Comment 13 Jul 15

Tudjman Takes Zagreb, 15 Years After Death

The first democratically-elected Croatian president, Franjo Tudjman, is to become more prominent in the capital than he ever was when he was alive.

Sven Milekic
First democratically-elected Croatian president Franjo Tudjman.

Zagreb’s mayor Milan Bandic promised recently that the city will build “the largest and the most beautiful monument in Croatia” - a permanent tribute to former president Tudjman, who died at the end of 1999.

Bandic vowed that the 1.3 million euro monument will be erected on Franjo Tudjman Square, where, he said, “it all began” – a reference to an election rally staged by Tudjman’s Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ party in April 1990 before a poll victory which saw it take control of the country.

Tudjman, who led the country between 1990 and 1999, during the war years and their aftermath, “most clearly expressed the idea of independent Croatia”, Bandic added.

Just over a week earlier, a member of Croatia’s centre-left coalition government, Sinisa Hajdas Doncic, who is also the maritime affairs, transport and infrastructure minister, said that Zagreb’s Pleso airport will be named after Tudjman.

All this gives Tudjman a truly new position in Zagreb, where in future, every visitor will have his name in their mind as they arrive in or depart from the city by plane, or pass by his “most beautiful” monument while strolling through the streets.

Tudjman was popular in the city at the beginning of 1990s, winning a landslide victory in Zagreb’s Dubrava neighbourhood, but this affection faded as the 1990s went on.

In the presidential elections in 1997, as he bathed in the charismatic glow of a successful wartime leader, he received just 52.9 per cent of votes in the city compared to 61.4 per cent nationwide.

His HDZ never won local elections in the capital throughout the 1990s and the square was only named after him seven years after his death.

Tudjman also caused anger in the capital by refusing to acknowledge the election win of the opposition coalition in Zagreb in October 1995. According to election rules at that time, the mayor had to be approved by the President.

Tudjman refused to give the mandate to four candidates from the opposition parties that had clear majority in Zagreb’s assembly. For the next year-and-a-half, the city was ran by a government commissioner until new local elections in 1997.

During the crisis, Tudjman insisted that he would not allow “an opposition situation in Zagreb”. He also insulted the opposition by referring to its voters as farm animals.

He caused further antagonism with a notorious speech after a local, anti-establishment radio station, Radio 101, had its broadcasting frequency removed and around 100,000 people turned out to protest in Zagreb’s central square.

Tudjman said that the protesters were in alliance will enemies of the state “against Croatian freedom and independence” and accused them of taking money from foreign foes to undermine the country.

The fact that Zagreb was never really Tudjman's city makes his current ascendance confusing.

It is even more confusing that the monument honouring him is being advocated by the left, or at least a former left-winger, Bandic, who used to be member of the Social Democratic Party, the legal successor of the Communist Party and traditional rival of Tudjman’s HDZ.

When Bandic stated that Tudjman “most clearly expressed the idea of independent Croatia”, it might have been worth asking why the current mayor did not join the HDZ and why was he so actively involved in the opposition campaign against Tudjman in the 1990s.

Contradictions aside, it seems that Tudjman has now managed to do what he never succeeded in achieving while he was alive – stamping his identity on the Croatian capital.

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