World ignores Tudjman for one last time

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The Independent Online
THEY STOOD for hours in central Zagreb yesterday, queuing in silence in the brisk winter air for buses that would take them up the hill to the presidential palace, where Franjo Tudjman lay in state.

Croatia is mourning, attempting to come to terms with a future without the man many regard as the founding father. From elderly peasant women, their weather-beaten faces swaddled against the cold, to besuited middle- aged managers and stylish young people, the country united in grief. Shops displayed portraits of the president and flags flew half-mast, contrasting with Christmas decorations on Zagreb's shopping streets.

Hundreds of candles flickered in front of St Mark's Church, spiritual epicentre of this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nation of just under five million people.

"I waited here for six hours to see our president, because I was always so impressed with him and we loved him," said Brigita Durakovic, an economist. "We loved him because of his love for our country, for humanity and for justice. Croatia struggled for independence for 300 years and he was the one who made it possible. He was a strong politician but Croatia needed one, after the war."

Tudjman's death was announced on state television early on Saturday and the government proclaimed three days of mourning. He will be buried on today.

Father Albert Rebic, saying Mass in Zagreb's St Stephen's Cathedral, said Tudjman's legacy was that he had managed to "reconcile all Croats". "He brought them together to fight for a common cause and this seemed completely impossible 10 years ago."

Yesterday his supporters spanned generations: there was a striking number of young people among mourners, who were proud of their patriotism. "Nobody can replace him and do the work the way he did ... He had to be a strong man to control four and a half million people, especially after the war," said Marija Sabljo, a psychology student.

For all Tudjman's anti-communism in his later years, he was the region's keenest advocate of a communist-style personality cult. He put his stamp on everything from appointing TV editors to changing the name of the capital's football team from the Tito-era Dynamo Zagreb to Croatia Zagreb.

Many mourners cried at his death, their reminiscences similar to sentiments expressed at the death of Tito, Yugoslavia's founder. "President Tudjman meant so much to me because he was someone I loved and respected. When I heard he had died I was sad, like every Croat, and I cried," said Monika Hrgic, an economics student.

Once inside the presidential palace, mourners filed past Tudjman's bier, adorned with flowers, his many medals propped up on cushions at the foot of the coffin. Many mourners bowed or crossed themselves. A Croatian flag fashioned from roses also stood at the foot of the coffin with a wooden cross.

While the nation grieved, the isolation into which Tudjman had driven Croatia was shown by the attendance list for today's funeral.

By midday yesterday the foreign ministry said the confirmed list included only Suleyman Demirel, the Turkish president, the prime ministers of Hungary and Macedonia and lower-level officials. Condolences had been received from Western countries and the Vatican. Tudjman will also be missed in Belgrade. Radio Yugoslavia said President Slobodan Milosevic, with whom Tudjman was often compared, had sent a telegram of condolence to the family.

Tudjman's coffin will be taken through the streets of Zagreb to the capital's main Mirogoj cemetery. The Archbishop of Zagreb, Josip Bozanic, will officiate at the funeral.

Church bells all over the country will toll for 10 minutes. Public entertainment and cultural events have been banned for the past two days; today has been declared a holiday.

Parliament declared Tudjman temporarily incapacitated in late November and named the parliamentary speaker, Vlatko Pavletic, as acting president. The presidential candidates have not been officially declared but the election will probably be held shortly after voting for the lower house of parliament, which is scheduled for 3 January.