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Josipovic's Victory Seen As Helping Croatia's EU Bid

Ivo Josipovic, newly elected president of Croatia, celebrates with his family.
Ivo Josipovic, newly elected president of Croatia, celebrates with his family.
ZAGREB -- Analysts, media, and international observers say the election of Social Democrat Ivo Josipovic as president of Croatia will help it secure EU membership, RFE/RL's Balkan Service reports.

Josipovic, a 52-year-old law professor and music composer who is also a deputy in the Croatian parliament, campaigned on an anticorruption theme. He garnered 60.3 percent of the vote in a runoff on January 10, far ahead of his rival, Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic, who came in with 39.7 percent.

Speaking to reporters after his win, Josipovic promised to lead an uncompromising campaign against corruption, one of the main issues bedeviling the Balkan state.

"I strongly believe that we all want to live in a country where work is paid for and crime is punished, in a country of social justice," Josipovic said.

Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, who has launched corruption investigations involving members of her own conservative Croatian Democratic Community, congratulated Josipovic following his win, and said she and the president-elect will "lead Croatia to the EU."

EU Membership Hopes

Croatia is widely expected to be the next country to gain EU membership. Croatian politicians are hoping to join the bloc by 2012.

Daan Everts, the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Mission in Croatia, said the free and fair conduct of the vote would also serve in Croatia's favor as it pursues EU membership.

"The fact that [this election] has been done so appropriately, so correctly, should strengthen Croatia's case for being a full-fledged member of the European Union, because they have passed another democratic standard," Everts said.

Ivo Banac, the director of Yale University's Council on European Studies, told RFE/RL that Josipovic's election represents the "continuity" of the country's pro-European efforts.

Josipovic "has a reputation for moderation that will probably rescue him from conflicts...which is precisely what Croatia needs at this moment," Banac said.

"I think it is precisely this aspect of his candidacy that recommended him to the majority of voters, who wanted somebody perhaps dull, lackluster, but nevertheless reliable."

Vote For Stability

Damir Grubisa, a professor of European affairs at Zagreb University, said electing Bandic, who has been accused of corruption as mayor, would have slowed down the EU process, because he "would insist on debating problems that have already been overcome."

Davor Butkovic of the Croatian daily "Jutarnji List," wrote today that there are two main reasons why Josipovic won the election so convincingly.

One is that people wanted their president to be a politician with a fresh, new profile. Butkovic wrote that Josipovic's opponent, Bandic, has a reputation "represented [by] the 1990s, a period that knew no clear rules in different spheres of social life, and whose heritage Croatia needed to get rid of as soon as possible."

Butkovic wrote that Josipovic's Social Democrats also recognized that corruption is a key issue for Croatians. He said Josipovic's slogan, "Justice for Croatia," held out the promise of better times for the country and a break with its corruption-ridden past.

The majority of Croatia's online and print news publications celebrated Josipovic's win and criticized Bandic, who surprised many observers by making it to the second round.

Zarko Puhovski, a Croatian political analyst, told RFE/RL that Josipovic's election was symbolic and will help the country emerge from its "heroic phase," characterized by strong personalities like Franjo Tudjman and Stipe Mesic.

Now, Puhovski said, Croatia is poised "to enter the phase of a president without a face, who will do what is necessary in a democracy -- he'll make the man second to the institution [of the presidency], instead of the other way around."

Serbian Tension

But Josipovic's presidency could worsen already troubled relations with neighboring Serbia. Josipovic is largely responsible for a lawsuit filed by Croatia at the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 1999, charging Serbia with genocide during the 1992-95 Bosnian War.

The lawsuit has angered politicians in Belgrade. Serbia last week filed a countersuit at the court against Croatia for genocide allegedly committed against Serbs during the war.

"Josipovic will function well in relation to all [countries] except for Serbia, because the [genocide] lawsuit is his baby," Puhovski told RFE/RL. "He coordinated it and partly wrote it, and he will not give it up easily -- he would be the last in Croatia to do so."

In an interview published today in the Italian daily "Corriere della Sera," Josipovic said his country might consider withdrawing its genocide suit against Serbia if Belgrade agrees to talks on missing persons, war crimes, and other unresolved issues related to the war.

Josipovic has also been welcomed as potentially Croatia's most cultured president. He has written more than 50 compositions for different instruments and symphony orchestras, and lectured at the Zagreb Music Academy from 1987 to 2004.

In a statement today, the European Composers' Forum said that "the Croatian people voted for a man of education and culture" and that Josipovic had achieved much "for the benefit of culture, arts, music and authors' rights in Croatia."

He will be inaugurated as president on February 18.

RFE/RL's Balkan Service contributed to this report. With news agency reporting