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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £40,000

£18000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing Insurance Bro...

Recruitment Genius: Junior IT Support Technician

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Junior IT Support Technician ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior / Graduate Front End Developer

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides actionabl...

Guru Careers: Customer Support Advisor

Negotiable depending on experience, plus benefits: Guru Careers: We are seekin...

Day In a Page

Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

Latest on the Labour leadership contest
Froome seals second Tour de France victory

Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

The uses of sarcasm

'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

No vanity, but lots of flair

A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

In praise of foraging

How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food