Former Slovenian President Janez Drnovsek, who helped lead his nation to independence from Yugoslavia and later enthralled many of his countrymen by adopting a New Age lifestyle, died Saturday, his office said. He was 57.
Mild-mannered but resolute, Drnovsek became a political icon in part by working to keep violence at a minimum when Slovenia gained independence in 1991. He later led the country to European Union and NATO membership.
In recent years, as he battled cancer, he made a radical transformation to a holistic lifestyle and wrote several New Age-influenced books. His office said he died overnight at his home near Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital, but gave no cause.
Drnovsek was the Slovenian representative to the Yugoslav federation's collective presidency when his region declared its independence.
Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic sent tanks to the Slovenian border, triggering a brief war. But Drnovsek used his position to push for negotiations, eventually orchestrating a deal for the peaceful withdrawal of the Yugoslav army and sparing Slovenia from bloodshed that later engulfed Croatia and Bosnia.
Drnovsek was Slovenia's prime minister for a decade before being elected president in 2002. He did not run for a second presidential term in elections last year.
Drnovsek said he realized in 2005 that doctors could not cure him. Instead, he insisted that he had cured himself simply by changing his diet, lifestyle and way of thinking.
He moved from Ljubljana to the remote village of Zaplana, where he lived with his dog. He baked his own bread and ate only organic fruit and vegetables. He had no TV.
Drnovsek considered some of the daily political give and take a waste of time and focused instead on the fight for the poor and weak, even offering to mediate in Sudan's troubled Darfur region.
Once an important supporter of the European Union, he later grew critical of it, complaining about the bloc's agricultural subsidies. In 2005, he angered Serbia -- a valued trading partner -- by openly supporting Kosovo's independence-seeking Albanians.
Born in the northeastern Slovenian city of Celje on May 17, 1950, Drnovsek earned a degree in economics at Ljubljana's Faculty of Economics and then worked as a banker.
Survivors include a son and a daughter.