Tudjman, Franjo (1992–1999)

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TUDJMAN, FRANJO (1992–1999)


President of Croatia from 1990 to 1999.

Franjo Tudjman was Croatia's dominant political figure from his election in 1990 as president until his death nine years later. As the chief architect of Croatian policy during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, he led the country to independence, international recognition, and to deep involvement in the war in Bosnia in 1992 until 1995. He was the chief Croatian negotiator over the conclusion to the war in Bosnia at Dayton, Ohio, in November 1995, and was considered a reliable partner to governments in Europe and North America. Nonetheless, at the time of his death, he was under investigation by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia for his role in the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Tudjman was born in the small town of Veliko Trgovišće in the Zagorje region of northern Croatia and traveled a path that took him through the main way-stations of Croatian politics in the twentieth century. His father had been active in the Croatian Peasant Party that dominated Croatian political life before World War II. Following high school in 1941, Franjo joined the antifascist movement led by Yugoslav Communist leader and Croatian Zagorje native Josip Broz Tito, and he eventually rose to become a major general in the Yugoslav national Army (JNA) under the sponsorship of the Croatian party leadership. In Belgrade, he worked as part of the JNA General Staff and, after graduating from the Higher Military Academy, served on the Editorial Board of the Military Encyclopedia. In 1961, he returned to Zagreb as the director of the Institute of History of the Working Class that was created to provide background to the views of the Croatian party on contemporary developments. Tudjman eventually won a doctorate and published many articles and books. He served on numerous commissions and committees in the Croatian parliament and in the Croatian cultural society called Matica Hrvatska. The academic community has considered his published work more important for its political significance than for its scholarly contribution.

By 1967, Tudjman's evolution into an ardent defender of Croatian perspectives on history and his signature on a petition declaring the separation of the Croatian and Serbian literary languages left him outside the political mainstream and led to his dismissal from his post at the Institute and from his membership in the party. His path into the Croatian national movement led to his imprisonment (he served nine months of a two-year sentence) and to the confiscation of his passport during a more general crackdown against the Croatian national mass movement in 1972. He was again imprisoned for part of a three-year sentence in 1982 for giving an interview to a Swedish television station.

Tudjman regained his passport in 1987 and traveled to North America and Europe where he won significant support from the community of Croatian émigrés. As the Yugoslav Federation continued to unravel in the late 1980s, Tudjman was one of the founders of the Croatian Democratic Union (Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica, or HDZ) in early 1989 in Zagreb. The HDZ proved to be an effective vehicle to bring together substantial numbers of Croatian émigrés from Western Europe, North America, and Australia with a good many domestic Croats who had remained outside the socialist political community that had been evolving since the end of World War II. In what would become Croatia's first postsocialist election in April 1990, Tudjman's HDZ won 46 percent of the vote and 67 percent of the seats in parliament, which ensured his election as president and led to the proclamation of the Day of Croatian Statehood on 30 May 30 1990.

With the failure of negotiations among the leaders of the Yugoslav Federation over the future constitution of a postsocialist Yugoslav state, the Croatian government quickly became embroiled in two wars. The war in Croatia began in 1990 with the refusal of the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) leadership to join the broad governing compact led by HDZ in 1990. Tudjman's goverment began firing Serbs from jobs in the police and administration. The armed conflict began in 1990 in a series of skirmishes, and in the Serbs' consolidation of control in illegally constituted Serb Autonomous Regions with the aid of JNA officers and arms by mid-March 1991. Croatian Serbs largely boycotted a well-planned Croatian referendum on independence in May 1991 that preceded Croatia's declaration of independence on 25 June 1991. Following an indecisive deployment of UN peacekeepers between 1992 and 1995, President Tudjman's government launched two offensives to regain control of most Serb-held territory in May and August 1995 after which approximately three hundred thousand Serbs fled Croatia. As part of the larger process of ending the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, UNTAES (UN Transitional Administration in Eastern Slavonia) mediated the formal return of the last piece of Serb-occupied Croatian territory by early 1998, which was a turning point in Croatian history that set the stage for a second wave of democratization.

Tudjman's role in the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina emerged from his goal of attaching parts of Herzegovina to Croatia in accordance with his interpretation of historical Croatian interests. In March 1991, on the eve of the war in Croatia, he had discussed the partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina with Serbian president Slobodan Milošević (1941–2006). This initiative betrayed Croatia's image as a victim of aggression and strengthened the hand in Bosnia of radically nationalist Croats. It also signaled the expansion of the Tudjman government's influence in Bosnia and the hard-line Herzegovinian influence in Croatia. The radical Croatian Defense Council (HVO) subsequently launched offensives in Herzegovina and central Bosnia and destroyed Islamic cultural monuments. Tudjman's inner circle of advisors was closely involved in these developments.

Tudjman employed these wars to remain the commanding figure in Croatian public life throughout the 1990s. He proved himself to be a popular domestic leader even if he appeared to be pedantic to many international negotiators. His government won reelection in 1992 and again in 1997. He developed a following that resembled the cult of personality surrounding Communist leaders such as Tito and Joseph Stalin. As with the deaths of other dictators, Tudjman's death in 1999 led to the fracture of the party that he helped to create and to its defeat at elections held in 2000. Revelations since his death have confirmed that, as time passed, his government was increasingly beset by corruption. But this has not lowered the esteem in which many Croatians hold him—as the first postcommunist leader who guided Croatia to independence and international recognition.

See alsoBosnia-Herzegovina; Croatia; Milošević, Slobodan; Yugoslavia.


Magas, Branka. "Franjo Tudjman, an Obituary." Independent (13 December 1999).

Ramet, Sabrina P. Balkan Babel. Boulder, Colo., 2002.

Zimmerman, Warren. Origins of a Catastrophe. New York, 1996.

Mark Baskin