Final snub to Tudjman as leaders shun funeral

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The Independent Online
IT WAS the funeral to which nobody came, at least no Western head of state. The former Croatian president, Franjo Tudjman, was buried yesterday in Zagreb, in death as diplomatically isolated as he was in the final years of his life.

The man once regarded as a bulwark of Western policy in the Balkans, whose nascent state was built up and armed as a necessary counterweight to the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, was comprehensively snubbed by his former allies. As well as grief among Croats over the death on Friday from cancer of the man they view as the father of their state, there was a whiff of diplomatic hypocrisy in the still, winter air.

Germany, whose early support for an independent Croatia - before the agreement of adequate safeguards over the human rights of the Serb minority - pushed the European Union and the West into recognising the nascent state, was represented by its ambassador. The former foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who made the decision on recognition, attended as a private citizen.

The United States, which many believe gave the go-ahead to the Croatian military offensive in 1995 to recapture Serb-occupied areas that resulted in several hundred thousand refugees, and whose retired generals and private security advisers had built up the country's armed forces, was represented only by its ambassador, as was Britain.

The Turkish President, Suleyman Demirel, attended, alongside the prime ministers of Montenegro, Slovenia, Hungary and Macedonia. Jacques Klein, head of the United Nations mission in Bosnia, represented the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan.

Most countries sent deputy foreign ministers or ambassadors to make clear their distaste for Mr Tudjman's autocratic rule, continuing Western concern over the human rights record and the late president's repeated attempts in 1992-93 to dismember Bosnia through the HVO, the Bosnian Croat army armed and financed by Zagreb.

Diplomats expressed surprise that the funeral was organised so soon after Mr Tudjman's death, but said the timing would give the Croatian government an excuse for the poor attendance. "There are two reasons why so few heads of state are here. One, we didn't like him very much, and two, there was not enough time for senior politicians and heads of state to get here. The government knew that high-level people would not come, so they organised the funeral with no notice," one Western diplomat said.

But Croats united to pay tribute to their first president. Zagreb's stately Hapsburg-era squares and streets were packed with tens of thousands of mourners, waiting on the pavements four or five deep. Some cried; others watched silently as Franjo Tudjman's body was taken by black limousine from the palace in the north to Mirogoj cemetery in the hills. The coffin was draped in the national flag, accompanied by an official holding a cross.

There was a sense of an era closing, and a line being drawn under the country's recent troubled and bloody history. Many recalled it was President Tudjman who guided the new-born state through the years of war, when historic towns like Vukovar were reduced to rubble, and residents of cities such as Zadar and Slavonski Brod spent months underground as Serb shells and mortars burst around them.

Others were angry that the international community, which had courted Croatia during the break-up of Yugoslavia, had delivered such a snub, describing the poor attendance at the state funeral as hypocritical.

"I think that Western European countries have made an utterly wrong move," said one Croatian political analyst. "Whatever they might have thought about Tudjman, the fact remains that he was a president of a country that could not have been overlooked in the past decade. We were a good country when everybody asked us to take some action, and now we are bad."

Some argued that the poor attendance would boost the hard-liners in the ruling Croatian Democratic Union in the elections on 3 January. The party's powerful nationalist wing would be able to argue that international opinion was irrelevant, as the country was diplomatically marginalised.

As well as his people, the sky, too, gave the late president a spectacular send-off. While his coffin was laid to rest in the late afternoon, the sirens sounded across the capital. As the sun set, the horizon slowly glowed turquoise and peach, fading to a luminous indigo and purple as the silent and deserted city streets slowly darkened. It was a dramatic dusk before a new dawn over Croatia.