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Croatia, at one time the Roman province of Panonia, was settled in the 7th century by the Croats. They converted to Christianity between the 7th and 9th centuries and adopted the Roman alphabet under the suzerainty of Charlemagne. In 925, the Croats defeated Byzantine and Frankish invaders and established their own independent kingdom, which reached its peak during the 11th century. A civil war ensued in 1089, which later led to the country being conquered by the Hungarians in 1091. The signing of the Pacta Conventa by Croatian tribal chiefs and the Hungarian king in 1102 united the two nations politically under the Hungarian monarch, but Croatia retained its autonomy.

Following the defeat of the Hungarians by the Turks at the battle of Mohács in 1526, Croatia (along with Hungary) elected Austrian archduke Ferdinand of Hapsburg as their king. After the establishment of the Austro-Hungarian kingdom in 1867, Croatia became part of Hungary until the collapse of Austria-Hungary in 1918 following its defeat in World War I. On Oct. 29, 1918, Croatia proclaimed its independence and joined in union with Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia to form the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. The name was changed to Yugoslavia in 1929.

After Germany was defeated in 1945, Croatia was made into a republic of the newly reconstituted Communist nation of Yugoslavia; however, Croatian nationalism persisted. After Yugoslavian leader Tito's death in 1980, Croatia's demands for independence began multiplying.

In 1990, free elections were held, and the Communists were defeated by a nationalist party led by Franjo Tudjman. In June 1991, the Croatian parliament passed a declaration of independence from Yugoslavia. Six months of intensive fighting with the Serbian-dominated Yugoslavian army followed, claiming thousands of lives and wreaking mass destruction.

A UN cease-fire was arranged on Jan. 2, 1992. The UN Security Council in February approved sending a 14,000-member peacekeeping force to monitor the agreement and protect the minority Serbs in Croatia. In a 1993 referendum, the Serb-occupied portion of Croatia (Krajina) resoundingly voted for integration with Serbs in Bosnia and Serbia proper. Although the Zagreb government and representatives of Krajina signed a cease-fire in March 1994, further negotiations broke down. In a lightning-quick operation, the Croatian army retook western Slavonia in May 1995. Similarly, in August, the central Croatian region of Krajina, held by Serbs, was returned to Zagreb's control.

Announcing on television in 1999 that “national issues are more important than democracy,” President Tudjman continued to alienate Croatians with his authoritarian rule, out-of-touch nationalism, and disastrous handling of the war-shattered economy. In Dec. 1999, Tudjman died. Less than a month later, his Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) Party was defeated by a reformist center-left coalition headed by Ivica Racan. But in Nov. 2003 elections, a right-wing coalition led by the nationalist HDZ once again assumed power. The new prime minister, Ivo Sanader, claims that his party is now far less nationalist and far more moderate than its earlier incarnation under Tudjman. In 2003, Croatia formally submitted its application to join the EU. President Stipe Mesic was reelected in Jan. 2005.

Croatia Today

The country is now a parliamentary democracy. The last general elections were held in November 2003, in which the ruling socialist SPD (and its coalition partners) lost, forcing Prime Minister Ivica Racan to resign. HDZ (the Croatian Democratic Union), under the leadership of Ivo Sanader, polled most of the votes of the electorate although they did not get an overall majority. They joined in coalition with some smaller parties and formed a government.

The initial reaction in Croatia to the new government's first moves was positive: many like Sanader's assertive action in getting Croatia into NATO and the EU as soon as possible. Croatia will start negotiations to join the EU on March 17th 2005, and most experts predict that it will join in 2008.
In January 2005, presidential elections were held. The incumbent, President Stipe Mesic, was re-elected to another five year term. Presidential powers in Croatia are limited, but he is still influential in making domestic and foreign policy issues.



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