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Croatians Bid Farewell to Tudjman

December 13, 1999

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) _ In a huge outpouring of national pride, hundreds of thousands of mourners bade farewell Monday to President Franjo Tudjman, who led Croatia to independence in 1991 but was also harshly criticized in the West for his authoritarian policies.

The 77-year-old president, who is often called the father of the nation, died Friday following a lengthy battle with cancer.

``He gave us everything,″ said Ivan Znaor, who traveled with his 4-year-old grandson from southern Croatia to attend the solemn state funeral. ``To pay him respect and thank him is the least we could do.″

Huge crowds lined the streets under threatening skies as a military procession carried the flag-draped coffin from the presidential palace to a hillside cemetery overlooking the capital.

There, thousands more gathered for the ceremony. Air force jets flew overhead and cannons fired a salute as Tudjman’s body was lowered into the grave. Church bells rang nationwide at the moment the funeral ended, the government news agency HINA said.

However, the absence of major Western leaders underscored Tudjman’s mixed legacy. His treatment of minority Serbs and controversial involvement in the Bosnian war, kept his nation from winning sought-after full acceptance in Europe.

``He will enter history as one of the great creators,″ said Zagreb Archbishop Josip Bozanic, who has often criticized government corruption and the sprawling gap between rich and poor.

``For all the good Tudjman did himself and with all of us, we express our deep gratitude and let God be his reward,″ he told the crowd. ``For those things which were less worthy and sinful, let them be forgiven.″

Turkish President Sulejman Demirel was the only foreign head of state to attend, although Hungary, Slovenia, Macedonia and Montenegro sent their prime ministers.

The United States and major Western European countries were represented only by their ambassadors or lower ranking government officials.

Peter W. Galbraith, who served as U.S. ambassador to Croatia from 1993 to 1997, attended the funeral as a private citizen. He said Tudjman ``is leaving a mixed legacy.″

Galbraith cited differences with Washington over democratization, human rights and Tudjman’s treatment of minority Serbs after they rebelled against Croatian independence.

The war took at least 10,000 lives and the fighting finally ended in 1995, when the government recaptured lands seized by the Serb rebels in 1991.

But Galbraith also praised Tudjman for his rapprochement with Bosnian Muslims, which paved the way for the 1995 agreement ending the Bosnian conflict.

Although long expected, Tudjman’s death produced a surge of national pride among his people.

Throughout the country, and also in neighboring Bosnia, where Croats make up about 15 percent of the population, people burned candles and commemorated Tudjman, praising him for leading Croatia out of Yugoslavia in 1991.

During his eulogy, the acting president, Vlatko Pavletic, described Tudjman as ``a man who never gave up, who fought until the last moment ... And he leaves behind an independent, democratic and upright Croatia.″

Croats will soon decide the country’s future without Tudjman. Campaigning starts Tuesday for Jan. 3 parliamentary elections, and new presidential elections are to be held within 60 days.

Tudjman’s death could be a blow to his ruling Croatian Democratic Union. Without his presence, many here believe the party’s eight-year grip on power could end because of increased disenchantment with economic hardships that include double-digit unemployment.

Still, with Croatian patriotism revived through his death, the party could benefit at the polls.

In a commentary Monday in the newspaper Jutarnji list, analyst Davor Butkovic wrote that the West’s distancing itself from Tudjman could backfire.

``Such a demonstration of contempt for Tudjman could not only strengthen the anti-European-oriented voters, but could also make a significant impact on those voters who haven’t decided yet who to vote for″ in parliamentary and presidential elections, Butkovic said.

``The absence of top world leaders could be seen as a confirmation, for some, of Tudjman’s party’s propaganda _ that the United States and Europe simply don’t like Croatia,″ he added.

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