Tuđman's political party HDZ (Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica, Croatian Democratic Union) won the first post-communist multi-party elections in 1990 and he became the president of the country. A year later he proclaimed the Croatian declaration of independence. He was reelected twice and remained in power until his death in 1999.
During WWII Tuđman, together with his brother Stjepan, fought on the side of Tito's partisans. During the fighting his brother was killed in 1943, but Franjo had better luck, meeting his future wife Ankica. Shortly after the end of the war his father Stjepan, who was an important member of the Croatian Peasant Party, killed his wife and then himself, according to the police finding. At that time Tuđman declared that his parents had been killed by the Ustaša, but after the breakup of Yugoslavia he blamed communists for the killing. This version of events has become the official version in modern Croatia. After the war's end Tuđman worked in the Ministry of Defence in Belgrade, attending military academy in 1957.
He became one of the youngest generals in the Yugoslav People's Army in the 1960s — a fact which some observers linked to the fact that he came from Zagorje, a region that gave few Communist partisans, except for Tito himself. Others have observed that Tuđman was probably the most educated of Tito's generals (as regards military history, strategy and the interplay of politics and warfare) — this claim is supported by the fact that generations of future Yugoslav generals based their general exam theses on his voluminous book on guerrilla warfare throughout history: Rat protiv rata ("War against war"), 1957, which covers topics as diverse as Hannibal's drive across the Alps, the Spanish war against Napoleon and Yugoslav partisan warfare.
Tuđman left active army service in 1961 to found the Institut za historiju radničkoga pokreta Hrvatske ("Institute for the History of Croatia's Workers' Movement"), and remained its director until 1967.
Apart from his book on guerrilla warfare, Tuđman wrote a series of articles criticizing the Yugoslav Socialist establishment, and was subsequently expelled from the Party. His most important book from that period was Velike ideje i Mali narodi ("Great ideas and small nations"), a monograph on political history that collided with central dogmas of Yugoslav Communist elite with regard to the interconnectedness of the national and social elements in the Yugoslav revolutionary war (during WWII).
In 1971 he was sentenced to two years of prison for alleged subversive activities during the Croatian Spring. This was a national movement that was actually set in motion by Tito and Croatian party chief Bakarić in the climate of growing liberalism in the late 60s. It was initially a tepid and ideologically controlled party liberalism, but it soon grew into mass nationalist-based manifestation of dissatisfaction with the position of Croatia within Yugoslavia, and threatened the party's political monopoly. As a result, the movement was suppressed by Tito, who used the military and the police to crush what he saw as separatism and a threat to the party's influence. Bakarić quickly distanced himself from the Croatian Communist leadership that he himself helped gain power earlier, and sided with the Yugoslav president. However, Tito took the protesters' demands into consideration, and in 1974 the new Yugoslav constitution granted the majority of the demands sought by the Croatian Spring.
Tuđman's role in 1971 was that of a dissident who questioned what he saw as the cornerstones of modern Serbian nationalism - the number of victims of the Jasenovac concentration camp, as well as the role of centralism in Yugoslavia and the ideology of unitary "Yugoslavism". Tuđman felt that what was originally a Croatian Romantic pan-Slavic idea from the 19th century had mutated into the front for what he claimed was a pan-Serbian drive for domination over non-Serb peoples.
On other topics like Communism and one-party monopoly, Tuđman remained mostly within the framework of Communist ideology. His sentence was commuted by Tito's government and Tuđman was released after nine months.
Tuđman was tried again in 1981 for having spread "enemy propaganda", while giving an interview to the Swedish TV on the position of Croats in Yugoslavia and was sentenced to three years of prison, but again he only served a portion (this time eleven months).
In the latter part of the 1980s, when Yugoslavia was creeping towards its demise, torn by conflicting national aspirations, Tuđman formulated a Croatian national program. His primary goal was the establishment of the Croatian nation-state; therefore all ideological disputes from the past should be thrown away. In practice, this meant strong support from anti-Communist Croatian diaspora, especially financial.
Even though Tuđman's final goal was an independent Croatia, he was well aware of the realities of internal and foreign policy. So, his chief initial proposal was not a fully independent Croatia, but a confederal Yugoslavia with growing decentralization and democratization. Tuđman envisaged Croatia's future as a welfare capitalist state that will inevitably move towards central Europe and away from the Balkans.
He also asserted that Serbian nationalism controlled the JNA (Yugoslav People's Army). Serbs, who constituted less than 40% of Yugoslavia's population, made up ca. 80% of commissioned officers corps and could wreak havoc on Croatian and Bosnian soil. The JNA was being rapidly Serbianized, both ideologically and ethnically, in less than four years. Tuđman's proposal was that Serbs in Croatia, who made up 11% of Croatia's population, should gain cultural autonomy, with some elements of territorial autonomy as well.
As far as Bosnia and Herzegovina was concerned, Tuđman was more ambivalent. He thought that Bosniaks were essentially Croats of Muslim faith and would, freed from Communist censorship, declare themselves ethnically as Croats, therefore making Bosnia a predominantly Croatian country.
Tuđman's connections with Croatian diaspora (he had traveled a few times to Canada and the US after 1987) proved to be crucial when he founded the Croatian Democratic Union ("Hrvatska demokratska zajednica" or HDZ) in 1989 — a party that was to stay in power until 2000.
Essentially this was a nationalist Croatian movement that affirmed Croatian values based on Catholicism, blended with historical and cultural traditions generally suppressed in Communist Yugoslavia. The aim was to gain national independence and to establish a Croatian nation-state. His party won around 60% of the seats in the election for the Croatian Parliament in 1990. Afterwards the HDZ's constitutional changes, which included his refusal to accept Serbs as a constituent nation, inflamed Serb opinion in Croatia. This resulted in many Serbs being purged from their jobs in the police, security forces, the media and factories. Tuđman was elected to the position of President of Croatia by the Parliament in 1990.
From 1990 to 1995, Tuđman proved to be a master strategist. According to the testimonies of both friends and enemies, he outmaneuvered Croatia's adversaries on many levels. While his opponent Milošević was a brilliant tacticianian who, by many accounts, lacked strategic vision, Tuđman was the exact opposite - frequently clumsy and erratic in behavior, he possessed the strong sense of mission and the vision of Croatia's independence, and the statesman's wisdom of how to realize it.
This was seen at crucial junctures of modern Croatia's history, including the war against the combined forces of the Serbian nationalist rebels (assisted at first by the JNA), the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Operation Storm, and the Dayton peace agreement. For instance, Tuđman's strategy of stalling the Yugoslav Army in 1991 by signing frequent cease fires mediated by foreign diplomats was efficient — when the first cease fire was signed, the emerging Croatian Army had seven brigades; by the final cease fire (the twentieth), the Croats had 64 brigades. In March 1991, he was believed to have signed the Karađorđevo agreement a military pact signed Milošević in the town of Karađorđevo. The treaty was meant to limit conflicts between the Bosnian Serb and Croat forces by allowing both parties to concentrate on taking Bosnian territory. According to some sources Tuđman's intention in this was to annex the part of Bosnia with a Croatian minority so that his state would have borders similar to Banovina Hrvatska . However, there is no written proof for that.
The most common accusation is that of autocratic behavior and despotism. However, many argue that, faced with a superior military aggressor, the Croats, who had not yet built functioning national institutions, had to rely on a strong personal leadership Tuđman embodied. Although such kind of leadership necessarily involved unpleasant side-effects like traits of autocratic behavior, it might have been beneficial in crucial matters, as the Croats under Tuđman won the war and founded the nation-state, at least partly thanks to this characteristic.
In 1997, the HDZ government undertook several programs to refurbish Tuđman's tarnished image, especially for Western consumption. One of these projects included an "official" biography of the President, written by an American science-fiction author, Joe Tripician. The resulting biography, however, was critical of Tuđman, and was never published.
Tuđman, who had been thrice elected as President of Croatia, fell ill with cancer in 1993. He recovered, but the general state of health declined in 1999 and Tuđman died from an internal hemorrhage on December 10, 1999. Many croatian dignitaries attended the funeral but all world leaders shunned the funeral due to his poor human rights record.
Had Tuđman lived longer, there is a strong probability he would have been brought up on war crimes charges by the UN Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Graham Blewitt, a senior Tribunal prosecutor, told the Agence France Presse wire service that "There would have been sufficient evidence to indict president Tuđman had he still been alive." The Tribunal's indictment of Croatian general Ante Gotovina lists Tuđman as a key participant in a "joint criminal enterprise" aimed at the "permanent removal of the Serb population from the Krajina region by force, fear or threat of force, persecution, forced displacement, transfer and deportation, appropriation and destruction of property other minority belongings & means."
President Tuđman initiated the process of privatization and de-nationalization in Croatia. However, this was far from transparent and fully legal. The fact that the new government's legal system was inefficient and slow, as well as the wider context of the Yugoslav wars caused numerous incidents known collectively in Croatia as the "privatization robbery" (privatizacijska pljačka). Nepotism was endemic and during this period many influential individuals with the backing of the authorities acquired state-owned property and companies at extremely low prices, afterwards selling them off piecemeal to the highest bidder for much larger sums. This proved very lucrative for the new owners, but in the vast majority of cases this (along with the separation from the previously secured Yugoslav markets) also caused the bankruptcy of the (previously successful) firm, causing the unemployment of thousands of citizens, a problem Croatia still struggles with to this day.
It is also beyond doubt that not few shadowy figures who moved close to Tuđman, the centre of power in Croatian society, profited from this enormously, having amassed wealth with suspicious celerity. Although this phenomenon is common to chaotic reforms in most post-communist societies (the best example being Russia with her "oligarchs"), the majority of Croats are of the opinion that Tuđman could and should have prevented at least a part of these malfeasances because nothing similar has happened to Slovenia with who Croatia has been inside Yugoslavia. The most common allegations sprouting from this state that he probably personally profited from this.
The charge of nepotism and favoritism (elitism), frequently leveled at Tuđman himself, has been resolved in 2007 when his daughter, Nevenka Tuđman, was found guilty of corruption, but set free because too many years has passed from time of the crime.. There are also other instances of apparent family nepotism. His son Miroslav Tuđman occupied the position of Chief of the HIS, the Croatian secret service, during the time of his father's presidency . Franjo Tuđman is often accused of having acquired his personal property by dishonest means .
In 1989 Tuđman published his most famous work, The Horrors of War or Wastelands of Historical Reality (Bespuća povijesne zbiljnosti) in which he questioned the number of victims during World War II in Yugoslavia. It is considered by many to be a strange book - a compilation of meditations on the role of violence in world history interspersed with personal reminiscences on his squabbles with Yugoslav apparatchiks. It then slowly spirals towards the true center of his work: the attack on what he claimed was a hyperinflation of Serbian casualties in the Independent State of Croatia (NDH).
Serbian historians have claimed that the number of Serbs killed in the Jasenovac concentration camp was between 500,000 and 800,000. Many researchers such as the Israeli Yad Vashem of the center for Holocaust studies and the Simon Wiesenthal Center , still maintains similar figures, which were also reported by German, Italian, Croatian and partisan generals during the war. However most Croatian historians and some other international organizations such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum , and the Jasenovac museum are speaking of some 100,000 victims. That number is supoorted also by Croatian Jewish historiographer Ivo Goldstein. The last serious research of victim numbers before the Yugoslav wars was conducted by Croatian economist Vladimir Žerjavić and Serbian researcher Bogoljub Kočović . 59,589 victims (again of all nationalities) have been identified by name (in a Yugoslav name list that was made in 1964). See also relevant article and the official Jasenovac concentration camp Website ). Tuđman had estimated, relying on some earlier investigations, that the total number of victims in the Jasenovac camp (Serbs, Jews, Gypsies, Croats, and others) was somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000, thus in a scale similar to the one that is currently prevalent in Croatia. These figures are, however, considerably lower than the generally accepted numbers, which caused ample controversy.
Another controversy surrounding The Horrors of War was Tuđman's alleged anti-Semitism, expressed in this book and elsewhere. Tuđman is said to have estimated that a total of only 900,000 (as opposed to 6 million) Jews perished in the Holocaust of the Second World War. (New York Times, April 22, 1993.) However, this was reportedly a misinformation that caused some Croats to accuse the "New York Times" of anti-Croat bias and calumny). In his "Horrors of War", Tuđman had accepted German historian Reitlinger's estimates estimate that the number of Jewish victims during WW2 was closer to 4 million as opposed to the most quoted number of 5 to 6 million men, women and children murdered. Another frequently mentioned quotation is the claim that "the establishment of Hitler's new European order could be justified by the need to remove the Jews" (1989, 2 ed., p.149), which supposedly actually describes the hidden agenda of the Hitlerite propaganda machine rather than Tuđman's own opinions. Aside from the war statistics issue, Tuđman's book contained views on Jewish role in history that many readers found simplistic and profoundly biased. Tuđman based his views on the Jewish condition (in terms of pages, a small portion of the "Horrors of war") on the memoirs of Croatian Communist Ante Ciliga, one of the top officials, and later a renegade, of the pre-war Komintern, who described his experiences in the Jasenovac concentration camp during a year and a half of his incarceration. Ciliga's experiences, recorded in his book "Sam kroz Europu u ratu (1939-1945)"/Through the war-time Europe alone (1939-1945), paint an unfavorable picture of his Jewish inmate's behavior, emphasizing their alleged clannishness, etho-centrism and apartness. Ciliga claimed that Jews had held a privileged position in Jasenovac and actually, as Tuđman concludes, "held in their hands the inmates management of the camp up to 1944", something that was made possible by the idea that "in its origins Pavelic's party was philo-Semitic" (cit. in Tuđman's work, p.316-319). Furthermore, Ciliga theorized that the behavior of the Jews had been determined by the more than 2000-year old tradition of extreme ethnic egoism and unscrupulousness that he claims is expressed in the Old Testament (ibid., p.320). Tuđman picked all this as a dispassionate analysis of Jewish behavioral traits- which it, according to many, is not. He summarized, among other things, that "The Jews provoke envy and hatred but actually they are 'the unhappiest nation in the world', always victims of 'their own and others' ambitions', and whoever tries to show that they are themselves their own source of tragedy is ranked among the anti-Semites and the object of hatred by the Jews". (ibid., p.320). However, in another part of the book (p.160), Tuđman himself did express the belief that these traits weren't unique to the Jews; while criticizing what he alleges to be aggression and atrocities in the Middle East on the part of Israel, he claimed that they arose "from historical unreasonableness and narrowness in which Jewry certainly is no exception" (p.160-161).
The accusations of anti-Semitism were sometimes disputed due to Tuđman's contacts with representatives of the Jewish World Congress (Tommy Baer) and various Jewish intellectuals (Alain Finkielkraut, Philip Cohen). Still, it was invoked by Tuđman's opponents. During his 1990 election campaign, Tuđman notoriously said: "Since many government-paid propagandists insinuate we (HDZ/CDU) are in fact agents of UDBA and KOS (Yugoslav political police), and point out that many of our founding members have Serbian and Jewish wives, I am very happy that my wife is neither Serbian nor Jewish, so they cannot question my credentials with regard to that matter."
On 22 April 1998 President Tuđman received the credentials of the first Israeli ambassador to Croatia, Natan Meron. In his speech Tuđman said, among other things: 'During the Second World War, within the quisling regime in Croatia, Holocaust crimes were also committed against members of the Jewish people. The Croatian public then, during the Second World War, and today, including the Croatian government and me personally, have condemned the crimes that the Ustasa committed not only against Jews but also against democratic Croats and even against the members of other nations in the Independent State of Croatia.'
If Tuđman’s stature as a historian and publicist is to be evaluated, it should take into consideration the following facts:
Generally, Tuđman’s historical works are considered, especially in Croatia, to have gained the status of indispensable synthetic surveys of Croatian 20th century history, while his shorter political-cultural analysis and geopolitical essays belong to the treasury of classical Croatian political thought, along with writings of Ivo Pilar and Milan Šufflay. However, Tuđman’s overly Marxist treatises and polemical squabbles are period pieces that have already become obsolete and do not provoke historians' or general reader's interest any more.
Despite the controversy, Tuđman is credited with creating the basis for an independent Croatia, and helping the country move away from communism and towards liberal democracy. He is sometimes given the title "father of the country" for his role the country's independence. Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, the head of the HDZ (Tuđman's party), has stated, "His work is great and his opponents and those who have tried to belittle what he did will be forgotten, while Franjo Tuđman will be remembered in history." His legacy is still strong in Croatia; there are schools, squares and streets in some cities named after him, and statues have been erected. Plans to create a square in Zagreb after the late president has attracted strong debate among his supporters and the oppositional ruling party of Zagreb (the Social Democratic Party of Croatia) on the location of the square; his family and supporters wanted the Roosevelt or Tito square while the SDP refused and wanted a square away from the center of the town. The SDP won, and a different square was chosen in December of 2006.
An impressive bridge, the northern entry to Dubrovnik, is also named in Tuđman's honour, although the bridge has two other alternative names.