The New York Times; July 8, 2000


The Balkans have not generated much good news recently, but Croatia today is a happy exception. Since the death of President Franjo Tudjman last December and the election of the opposition to the Parliament and presidency, the country has turned away from authoritarianism and nationalism. While Croatia's parallels with Serbia are not exact, the rapid change in Croatia's political culture is an optimistic sign for those suffering under Slobodan Milosevic's dictatorship.

But nationalism could return in Croatia if the economy continues to slide. Helping the government improve Croatians' living standards will take more Western support than Croatia is getting now.

Mr. Tudjman never attracted the notoriety of Mr. Milosevic, but he too might have been charged with war crimes if he had lived.

Mr. Tudjman wanted an ethnically pure Croatia that encompassed all the areas where Croats live, and his troops carried out atrocities against Serbs and Muslims. As it turns out, he also stole billions of dollars and gave the money to friends, family and his political causes. The larceny was grand enough to have ruined the country's economy.

The new president, Stipe Mesic, and Prime Minister Ivica Racan have closed some of Mr. Tudjman's intelligence agencies and ended his harassment of the press and citizens' groups. They have begun cooperating with the war crimes tribunal, and cut secret funding to the Croats in Bosnia. They pledge to welcome Croatian Serb refugees back to Croatia, although their return has been obstructed by local officials and bureaucrats.

Some of these measures, like the return of Croatian Serbs, are not wildly popular, and the government will lose public support if it cannot heal the economy.

Croatia needs foreign help in recovering the stolen money. The E.U. has promised a slight increase in economic assistance, but has also eliminated humanitarian aid.

The Clinton administration has promised $35 million in extra aid, mostly technical assistance, but Congress has delayed it. Croatia's economy needs reform, but the country needs investment and aid that can cushion the budget cuts' effects on ordinary people, if they are not to feel nostalgia for the Tudjman days.

Dobroslav Paraga

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