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
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
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.
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.