Franjo Tuđman (May 14, 1922 - December 10, 1999) was the first president of Croatia in the 1990s.
Tuđman's political party HDZ (Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica, Croatian Democratic Union) won the first post-communist multi-party elections in 1990 and he became the president of the country. A year later he proclaimed the Croatian declaration of independence. He was reelected twice and remained in power until his death in late 1999.
Franjo Tuđman was born in Veliko Trgovišće, a village in Hrvatsko Zagorje, region in northern Croatia.
During WWII Tuđman fought on the side of Tito's partisans, where he also met his future wife, Ankica. He became one of the youngest generals in the Yugoslav People's Army in the 1960s — a fact which some observers linked to the fact that he sprung from Zagorje, a region that gave few Communist partisans.
On the other hand, others have observed that Tuđman was probably the most educated of Tito's generals (as regards military history, strategy and the interplay of politics and warfare) — the claim supported by the fact that generations of future Yugoslav generals based their general exam theses on his voluminous book on guerilla warfare throughout history: Rat protiv rata ("War against war"), 1957, which covers as diverse topics as Hannibal's drive across the Alps, Spanish war against Napoleon and Yugoslav partisan warfare.
Tuđman left active army service in 1961 to found the "Institute for the history of the workers' movement", and remained its director until 1967.
Apart from the book on guerilla warfare, Tuđman wrote a series of articles attacking the Yugoslav Communist establishment, and was subsequently expelled from the Party. His most important book from that period was Velike ideje i mali narodi ("Great ideas and small peoples"), a monograph on political history that collided with central dogmas of Yugoslav Communist elite with regard to the interconnectedness of the national and social elements in the Yugoslav revolutionary war (during WWII).
In 1971 he was sentenced to two years of prison for alleged subversive activities during the so-called "Croatian Spring".
The Croatian Spring was a reformist movement that was actually set in motion by Tito and Croatian party chief Bakarić in the climate of growing liberalism in the late 60s. It was initially a tepid and ideologically controlled party liberalism, but it soon grew into mass manifestation of dissatisfaction with the position of the Croatian people in Yugoslavia, and it began to threaten the party's political monopoly. The result was a brutal suppression by Tito, who used the military and the police to crush what he saw as the threat to his undivided power - Bakarić quickly distanced himself from the Croatian Communist leadership that he himself helped gain power earlier, and sided with the Yugoslav ruler.
During the turbulent 1971, Tuđman's role was that of the dissident who questioned the central myth of modern Serbian nationalism, the number of victims of the Jasenovac concentration camp, as well as the role of centralism in Yugoslav and the continuation of ideology of unitary "Yugoslavism". Tuđman felt that this originally Croatian romantic pan-Slavic idea from the 19th century had been mutated in harsh realities in both Yugoslav states into the front for a pan-Serbian drive for domination over non-Serb peoples — from economy and army to culture and language.
On other topics like Communism and one-party monopoly, Tuđman remained mostly within the framework of Communist ideology. His sentence was commuted and Tuđman had been released after nine months.
Tuđman was tried again in 1981 for the "crime" of giving the interview to the Swedish TV on the position of Croats in Yugoslavia and got three years of prison, but again he only served a portion, this time eleven months.
In 1989 Tuđman published his most famous work, The Horrors of War (Bespuća povijesne zbiljnosti) in which he questioned the number of victims during World War II in Yugoslavia. "The Horrors of War" is a strange book, a compilation of meditations on the role of violence in the world history interspersed with personal reminiscences on his squabbles with Yugoslav apparatchiks and slowly spiralling towards the true center of the work: the attack on hyperinflation of Serbian casualties in the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) — the main pillar of the modern Serbian mythic martyrology, the self-image of a people victimized by Croats who are depicted as diabolical Serbocidal fanatics — which in turn led to the state of mind battening on fear, hostility and thirst for revenge.
Serbian "historians" and their copycats had "estimated" the number of Serbs killed in Jasenovac from 500,000 to 1,000,000. These pathological fixations, oppressing the Serbian collective psyche, were intentionally nourished, cleverly manipulated and intensified in the concentrated effort of vast majority of Serbian intelligentsia in their efforts to create and solidify Greater Serbian domination on the ruins of destroyed post-Titoist Yugoslavia.
Tuđman had, relying on earlier investigations, concluded that the number of all victims in the Jasenovac camp (Serbs, Croats, Jews, Gypsies and others) was somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000. Current investigations have bracketed the figure in a similar scale — therefore by and large confirming that Tuđman's estimates were not fabricated.
Other controversy surrounding The Horrors of War was Tuđman's alleged anti-Semitism, supposedly expressed in this book. On closer examination, Tuđman can be blamed only for the lack of sensitivity: he quoted various Jewish sources that show how the number of victims is hard to estimate — Jewish and Israeli historians placed the number of Jews killed in the Nazi genocide between 4 and 6 million. The relativity of these figures ("margin of error" fluctuating around 2 million people dead or alive) prompted Tuđman to lump these estimates with evidently overinflated Serbian ones. However, in the case of Jewish victimology, figures vary ca. 30 %, whereas the Serbian victimology had no less than 1200 % "margin of error" — a grotesque example of manipulation.
Also, Tuđman's style was anything but nuanced: the characteristic amply misused by Serbian propagandists who quoted Tuđman's frequently superficial generalizations taken out of context, in order to depict him as virulent anti-Semite. This ensued in tension between a part of Jewish communities (especially in the USA and Israel) and befuddled Tuđman — a tension that was soon dispelled by prominent Jewish figures like writers and publicists Alain Finkielkraut and Philip Cohen or Tommy Baer of Jewish World Congress .
Aside from that furore, The Horrors of War, the most famous (but not the best) Tuđman's book, remained closer to the leftist and socialist worldview, not questioning the Marxist ideology as such.
If Tuđman’s stature as a historian and publicist is to be evaluated, it would probably be along the following lines: his voluminous (more than 2,000 pages long) “Hrvatska u monarhistickoj Jugoslaviji”/Croatia in Monarchist Yugoslavia, has become standard university textbook analyzing this period of Croatian history; his shorter treateses on national question (“Nacionalno pitanje u suvremenoj Europi/The National question in contemporary Europe; “Usudbene povijestice”/History’s fates) are still valuable essays on this particular problem, while his most celebrated work “Bespuca povijesne zbiljnosti”/”Horrors of war”, consciously distorted and misused by anti-Croat propagandists of various affiliations, will, in all probability, become regarded as a book of historical importance only, since its value lies mostly in publicly dismantled central Greater Serbian modern myth- the hyperinflation of number of Serbian victims in Jasenovac concentration camp. Generally, Tuđman’s historical works are considered to have gained the status of indispensable synthetic surveys of Croatian 20th century history, while his shorter political-cultural analyses and geopolitical essays belong to the treasury of classical Croatian political thought. However, Tuđman’s overly Marxist treatises and polemical squabbles are period pieces that will, in all likelihood, vanish into oblivion.
The national program
In the latter part of the 1980s, when Yugoslavia was creeping towards its inevitable demise, torn by conflicting national aspirations (among them the most "visible" Albanian "troubles" in Serbian province Kosovo and the pan-Serbian national populist movement, moulded by Serbian intellectual elite and led by former banker and Communist official Slobodan Milošević), Tuđman formulated a Croatian national program that can be summarized in the following way:
- The primary goal is establishment of the Croatian nation-state; therefore all ideological disputes from the past should be thrown away. In practice, this meant strong support from anti-Communist Croatian diaspora, especially financial.
- Since the grudges and impediments from western European countries could be expected, particularly along the lines:" We are undergoing a process of integration, and you (Croats) want to disintegrate a successful multiethnic country, Yugoslavia", the answer was found in an equally simplistic expression: "Your pet Yugoslavia is not a multiethnic paradise, but a Serbian Communist tyranny. Do you support "integration" based on oppression?". Or, in a more nuanced vocabulary: "Nations are simultaneously going through processes of national individualization and international integration".
- Even though Tuđman's final goal was an independent Croatia, he was well aware of the realities of internal and foreign policy. So, his chief initial proposal was not a fully independent Croatia, but a confederal Yugoslavia with growing decentralization and democratization. He knew that this process would eventually corrode all Greater-Serbia projects, only if it could be implemented in peace.
- Tuđman envisaged Croatia's future as a welfare capitalist state that will inevitably move towards central Europe and away from the Balkans.
- With regard to the burning issuses of national conflicts, his vision was the following (at least at the beginning): he knew that Serbian nationalism, which effectively controlled JNA (Yugoslav People's Army: Serbs, who constituted less than 40% of Yugoslavia's population, made ca. 80% of commissioned officers corps) could wreak havoc on Croatian and Bosnian soil. The JNA, according to some estimates the 4th European military force re firepower, was being rapidly Serbianized, both ideologically and ethnically, in less than 4 years. Tuđman's proposal was that Serbs in Croatia, who made up 11 % of Croatia's population, should gain cultural with elements of territorial autonomy.
With regard to this point, Tuđman did not satisfy Serbian appetites that operated on many levels: the lower one was the condition that they should have the right of the contitutive people (ie., the right to secede) in any form of Croatian state — effectively, that Croatia should be defined as a bi-national, Croato-Serbian country (notwithstanding the fact that Croats constituted 78 %, and Serbs 11 % of the populace in 1991).
Apart from being a stew cooked in the ideological kitchen of Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (the mother of all Serbian expansionist machinations in 1980s), this claim had a sort of legitimacy in a purposely ambiguous formulation of Croatia's constitution from 1974. But, it could hardly stand a dispassionate legal analysis. Everyone knew that it was only a pretext for impending Serbian aggression.
- As far as Bosnia and Herzegovina was concerned, Tuđman was more ambivalent: initially, he thought (as did many Croats from northwestern Croatia) that Bosnian Muslims or Bosniaks are, essentially, Croats of Muslim faith and will, freed from Communist censorship, declare themselves ethnically as Croats, therefore making Bosnia a predominantly Croatian country (with 44% Bosnian Muslims, 17% Croats and 33 % Serbs). But, these illusions were soon dispelled.
The President of Croatia
Internal tensions that had broken up the Communist party of Yugoslavia prompted the governments of federal Republics to call for the first free multiparty elections after 1945.
Tuđman's connections with Croatian diaspora (he travelled a few times to Canada and USA after 1987) have proven to be crucial when he founded Croatian Democratic Union ("Hrvatska demokratska zajednica" or HDZ, as it became known after its acronym) in 1989 — a party that was to stay in power until 2000, and which cannot be classified along criteria dominant in stable societies.
Essentially, this was the Croatian national movement that affirmed Croatian values based on Catholicism blended with historical and cultural traditions generally suppressed in Communist Yugoslavia (although soon many "repentant" Communists joined this pan-Croatian movement). The aim was to gain national independence and to establish Croatian nation-state. Tuđman's HDZ triumphed and got ca. 60% seats in the Croatian Parliament. After a few constitutional changes, Tuđman was elected to the position of President of Croatia.
Since the split among Communists in Yugoslavia was caused by the pan-Serbian movement led by Slobodan Milošević, it was inevitable that the conflict should continue after the democratic elections that brought to power non-Communists in Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, while Communists held their position in Serbia and Montenegro. For the tensions and wars that ensued, one should see history of Croatia and history of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
During these decisive years, especially from 1990 to 1995, Tuđman proved to be a master strategist. According to the testimonies of both friends and enemies, he outmanoeuvred Croatia's adversaries on many levels: diplomatic, military, information and economic. While his opponent Milošević was a brilliant tactician who, by many accounts, lacked the strategic vision, Tuđman was the exact opposite: frequently clumsy and erratic in behavior, he possessed the strong sense of mission and the vision of Croatia's independence — and the statesman's wisdom how to realize it.
This was seen at crucial junctures of Croatia's history: the all-out war against combined forces of Yugoslav Army and Serbian irredentist rebels, war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Operation Storm and the Dayton peace agreement. For instance: Tuđman's strategy of stalling the Yugoslav Army in 1991 by signing frequent cease fires intermediated by foreign diplomats was efficient — when the 1st cease fire was signed, the emerging Croatian Army had 7 brigades; the last, 20th cease fire the Croats had met with 64 brigades.
Apart from war, other significant changes had altered Croatian society in the "Tuđman era" that covered the last decade of the 20th century. Probably the most of these changes would have happened anyway during the transition from communism to capitalism, or from one-party dictatorship to western-type democracy. Unquestionably, Tuđman has "speeded" or "slowed down" some processes by his influential position — for better or for worse.
Tuđman initiated the proces of privatization and de-nationalization with mixed results: Croatian economy coped with the war extremely well, having in mind all the pros and cons; only in the last two years of Tuđman's tenure the detrimental effects of "wild" and unrestricted capitalism had become visible. The charge of nepotism and favoritism, frequently levelled at Tuđman, seems to be unresolved yet: his personal property was, as the official proving of will had shown, acquired in a completely legal way.
On the other hand, it is beyond doubt that not few shadowy figures who moved close to Tuđman, the centre of power in Croatian society, profited from this enormously, having amassed wealth with suspicious celerity. Although this phenomenon is common to chaotic reforms in all post-communist societies (the best example being Russia with her "oligarchs"), the majority of Croats are of the opinion that Tuđman could and should have prevented at least a part of these malfeasances.
The most common accusation of all is that of autocratic behavior and "despotism". This claim is both true and false: Tuđman was a strong, but democratically elected national leader and this was a mixed blessing. Faced with a superior military aggressor, the Croats, who had not yet built functioning national institutions, had to rely on a strong personal leadership Tuđman embodied. Although such kind of leadership necessarily involved unpleasant side-effects like traits of autocratic behavior, it proved beneficial in crucial matters, as the Croats under Tuđman won the war and founded the nation-state, at least partly thanks to this characteristic.
Tuđman, who had been thrice elected as President of Croatia, fell ill with cancer in 1993. He recovered, but the general state of health declined in 1999 and Tuđman died from internal hemorrhage on December 10th, 1999.