Who is Franjo Tuđman? 

Franjo Tuđman source

Franjo Tuđman was the first president of the Republic of Croatia. This politician and historian is the most remembered person in Croatian history because of his achievements regarding Croatian independence.

Even today, his name is of major significance to Croatian people and for some (although not all), represents a president who fought for Croatia and the rights of its people. After Croatia became independent from Yugoslavia, Tuđman became the first president-for-life in 1990 and served until his death in 1999.

During his presidency, he introduced constitutional changes making Croatia a unitary and indivisibly democratic and social state with free and equal rights for every citizen.

The life of Franjo Tuđman

  • 1922: Franjo Tuđman was born on May 14th in Veliko Trgovišće, a village in the northern Croatian region close to Zagreb. His father Stjepan ran a local tavern and was a politically active member of the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS).
  • 1937: Met Vlatko Maček in Zagreb, who was the president of the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) at the time.
  • 1942: He was recruited to Yugoslav partisans by Marko Belinić and turned to communism.
  • 1945: Franjo Tuđman married Ankica Žumbar in Belgrade. They had three children, Miroslav, Stjepan, and Nevenka.


Franjo Tuđman and his family source
Young Franjo Tuđman source


  • 1959: Tuđman was promoted to major general.
  • 1963: Tuđman became professor at the University of Zagreb, Faculty of Political Sciences, where he taught a course called “Socialist Revolution and Contemporary National History”.
  • 1970: Became a member of the Croatian’s Writers’ Society. He wrote a series of articles criticizing the Yugoslav Socialist establishment. His most important book from that period was “Great Ideas and Small Nations”. This was the beginning of his strong anti-communist views.
  • 1980: He started supporting Croatian independence. Meanwhile, Yugoslavia began to slowly fall apart due to multiple conflicting national aims.
  • 1989: Tuđman founded the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ).
  • 1990: Tuđman became president. In the elections, his party got the absolute majority of 60% in the Croatian Parliament. The new government introduced the traditional Croatian flag and coat of arms, without communist symbols.
Franjo Tuđman during his presidency source
  • 1991-1995: Croatian War of Independence
  • 1991: Battle of Vukovar, a clash between Serbian and Croatian forces, was a symbolic and notable victory for Croatia. The destruction of that town has been called the worst in Europe, Vukovar is also called the ‘hero town’. The Battle of Vukovar has also been examined by United States Marine Corps for its significance.
  • 1995: On November 12th, the Erdut Agreement was signed with local Serb authorities regarding the return of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Syrmia to Croatia. This ended the war in Croatia.

Franjo Tuđman considered the Catholic religion to be important for modern Croatia. When taking the oath in 1992, he added ‘So help me God’ which was not then part of the official text and was later officially added to the oath.

Tuđman’s era created a Catholic revival in Croatia. Church attendance rose because people could attend church without judgment. During communism, religion was unpopular and stigmatized.

Tuđman was diagnosed with cancer in 1993 and he died in 1999. His funeral mass was at Zagreb’s Cathedral. He was buried in Mirogoj Cemetery.

He published many books of which the most famous ones were Great Ideas and Small Nations (1970), Croatia in Monarchist YugoslaviaNationalism in Contemporary Europe (East European Monographs) (1981.), Croatia at the Crossroads (1991.), Genocide & Yugoslavia: Exposing the Myths (1996.), Horrors of War: Historical Reality and Philosophy (1997).

There are many places and streets in Croatia named after Franjo Tuđman.

Franjo Tuđman was not all great. There is great controversy over his legacy, but we will not discuss that here. Soon we’ll publish another post to cover the darker side. Stay tuned.

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Andrea Gladoic

Professor and content writer living in Croatia.

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