Ivica Račan (February 24 1944 – April 29 2007) was a Croatian leftist politician who led the Social Democratic Party of Croatia between 1989, through two name changes, up to 2007, a few weeks before his death. He was also the last leader and democratic transformer of the League of Communists of Croatia.
He was the Prime Minister of Croatia from 2000 to 2003, when he led a coalition centre-left government, in two consecutive terms.
Račan led the Croatian delegation in the XIV. Congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia which was held at the end of January 1990. The congress was dominated by Slobodan Milošević's supporters and Slovenian and Croatian delegations were continually voted down. Finally the Slovenian delegation declared they were leaving the party. Milošević tried to persuade Račan to stay, but Račan replied that a Communist Party without the Slovenes was not acceptable. Without the Croatian delegation it was impossible to reconvene the congress. (Adam Le Bor: Milošević)
Račan broke other taboos of socialist Yugoslavia, too: he was the first president of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Croatia who publicly congratulated believers in Croatia at Christmas in 1989, and he organized the multiparty elections a few months later.
His Party lost the election, but remained the second largest party in new Parliament, and Račan was supposed to continue his political career, this time the first leader of opposition in history of modern Croatia. SKH however, quickly became the shadow of its former self - the majority of its membership, including the highest ranking officials, defected to HDZ, while the collapse of Yugoslavia, ethnic Serb rebellion and war further radicalized Croatian public. In such circumstances, Račan was more concerned with the mere survival of his Party than with challenging Franjo Tuđman's rule, even if it meant tolerating some of Tuđman's more controversial policies, like nationalization of worker's owned enterprises, privatization or various human rights abuses.
In such circumstances, when his party used to be ironically called "HDZ Little Sister", Račan gave up the opposition leader's title to Dražen Budiša of Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS). SDP barely managed to pass the threshold in 1992 parliamentary elections, but it established itself as a social democratic option.
Following the end of the war, Croatian voters were becoming more concerned with social issues, and in such circumstances SDP gradually began to consolidate support at the expense of other opposition parties, most notably the social liberals, HSLS. This became evident at 1995 parliamentary and 1997 presidential elections.
In 1998 Račan and Budiša created an alliance that would win parliamentary elections two years later.
Following the election, Račan became the prime minister of Croatia with the help of HSLS, and the centrist bloc which comprises Croatian Peasants Party (HSS), the Liberal Party (LS), Croatian People's Party (HNS), Istrian Democratic Congress (IDS). All of those six parties had ministers within Račan's cabinet.
Račan, like the newly elected president Stjepan Mesić, was initially hailed as a new, reformist leader who would symbolize the break with Croatia's authoritarian and nationalist past. While a democrat, Račan was, however, inefficient in running a government comprising six parties, the first coalition in modern Croatian history. His style of governance, symbolized by the phrase "Odlučno možda" ("Decisive perhaps" in English), plagued his government with factional struggles. Račan had to adopt a compromise-making attitute which limited the government's ability to commit fully to what should be done.
This led to the break-up with Budiša who took a more nationalist approach in dealing with the issues of ICTY indictments against Croatian Army generals. This rift began to affect Račan's government in other issues. IDS was the first to leave the coalition.
Račan briefly resigned on July 5, 2002 after their coalition partner HSLS obstructed the ratification of a vital agreement with Slovenia on the status of the co-owned nuclear plant in Krško. The HSLS later split into the main faction that left the government and a dissenting faction that formed a new party called Libra which enabled Račan to form a slightly modified government that would remain in power until the next elections.
Račan's best achievements were in foreign policy. He successfully brought Croatia out of the semi-isolation of the Tuđman era and set the country on the road towards membership of the European Union. During his term as prime minister, the Constitution of Croatia was amended, turning Croatia from a semi-presidential system to a parliamentary democracy and granting more power to the instutitions of the Sabor (parliament) and prime minister. Among other things, Račan opened the government's workings to the people with "open-doors day" at the government and regular press conferences, in sharp contrast to previous governments who mostly shunned media attention.
During his term in office, Croatia also changed economically. The opening to the West brought fresh inflows of capital which helped jump-start Croatia's GDP growth, which held at about 5% during the years of the Račan government - high compared to previous years. The government also undertook a wave of reforms in the public and government sectors and started large building projects, such as affordable housing and the Zagreb-Split highway, long-desired due to importance in tourism.
During this period, Račan also began to heal the rifts between Croatia and its neighbour Serbia (still with its final federation) and other former Yugoslav republics.
SDP remained the most popular opposition party in opinion polls, and Ivica Račan was, until recently, viewed as the leader of Croatian opposition.
While viewed indecisive as prime minister, he proved to be very skillful in his party maintaining the leadership position for fifteen years. In 2006, Račan publicly stated that this was his last term as the party president.
Ivica Račan was married three times and had two sons from his first marriage. His second wife Agata Račan is a judge in the Croatian Constitutional Court and his third wife Dijana Pleština is a professor of political science.
Račan was well known as a career politician, as he worked only in politics from 1972.
Colleagues, friends, comrades! Faced with a difficult illness I continue my fight for life but it is time to thank you on our joint work and your support in my political career. We were building together a Social democratic party and I am proud of what we have achieved. I am proud of the social democratic values – morals, work, honesty, tolerance – that we have forever engraved into the political life of our country. I have done as much as I knew and all that I could. With this I resign from the party presidency and you will have to continue without me. Find a new strength at the election convention for I am sure that it exists in SDP.
On the morning of April 12, 2007 his condition was described as "critical" due to complications which occurred after he had a couple of surgical procedures to remove the tumor on his right shoulder. On the same day, Radio 101 wrongly reported his death based on "unofficial information from two sources within the party", but SDP officials denied this. After that, he was reported to be in a critical condition, unable to communicate and under heavy sedation.
On April 29, 2007 at 3:05 am Ivica Račan died in the Clinical Hospital Centre in Zagreb. The reported cause of death was kidney cancer. He was laid to rest on Wednesday, May 2, at the Zagreb Crematory. Per his wish, only twelve closest friends and family (including wife and both sons) were present. A separate commemoration was organized by the Party in the Lisinski Hall, which was attended by the president, prime minister , various other dignitaries, and numerous party members and followers.
Throughout the three months of Račan's illness, Croatian media regularly reported on his status due to huge public interest. Račan himself made no public appearances after the day he announced his illness, but the media was regularly informed through the SDP's spokespeople. This was a situation previously unknown in Croatia, particularly in reference to the death of the late President Tuđman, when the events of his illness were well guarded.
When Račan resigned as the party leader, he made no indication as to his preference for his successor, but instead requested that an election convention be held, where the new leader would be elected by the party membership. Because of pending parliamentary elections in November, this was widely speculated to be relevant for the result of the party at the polls.