Ivica Račan

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Ivica Račan
Ivica Račan facingleft.jpg
Ivica Račan at The Pentagon on June 7, 2002
7th[a] Prime Minister of Croatia
In office
27 January 2000 – 23 December 2003
President Zlatko Tomčić (acting)
Stjepan Mesić
Preceded by Zlatko Mateša
Succeeded by Ivo Sanader
12th President of the League of Communists of Croatia
In office
December 1989 – November 1990
President Ivo Latin
Prime Minister Antun Milović
Preceded by Stanko Stojčević
Succeeded by Office abolished
3rd Leader of the Opposition
In office
23 December 2003 – 11 April 2007
Prime Minister Ivo Sanader
Preceded by Ivo Sanader
Succeeded by Željka Antunović (acting)
1st President of the
Social Democratic Party
In office
Preceded by Office established
Succeeded by Željka Antunović (acting)
Personal details
Born (1944-02-24)24 February 1944
Ebersbach, Germany
Died 29 April 2007(2007-04-29) (aged 63)
Zagreb, Croatia
Political party League of Communists of Croatia (1972–1990),
Social Democratic Party (1990–2007)
Spouse(s) Dijana Pleština
Alma mater University of Zagreb
^a Counting from the 1990 Croatian parliamentary election. 19th Croatian prime minister overall.

Ivica Račan (pronounced [îʋit͡sa rât͡ʃan]; 24 February 1944 – 29 April 2007) was a Croatian politician who served as a Prime Minister of Croatia from 2000 to 2003, heading two centre-left coalition governments. He was leader of the Social Democratic Party of Croatia (SDP)—initially the League of Communists of Croatia (SKH)—from 1989 to 2007.

Early life[edit]

Račan was born on 24 February 1944 in Ebersbach, Germany, where his mother was interned in a labour camp during World War II. He and his mother survived the Allied bombing of Dresden and were buried for days in the basement of a collapsed building. After the war, Račan returned to Croatia and spent his childhood and adolescence in Slavonski Brod, before moving to Zagreb and enrolling at the University of Zagreb. In 1970 he graduated from the Zagreb Faculty of Law.[1]

Political career[edit]

Early career (1972–89)[edit]

Račan entered politics in the Socialist Republic of Croatia in 1972 as a member of the League of Communists of Croatia (SKH), the Croatian branch of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (SKJ). In the 1970s he rose through the party ranks, following the removal of reformists from party's leading positions after the collapse of the Croatian Spring movement. By the end of the 1980s he emerged as one of the party's most prominent members and in December 1989 became its leader.

Račan led the Croatian delegation at the 14th SKJ party congress, held in late January 1990. The congress was dominated by Slobodan Milošević's supporters and Slovenian and Croatian delegations were continually voted down.[clarification needed] Finally the Slovenian delegation declared that they were abandoning the congress. Milošević tried to persuade Račan to stay, but Račan replied that a communist party without the Slovenes was unacceptable. Without the Croatian delegation it was impossible to reconvene the congress. (Adam Le Bor: Milošević)

Račan was the first chairman of SKH who publicly addressed believers in Croatia and congratulated Christmas in 1989, and he was instrumental in organizing the 1990 multi-party general election a few months later.

Opposition years (1990–99)[edit]

Under his leadership, SKH re-branded themselves as the "Party of Democratic Reform" (Stranka demokratskih promjena or SDP) in February 1990 and then ran in the 1990 election as "SKH-SDP", winning 26 percent of votes and coming in second behind the right-wing Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). During the 1990 election campaign Račan stirred some controversy when he referred to HDZ as a "party of dangerous intentions".

Although his party had lost the election, they remained the second largest party in the Sabor, and Račan thus continued his political career as the first Leader of the Opposition in the history of modern Croatia. SKH-SDP, however, quickly became a shadow of its former self – a majority of its membership, including the highest-ranking officials, defected to HDZ, while the breakup of Yugoslavia, the rebellion of ethnic Serbs, and the ensuing war which broke out in 1991 further radicalised the Croatian public. In such circumstances, Račan was more concerned with the survival of his party rather than challenging Franjo Tuđman's rule, even if it meant tolerating some of Tuđman's more controversial policies, like the nationalisation of workers' owned enterprises and privatisation

In such circumstances, Račan gave up the opposition leader title to Dražen Budiša of the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS). SDP then barely managed to pass the threshold in the following 1992 general election, but it did succeed in establishing itself as the strongest social democratic option. In 1994, SDP incorporated the minor Social Democrats of Croatia party (SDH) and soon became one of the two main alternatives to Tuđman, along with HSLS.

Following the end of the war of independence in 1995, 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 in the 1995 general elections and the 1997 presidential race.

Return to power (2000–03)[edit]

In August 1998 Račan and Budiša signed a coalition agreement and later won the 2000 elections, dislodging HDZ from power after a decade.

Following the election, Račan became Prime Minister of Croatia and formed a six-party centre-left government with ministers from SDP, HSLS, the Croatian Peasants Party (HSS), the Liberal Party (LS), the Croatian People's Party (HNS), and the Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS).[2]

Left to right: Croatian President Stjepan Mesić, former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen, and Ivica Račan in the United States, 8 August 2000
Ivica Račan with U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, 7 June 2002

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.[citation needed] 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, sometimes described by the phrase "Odlučno možda"[3][4] ("Decisively maybe" in English), plagued his government with factional struggles. Račan had to adopt a compromise-making attitude 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 in June 2001.

Račan formally resigned on 5 July 2002 after their coalition partner HSLS obstructed the ratification of a vital agreement with Slovenia on the status of the co-owned Krško Nuclear Power Plant. This led to a party split which saw the main faction of HSLS leave the ruling coalition and a dissenting faction which formed a new party called Libra who opted to stay in the government. This enabled Račan to form a slightly modified government that would remain in power until the next elections in 2003.[5]

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 parliament and prime minister. Among other things, Račan opened up the government's workings to the public with an "open-doors day" at the government and scheduled regular press conferences, which was in sharp contrast to previous governments who for the most part shunned media attention. Račan visited Bleiburg, Austria, in 2002 and attended the annual commemoration of the World War II Bleiburg tragedy.[6]

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 amounted to around 5% per year during the years of the Račan government – high compared to previous years.[citation needed] The government also undertook a series of reforms in the public and government sectors and started large building projects, such as an affordable housing program and the construction of the A1 highway connecting the two biggest cities Zagreb and Split, which had been long-desired due to its importance for tourism.

During this period, Račan also began to heal the rifts between Croatia and its neighbour Serbia and other former Yugoslav republics.

Back in opposition (2003–06)[edit]

Račan's centre-left coalition lost its majority in parliament following the November 2003 election. Račan conceded the defeat soon after election results were announced. He officially ceased to be Prime Minister on 23 December 2003 when the Croatian Parliament approved his successor, Ivo Sanader of the HDZ, to take up that post.

SDP remained the most popular opposition party in opinion polls, and Ivica Račan was viewed as the leader of Croatian opposition. While viewed as indecisive as prime minister, he proved to be very skilful in maintaining SDP party leadership for over fifteen years. In 2006, Račan publicly stated that he had no intention of running for a new term as party president.

Illness and death[edit]

On 31 January 2007, Račan announced that he would temporarily leave public life due to health reasons. SDP vice-president Željka Antunović took over as chairperson of the party. His health began to deteriorate and was diagnosed with tumor in his shoulder. In February, Račan underwent two surgeries to remove cancer from his kidney, urinary tract, and shoulder.[7] On 4 April it was announced that tests showed metastases in his brain.[7] On 11 April he stepped down as leader of SDP. Translation of his resignation follows:[8]

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 12 April 2007, his condition was described as "critical" due to complications which occurred after he had a couple of surgical procedures to remove the tumor in his right shoulder. That same day, Zagreb radio station 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 29 April 2007 at 3:05 am, Ivica Račan died at the Clinical Hospital Centre Zagreb.[9] The reported cause of death was kidney cancer that had spread to his brain.[9] He was buried on 2 May, at the Zagreb crematory. Per his request, only twelve closest friends and members of family (including wife and both sons) were present. A separate commemoration was organized by SDP at the Lisinski Concert Hall, which was attended by the President, Prime Minister, a host of other dignitaries and many party members.

Throughout the three months of Račan's illness, the Croatian media regularly reported on his status due to the huge public interest. Račan himself made no public appearances after the day he announced his illness, but the media was regularly informed through SDP's spokespeople. This was a situation previously unknown in Croatia, particularly in comparison to the death of the late President Tuđman, when the details of his illness had been 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 the upcoming November 2007 election, this was widely speculated to be relevant for party's poll results.

Private life[edit]

Ivica Račan married three times and had two sons, Ivan and Zoran, from his first marriage. His first wife Agata Račan was a judge with the Croatian Constitutional Court and his third wife Dijana Pleština was a professor of political science at the College of Wooster in Ohio. He was a self declared agnostic.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ivica Račan". konvencija.sdp.hr (in Croatian). Retrieved 25 January 2012. 
  2. ^ "Sedma vlada" (in Croatian). Croatian Information-Documentation Referral Agency. Retrieved 2010-12-10. 
  3. ^ "'Budiša i Tomčić od Račana su napravili Don Quijotea 'revolucije'". Jutarnji list (in Croatian). 2 January 2010. Retrieved 25 January 2012. 
  4. ^ Marko Biočina (10 January 2012). "Zoran Milanović & odlučno možda" [Zoran Milanović & resolute maybe]. Nacional (in Croatian) (843). Archived from the original on 1 July 2012. Retrieved 25 January 2012. 
  5. ^ "Osma vlada" (in Croatian). Croatian Information-Documentation Referral Agency. Retrieved 2010-12-10. 
  6. ^ "Milanović ne odustaje od odlaska u Bleiburg". slobodnaevropa.org (in Croatian). Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 10 September 2008. Retrieved 25 January 2012. 
  7. ^ a b "Chronology of Ivica Racan’s Illness". 29 April 2007. Retrieved 12 February 2012. 
  8. ^ Račan podnio ostavku (Croatian)
  9. ^ a b Croatia's former PM Racan dies of cancer


  • East, Roger; Thomas, Richard J. (2003). Profiles of People in Power: The World's Government Leaders (1st ed.). London, UK: Europa Publications. ISBN 978-1-85743-126-1. 
  • Stallaerts, Robert (2010). Historical Dictionary of Croatia (3rd ed.). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-6750-5. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Zlatko Mateša
Prime Minister of Croatia
Succeeded by
Ivo Sanader
Party political offices
Preceded by
Stanko Stojčević
0President of the Presidency of the Central Committee of the
League of Communists of Croatia

Succeeded by
Office abolished
Preceded by
Office created
President of the Social Democratic Party
Succeeded by
Željka Antunović