The results from the Croatian presidential election are in, and Ivo Josipovich is the winner.
This represents a victory for Croatia's Social Democrats, and -- 20 years after Croatia's independence -- a chance for Croatia to rid itself of some of its demons.
Croatia achieved independence in 1990, upon the breakup of the Republic of Yugoslavia which then included the modern nations of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Kosova, Montenegro, and Macedonia. Yugoslavia had been welded together out of a variety of diverse nations formerly under Austrian, Hungarian, and Turkish rule; first as a monarchy, then (after World War II) as a Communist republic.
After the death of Yugoslavia's dictator Josip Broz (Tito), each of Yugoslav's regions began to assume more and more power for itself. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the East bloc dominos, it was only a matter of months before Yugoslavia was destined to break apart.
Croatia was at this time led by the "Croatian Democratic Union", a right-wing nationalist party, under strongman Franjo Tudjman. Tudjman was a kind of autocrat; he respected the forms of democracy, but his dominance of Croatia's politics during most of his life was total. He introduced privatization into Croatia's hitherto Communist economy, but this abetted corruption, which largely benefited Tudjman's friends and relatives. Tudjman also developed into an apologist for the fascist Croatian state which had existed in World War II.
Worse still, Tudjman was complicit in the developing war which enveloped central Yugoslavia in the years after the split. While his counterpart Miloshevich in Serbia was oppressing and "ethnically cleansing" non-Serbs, Tudjman was performing "ethnic cleansing" on Serbs in eastern Croatia. He also conspired with Miloshevich to carve up Bosnia between the two states, resulting in a three-cornered Croat-Serb-Bosniac war, which resulted in genocidal massacres of the Bosnians.
In short, Tudjman's crimes differed from Miloshevich's in degree rather than kind -- and that largely due to a lack of opportunity.
Since Tudjman's death in 1999, Croatia has been to a large extent living under his shadow. Croatia's President has been Tudjman associate Stjepan "Stipe" Mesich, who however moved in a more moderate direction.
The current elections fall end the end of Mesich's two five-year terms. With a full field of candidates, no candidate won an outright majority in the first round, which took place on December 27, 2009. The third-place finisher was Andrija Hebrang, candidate of Tudjman's right-wing party; the second place was taken by Milan Bandich, independent mayor of Zagreb; and first place, with over 32% of the vote, was Ivo Josipovich, candidate of the Social Democratic Party.
In the runoff, Bandich -- himself formerly a member of the SDP -- ran to the right of Josipovich, characterizing himself as the Catholic candidate against the agnostic Josipovich. In the final days, the campaign became ugly, with mud-slinging from both sides. Bandich characterized himself as a workers' candidate; Josipovich, a musician and composer, was seen as more intellectual.
Nonetheless, in the actual results, Josipovich has won with over 60% of the vote -- considerably better than predicted. Croatia has now for the first time elected someone not associated with the Tudjman clique, and has a chance to proceed in a less nationalistic, more European direction with its history.