Dying leader takes his last stand for glory

Franjo Tudjman is poised to win the Croatian presidency tomorrow

The hair is thinning, the face gaunt. But age and illness seem only to have spurred Franjo Tudjman on to near-superhuman efforts in his drive for re-election tomorrow as Croatian President.

The prize is in the bag. A toadying, controlled media and a reputation as the man who took on the Yugoslav army after Croatia declared independence in 1991 - and won - have seen to that.

But Mr Tudjman is treating this election, which cancer means will be his last, as if his place in history depended on it. "He doesn't just want to win - there's real desperation there," said one observer.

"Together, my opponents will get half the votes that I'll get," he boasted on Wednesday. Before an adoring crowd of 10,000 at his last pre-election rally in Zagreb on Thursday, the 75-year-old former general hammered home the message he knows will strike the deepest chord: the man who delivered Croatia's independence is the man who will restore the war-shattered economy, too.

It is only a year since Mr Tudjman's liberal and left-wing opponents humiliated his HDZ nationalists in elections for the mayor and city council of the capital, Zagreb. Since then the opposition has squandered its strength in internal squabbles. Mr Tudjman's two opponents, the former dissident and poet Vlado Gotovac, and Zdravko Tomac, a former communist official, seem likely to get only 20 per cent, compared to Mr Tudjman's 60 per cent.

Most Croats warm to macho leaders, and Mr Tudjman's military uniforms and bullying manner are no turn-off outside the refined political culture of Zagreb.

When US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright berated him over attacks on Serb refugees attempting to return to their homes in Croatia's recaptured Krajina region, she merely boosted his standing among an electorate suspicious of foreign intentions, and hostile to Serbs.

"What people see is a man who is dying, but who still has so much force and will to win, and they like that, because they see him as a fighter," said Ines Sabalic, a journalist with the opposition newspaper Tjednik. "They can sense his opponents are resigned to losing."

Resignation is understandable, as Mr Tudjman has barred their access to the powerful state television. "Gotovac and Tomac got one hour precisely, and Tudjman is on every minute," said Ms Sabalic.

Both opposition candidates have complained to the electoral commission, but this body, stacked with Tudjmanites, dismissed their complaints.

In a worrying sign of how intolerant Croatia has become under Mr Tudjman, Mr Gotovac was attacked last week at a rally by a soldier who leapt onto the stage, shouted "Long live Pavelic" (Croatia's Second World War Fascist dictator) and beat the candidate with a belt.

As one observer said: "This disgusting attack was not surprising, as Tudjman is always saying that anyone who opposes him is an enemy of the state."

Mr Tudjman makes much of alleged fifth-columnists working to subvert the nation's independence. In a televised interview before the poll, the President proclaimed: "We are facing an organised activity, including psychological war aimed at obstructing our independence waged by many people in Croatia and abroad."

Marcus Tanner is author of "Croatia: a Nation Forged in War" (Yale)

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
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
life
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Life and Style
tech
News
The Commonwealth flag flies outside Westminster Abbey in central London
news
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
theatre
Extras
indybest
News
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
Arts and Entertainment
tvWebsite will allow you to watch all 522 shows on-demand
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
Latest stories from i100
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

Community / Stakeholder Manager - Solar PV

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Senior Marketing Executive (B2B/B2C) - London

£32000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

C# .Net Developer

£23000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: C# .Net Develop re...

Electronics Design Engineer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: My client are l...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor