Croatia - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate

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Croatia (Croatian Hrvatska), country in southeastern Europe, on the Balkan Peninsula. Formerly one of the six republics of Yugoslavia, Croatia declared its independence in 1991. Zagreb is the capital and largest city.

Croatia is located on the eastern side of the Adriatic Sea, across from Italy. The nation is shaped like the letter V lying on its side. Inside the V, to the southeast, is the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina (often called Bosnia); Croatia’s northern border faces Slovenia and Hungary; to the east lie Serbia and Montenegro.

Croatia has a long coastline on the Adriatic Sea. More than 1,000 small islands fringe the coast and form part of Croatia’s territory. The scenic beauty of the Adriatic coast and the country’s rich cultural traditions attract more than 6 million tourists every year.

In addition to tourism, the Croatian economy is balanced between industry, manufacturing, and agriculture. The country is rich in mineral resources, including petroleum, coal, and natural gas.

The people of Croatia are mainly ethnic Croats. Until 1991 about 10 percent of the population was ethnic Serbs, along with a much smaller percentage of Hungarians and Italians. In mid-1991 fighting broke out between Croatian forces and Serb forces aided by the Serb-dominated Yugoslav Army. Thousands of people died and much of the country was heavily damaged. A peace accord reached in late 1995 ended the war. Since then, Croatia has worked to rebuild its economy and infrastructure. See also Wars of Yugoslav Succession.


The total area of Croatia is 56,510 sq km (21,819 sq mi). The country’s diverse terrain includes flat plains, low mountains, offshore islands, and a coastline, excluding the islands, that extends 1,778 km (1,105 mi).

Eastern Croatia, including the historic area of Slavonia, is part of the Pannonian Plain, a low-lying, fertile, agricultural region. In the west is Dalmatia, a narrow, barren strip of land within the Dinaric Alps that slopes down to the Adriatic Sea. The Karst, a barren limestone plateau, dominates the Croatian landscape in some areas; the island of Pag consists almost entirely of karst terrain. The Dinaric Alps contain several parallel mountain ranges. The highest peak, on the border with Bosnia, is Mount Troglav at 1,913 m (6,276 ft).

The coastal range is partially submerged, creating numerous bays, gulfs, inlets, and more than 1,000 offshore islands. The historic area of Istria, a peninsula that stretches out into the Adriatic from Slovenia, lies to the north and west of Dalmatia.

Rivers of Croatia

Croatia’s chief rivers are the Sava, Drava, Danube, and Kupa. Both the Drava and the Sava drain the Pannonian Plain and flow into the Danube, one of the most important waterways in Europe. The Danube forms part of Croatia’s eastern border with Serbia. The Kupa, smaller than the other three rivers, flows east along the Slovenian border into central Croatia, where it joins the Sava.

Climate in Croatia

Climatically, Croatia may be divided into four regions: Pannonian, Dinaric mountain, Adriatic, and Mediterranean. The Pannonian climate, with hot summers and cold winters, prevails in Slavonia. The Mediterranean climate, with warm, almost rainless summers and mild winters, prevails in the coastal area to the south of the city of Split.

The coastal area to the north of Split is characterized by a so-called Adriatic climate, which differs from the Mediterranean chiefly by the prevalence in winter of drier weather, often brought in from the northeast by a cold and turbulent air mass called the bura. The Dinaric mountain climate of the Adriatic hinterland is characterized by moderate summers and winters and fairly high rainfall.

The average temperature in Zagreb, an inland city, is 0°C (32°F) in January and 24°C (75°F) in July. In Dubrovnik, a city on the coast, the average is 9°C (48°F) in January and 25°C (77°F) in July.

Plant and Animal Life in Croatia

Like the climate, the country’s vegetation is highly varied, from grape vines and olive trees in Dalmatia to oak forests in Slavonia. Animal life is diverse, ranging from species of snail and lizard near the coast to wolf and bear in the mainland forests. Hare, fox, lynx, weasel, otter, deer, marten, boar, wildcat, and mouflon (wild sheep) also inhabit Croatia. The Adriatic basin is rich in sea life.

Natural Resources of Croatia

Petroleum, coal, bauxite, low-grade iron ore, and china clay (kaolin) are the most abundant natural resources found in Croatia. Croatia also has deposits of calcium, natural asphalt, silica (see silicon), mica, and salt.

Environmental Issues in Croatia

Air pollution and water pollution are significant problems in Croatia, as in the rest of eastern Europe. There is also coastal pollution due to industrial waste.

Croatia’s Sava River Valley contains three bird sanctuaries, two of which are part of the Lonjsko Polje Nature Park. The floodplain of the Sava River is extensive, resulting in wetlands that provide a habitat for numerous plant and animal species. These wetlands are at risk as a result of encroaching agriculture, drainage and land reclamation, and water pollution.

Croatia protects a higher percentage of its land in parks than many of the country’s eastern European neighbors, yet much less than many western European countries. Forests make up 38 percent (2005) of the country’s land area. Industrial air pollution, much of which comes from cities outside Croatia, causes acid rain that is damaging to the forests.


The total population of Croatia at the time of the 1991 census was 4,784,265; a 2009 estimate was 4,489,409. During and after the war ethnic Serbs fled Croatia while ethnic Croats moved in. Croatia’s population growth rate in 2009 was -0.05 percent, despite population gains due to immigration. Croatia’s natural population growth rate, which measures births and deaths, has been negative since 1998. Life expectancy at birth was 75 years in 2009.

The population density in 2009 was 80 persons per sq km (206 per sq mi). In 2005, 60 percent of the population was urban. Most of the urban population is concentrated in four cities: Zagreb, the country’s capital and primary industrial center; Split, a seaport; Rijeka, also a seaport; and the agricultural and industrial center of Osijek.

Ethnic Groups and Languages spoken in Croatia

The population of Croatia is overwhelmingly ethnic Croat. Ethnic Serbs constitute the most significant minority group, making up about 5 percent of all residents. There are also small populations of Muslims, Hungarians, Slovenes, Italians, and others. The primary difference between Croats and Serbs is religion: by tradition, Croats are Roman Catholic while Serbs are Orthodox Christians.

The official language is Croatian, a South Slavic language that is closely related to Bosnian and Serbian. In Croatia, the Latin script is used virtually exclusively. Formal literary Croatian has a number of differences from the formal Bosnian and Serbian literary dialects, just as literary British English differs in detail from U.S. literary standards. In Istria, northwestern Croatia, the Italian language shares official status with Croatian.

At the time of the 1991 census, which reflected the prewar population, ethnic Croats constituted 78 percent of the Croatian population, while ethnic Serbs made up 12 percent. During the war, most of the Serb population fled to Serbia and Bosnia, as well as other countries, especially during and after successful Croatian military offensives in 1995. The agricultural regions of Lika and Kordun, previously populated mainly by ethnic Serbs, were almost deserted. When the last regions under Serb control, eastern Slavonia and Baranja, were restored to Croatian government control in early 1998, many of the Serb residents there also left. Meanwhile, from 1991 to 1998 several hundred thousand ethnic Croats migrated to Croatia from Serbia and from Serb- or Muslim-controlled parts of Bosnia. Some Croatian Serbs returned in the early 21st century, but the overall effect of the population movements during the Yugoslav wars was to make the population of Croatia nearly 90 percent ethnic Croat.

Religion in Croatia

The Communist government of the former Yugoslavia repressed religion, but the Roman Catholic Church has enjoyed strong state support in Croatia since the fall of communism. Other religions are freely practiced, including Orthodox and Protestant Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Since religion is linked to ethnic identity, however, the non-Catholic portion of the population remains small relative to the number of Catholics.

Education in Croatia

Preschool, elementary, and secondary education is free to all citizens, and compulsory from ages 7 to 14. The literacy rate was 98.7 percent in 2007. Institutes of higher learning in Croatia include the University of Zagreb (founded in 1669), the University of Rijeka (1973), the Josip Juraj Strossmeyer University of Osijek (1975), and the University of Split (1974).

Way of Life in Croatia

While the population is increasingly homogenous ethnically, regional identities remain important, especially in the coastal Dalmatian region. Croatian folk songs display regional variations. Along the Dalmatian coast, for example, folk songs closely resemble their Italian counterparts. Elsewhere, indigenous Slavic or Hungarian influences predominate. The traditional dances of Croatia include the fast-paced kolo (circle) dance. Many in Croatia enjoy jazz festivals and classical music, while Croatian popular music groups are also renowned in Croatia and surrounding regions.

Croatian cuisine reflects Austrian and Hungarian influences, but has its own character. Local specialties include fried cheese, chicken á la Backa (prepared with tomatoes, paprika, and onions), Zagreb veal cutlet, and gibanica, a layered cheese pastry. The Dalmatian coast produces excellent seafood and wines. The origin of the famous zinfandel grape of California has been traced to Dalmatia, and the post-Communist Croatian wine industry is rapidly improving its standards for quality and marketing.


The regions that make up Croatia were not unified historically, so the country’s arts show a mix of influences. The Dalmatian coast was long connected with Italy, and architectural marvels from Roman times can still be found in Dalmatia. Split, for example, contains the remains of the Roman emperor Diocletian’s palace, while the ruins of a Roman amphitheater lie in Pula. Medieval walls and fortifications distinguish the southern city of Dubrovnik, which was an independent city-state until the early 19th century. Continental Croatia, as part of Austria-Hungary, had its own regional identity but much of its art and literature followed the empire’s styles. Croatian folk music remained linked to its locale, with styles differing greatly between Dalmatia and other regions.

Influenced by the Italian Renaissance, Croatian literature blossomed in Dubrovnik in the 16th and 17th centuries, with poems by Ivan Gundulić and Marko Marulić, and plays by Marin Držić. By the 19th century Croatian literature, like that of most other central European peoples, was dominated by themes of national liberation. Some of these took the form of promoting the Yugoslav idea of a common state for the South Slavic peoples, originally a Croatian idea. Other writers stressed the need for a sovereign, independent Croatian state. The tension between these two nationalist ideas continued from the second half of the 19th century until 1991, when the Yugoslav idea was completely lost with the establishment of independent Croatia.

Prior to 1991 Miroslav Krleža was generally regarded as the greatest Croatian writer of the 20th century. However, Krleža was closely associated with Yugoslavism, and after Yugoslavia broke apart his works lost popularity in Croatia. Dubravka Ugrešić and Slavenka Drakulić established international reputations during the breakup of Yugoslavia, but they were criticized for being antinationalist and live outside of Croatia. See also Yugoslav Literature.

The sculptor Ivan Meštrović developed a worldwide reputation, and in the early 1900s promoted the establishment of a Yugoslav state. He emigrated from Croatia to the United States after World War II. Museums dedicated to his work are located in Split and Zagreb. Josip Generalic and other Croatian painters have also developed an international reputation with their naive style (simple, straightforward technique).


Before the disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1991, Croatia was the federation’s second most prosperous and industrialized republic after Slovenia, with a per capita output approximately one-third above the Yugoslav average. Although Croatia was part of a Communist, one-party system from the mid-1940s until 1990, Yugoslav socialism was decentralized. Enterprises, although under state ownership and control and subject to occasional political interference, were generally free to make their own pricing and investment decisions and allowed to compete with one another.

Before the war in 1991 nearly two-thirds of Croatia’s land was under cultivation. Sugar beets, wheat, oats, rye, barley, and corn were the principal agricultural products. Mining, notably of bauxite and brown coal (see lignite), played some role in Croatia’s socialist economy. Other industries included food processing, petroleum refining, iron and steel production, shipbuilding, and the manufacture of chemicals, machinery, cement and concrete, metals, and textiles. Croatia also enjoyed a thriving tourist industry along the Dalmatian coast.

War and Economic Decline of Croatia

With the outbreak of war in 1991, Croatia’s economy went into steep decline (see Wars of Yugoslav Succession). The country’s gross domestic product (GDP) began a downward spiral, falling from $12.4 billion in 1991 to $9.9 billion in 1992. Inflation levels soared, rising from around 120 percent in 1991 to nearly 1,500 percent in 1993. Unemployment continued to climb throughout the war, reaching about 17 percent in 1993. A shortage of jobs, especially for young people, continues to be a critical economic problem. Much of Croatia’s infrastructure, including roads and tourism facilities, were badly damaged during the war, and rebuilding that infrastructure has taken on special economic importance.

Steps to Recovery of Croatia

In 1993 Croatia began a slow economic recovery. That year the country joined the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank). A stabilization plan introduced by the government in late 1993 brought inflation under control, and in 1994 Croatia introduced a new national currency, the kuna. The IMF and other international lenders rewarded Croatia with reconstruction loans that spurred an economic recovery. By 1995 inflation had declined to less than 4 percent. Croatia’s economy expanded through the late 1990s and, following a brief economic slump in 1999, has continued to experience positive economic growth. In late 2000 Croatia was admitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

By the end of 1993 the government had transferred a substantial proportion of state-owned companies to private hands. In subsequent years the progress of privatization was fitful, slowing markedly in 2002 due to political infighting and lack of clarity over property rights. However, capital investment in infrastructure, especially the building of new roads, and industrial production, grew rapidly. Today, privatization continues to move forward in several key sectors, including the important energy sector. In 2007 Croatia’s total GDP measured $51.3 billion.

Croatia’s labor force numbered 2 million in 2007, with some 57 percent of the working population employed in services, 31 percent in industry, and 13 percent in agriculture. In 2007, 32 percent of the GDP was generated by industry and 7 percent by agriculture.

The country’s principal industrial products include chemicals, processed metals, wood products, building materials, textiles, ships, and food products. The revival of the tourism trade and the shipbuilding industry helped drive Croatia’s economic recovery. However, agricultural revival has proceeded slowly, as large sections of the country’s arable farmland were damaged during the war.

Energy and Transportation in Croatia

While Croatia has some oil and gas deposits, the country remains heavily dependent on imported fuels for energy. Electricity production is currently growing more slowly than the GDP, reflecting increases in energy efficiency.

Croatia has 23,634 km (14,686 mi) of hard-surfaced public roads and 2,722 km (1,691 mi) of railroad track. An ambitious program of highway construction is under way, including rebuilding roads damaged during the war. The government is working to improve the railroad system with the help of the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

Foreign Trade, Currency, and Banking in Croatia

Croatia’s major trading partners include Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Austria, Russia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Exports include foodstuffs, chemicals, and complex machinery such as ships. Machinery, consumer goods, equipment, fuel, and food dominate imports.

The Croatian currency is the kuna. Since its introduction in 1994, the kuna has remained relatively stable against the United States dollar. Croatia’s central bank and the bank of issue is the National Bank of Croatia. With the help of the IMF, the National Bank has pursued a policy of tightening supervision over commercial banks.

In 2003 Croatia joined the Central European Free Trade Association (CEFTA). Croatia is in the process of joining the European Union (EU).


Croatia’s first non-Communist constitution was proclaimed in December 1990 when the republic was still part of the former Yugoslavia. The constitution, amended in 1997 and again in 2001, declares that Croatia is a democracy with a legislature and president elected by universal suffrage.

Croatia’s voting age is 18. Croatian law permits ethnic Croats who live outside of Croatia to vote in Croatian elections, even if they have never lived in Croatia and are citizens of other countries.

Executive of Croatia

The president of the republic is the head of state. After the death of Franjo Tudjman in December 1999, the substantial executive powers of the president—modeled after the system used in France—were greatly reduced. The president’s most important role is as commander in chief of the armed forces. The president also has the power to dissolve parliament and to call elections. The president is elected by direct popular vote for a five-year term, and no person may serve more than two terms as president.

The president nominates the prime minister, but the nomination must be approved by the legislature. The prime minister and his government are responsible for proposing legislation, passing a budget, conducting domestic policies and most foreign policies, and executing the nation’s laws.

Legislature of Croatia

The Croatian State Assembly, or Sabor, is a unicameral legislature consisting of the Chamber of Representatives. A second body, the Chamber of Counties, was abolished by constitutional amendment in 2001.

The Sabor is composed of about 150 members directly elected to four-year terms, with provisions for adding additional members if minority communities are not adequately represented. However, the Sabor may be dissolved at any time with a majority vote of its members. The Sabor meets twice a year, from January 15 to July 15 and from September 15 to December 15.

Judiciary in Croatia

Croatia has a system of trial and appeals courts, headed by the Supreme Court of Croatia. Judges are appointed by a High Judiciary Council elected by the Chamber of Representatives. Once appointed, a judge serves for life unless he or she resigns or is removed from office by the High Judiciary Council. Constitutional issues are decided by a separate Constitutional Court, composed of 11 judges elected for eight-year terms by the Chamber of Representatives.

Local Government of Croatia

Local governmental functions are exercised at the levels of counties, towns, municipalities, and districts. There are elected legislative and executive bodies at each of these levels.

Political Parties of Croatia

The Croatian Democratic Union (CDU) dominated Croatian politics for a decade after the first free elections in 1990. The CDU was the party of nationalist leader and first Croatian president Franjo Tudjman. During the 1990s most of the other political parties were small and unable to unite in opposition to the CDU. By the early 2000s, however, opposition parties had eroded the CDU’s hold on power, taking control of the Chamber of Representatives for several years. In addition to the CDU, there are centrist to leftist parties such as the Liberal Party, the Peasants’ Party, the People’s Party, and the Social Democratic Party; right-wing groups such as the Party of Rights; and regional parties, including the Istrian Democratic Assembly. Serbs in Croatia have several political parties of their own.

Social Services in Croatia

Public health and medical services are subsidized by the government and are of high quality. Excellent private medical services are also available. Croatia also has a state-operated pension system. In 2001, 16 percent of total government expenditures were dedicated to health programs.

Defense of Croatia

In 2006 the Croatian armed forces numbered 20,800 on active duty, including 14,050 in the army, 2,500 in the navy, and 2,300 in the air force. There are also reserve forces and armed military police. A ten-month period of military service is compulsory for men who have reached the age of 19 in Croatia.

International Organizations in Croatia

Croatia was admitted to the United Nations (UN) and to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 1992. In 1996 Croatia became a member of the Council of Europe. Croatia became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2009 and is pursuing admission to the European Union (EU).


The earliest known inhabitants of what is now Croatia were Illyrians, who were conquered by the Roman Empire by AD 10. Their land, Illyricum, became the Roman provinces of Pannonia and Dalmatia. As Roman power declined, repeated invasions and widespread destruction carried out mainly by Germanic peoples culminated in the 6th century in conquest by the Avars, a nomadic people of Mongolian and Turkic origin.

Slavic tribes, who probably came with the Avars or were simply swept along from their original homeland (most likely the area of present-day Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus), settled over most of central and southeastern Europe. In Pannonia and Dalmatia they came to be called Croats (Hrvati), a name of disputed origin.

At the end of the 8th century the armies of Frankish emperor Charlemagne destroyed the Avars. Croat and other Slavic tribal federations then established a number of small states between the Roman Catholic Frankish Empire on the west and the Orthodox Christian Byzantine Empire on the east. Most of the Slavic states frequently were dominated by one or the other empire. Those that were closer to the Frankish Empire, such as the Croats, became Roman Catholics; those closer to the Byzantine Empire became Eastern Orthodox Christians. The religious difference has been a major part of confrontations between Croats and Serbs ever since. By the reign of King Tomislav (910-929?), Croatia had become an independent kingdom and had expanded in area to include both Pannonia and Dalmatia, and sometimes Bosnia.

Hungarian Domination

A disputed succession to the throne following the reigns of Kresimir IV (1058-1074) and Zvonimir (1075-1089) led to an invasion by Hungary. The two kingdoms united under the Hungarian king, either by the choice of the Croat nobility or by Hungarian force, in 1102. From then until 1918 kings of Hungary were also kings of Croatia, represented by a governor (ban), but Croatia kept its own parliament (Sabor) and considerable autonomy. After 1420 the city-state of Venice controlled all of the Dalmatian region. In 1526 King Louis II of Hungary was killed and his army destroyed by Ottoman Turk forces in the Battle of Mohács, bringing more than 150 years of Ottoman rule to most of Hungary and Croatia. By 1699 the Austrian Habsburgs, who inherited King Louis’s crowns in 1526, had expelled the Ottomans from Hungary and Croatia.

Croatia remained divided. Dalmatia and Istria stayed under Venetian rule until French general Napoleon Bonaparte (later emperor Napoleon I) abolished the Venetian Republic in 1797. Then when Dalmatia and Istria were joined to the Habsburg Empire in 1815 they became Austrian rather than Hungarian provinces, and so remained separated from the rest of the Croatian lands. Croatia and Slavonia were formally part of Hungary, although a large portion of their territory remained under direct Austrian rule until the late 19th century as part of the Habsburg Military Frontier (Vojna krajina). Many Orthodox Serbs and Vlachs settled there, at Habsburg invitation, as privileged soldier-farmers. Serbs became the majority population in much of the Krajina area.

Ban Josip Jelačić and his Croatian army helped the Austrians put down the Hungarian revolution of 1848. Croat leaders hoped that the Habsburgs would reward their help by separating a unified Croatia from Hungary. However, the Austro-Hungarian compromise of 1867, which created the nation of Austria-Hungary (also called the dual monarchy), again assigned Croatia and Slavonia to Hungary and Dalmatia to Austria. Unification and greater autonomy became the primary demands of most Croatian political parties in the last years before World War I (1914-1918).

Integration into Yugoslavia

In the 19th century a number of Croats, Slovenes, and Serbs became advocates of the Yugoslav idea that these closely related peoples should have their own united country, either within the empire, like Hungary, or united with Serbia in an independent state. During World War I the second version of this idea gained more supporters, including the Serbian government and key public figures in the United Kingdom and the United States, two of the most powerful nations among the victorious Allied Powers. In 1918, as the defeated Austro-Hungarian empire disintegrated, the independent Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was created, and it included Croatia.

The new state was ruled by the Serbian Karadjordjević dynasty. Most Croat leaders wanted it to be a federal state with full equality for Croats, Serbs, and Slovenes. Instead, the new kingdom became a centralized state run by a largely Serbian government, army, and bureaucracy.

In 1928 a Montenegrin deputy in parliament fatally shot the principal Croatian leader, Stjepan Radić. King Aleksandar I proclaimed a royal dictatorship and renamed the country Yugoslavia (“Land of the South Slavs”) in January 1929. Croatian and Macedonian nationalist extremists murdered Aleksandar in 1934. On the eve of World War II (1939-1945) an agreement between the royal government and Radić’s successor created an autonomous province (Banovina) of Croatia that included parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

World War II

World War II came to Yugoslavia with a massive invasion by German-led Axis forces in April 1941. Weak and deeply divided, Yugoslavia was quickly occupied and dismembered. The largest piece formed the so-called Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska, or NDH), including Bosnia and Herzegovina but not parts of Dalmatia annexed by Italy until Italy surrendered in 1943. The NDH was a puppet state under German and Italian control. It was ruled by the Ustaše, fascist Croats who had organized King Aleksandar’s assassination, and whose wartime attempt to exterminate the NDH’s nearly 2 million Serbs was modeled after the Holocaust orchestrated by German leader Adolf Hitler.

At first, most Croats welcomed their new independent state, but convincing evidence indicates that most of them, appalled by Ustaše brutality, soon rejected the Ustaše regime. Inspired by patriotic or pro-Communist sentiments or fleeing from Ustaše terror and massacres, growing numbers of both Croats and Serbs joined the Partisans, a Yugoslav-wide resistance movement. The Partisans were organized and headed by Josip Broz Tito, the Croat head of the Yugoslav Communist Party.

By May 1945, the Axis powers were defeated and the Partisans had won a parallel civil war against the Ustaše, other Axis collaborators, and a rival resistance movement, the Serb Royalist Četniks. The Partisans also re-created Yugoslavia, led by Tito and under firm Communist rule, as a federal state of six republics, including Croatia. The republics were to serve as semiautonomous “homelands.” Croatia was enlarged by the addition of Rijeka (Fiume), most of Istria, and three islands, all territories that had been under Italian rule between the world wars. Twenty percent of Yugoslavia’s Croats lived outside Croatia, most of them in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Serbia. Croatia itself was multiethnic, with Serbs representing 15 percent of its population.

Tito’s Yugoslavia

For the next 45 years Croatia was part of Tito’s Yugoslavia. First a faithful copy of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Yugoslavia changed after Tito’s break with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1948. There was a gradual process of decentralization (in which greater power devolved to the republics, including Croatia, and their own Communist leaderships), easing of repression, and abandonment of collectivization. The government introduced economic experiments such as “market socialism” and “workers’ self-management.”

In the late 1960s and early 1970s the leaders of Croatia’s branch of the Yugoslav Communist Party, renamed the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (LCY) in 1952, played prominent roles in this liberalization. Freer expression of sentiments and interests, which previously had been suppressed for fear of reviving prewar conflicts between the Yugoslav republics, were byproducts of these developments.

A new generation of Croatian Communist leaders centered around Miko Tripalo and Savka Dabčević-Kučar, initially supported by their mentor and veteran Croat leader, Vladimir Bakarić, pressed for even more liberalization and republican autonomy. They argued that richer republics like Croatia and Slovenia were being exploited for the benefit of poorer republics and held back by the remaining federal controls and taxes. A rising tide of nationalist sentiment produced a Croatian Mass Movement (masovni pokret, abbreviated as Maspok), with non-Communists and anti-Communists competing for its control and demanding a separate army, banking system, and membership in the United Nations (UN).

In 1971 Josip Broz Tito moved to depose Tripalo and Dabčević-Kučar and suppress the Maspok. Party purges and numerous arrests and dismissals followed. The ensuing freeze on open dissent and liberalization lasted more than 15 years.

The 1980 death of Tito, the ultimate and authoritative arbiter in disputes between increasingly autonomous republics, coincided with the onset of an economic crisis that by 1985 had lowered production and living standards to 1965 levels. Tito’s successors, as leaders of republics with conflicting national aspirations and economic interests, could not agree on effective remedies. Acceptance of “Tito’s Yugoslavia” declined everywhere, especially in Slovenia and Croatia.

An aggressive campaign to reassert Serb and the Communist Party’s hegemony over a recentralized Yugoslavia was initiated in 1988 by Slobodan Milošević, president of the Serbian League of Communists and then of Serbia, but this only accelerated Croat and other non-Serb opposition to the Yugoslav federation. After the collapse of communism in the rest of Eastern Europe in 1989, the LCY disintegrated in early 1990. In multiparty elections later that year, nationalist parties were victorious in each republic.

In Croatia the elections of 1990 produced a parliamentary majority for the Croatian Democratic Union (CDU; Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica or HDZ in Croatian), an anti-Communist nationalist party. Franjo Tudjman, its founder and leader, formerly a Partisan and Communist general who was twice imprisoned for nationalist activities, was elected president of Croatia.

Tudjman’s climb to power and conspicuous use of traditional Croatian ceremonies and nationalist symbols aroused great enthusiasm among most Croats. At the same time Croatian Serbs—especially in the region of Krajina, where Ustaše genocide was still a living memory—feared the return of a repressive separatist regime. These fears were heightened when a new constitution declared that Croatian would be the republic’s only official language, implying that the Croatian dialects of Serbo-Croatian represented a separate language from that spoken by Serbs. Krajina Serbs declared their secession from Croatia and subsequent union with Serbia in February 1991.

Independence and Civil War

After frantic negotiations among post-Communist republic leaders failed to find a new formula to preserve a version of Yugoslavia, Croatia and Slovenia seceded on June 25, 1991. The European Community, now the European Union (EU), recognized Croatia in January 1992, with the United States and other countries following suit a few months later. From July to December 1991 vicious fighting ensued, combining elements of both civil and international wars. Ethnic cleansing (massacres and expulsion) of Croats from Krajina took place, with the Yugoslav army supporting the Krajina Serbs. By the time United Nations (UN) envoy Cyrus Vance negotiated a lasting cease-fire in December 1991, nearly one-third of Croatia was under Serb control.

Under the terms of the cease-fire, Krajina was incorporated into four UN Protected Areas (UNPAs), where 14,000 UN troops kept the two sides apart. This situation endured until Croatian forces reoccupied three of the UNPAs in lightning offensives in mid-1995. Most Croatian Serbs fled to Bosnia and Serbia. Only eastern Slavonia and Baranja remained under Serb control.

Meanwhile, Croatia was also deeply involved in the war in Bosnia, which lasted from 1992 to 1995. Croatia first supported the Bosnian Croats and Muslims against the Serbs, then later backed the Bosnian Croats when they battled the Bosnian Muslims. (see Wars of Yugoslav Succession) The Croat-Muslim conflict ended with an American-imposed and largely theoretical Muslim-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In December 1995 Tudjman joined Slobodan Milošević, the Serbian president, and Bosnian president Alija Izetbegović in signing the Dayton Peace Accord, which ended the war in Bosnia. Tudjman agreed that eastern Slavonia and Baranja should be placed under UN administration for a transitional year, later extended to January 1998, on the way to peaceful reintegration into Croatia.

Postwar Croatia

The war and appeals to patriotism made political dissent difficult, helping to sustain the popularity of Franjo Tudjman and his Croatian Democratic Union (CDU). Tudjman and the CDU also benefited from their almost total control of the mass media and manipulation of a fragmented opposition. In the 1992 general election the CDU again won an absolute majority in the bicameral parliament and Tudjman won a second five-year term as president. In elections to the Chamber of Representatives in 1995 the CDU’s majority was cut, while in municipal elections the party lost Zagreb and several other cities. However, Tudjman refused to permit the installation of a non-CDU government in Zagreb, claiming that a capital city must be governed by the same party that controlled the national government.

In elections in 1997 the CDU increased its majority in the Chamber of Counties and Tudjman won a third presidential term. However, election monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) criticized the process, citing favoritism for Tudjman in the state-controlled media, vastly unequal campaign resources, and the denial of voting rights to ethnic Serbs still living in Croatia. The EU cited the regime’s authoritarian tendencies as a reason why Croatia was not among five formerly Communist states, including neighboring Slovenia, invited to start the process of joining the EU in 1997.

In January 1998 eastern Slavonia and Baranja were finally turned over to Croatia. With the expiration of the United Nations (UN) mandate in mid-January, the last UN troops departed, although UN observers stayed to monitor treatment of local ethnic Serbs. Serbs, who complained of job discrimination and harassment, continued a slow exodus from the country.

At the same time Croatia and neighboring countries were confronting the murderous events that occurred during the war. In 1996 the UN convened the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the first war crime tribunal created since the end of World War II (see War Crimes Trials). In 1999 several Croats were extradited to The Hague to face charges by the ICTY. Former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milošević, who backed the ethnic Serbs during the fighting in Croatia, became the first head of state ever tried for war crimes when the ICTY indicted him in 2001. The same year, Croatian general Mirko Norac, hailed by some as a war hero, was put on trial in Croatia for his actions during the war. He was convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2003. While he was still serving that prison term, Croatia tried Norac on still other charges and convicted him in 2008. He was sentenced to a seven-year prison term for failing to prevent his soldiers from killing and torturing Serbs in southern Croatia in 1993.

Recent Events

Tudjman died in late 1999. In legislative elections in early 2000 a center-left opposition coalition soundly defeated the CDU. Stepjan Mesić, leader of the Croatian People’s Party, was elected president. Mesić pledged to push for closer ties to Europe and the West, including membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU).

In 2001 a constitutional amendment eliminated the Chamber of Counties, leaving the Chamber of Representatives as the only national legislative body in Croatia. By early 2003 Croatia had implemented sufficient political and economic reforms to submit a formal application for EU membership.

The parliamentary elections of 2003 returned the CDU to power, although without an outright majority in the legislature. The new prime minister, CDU leader Ivo Sanader, pledged to uphold democracy, human rights, and a free market economy in Croatia. Sanader also vowed to cooperate fully with the ICTY in The Hague. In January 2005 Stepjan Mesić easily won a second five-year term as president. The CDU won the most seats in the 2007 parliamentary elections, and Sanader formed a new coalition government.

In a surprising move on July 1, 2009, Sanader announced his resignation as prime minister and leader of the CDU. His deputy, Jadranka Kosor, succeeded him as prime minister and CDU leader, becoming the first female prime minister in Croatia’s history.

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