is unclear what will happen. No one has seen him since he was hospitalised on 1 November, but he is assumed to be close to death from the cancer he has fought for three years - yesterday doctors admitted his condition had worsened further. If he dies, a presidential election must be called.

After Tudjman, the party may not find it easy to unite on a successor. The sinister Ivic Pasalic, head of the intelligence services, may be a candidate and hardline deputy speaker Vladimir Seks is another possibility. The opposition, divided and inexperienced, may find it hard to unite on a candidate. It will be months, if not a year, before the nation's future direction seems clear.

News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport