Croatia anew

January 14, 2000

BY democratic choice, Croatia is moving into Europe's mainstream and away from its neo-fascist recent past.

When Croatia does arrive in the promised land, the isolation of its bitter rival and mirror image, Serbia, will increase until Serbs make similar reforms.

Franjo Tudjman led Croatia to independence in 1991, brutally cleansing it of Serbs. Behind flimsy democratic decor, he ruled as a dictator surrounded by profiteers.

After President Tudjman died Dec. 10, Croatians mourned. Then they voted Jan. 3 to oust his legacy, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), from power.

The new center-left government wants Croatia to follow Slovenia into partnership with NATO and candidacy for membership in the European Union.

Europe will wait until the presidential election, Jan. 24 with a probable runoff Feb. 8, before ending its ostracism.

The two leading candidates in a field of nine are a former dissident, Drazen Budisa, and the former foreign minister, Mate Granic, the good cop of the Tudjman regime. The victory of either should satisfy Europe and the State Department.

When Croatia frees the press, guarantees civil liberties for all, opens its economy and ceases subverting Bosnia, Europe should be ready with the welcome mat. Thanks to the late Mr. Tudjman, its economy is weak and its people poor, but that need not be permanent.

Croatia's people just repudiated the worst extremes of their heritage in favor of Europe's big tent. They deserve every encouragement to enter.

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