Ivica Racan, a former communist leader who led Croatia’s first staunchly pro-Western government from 2000 to 2003, died Sunday of cancer at a clinic in Zagreb. He was 63.
Racan, who recently stepped down as the leader of Croatia’s strongest opposition party, the Social Democrats, had a cancerous kidney removed in mid-February. Doctors said this month the cancer had spread to Racan’s brain and he had been in critical condition for the last two weeks.
He had led a governing coalition that was fully committed to making Croatia a part of mainstream Europe after a decade of the authoritarian and nationalist rule of late President Franjo Tudjman.
During Racan’s premiership, Croatia signed a pre-membership agreement with the European Union -- a stepping stone for eventual membership. The country formally opened membership negotiations in October.
Racan was born in 1944 in a Nazi labor camp in Ebersbach, Germany, where his father died. He started his political climb in the former Communist Yugoslavia during the 1980s, eventually becoming head of the Croatian Communist Party in 1989.