Saturday, August 13, 2005

Croatian Voters Bury Tudjman’s Legacy 2000

Croatian Voters Bury Tudjman’s Legacy

by Michael Karadjis

January 2000

This year has seen the demise of a number of figures - Tudjman, Arkan and Pavle Bulatovic - who played major roles in the Balkan slaughter of the 1990’s. The following article looks at what Tudjman’s passing means for Croatia, while next week Green Left will examine the relationship of the murders of the other two to the ongoing crisis in Montenegro.

The death of Croatian president Franjo Tudjman was followed by the crushing defeat of his Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) in January’s elections. Even the “sympathy vote” could not ward off the massive vote for the centre-left opposition led by Ivica Racan of the Croatian Social Democrats, the reformed successor of the old Croatian Communist Party, and Drazen Budisa of the Croatian Social Liberals. These parties have formed a new government together with another six fomer opposition parties. The HDZ lost in nine of ten electoral districts, receiving only 24 percent of the vote.

The HDZ’s defeat was then capped with the victory of Stipe Mesic as new president on February 7. Mesic was a long time opponent of Tudjman, and had also been the last president of the former Yugoslavia, whom Milosevic had refused to recognise in 1991.

Tudjman had been a Partisan general in World War II, fighting to bring down the Nazi-installed, genocidal regime of the Ustashe, and subsequently became a leading historian of Communist Yugoslavia. From the 1960s advocating more autonomy for Communist Croatia within Yugoslavia, years in gaol embittered him, turning him into a full-bown Croatian nationalist by the 1990 Croatian elections which swept his right-wing HDZ to power.
As head of independent Croatia, Tudjman essentially imitated his mentor Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, introducing new nationalist state symbolism which alienated the Serb minority. In 1991, Milosevic used this situation to launch a brutal attack on Croatia, killing 10,000 people, devastating its cities and cutting out a third of Croatia as a “Serb republic” from which the Croatian majority, some hundreds of thousands of people, was expelled. The 3-month siege and utter destruction of multi-ethnic, Croat-majority Vukovar was emlematic of the catastophe the region was being plunged into.

Despite this war, Tudjman and Milosevic then engaged in far more fruitful collaboration over the next four years, implementing their joint plan to rip apart Bosnia into Serb and Croat republics and ethnicaly cleanse or exterminate the Muslim plurality from most of Bosnia, including regions where they formed the absolute majority of the population. This partition was then formalised by the US-inspired Dayton Accords of late 1995, dividing Bosnia into two.

This regional partition also meant that Milosevic was willing to connive in Tudjman’s recapture of the ‘Krajina’, the only part of occupied Croatia with a Serb majority. The former considered the Krajina economically worthless and territorially far outside the Serbian regional sphere; with the partion of Bosnia, Serbia got the whole north and east, including the entire region bordering Serbia, formerly overwhelmingly Muslim in population. Krajina, by contast, was separated from Serbia by the entire Bosnian republic, being the furthest part of Croatia from Serbia. Milosevic also wanted the Krajina Serbs to help fill the population void in the now “Serb” half of Bosnia, ‘Republika Srpska,’ which had not only expelled its Muslim and Croat populations, but also witnessed the flight of hundreds of thousands of Bosnian Serbs who had no wish to live in the graveyard “state” assigned to them.

Tudjman’s brutal expulsion of 150,000 Serbs from the Krajina in late 1995, resulting in several hundred killings, largely of aged Serbs who stayed behind, thus drew no reaction from his Belgrade allies. Tudjman could now be toasted as a hero for liberating Croatian territory, which in fact could have been achieved far less painfully; in reality, he wanted the territory to house similar numbers of Bosnian Croats expelled from Republika Srpska. Such population transfers would consolidate the new de facto regional borders.
Unlike the ‘Republika Srpska’ half of Bosnia, however, Tudjman did not formally achieve his dreamed of Croat Republic, ‘Herzeg-Bosna’, in the other half. Rather, his satellite Bosnian wing of the HDZ had to share that half with Bosnian Muslims in a ‘Moslem-Croat Federation’ hammered together by the US.
Tudjman has created considerable western hostility by continually threatening to revise Dayton and annex Croat-dominated regions of Bosnia; in practice, his HDZ has constructed an informal Bosnian Croat republic in violation of the agreement. Western hostility is not exactly motivated by principled opposition to partition, which was the essence of Dayton; rather, if Herzeg-Bosna is formalised in the same way as Republika Srpska, it will leave a poverty-stricken, geographically cut-off, unstable Muslim state in the heart of the Balkans, bent on reconquering territories its populations had been expelled from.

Croatia thus has to be satisfied with de facto confederal control of half of Bosnia, rather than the more robust nationalist schemes of the HDZ. In its continual drift to the right over Bosnia policy and issues of internal repression and chauvinistic mass consumption, Tudjman’s regime more and more found its natural allies in the Ustashe. While only a narrow fringe in Croatia, receiving around 5 percent of the vote, the Ustashe has been more and more incorporated into sections of the state machine by the HDZ.
Tudjman also refused to fully cooperate with the International War Crimes Tribunal, which is still demanding various Croatian officers allegedly guilty of crimes against Muslims and Serbs. While more cooperative than Milosevic - in 1997, Tudjman handed over ten officers under threat of western sanctions - the west has demanded further cooperation.

For the western powers, the need for such high level trials is a necessary balance to keep the Bosnian Muslims in check - they lost the most out of Dayton, and have continually threatened to break the agreement and reconquer Bosnian territory if certain minimum conditions are not met. While the right of return of Muslim refugees to Serb and Croat controlled regions is their main aim, this is also the one least likely to ever be met, and western powers have no real interest in pushing for it. Why upset a balance that is now stable? Hence the need for more high-level symbolic actions like trials of war criminals.
Despite the popular view of a Serbo-Croatian rivalry dominating the Balkans, in fact the decade-long Serbo-Croatian agreement raised its head again during last year’s NATO aggression against Yugoslavia. Making no official comment on NATO’s attack, Tudjman then invited the G-8 imperialist countries and Russia to his palace to pose as the negotiator on behalf of Milosevic. After lecturing the G-8 about how sacred Kosova is to the Serbs and so on, sounding like a full-blown Serb nationalist, he then put forward Milosevic’s preferred solution - the partition of Kosova, leaving Serbia in control of the mineral-rich north. Tudjman knew well that such a formalised partition - now taking place in Kosova informally - would allow him to press for the same within the ‘Moslem-Croat Federation’, thus allowing the emergence of a ‘Croat Republic’ of Bosnia alongside its Serb ally.

On economic policy, Tudman’s Croatia closely parallels Milosevic’s Serbia - capitalist restoration proceeds at a much faster pace unofficially than officially. This allows the ruling parties and their mafia allies to seize control of strategic assets for themelves and their children, squeezing out any potential competitors in a supposedly more “free” market.

These new crony capitalists are then subject to far less regulation than if their ownership was formalised; yet this lack of formalisation imposes no limitations on their ability to be capitalists. On the contrary, both countries are abound with stories of government ministers who “manage” supposedly “state” industries fleecing them and passing assets onto other enterprises legally privately owned by themselves or their relatives.

Political and economic power is shared by some 200 families, headed by the Tudjman clan, and prominent among them are the “Herzegovina lobby,” ie Bosnian Croats whose mafia connections made them loads of money during the Bosnia war. Their prominence reveals the mercenary aims of Tudjman’s chauvinist policy in Bosnia - keeping control of business operations is as important as ‘Greater Croatia” mythology. In return, the Herzegovinan mafia made sure that Bosnian Croats voted in Croatian elections for the HDZ - and their fixed quota allowed a gerrymander that until now kept the HDZ in power.

Interestingly, while Tudjman used anti-communist scare-mongering against his Social Democratic opponents, in fact the HDZ has 60,000 former ‘Communists’ in its ranks, more than all the other parties put together, reflecting its nature as the chosen party of former bureaucrats restoring capitalism by stealing state property for themselves.
This is all mixed with selling strategic national assets to imperialist powers. Milosevic’s sale of half of Serbian Telecom to Italian and Greek capital in 1997 was followed by Tudjman’s sale of a third of Croatian Telecom to German capital two years later.
By contrast with the wealth of HDZ cronies, unemployment stands at nearly 21 percent, the foreign debt has hit 10 billion dollars and economic output is half of that of 1990.

The naked chauvinist ideologies of the regimes of Tudjman and Milosevic, and particularly of their ultra-right allies (Ustashe and Serbian Radical Party) reflect the needs of these crony capitalist classes which destroyed the Yugoslav federation and aim to extend their control in the region. Imperialism was willing to go along with this, as it had an interest in capitalist restoration, while their nationalist ideologies were necessary to replace the officially working class internationalist ideology of Communist Yugoslavia.
However, sometimes the narrow chauvinist aims of these crony classes bring them into conflict with imperialism’s broader needs for regional stability for investment. Now that all the conquering and destruction has been achieved, it is searching for more rational wings of the new capitalist classes, willing to settle down and peacefully expolit what they’ve got, rather than threatening regional stability through an unrealistic quest for more.

Thus, Croatia has been excluded from virtually all the blossoming European and Euro-Atlantic institutions, and Turkey was the only country to send a head of state to Tudjman’s funeral. Western powers strongly backed the electoral victory of the Croatian opposition - in the recent past, the entire opposition bloc was officially invited to Washington, an invitation not extended to Tudjman.

In turn, the new regime has expressed its desire to move into the European Union and NATO, and has made all the right moves demanded by the west - renouncing Tudjman’s Bosnian policy, cutting off support to Herzeg-Bosna, promising better cooperation with the Hague, planning to cut down his enormous presidential powers and to implement democratic changes, announcing that it will better facilitate the return of Serb refugees and calling for an investigation into corrupt privatisation deals - some leading HDZ cronies have already beeen arrested. The government has also drastically cut ministerial salaries.
Needless to say, these are good things by anyone’s books. Regardless of the more pro-western direction of the new regime, the end of Tudjman and his HDZ can only mean progress. This victory opens up more possibilities for a left and working class mobilisation against what appears to be the new regime’s more “free market” direction, already being dictated by the IMF. The crony chauvinism of the HDZ offered only a dead end.

Interestingly, in the world of mafia-style crony capitalism that connected the destinies of Tudjman’s Croatia and Milosevic’s Serbia, an important link was ‘Arkan’, the alias of Serbian nationalist militia leader and mass killer Zeljko Raznatovic. Arkan engaged in legal and illegal business operations in partnership with Croatian firms in the Slavonia region, not the least in the massive drug trafficking that passes through the region.

On January 15, Arkan was gunned to death in broad daylight at the Intercontinental Hotel in Belgrade. This was followed within a couple of weeks by the similar slaying of Pavle Bulatovic, Yugoslavia’s defence minister, and a leader of Montenegro’s opposition party. While both killings appear connected to turf wars among the Belgrade mafia, they also both have an intriguing link to the ongoing crisis between Serbia and Montenegro, likely to be the next Balkan flashpoint. In particular, Arkan’s business links to the Montenegrin government also reveal somethig about the nature of that government which the western powers have been keen to see as “moderate.” Next week’s GLW will examine these links.

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