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Tributes poured in on Sunday following the death of Ivica Racan, Croatia’s former prime minister and a key figure in the country’s transition to democracy and European integration.
Racan died in Zagreb just after 3am aged 63, following a long battle with cancer. He had been hospitalised since March.
“I am deeply shaken by the death of an old friend and associate,” the Slovene Prime Minister, Janez Drnovsek, said.
He described Racan as a partner in “numerous political projects that have brought Croatia and Slovenia, two friendly neighboring countries, towards democracy and progress.”
The Croatian and Muslim members of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency offered their condolences.
The US ambassador to Zagreb, Robert Bradkte, said the United States would recall Racan as “a person who led Croatia on the path of democracy in the sensitive transitional period”.
“He will be remembered as a man who enabled democratic changes in Croatia and as a premier who steered Croatia onto its European path,” Croatia’s President, Stipe Mesic, said.
At the headquarters of his Social Democratic Party, officials placed a book of condolences for the expected stream of visitors to sign alongside red roses and a photograph of their former leader.
Before illness forced him to withdraw from day-to-day politics, Racan had been a key figure in Croatia since the 1970s, overseeing the modernization of the Croatian branch of the former League of Communists in the late 1980s.
He lost the first multi-party elections to be held in Croatia since the Second World War in 1991 to the right-wing nationalist, Franjo Tudjman, who steered Croatia through its war of independence.
But Racan used his time in opposition to reposition the Social Democrats, as the former communists renamed themselves, as a powerful force in the newly independent state.
After Tudjman’s death in December 1999, he won the elections in 2000, becoming Prime Minister of a centre-left coalition.
Much derided for of its sometimes inept handing of the economy and of the emotive issue of Croatian war crimes suspects, Racan’s government still managed to notch up several major foreign policy successes.
The European Union, in particular, was impressed by his pledges to dismantle the authoritarian aspects of the Tudjman regime, end interference in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina and cooperate with the Hague war crimes tribunal.
Brussels signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Zagreb in 2001, paving the way towards Croatia’s eventual membership of the EU.
Racan’s funeral is expected to be private and limited to his immediate family. Friends and political supporters will make their public farewell on Wednesday May 2 at the Vatroslav Lisinski concert hall in Zagreb.
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