Leader obsessed with history becomes part of it

A DECADE ago I met Croatia's future president in the little prefab that served as his campaign office in the capital. On the eve of the first multi-party elections since the 1945 Communist takeover, I assumed an old dissident would appreciate the chance to get to know English journalists and explain the nationalist position.

"Where do you live?" he barked. "Belgrade". He exploded. Purple-faced and spraying me with saliva, he shouted that no one living in the Serbian capital could possibly understand Croatia or its problems and he hustled me out. It was typical of his approach. Years of persecution and two prison terms had left him paranoid and intolerant. Like the Serbs, he saw plots and conspiracies everywhere.

I met him again in 1992 during the war of independence with Belgrade. This time he was mellower. He was sailing along the Adriatic coast after a successful offensive against Serbs holding a vital bridge near Zadar. He pulled me to the side of the boat. "See that?" he said, pointing at the name painted on the side. "This ship used to be called Vuk Karadzic and now it's called Bartol Kasic." He patted me on the shoulder and whispered jovially: "It's what this is all about."

For Tudjman, it was. Karadzic was a 19th-century Serb writer of a highly nationalist stamp. Kasic was a Croat Jesuit who wrote the first Croatian grammar in the 17th century. As president, Tudjman was more interested in the writing and rewriting of history than humdrum government. He took an enormous personal interest in designing flags, heraldry, the costumes of his guards, in building monuments such as the "altar of the homeland" north of Zagreb and in renaming streets after national heroes. His partner was the Catholic Church, the one institution that kept the flame of Croat national identity alive during the centuries of Austrian rule and the decades of Serb dominion that followed.

A certain kind of Croat felt totally at ease in the environment he created. Many small farmers, villagers, shopkeepers and civil servants shared his vision of a Croatia run with a heavy hand from the top. They didn't care less if Croatia was isolated from the process of European integration. They felt pleasantly cut off. They shared the big man's withering contempt for the cosmopolitan chatterboxes who moaned to foreigners about civil liberties and human rights. When Tudjman said they were a bunch of traitors, Jews, Communists, they knew exactly what he meant. But Tudjman was not the idol of the whole nation. Urban Croats have a strong left-wing tradition and he never really controlled cities such as Zagreb, Rijeka and Osijek.

In the last years of his rule he had to massage the elections by giving seats to Croats in neighbouring Bosnia to defeat the centre-left opposition. His death may have ignited a spasm of grief and sympathy across the board, but his cronies look likely to lose the parliamentary elections scheduled to be held in 10 days.

His successors may have an easier time with Europe. Tudjman's table-thumping manners irked even his German and Austrian allies.

The emollient Ivica Racan, the leftist leader who may succeed him, would receive a friendlier welcome if he pushed for European Union membership.

Although post-independence Croatia is poorer than it was, it is rich by East European standards, possesses some of the best tourist resorts in Europe and has a highly motivated and educated population. The Croats should be all set to return to the Mediterranean and Central European orbit from which their cultural and religious heritage springs.

But it may not happen. Brussels does not just want fairer elections and less state control of the media as the price of EU membership.

The Europeans want the Croats to hand over more suspects to The Hague war crimes tribunal, including military leaders of the 1991-95 war for independence with Serbia. They are also demanding that Zagreb makes a bigger effort to lure Croatian Serbs back to the homes from which they fled in the last phase of the war in 1995.

Both demands are unpopular and any leader who capitulated to them would incur furious opposition. Tudjman's successors could well find it impossible to reconcile Europe's demands with Croat national feeling. Croatia may yet be left out in the cold.

Marcus Tanner's book `Croatia' is published by Yale University Press.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
News
i100
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
people
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in What If
filmReview: Actor swaps Harry Potter for Cary Grant in What If
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
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

Project Manager (App development, SAP, interfacing)

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum + excellent company benefits: Clearwater People Solu...

Systems Developer Technical Lead

£65000 - £70000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

Energy Engineer

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy En...

Techincal Accountant-Insurance-Bank-£550/day

£475 - £550 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Technical Accountant-Insuran...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment