Franjo Tudjman, Ex-Communist General Who Led Croatia's Secession, Is Dead at 77

NEW YORK TIMES - December 11, 1999

President Franjo Tudjman, the onetime Communist general who as a reborn nationalist led Croatia in 1991 into secession from Yugoslavia, and from there to independence and war, has died, Croatian state television announced early Saturday. He was 77.

"The president of Croatia, the founder of the independent Croatian state, has died," the government announced in a special newscast about 2 a.m. The report did not say when he died.

Tudjman had been hospitalized since Nov. 1, when he had emergency surgery for what was described as a perforated intestine. He had been gravely ill in recent weeks and on life support.

Tudjman had treatment for cancer at Walter Reed military hospital in Washington in November 1996. There were reports in Croatian newspapers last March that cancer had spread to his brain and that he had undergone radiation on a tumor under the supervision of French physicians in Zagreb, the capital.

Vlatko Pavletic, the parliamentary speaker who became interim president on Nov. 26, delivered a brief statement on television this morning, saying that Tudjman's contributions to the Croatian people were undeniable and that he would remain a "symbol of determination."

In joining and then leading an age-old separatist drive for independence, Tudjman (pronounced TOODGE-mahn) contributed heavily to the collapse of the Yugoslav Federation of six republics -- and indeed to the defeat of the whole concept of South Slav brotherhood, whose founding fathers included leading Croatian politicians.

The 4.5 million Croats paid a heavy price. In the second half of 1991, more than 8,000 Croatian civilians and soldiers were killed and more than one-quarter of the republic fell under the control of indigenous Serbs who feared domination.

Some 200,000 Croats were uprooted from their homes, a third of the factories were ruined and a $4 billion-a-year tourist industry largely collapsed.

Several thousand additional ethnic Croats were killed in fighting with Bosnian Muslims in 1993 and early 1994 as a result of Tudjman's determination to create a homogeneous Croatian enclave in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and eventually to incorporate it into his state. That drive was blocked by American intervention and mediation in February

Tudjman was one of the three ethnic leaders at the Dayton, Ohio, talks convened by the Clinton administration in late 1995 to end the Bosnian conflict, along with the Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, and the Bosnian Muslim figure, Alija Izetbegovic.

Like the others, he was a reluctant participant, although in the previous summer he had all but accomplished his goal of driving ethnic Serbs from what he viewed as purely Croatian land.

But he coveted more -- the incorporation of most of western Bosnia and much of Herzegovina into a Greater Croatia, as it had been under Hitler and Mussolini's protection in World War II.

With Tudjman's authorization, the bulk of this territory, a Croatian puppet state, was named Herzeg-Bosna. But the state was eliminated after 50,000 NATO troops occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina and all ethnic factions became subjects of international authorities in 1996.

In 1997, Tudjman finally secured Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium, the last enclaves controlled by Serbs in Croatia who had rebelled against his state. That left only a disputed spit of rocky land called Prevlaka, on the northwestern edge of the Bay of Kotor, facing Montenegro, still out of his reach, under international monitors.

Tudjman's governance of Croatia came under extremely harsh criticism by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which accused him in a detailed report of harsh treatment of the remaining Serbian minority, suppression of the press and failure to cooperate with the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Three distinct phases characterized Tudjman's life -- as a World War II Partisan officer, as a much-criticized historian and as a politician.

His life was full of contradictions. He was an enthusiastic Yugoslav patriot who became an equally enthusiastic Croatian nationalist. He was an ardent Communist who became an ardent anti-Communist. He was an atheist who gained the support of the Catholic Church hierarchy in Zagreb and later in Rome.

Franjo Tudjman was born on May 14, 1922, the eldest of three sons, in Veliko Trgovisce, a village in the hilly Zagorje region that was also the birthplace of Tito, his onetime patron.

Tudjman's mother died when he was 7. His father, Stjepan, the chief village administrator, was active in the Croatian Peasant Party, the main political force between the two world wars. After the Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941, the father and three sons joined the Communist Partisans.

Throughout World War II, Croatia was dominated by the nationalist Ustase movement, which, though small, was given a free hand by the Nazi occupation authorities to herd Serbs, Jews and Gypsies into concentration camps and kill them.

Most historians agree that at least 500,000 civilians died in the Ustase camps.

At the end of the war, Stjepan Tudjman was named chairman of the Communist Party committee in Zagreb. But in 1946, he and his second wife, Olga, were found shot dead in their house. The police said the two had committed suicide.

Four decades later, Franjo Tudjman contended that his parents had been killed by the Communist secret police. But the man he named as his source for the allegation publicly denied it.

Young Franjo completed grammar school in Trgovisce and then went to middle school in Zagreb, where his studies were halted when the war broke out. At 19, he returned to his home region, joined the underground Communist Party and helped publish a Partisan newspaper.

He was named a divisional political commissar in 1944, the year that he met his future wife, Ankica, also a Partisan. She survives him, with two sons, Miroslav and Stjepan; a daughter, Nevenka Kosutic; and three grandchildren.

Tudjman was commissioned a major in 1945, but did not see combat. After the war he was sent to the Yugoslav High Military Academy in Belgrade.

When Stalin expelled Yugoslavia from the Soviet bloc in 1948, Tudjman sided with Tito. In 1960, at the age of 38, he reached the rank of major general, the youngest in Yugoslavia's peacetime history.

In 1955, Tudjman published the first of many historical works, "War Against War," about guerrilla warfare. In writing he found a new vocation. He left the armed forces, and with the support of Tito and the Croatian Communist leadership, he became director of the Institute of the History of the Working Class Movement in Croatia.

His party patrons also arranged his appointment as professor of history at Zagreb University in 1963, although he lacked a doctoral degree and his dissertation was rejected.

Later, as storms gathered in the Communist Party around his increasingly nationalist interpretations of contemporary Croatian history, he sought and gained the protection of the leaders of Matica Hrvatska, Croatia's premier cultural institution and an incubator for revived nationalism, and he found a new vocation as a nationalist politician.

In 1967, he signed a petition demanding the linguistic separation of the Serbo-Croatian language, which had also been a project of the Ustase. That was too much for the Communists, who expelled him.

In 1972, back in Croatia after a brief fellowship at Harvard, he was arrested in a crackdown on "nationalist counterrevolution" and sentenced to two years in prison. Because of an appeal to Tito by Miroslav Krleza, Croatia's reigning literary figure, he served only 10 months.

Despite prohibitions, he continued to publish nationalist tracts, the most controversial being a 505-page treatise in 1989, "Impasses of Historical Reality." In the work, he questioned the generally accepted numbers of victims of World War II genocide by the Germans and the Ustase. He put the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust at one million instead of six million -- and enraged Serbs and Jews by diminishing their numbers killed in Croatia's main death camp, at Jasenovac, from more than 500,000 to 59,639.

In "Impasses," he also wrote: "A Jew is still a Jew. Even in the camps they retained their bad characteristics: selfishness, perfidy, meanness, slyness and treachery."

In 1992, he said his comments had been "misinterpreted" and in 1994 he offered "an apology" in a letter to B'nai B'rith, saying that he intended to delete "controversial portions" from later editions.

In 1990, as a presidential candidate of the Croatian Democratic Union, Tudjman declared that the "Independent State of Croatia" established by the Ustase "was not simply a Quisling creation and a fascist crime, it was also an expression of the historical aspirations of the Croatian people." He again harped on nationalist themes, saying at one point, "Thank God, my wife is neither a Serb nor a Jew."

The Croatian Democratic Union, founded as a nationalist party with a program of separatism, was heavily financed by members of the Croatian diaspora, especially by remnants of the Ustase movement in the United States, Canada and Australia.

Tudjman's presidential campaign also greatly profited from the effects on Croats of rising nationalism in neighboring Serbia under his principal adversary, Milosevic, the Communist leader who had became Serbia's president.

Commentators like Bogdan Denitch, a Serbian historian with Croatian citizenship, observed that Tudjman had a symbiotic relationship with Milosevic, each strengthening his own power by painting the other as a satanic menace.

Yet the Serbian and Croatian presidents conferred several times in 1991. The main topic was their plan to divide territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina between Serbia and Croatia, with Serbs taking most of the southeast and Croats taking most of the northwest.

Tudjman confided to friends that he did not really hate Serbs, but that he detested Bosnian Muslims. In May 1995 in London, he told Paddy Ashdown, a Liberal Democratic member of Parliament, that he preferred Milosevic to Izetbegovic, the Bosnian leader, whom he described as "an Algerian and a fundamentalist." For the public record he said, "There are tendencies to create an Islamic state in Europe, which is unacceptable to international sectors."

Despite an alliance with Izetbegovic brokered by the Clinton administration in 1994, Tudjman sympathized with the Croatian historians who held that Bosnian Muslims were ethnic Croats who had converted to Islam under pressure from Ottoman rulers.

Tudjman also enraged Croatia's Serbs -- there were 600,000 of them, 12 percent of the population -- by ramming through a Constitution in 1990 that proclaimed Croatia "the national state of the Croatian nation." When the new Croatian authorities began wholesale dismissals of Serbs from Civil Service jobs, Serbian communities began arming

Later, after the fighting had begun, Croatia evaded a United Nations arms embargo imposed in 1991 on all parts of former Yugoslavia, receiving tanks and artillery pieces from Germany and buying jet fighters and helicopters from Russia and Ukraine. Germany's promise of early recognition of Croatia's independence, declared in the summer of 1991, also greatly helped Tudjman.

Skirmishing between Croatian militias and Serbs spread through the spring of 1991 and erupted into full scale fighting in the summer and fall. In late December 1991, after Serbian sieges of Dubrovnik and Vukovar, Tudjman finally agreed to a cease-fire. But in April 1993, growing more confident, his forces attacked the Muslim-led army in central Bosnia to secure regions with Croat majorities. After 10 months of fighting, the United States brokered a truce that evolved into a fragile federation between the Muslims and Croatia.

In his capital Tudjman lived luxuriously, indulging a taste for Champagne and caviar. For his official residence, he used Tito's former villa, a grand house atop a hill overlooking Zagreb that belonged to a Croatian Jewish family before World War II.

Tudjman's style of rule included a heavy dose of public appearances exhaustively covered by the state television channel. "In the Croatian media, his cult is much bigger than Tito ever had," said Mihajlo Mihajlov, a Yugoslav scholar who shared dissident platforms with Tudjman in the 80's.

As president, the burly silver-maned Tudjman emulated Tito down to his white commander in chief's uniform, complete with nine medals that he awarded himself in May 1995, and his enjoyment of Tito's yacht and Tito's vacation palace on Brioni Island.

Denitch wrote in "Ethnic Nationalism" in 1994 that Tudjman "had all of Tito's vices and not a single one of his virtues."

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