A four-metre-tall statue of Croatia's first president, Franjo Tudjman, was unveiled in the centre of Zagreb on Monday, on the occasion of the 19th anniversary of Tudjman's death.
Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, leader of the ruling centre-right Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) founded by Tudjman in 1989, also attended the ceremony.
Franjo Tudjman became Croatia’s first president in 1990 and began paving the way for Croatia’s independence from Yugoslavia, which the country declared in 1991. He served as president during Croatia’s war of independence, which ended in the summer of 1995, and remained in power until his death in 1999, having been re-elected twice – in 1992, and 1997.
Plenkovic said on Monday that Tudjman’s political legacy was a pillar of the modern Croatia which must be protected and developed in today’s significantly different social and political circumstances.
It was during Tudjman’s presidency, Plenkovic said, that Croatia defined its commitment to becoming part of European and trans-Atlantic organisations, and join the family of the most developed European countries.
“This statue reflects the identity of the city of Zagreb and Croatia as a whole, and, in a way, sends a message to all the current and future generations about the values on which, and because of which, the country was founded. This is what matters here,” Tudjman’s eldest son, Miroslav Tudjman, said.
The Zagreb Airport is named after Franjo Tudjman, as is a square in the city centre.
An hour before the unveiling ceremony, some two dozen people held a protest nearby, saying they wanted to bring attention to negative aspects of Tudjman’s politics.
“According to the Hague tribunal’s latest verdict, Tudjman was named as having taken part in a joint criminal enterprise in the crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” said Nikola Puharic of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, adding Tudjman was responsible for the crimes that occurred during the privatisation period in Croatia, as well as for stifling citizens’ and media freedoms in the 90s.
In 2013, six top officials of the wartime self-proclaimed Bosnian Croat statelet of Herzeg-Bosnia (HB) were handed lengthy prison sentences for leading what the Hague tribunal had defined as a joint criminal enterprise to commit ethnic cleansing against Bosniaks in parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina under their control, with the ultimate goal of annexing the territory to neighbouring Croatia.
Puharic said the protesters wanted to distance themselves from those values for the sake of future generations.