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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment

Russell Brand at an anti-austerity march in June
peopleActor and comedian says 'there's no point doing it if you're not'
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
Sister Cristina Scuccia sings 'Like a Virgin' in Venice

Like Madonna, Sister Cristina Scuccia's video is also set in Venice

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say


Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Security Advisor – Permanent – Surrey - £60k-£70k

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

MI Analyst – Permanent – West Sussex – £25k-£35k

£25000 - £35000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

English Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job ? This is a new post...

Primary General Cover Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Southampton: We are looking for Primary School ...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album